ABSTRACT

Erasmus’s oeuvre grapples with issues that have long been important to multiple branches of modern environmentalism—imperialism, nationalism, cruelty to animals, capitalism, political corruption, ethnic hatred, male aggression—and yet the importance of this work to the present has not been recognized by ecocritics. He may not have started an environmental movement, as Rachel Carson did with Silent Spring in 1962, but like Carson, he has a vision of what the human relationship with the rest of the natural world should look like, and, more importantly, he makes bold claims about the ties between war and industry, and the impact of both on ecology. 1 In Dulce bellum inexpertise (War is a treat for those who have not tried it), which appeared in the 1515 edition of Adagia, Erasmus includes traditional imagery of war’s environmental destruction—“the slaughtered lying in heaps, the fields running with gore, the rivers dyed with human blood…crops trampled far and wide, farms burnt out, villages set on fire, cattle driven away, virgins raped, old men dragged off in captivity” (CWE 35: 403–4)—but he also describes what we today refer to as the “military industrial complex”:

What an unpleasant thing it is in the first place, that first rumour of war. And then what resentment the ruler must face as he strips his subjects bare with frequent taxes, how much trouble in raising and keeping extra troops, in bringing in foreign troops and mercenaries. What trouble and expense too fitting out ships, building and repairing fortresses and camps, furnishing tents, constructing and moving machines, weapons, missiles, baggage, transport, provisions. What labours must be put into raising walls, digging trenches and underground passages, in setting watches, posting sentries, holding manoeuvres. I am still saying nothing of alarms and dangers—for what is not to be feared in war?

(CWE 35: 415) His mind ranging far beyond the horrors of the battlefield, Erasmus describes a particular way of being in the world: perpetual war. The calm, 26orderly, seemingly rational day-to-day business of preparing for war belies its true nature as a “ferina vesania” (bestial madness) or “pestis” (pestilence) brought on by “furor” (ASD II-7: 12). This last word, an allusion to the Furies in ancient literature, appears again and again, leaving us to wonder how humans can counter the madness if it has such an insidious, alien influence on their affairs.