Erasmus' traces
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Erasmus' traces
A series of five documentaries on the life and work of the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus (?1466 - 1536) and his present heritage.

Only when he was approaching his fortieth birthday did Erasmus decide for good with what name he would sign his writings from then on: Erasmus Roterodamus - having tried Erasmus natus Rot., Herasmus Rotterdammus and Erasmus Rotterdammensis earlier on. The fact that he insisted on linking his name to the town where he was born proves that he did not deny his origins, however and uncouth and uncivilised he sometimes thought his compatriots were. Erasmus once wrote that he considered it a sign of vanity if a country boasted of having produced a great person if he had become great on his own strength rather than through the support of his country. The assertion that Erasmus has, through time, been the best-known and greatest scholar the Low Countries ever brought forth, leads to the obligation to know who Erasmus was.

Erasmus is one of the best-known scholars in the whole world. Numerous scholars and academics have devoted their careers to his ideas, his name is used, with or without justification, as a status emblem all over the world, his ideas and convictions are astonishingly modern, and his language has excellently withstood the ravages of time. His name is associated with humanism, peace and tolerance, most people have heard of The Praise of Folly and some may remember from their history lessons that Erasmus and Luther weren't quite the best of friends. The people who have actually read some of his work, who can place him in time and space, who are aware of his influence and who understand how contemporary much of his thinking still is, are in a small, far too small minority.

The series follows Erasmus literally in his footsteps. This traveller, who criss-crossed all of Europe, partly from the necessity to earn a living, but more importantly because he was so passionate about disseminating his ideas as widely as possible by means of manuscripts, books and through other scholars and printers, seldom managed to stay in one place for more than a few years. Only towards the end of his life, when his deteriorating health made it physically too demanding for him, did he stop travelling. The Netherlands, Belgium, France, England, Italy, Germany and Switzerland all prided themselves on his presence at one time or other, and it is to those countries that these programmes will take us.

The series makes use of two equivalent angles that operate in each of the five episodes, a historical and a contemporary angle; they are constantly interchanging and organically linked. Five centuries have passed since Erasmus made his mark in this world and though much has changed in that time, it is also remarkable to see how much has remained the same. Nearly all the important themes and ideas that had Erasmus' interest in his days have their counterparts in our own time. It is this universality of his ideas, in which man takes up a central position, that makes the bridging of these five centuries such a fascinating game.

If the historical aspects seem to dominate the scenarios, it is useful to realise that in portraying the past, more needs to be invented and stage-managed than when showing the present which is per definition all around us. In the interviews, too, it is easier to predict how the conversation about historical aspects will develop because usually the interviewees have extensively published on the subjects, whereas the present-day dialogue is the result of the interaction with the interesting people specially invited to take part in the series.

The series is not in chronological order, even if the first episode is set in the Netherlands where he was born, and Basle, where he died, plays a major role in the last episode. Each episode tries present an interesting link between the country in question and a theme that was important to Erasmus, and at the same time offers in that country a relevant, present-day angle on the subject.

• Broadcasted: Humanistische Omroep, 2002
• Exhibited at Museum Gouda, 2016

• Documentary series
• ± 50 minutes per episode
• Recorded on: DVCam
• Screening: DIGIBeta / VHS

Copyrights © NGN produkties, 2002

the 5 episodes: read more  >