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Greek Nonsense in More's "Utopia"

Eric Nelson
The Historical Journal
Vol. 44, No. 4 (Dec., 2001), pp. 889-917
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3133544
Page Count: 29
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Greek Nonsense in More's
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Abstract

This article locates Sir Thomas More's "Utopia" within the broader context of the sixteenth-century Greek revival in England. More and the other humanists whom Erasmus befriended during his time in England became the first Englishmen to learn Greek and to make a polemical point of preferring Greece to Rome. During the period of of "Utopia"'s preparation and publication, this circle's Hellenism took on a new intensity, as several of its members were called upon to defend Erasmus's controversial project of using the Greek New Testament to correct the Vulgate. Responding to opponents of the new Greek learning, the Erasmians launched a particularly energetic attack on Roman philosophy. It is argued that "Utopia" intervenes in this quarrel by dramatizing a confrontation between the values of the Roman republican tradition and those of a rival commonwealth theory based on Greek ethics. "Utopia" suggests that, when seen from a Roman perspective, Greek advice looks like 'nonsense'. But, for More, that 'nonsense' yields the 'best state of a commonwealth'.

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