Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department

Humanities and Cultural Studies

Major Professor

Brendan Cook, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Benjamin Goldberg, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jennifer Knight, Ph.D.


amulets, antiquity, aphorism, jewelry, sartorial-politics, wisdom


Throughout the Adagia, Erasmus of Rotterdam frequently compares proverbs to precious gems and gemstone jewelry. My interdisciplinary study contributes to the broader discussion of Erasmus’s use of imagery by evaluating the specific qualities Erasmus associates with gemstones as analogous to the qualities he argues synonymously describe proverbs, specifically how both possess and imbue “charm and distinction.” The historical use of gemstones as essential for the display of social status and political power coupled with the contemporaneous belief in amuletic and astral magical properties of gemstones reveals the complex connections Erasmus forges between the qualities of gemstones and proverbs. Erasmus’s marked use of references to gemstones uncovers the social, political, and moral implications of his humanist message, advocating for the ability of knowledge from classical antiquity to bring back the golden age of learning. Ultimately, Erasmus mirrors Platonic rhetoric, in his discussion of a deceptive outer appearance, to argue for the value of a proverb’s wisdom as true gems which lend real charm and distinction, while precious gemstones and jewelry are a false proxy for virtue. Erasmus advances his arguments for the value of ancient wisdom by using the gem as a relatable device capable of expressing his many points about the true nature of proverbs.