Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) was one of the greatest scholars the Western world has ever known. A humanist, he played a large role in the revival of classical studies that took place during the Renaissance.

In a 1497 letter, Erasmus offered the following 14 pieces of advice to Christian Northoff, the son of a prosperous merchant whom he tutored. For those students today who truly wish to become scholars, they are just as relevant as they were 500 years ago:


1) “Learn from the first the very best things. It is most foolish to learn what has to be unlearned.”


2) “In the beginning, what counts is not the amount but the quality of the things you learn.”


3) “Do not be content simply to keep up with the teacher; occasionally strive to get a few steps ahead of him.”


4) “Do not make the mistake of possessing learned books, while you remain unlearned yourself.”


5) “Do not let the things you hear go in one ear and out the other; go over them, either by yourself or with others.”

6) “Remember to devote some time to quiet meditation, which is, as the Emperor Aurelius wrote, the one thing especially profitable for both the intellect and the memory.”


7) “Discussion too, being an exercise of the wits, is especially good for flexing and challenging and developing the muscles of the mind.”


8) “Do not be ashamed to ask questions if you do not know, or to be corrected if you make a mistake.”


9) “Avoid working late at night and studying at unsuitable times… Dawn, the friend of the Muses, is the best time to study. After dinner either relax, take a walk, or take part in light conversation.”


10) “Eat as much as will satisfy the demands of your health, but not the demands of pleasure.”

11) “Take a short stroll before supper, and then again after supper.”


12) “Before retiring read something that is especially good and worth remembering, which you will think about when you fall asleep, and which you will recall upon rising.”


13) “Always keep this saying of Pliny in mind: ‘All time is lost which is not devoted to intellectual things.’”


14) “Remember that nothing is more fleeting than youth, and once it is gone, it never returns.”