Posted by Bob on April 18, 2006
: : : : What is the origin of the phrase "ship of fools?" I've been told it was from the Middle Ages, when some city states in Italy had ships of crazy people going from harbor to harbor to help them come to their senses.
: : : I believe the first to use the phrase "Ship of Fools" was Sebastian Brant, who used it as the title of a book. It was published in 1494 in Basel as "Das Narrenschiff", which soon became the most widely read German literary work of its century. Like "Pilgrim's Progress" (or to some degree "The Narnia Chronicles") it used situations from worldly life to illustrate the path to salvation?and the path NOT to salvation. It was a popular book, and was soon translated into L@tin and into other European languages.
: : : Among the more famous works inspired by Brant's book, or at least by its title, were a painting by Hieronymus Bosch (not later than 1500), and Katharine Anne Porter's 1945 book of the same title.
: : : For a short essay about the book, see:
: : : http://classiclit.about.com/od/brantsebastian/fr/afprshipoffools.htm
: : : ? SS ?
: : 1945? I remember the book as a best-seller in the '50s ... so the 1945 date puzzles me a bit. Was it revised and re-issued?
: Your puzzlement is entirely justified. The book was first published in 1962. I didn't make up the date, but I was apparently on a ship of fools when I got it. ? SS ?
I checked out the copyrights (as published on Amazon) and they list a series of dates, starting in 1945. Apparently she published excerpts in magazines first, the whole book later.