“I WILL SEIZE THEE, AND WHEN THOU ART CAUGHT, I WILL ENJOY THEE”: RICHARD BURTON’S PROSE TRANSLATION OF THE PRIAPEIA
(BURTON, Richard F., translator). Priapeia or the Sportive Epigrams of Divers Poets on Priapus now First Completely Done into English Prose. Athens: Erotika Biblion Society, 1888 [ie, 1889]. Octavo, early 20th-century three-quarter navy calf, raised bands, marbled endpapers, top edge gilt. $1650.
Limited first edition of this prose translation, number 141 of 250 copies, handsomely bound by Foyle.
“The Priapeia is a work that has long been well known to scholars, and in the 16th and 17th centuries editions were common… The image of Priapus, the god of fruitfulness, was generally a grotesque figure made of rough wood painted red and carrying a gardner’s knife and cornucopia. Placed in a garden it was supposed to be a protection against thieves… Poets wrote facetious and salacious epigrams and affixed them to statues of the god” (Wright, 279). There is some debate as to whether Sir Richard Burton was involved in the translation of this edition of Priapeia. All indications point to Burton having provided at least the introduction, if not the prose translation. Another edition was issued in 1890, with a metrical translation in addition to the previous prose one; the metrical translation has been identified as Burton’s work. Many experts consider the present volume to be the true first edition of Priapeia; Penzer notes that “it is hard to say what is the exact connection between this edition and the  quarto, but a close comparison of the texts leaves little room for doubt that Burton also had a hand in the [present] ‘Athens’ edition” (Penzer, 153). The spine of this copy identifies the translator as Leonard C. Smithers, a publisher and collaborator of Burton’s.