RARE FIRST EDITIONS OF POPE’S FAMOUS TRANSLATIONS OF HOMER’S ILIAD AND ODYSSEY, 1715-1726, HANDSOMELY AND UNIFORMLY BOUND
(POPE, Alexander) HOMER. Iliad of Homer. WITH: Odyssey of Homer. London: Bernard Lintot, 1715-26. Together, eleven volumes. Quarto, contemporary full paneled calf (Odyssey) and plain calf (Iliad); sympathetically rebacked in matching gilt-decorated spines, red and black morocco spine labels, raised bands. $39,000.
First editions of Pope’s famous illustrated translations, the most desirable subscribers’ quarto issue on thick paper, esteemed by Samuel Johnson as “certainly the noblest version of poetry which the world has ever seen,” with frontispiece bust portrait of Homer by Vertue, handsomely and uniformly bound in contemporary calf covers, beautifully restored.
Encouraged by Swift, Addison, and Steele, among others, Pope began his translation of Homer in 1713, an arduous undertaking that would prove to be the most laborious literary enterprise of his life, but one to which he was well-suited. "Idolatry of classical models was an essential part of the religion of men of letters of the day… But a Homer in modern English was still wanting. Pope's rising fame and his familiarity with the literary and social leaders made him the man for the opportunity… The 'Homer' was long regarded as a masterpiece, and for a century was the source from which clever schoolboys like Byron learnt that Homer was not a mere instrument of torture invented by their masters. No translation of profane literature has ever occupied such a position" (DNB). Samuel Johnson, in his Life of Pope, calls it "certainly the noblest version of poetry which the world has ever seen; and its publication must therefore be considered as one of the great events in the annals of learning;" likewise, De Quincey regarded it as "unquestionably the greatest literary labor" (Allibone, 1632-34). Certainly, Pope's long-lasting literary fame rests to a large degree on the great success and extensive influence of these translations. The six volumes of the Iliad were issued between 1715-20 and the five volumes of the Odyssey between 1725-26. Only 650 copies of the Iliad were printed in quarto for 575 subscribers; with 574 subscribers for the Odyssey. Illustrated with two fine copper-engraved frontispiece busts of Homer by George Vertue (one in the Iliad, another in the Odyssey), a double-page map, a folding plate, the "Shield of Achilles" plate in Volume V of the Iliad (often missing), and numerous engraved historiated initials and elaborate head- and tail-pieces. Griffith 39, 47, 75, 93, 112, 116, 151, 155, 159, 166, 170. See Rothschild 1573 and 1590 (folio edition). Brueggemann, 25-26. Lowndes, 1100. Engraved armorial bookplate of subscriber the Earl of Guilford, named in the subscriber list as "Lord Guildford"; another bookplate.
Some light infrequent foxing in Iliad; Odyssey text quite fresh and clean. Plates clean and fine, expert restoration to extremities of contemporary calf covers, beautifully rebacked. An excellent set of the most desirable quarto subscriber's first edition on thick paper.