“HE MADE THE FATHER OF ALL POETRY LIVE…”: RARE FIRST EDITIONS OF POPE’S FAMOUS TRANSLATIONS OF HOMER’S ILIAD AND ODYSSEY, 1715-26
(POPE, Alexander) HOMER. The Iliad of Homer. WITH: The Odyssey of Homer. London: for Bernard Lintot, 1715-26. Eleven volumes bound as five. Small folio (7-1/2 by 12 inches), contemporary full paneled calf sympathetically rebacked with elaborately gilt-decorated spines, raised bands, red morocco spine labels.
Rare first editions, folio issues, of Pope’s famous illustrated translations, esteemed by Samuel Johnson as “certainly the noblest version of poetry which the world has ever seen,” with frontispiece bust portraits of Homer by Vertue and five plates (incluidng a double-page map of Phyrgia and the often absent “Shield of Achilles”), handsomely bound.
Encouraged by Swift, Addison and Steele, among others, Pope began translating Homer in 1713. The arduous undertaking 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. “Pope’s success with Homer… was great. He made the father of all poetry live for those of his day who were not scholars, and though he wrote for his day, his translation still remains about the most lively and readable of poetic translations” (Baugh et al., 925). The six volumes of the Iliad were issued between 1715-20. “Contemporaneously with the quarto [for subscribers] [Lintot] issued the work in two forms, a Large Paper folio and a Small (or ‘ordinary’) folio” (Griffith 39). These volumes belong to the ordinary folio issue. The five volumes of the Odyssey were published between 1725-26, in quarto and large-paper folio. These volumes belong to the folio issue, here trimmed to match the Iliad’s ordinary folio in size. With all half titles (Iliad,Volume I and Odyssey, all volumes) and privilege leaves. Iliad bound with: frontispiece portrait by Vertue; the five plates on two leaves (Volume I, between Preface and Essay); folding map of Phrygia (following “Observations on the Second Book”); folding view of Troy (Volume II); and the often-missing Shield of Achilles (Volume V). Odyssey bound with engraved frontispiece portrait by Vertue. Griffith 42, 50, 78, 96, 115, 119, 152, 156, 160, 167, 171. Rothschild 1573, 1590. Brueggemann, 25-26. Moss I:521, 525-6. Lowndes, 1100. Armorial bookplates.
Scattered light foxing, occasional light embrowning. Minor marginal worming to first few leaves of Iliad, Volume I. Odyssey frontispiece portrait with marginal repair. Contemporary paneled calf boards with light expert restoration.