The Iliad & The Odyssey



The 1931 Nonesuch Press two-volume limited edition of Alexander Pope’s translations



London: Nonesuch Press, 1931. First Nonesuch edition. Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey translated by Alexander Pope, two royal octavo volumes, The Iliad 927 pages, The Odyssey 757 pages, with parallel texts in English and Greek. Both volumes are handsomely and fully bound in niger morocco, illustrated with decorative headpieces cast as individual type ornaments combined into friezes, spines lettered in gilt in compartments with raised bands, top edges gilt, other edges uncut, covers with double gilt borders, marbled endpapers with colour bookplate in each volume of the Countess Berkeley, of Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire, original invoice for The Odyssey to the Countess Berkeley, dated 30 November 1931 and written in pencil from John & Edward Bumpus, Ltd., London, Booksellers to His Majesty the King.

The colophon to The Iliad reads: “The Greek text of this edition is, by permission of the Delegates of the Oxford University Press, that of the Oxford Classical Texts. The English is printed from the first (1715) edition of Pope’s Iliad. The ornaments have been designed, engraved and composed by and under the supervision of Rudolf Koch for this edition. It has been printed and made in Holland by Johannes Enschedé en Zonen, Haarlem, in the Greek type of J. van Krimpen and monotype cochin [on Pannekoek mould-made paper]. There are 926 copies for sale in England, and 525 copies for sale in the United States by Random House. This is number 147”.

The similar colophon to The Odyssey notes that “the English is printed from the first (1725) edition of Pope’s Odyssey” with ornaments by Rudolf Koch & Fritz Kredel. “There are 835 copies for sale in England, and 465 copies for sale in the United States by Random House. This is number 617.”

Condition: Lacking original slipcases but otherwise Fine, unblemished.

Homer is the traditional name of the author best known for the Greek epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey. Whether he lived is unknown; if a real historical figure, Homer may have lived between 1100 and 850 BCE. Believed by the Greeks of antiquity to be the first and greatest of the epic poets and regarded by Plato as the cultural leader of Greece and teacher of its tragedians, Homer has pervasively influenced the Western literary canon to the present day. The first complete translation into English of the Homeric works in 1616 by the poet, dramatist and classical scholar George Chapman (c.1559-1634) remained the most popular version until the famous translation, from 1715-1725, of The Iliad and The Odyssey by the poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744).

Pope’s translations were effusively praised by Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)—poet, essayist, literary critic and lexicographer—who has been described by some as “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history”. Johnson wrote that Pope’s Iliad was “the greatest translation ever achieved in English or any other language”, “a performance which no age or nation could hope to equal” and “certainly the noblest version of poetry which the world has ever seen”. From their first publication, Pope’s Homer translations were regarded as masterpieces, and were met with both scholarly and public acclaim. The classical scholar Richard Bentley was a dissenting voice, and Pope’s role in translating only a portion of The Odyssey (assisted by his collaborators William Broome and Elijah Fenton, who translated about half of the work) dented his reputation for a time. The rise of Romanticism prompted a marked reaction against the techniques of Augustan pomp and Pope’s neo-classical style. In the 20th century reappraisals of Pope partly overturned this earlier rejection, with critics examining Pope’s motivations, depth, euphony and his facility with assonance and the play of vowels matching the “ceaseless pour of verbal music” in the original Homeric texts.

The original owner of these Nonesuch Homer volumes, the Countess Berkeley of Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire, placed in each volume her colour Berkeley armorial bookplate surmounted by a coronet. The Berkeley family has a unique place in English history with an unbroken male line of descent from a noble Saxon ancestor before the Norman Conquest in 1066. It retains many of the lands held from the 11th and 12th centuries centred on Berkeley Castle, a Norman castle in Gloucestershire granted by William the Conqueror to the Norman Roger de Berkeley. It is the oldest continuously owned and occupied castle in England after the Tower of London and Windsor Castle. Berkeley Castle has remained with the Berkeley family since they reconstructed it in the 12th century except for a period of royal ownership by the Tudors. It is traditionally believed to be the place where Edward II was murdered in 1327.