Introduction

Introduction

Jo Nixon

Necessarily, most essays in a collection about volumes of Homeric epic will dip into the circumstances of their publication. Any essay chosen at random from Homer Among the Moderns weaves a rich tapestry of Homeric reception, historical circumstances, and printing conditions. And reducing the four papers in this section to the single theme of “Printing and Publication” is certainly impossible. Each author in this section offers the nuances involved in their particular subjects; nonetheless, together they compile information on the different aspects of publication, from book size to public opinion. Furthermore, the four chapters are tied together by the authors’ research at the University of Chicago.

Nicholas Bellinson’s “First Impressions: The editio princeps of 1489” introduces this section and the volume at large with his considerations of Homeric reception in Italy. Through his careful gaze, we examine the University of Chicago’s copy of the editio princeps, scrutinizing the marginalia and the content of the missing pages. Bellinson balances this micro-view with a helpful history of both the historical environs of the editio princeps and Homeric reception more generally. The return to the roots of the Homeric revival in the western world through a particular printed volume prepares us for the jump across time and place to the projects on John Ogilby, Thomas Hobbes, and Alexander Pope.

We turn to George Elliott’s “Ogilby and the Odyssey.” This chapter provides a rich biography of the translator/cartographer’s life before moving to the Homeric volume and the lottery publishing technique that contributed to its success. Like Bellinson, Elliott considers both the University of Chicago volume specifically—noting its current calfskin rebinding—and the production of printing the volume at large. Through the narrative of Ogilby’s life, Elliott lays bare the political and mercantile facets of late-seventeenth-century British printing. For example, he examines the physical aspects of the book—such as the high quality paper—and the lack of copyright laws that prompted Ogilby to use his political connections for publication protection. I should note that Elliott’s chapter harmonizes with another chapter on Ogilby by Tali Winkler (see Section Three).

If Elliott, through politics and business, continues Bellinson’s project of considering Homeric reception, then Blaze Marpet’s “Fancy That: An Essay on Hobbes’ Homer” draws in questions of banned authorship. As is suggested by the title, the chapter questions the philosopher’s use of fancy in his Homeric publication and the extent to which that method of inquiry harmonizes with his philosophical writings. But Marpet’s chapter also acknowledges how the printed size of a work contributes to sale and how banning an author from publication influences circulation.

Finally, Margo Weitzman allows us to reconsider the Homeric revival that bursts from Bellinson’s chapter. “Literary London: Pope’s Iliad and the Eighteenth Century Book Trade” examines Pope’s printing practices—through comparing the size of the volume to its availability through subscription or the trade market—and the resulting mercantile failure. Her chapter, which goes on to discuss the interdependency of a population’s literary habits and publication, provides an immediate counterpoint to what we learn through Elliott’s work on Ogilby.

Together, these four chapters reveal how printing practices shift over time and the reasons for those changes. This project, then, is a testament to the value that history bound within these volumes. Certainly, these authors illustrate how specific political, mercantile, and intellectual circumstances grip a work’s publication in their clutches. But they also remind us how we lovingly transport a particular volume through time.

Keywords: Authorship, book trade, subscription, Byzantium, University of Chicago, copyright, London, Thomas Hobbes, Italy, John Ogilby, marginalia, Petrarch, Alexander Pope

 

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