Aeneid, by Virgil, Folio Society Limited Edition

The Aeneid is one of the most important single works in all of Western literatureIt tells the story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans.  It was written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, immediately after the tumultuous civil wars that had engulfed Rome. Augustus Caesar was now on the throne, and a long period of stability was to begin. Virgil’s epic gave Rome a founding nationalistic myth rivaling that of the Odyssey and the Iliad for the Greeks.

Virgil (70 BC-19 BC) influenced many of the greatest Western writers to follow, including Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton. Dante, as another example, chose Virgil as his guide to Hell and Purgatory in The Divine Comedy.  Besides the Aeneid, Virgil is also known for the Eclogues and the Georgics, both classics in the Western Canon.

Due to the importance of this work, there are almost an unlimited number of editions to choose from. The Limited Editions Club (LEC) version from 1944 (which I will review later in a separate post) uses the famous translation from John Dryden (1631-1700). He employed a rhyme scheme, which modern translations typically no longer follow (since it is a non-Roman convention). The Folio Society Limited Edition, shown immediately below, uses the 2006 translation from Robert Fagles (1933-2008).

About the Folio Society Limited Edition

  • Bound in full Wassa Nigerian goatskin
  • Blocked in gold and black with a design by Jeff Clements inspired by Trojan sails and Roman arches
  • Set in Centaur
  • Printed on Cordier Wove paper at Memminger MedienCentrum AG, Memmingen, Germany
  • Printed endpapers showing a map of the voyage of Aeneas and his companions
  • Illustrated with plates of frescoes from Pompeii, Herculaneum, Ostia, Stabiae and Rome
  • 9¾” x 6¾”, 512 pages
  • 16 color plates plus frontispiece
  • Each copy numbered by hand on a special limitation page (limited to 1,750 copies)
  • Gilded top edges, ribbon marker
  • Translation by Robert Fagles, who also provides extensive notes and a glossary of all the characters
  • Introduction by Yale classicist Bernard Knox

Pictures of the Folio Society Limited Edition (photos courtesy of Librarything user Virion).

Aeneid, FS LE, Solander Box
Aeneid, FS LE, Book in Solander Box
Aeneid, FS LE, Spine of Book
Aeneid, FS LE, Front Cover
Aeneid, FS LE, End Papers
Aeneid, FS LE, Copyright Page
Aeneid, FS LE, Sample Text
Aeneid, FS LE, Sample Description of Illustration
Aeneid, FS LE, Sample Illustration #1
Aeneid, FS LE, Sample Illustration #2
Aeneid, FS LE, Sample Illustration #3
Aeneid, FS LE, Sample Illustration #4
Aeneid, FS LE, Limitation

8 thoughts on “Aeneid, by Virgil, Folio Society Limited Edition

  1. Very interesting review and very helpful. You know, when I was purchasing my copy of Aeneid the translation (readebilty) as well as the design were my two primary concerns, followed by the price. I must admit that FS LE is very nice. The portion of the text I read was very readible, however what I didn’t like is that they used photographs for illustration, instead of commisioning someone to illustrate it. I personally think that an important work such as Aeneid deserves the best of treatment and to me it seemed that FS cut the corner. I didn’t like the EP edition’s illustrations as well as John Dryden’s translation. At the end of the day, I settled on a Franklin Library edition. But not the one from the 100 Greatest Books (that one uses John Dryden’s translation as well), but the one from the 25the anniversory edition. The translation is by James Rhoades – very readible – and the illustrations are super nice. I’d highly recomend checking this edition out for anyone who is looking to get a copy of Aeneid.

  2. I’m not saying that Dryden’s translation is for everyone–just as Shakespeare doesn’t appeal to many modern readers, Dryden’s language isn’t in today’s idiom and may not seem worth the effort. My only claim was that I find it the most satisfying of the versions I’ve read, and don’t find it laborious. Personal preference.

  3. I will respectfully disagree with both Don floyd and Robert Bailey with regard to which translation to read. However poetical John Dryden’s translation of the Aeneid is, reading it is laborious. It is written in 17th century English, a language not in common usage, and having to pause after every paragraph to translate it into modern English and decipher it’s meaning with certainty before proceeding simply adds a layer of obfuscation, another veil to lift in understanding and appreciating Virgil’s Aeneid. It is an unnecessary impediment. I feel similarly about Alexander Pope’s transitions of Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad too, for what it’s worth. Whatever is gained from the poetry of Dryden’s translation is not enough to compensate for the lack of fluidity in slogging through it three hundred years later.

    More importantly, it is unnecessary. Perhaps if we were talking about the state of affairs thirty or forty years ago an argument could have been made in its favor. However, since then there have been several excellent translations of most classic works that alleviate the need to read an archaic language no longer in common usage. Regarding the Aeneid, Allen Mandelbaum’s excellent 1971 translation (publ. Univ. of California Press) is spare, elegant and direct, enabling the reader to focus on this marvelous story rather than solving a crossword puzzle en route to completing this read.

  4. Thanks for this review, Chris, of a work about which I have always had mixed reactions. When I first read the Aeneid, I was frankly underwhelmed, after having first read Homer. It just didn’t have the majesty of the Iliad nor the compelling adventure of the Odyssey, and seemed just a crib of the earlier works. I have read it twice since then, and I found it improved–that is, I was in a better position to appreciate its excellences. I suspect the fullest appreciation can only come from a reading in the original, as I understand that the poet’s use of the Latin tongue shows the highest degree of artistry.

    Despite the fact that heroic couplets are anathema to most, I find Dryden’s translation the most rewarding of those I have read, and have to say that although I haven’t read Fagles’ translation in entirety, that the parts I have read I don’t find compelling.

    I don’t have the LEC, but am very happy with my Heritage edition. The blindstamped illustration on the cover (a reproduction of Miss Petrina’s illustration for Book I you’ve reproduced above) is a masterful touch and one I wouldn’t want to trade even for the superior printing of the LEC edition. I also have to confess that although I am a huge fan of Ms. Petrina’s work in general, I feel that her illustrations here are not what I would consider the ideal ones for this work (I am not enamored of the ones in the FS LE either).

  5. I have two of the three copies of The Aeneid which you reviewed: The Easton Press and The Limited Editions Club. The Easton Press is the one I read; I found the Dryden translation similar to Alexander Pope’s Iliad and Odyssey which I like much better than Flagle’s free verse version.

    My criticism of the Folio Society is as always, I consider their books, especially the LEs, overpriced.

    My LEC copy was bought off the internet about five years ago. I immediately called the seller since I thought the price and book condition were too good to be true. He assured me that the price and condition were true. So I got a 1944 LEC in mint condition. for about $100. There has been some criticism of the LEC Aeneid because the design of the cover is limited to a brocaded cloth. George Macy had a propensity for using exotic cloths for bindings, and I frankly, like this propensity as carried out in his design of Carmen. After all, cloth doesn’t flake or scratch as does leather. Although the Aeneid has a sheepskin spine, my copy is still as new in spite of the nefarious sheepskin.

    I enjoy your reviews ver much; however, I have a minor criticism. How about captions on illustrations? Just calling an illustration as a sample doesn’t tell the reader much.

    1. Hi Don, very good suggestion. I will do that for books I own and have read recently (so I have context to place around the illustration). Some of the books, like the FS Aeneid, were pictures sent to me from others, so those would be more difficult to do; as would books of mine where I am presenting the edition, not reviewing the book, unless I have read it lately. In any case, I agree that it would be nice, so will try to as much as possible.

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