The Iliad and Odyssey, by Homer, Chester River Press

One of my favorite acquisitions in 2011 was a beautiful edition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, by Chester River Press. I had not been familiar with Chester River’s work prior to this, but this work instantly catapulted them into the ‘must watch’ category. Soon after picking up Heart of Darkness, I became aware that they had also recently published Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Unlike Heart of Darkness, the work was not done letterpress and was printed in China (which initially gave me some concerns about quality). However, the pictures of the books seemed fabulous and I was anxious to see the works in person. I was not disappointed. It is well designed, well executed and finely done.

The scale is generous and well utilized with Greek text in one column and English in the next. The illustrations are classic in design, and representative/literal in nature. They are extremely nice, crisp, well printed and matched with helpful accompanying information. Each drawing portrays a specific scene. There is a drawing from each of the 48 books making up the Iliad and Odyssey with smaller medallions on pages throughout.  The paper quality is nice and the type is clean and sharp (see the macro photo below titled “Odyssey, Chester River Press, Sample Text #4”). There is an original two-part Introduction by Steven Shankman, who analyzes Pope’s majestic poems through a focus on Homeric themes of war and peace, and provides guidance on “How To Read Homer,” providing philosophical and historical context of the Homeric epics.

I would like to say Homer needs no introduction but, unfortunately in today’s dumbed down mass culture, most people probably think of an obnoxious cartoon character, rather than the single most important ‘author’ of the single most important set of works in the history of Western Civilization. Homer, who is thought to have lived sometime between 800 and 1200 BC (though we have no reliable biographical information on him), is credited as the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the two greatest epic poems in history. These epics mark the beginning of literature’s Western Canon, and have had an enormous influence on all future Western literature.

While scholars debate the precise time when these poems came into being, the poems are generally seen as the culmination of many generations of oral story-telling. The stories were enormously influential in classical Greece and were emulated, in speaking and writing, throughout the ancient and medieval Greek/Western worlds. The Iliad takes place during the Trojan War, telling of the battles and events during a few weeks while quarreling takes place between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles.  The Odyssey is a sequel to the Iliad and centers on Odysseus and his journey home after the fall of Troy.

The Chester River Press edition is a fantastic way to re-familiarize yourself with these stories, or to discover them for the first time. In checking with Gerald Cataldo of Chester River Press last week, they only had 15 or so of these left. If you have any questions about the volume, you can contact Chester River Press here.

About the Edition

  • Published in 2009 by Chester River Press
  • Alexander Pope Translation from 1720
  • 52 vase illustrations created by Avery Lawrence for this publication
  • James Dissette of Chester River Press designed this publication
  • Steven Shankman, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Oregon, wrote the Introduction for this publication
  • Barry B. Powell, Ph.D., Halls-Bascomb Professor of Classics Emeritus, University of Wisconsin edited the Homeric Greek text for this publication
  • Steven Shurtleff edited the English Alexander Pope translations for this publication
  • William Frank of Chester River Press researched and wrote the art catalogue entries
  • Managing Editor, Gerald Cataldo of Chester River Press
  • The Iliad and Odyssey are presented as a companion, slipcased set and bound in black Dutch cloth with dust jackets (dust jackets not shown in my pictures below)
  • Printed and bound in China by Kwong Fat Offset Printing Co. Ltd.
  • 12.5 x 14.5 inches, 550 and 434 pages

Pictures

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Iliad and Odyssey, Chester River Press, Books in Slipcase (without dust covers)
Iliad and Odyssey, Chester River Press, Books in Slipcase, spine view (without dust covers)
Iliad, Chester River Press, Macro Detail of Spine Stamping
Iliad, Chester River Press, Front Cover
Iliad, Chester River Press, Macro Detail of Cover Stamping
Iliad, Chester River Press, Side View
Iliad, Chester River Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
Iliad, Chester River Press, Copyright Page
Iliad, Chester River Press, Introduction 
Iliad, Chester River Press, Introduction, Text Macro Detail View
Iliad, Chester River Press, Introduction, Design Macro Detail View
Iliad, Chester River Press, Book One Macro Detail View
Iliad, Chester River Press, Sample Illustration #1
Iliad, Chester River Press, Sample Illustration #1 Description (each illustration includes this detail)
Iliad, Chester River Press, Sample Text #1 (Book One Argument)
Iliad, Chester River Press, Sample Text #2 (notice Greek and English text)
Iliad, Chester River Press, Sample Text #3 (Macro Detail View)
Iliad, Chester River Press, Sample Illustration #2, with accompanying description
Iliad, Chester River Press, Sample Text #4 (Book Two Argument)
Iliad, Chester River Press, Sample Text #5
Iliad, Chester River Press, Sample Illustration #3
Iliad, Chester River Press, Sample Text #6
Iliad, Chester River Press, Sample Text #7 (Macro Detail Book 11)
Iliad, Chester River Press, Sample Illustration #4
Iliad, Chester River Press, Sample Illustration #5
Iliad, Chester River Press, Macro Detail view of Sample Illustration #5
Iliad, Chester River Press, Sample Text #8 (concluding note from A. Pope)
Iliad, Chester River Press, Sample Text #9 (Contributors Page)
Odyssey, Chester River Press, Cover and Spine
Odyssey, Chester River Press, Spine Stamping Macro Detail View
Odyssey, Chester River Press, Front Cover
Odyssey, Chester River Press, Front Cover Stamping Detail
Odyssey, Chester River Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
Odyssey, Chester River Press, Macro Detail view of Introductory Illustration
Odyssey, Chester River Press, List of Art Plates
Odyssey, Chester River Press, Sample Illustration #1 (with accompanying description)
Odyssey, Chester River Press, Sample Text #1 (Book One Argument)
Odyssey, Chester River Press, Sample Text #2 (Start of Book One)
Odyssey, Chester River Press, Sample Illustration #2
Odyssey, Chester River Press, Sample Text #3 (Start of Book Five)
Odyssey, Chester River Press, Sample Text #4 (Macro Detail View of Start of Book Five)
Odyssey, Chester River Press, Sample Illustration #3 (with accompanying description)
Odyssey, Chester River Press, Sample Text #5 (Start of Book Sixteen)
Odyssey, Chester River Press, Sample Text #6 (Start of Book Twenty-Four)

7 thoughts on “The Iliad and Odyssey, by Homer, Chester River Press

  1. Lovely books and great to see the publisher contributing. Makes an interesting and illuminating discussion even better !

    About a year ago ‘Boldface’ on LT provided a link to an English small press publisher which is their view on the challenges of letterpress v offset when producing long texts in limited runs. Dovetails nicely with this discussion.

    The link is : http://www.castlehillpress.com/aims.shtml

  2. First of all a sincere thank you to all for the comments on our Iliad and Odyssey set. Our decision at Chester River Press to publish the Pope “translation” was based on our personal preference for a text that is unique and, to us at least, rather fun and in tune with the romantic and poetic nature of what we imagine were the original presentations of the work. We have read several literal, some poetic, and many excellent translations, but when we considered the nature of what we were trying to convey, the Pope text kept leaping to the front of the line. It was our personal choice, and certainly not for everyone, and we recognize that there are other texts preferred and worthy of selection.

    Avery Lawrence did all of the illustrations in the books, including the sculpture-like renderings. We selected the scenes we wished to have illustrated and Avery created the drawings.

    A note on the printing of the books. Our original intent was to print a letterpress edition of Homer, but as I’m sure you can understand, the prohibitive cost of such a venture was daunting, and we really wanted to offer a first class publication that was within reach for the public. So we made the decision to print offset, and to make certain we worked with a printer who had a fine reputation for art work reproduction and superior packaging. We think we accomplished that. All projects are subject to criticism and review, and we accept that personal preferences dictate the positive or negative reception of all printed works. We live with our choices, and take the chance on public reception, and as long as we have approached our decisions honestly we have to be content with outcome.

    All of your comments are taken seriously and in good faith, and we appreciate your opinions and preferences. Thank you to all.

    1. Hi Gerald, having spent a lot of time with these now, I will re-iterate that you succeeded greatly. The offset if fantastic, really high quality. And the illustrations are just perfect, IMO. Chris

  3. Hi Robert, I thought those were from Avery, but I see no confirmation in the book. I sent a note to Mr. Cataldo, will let you know when I hear back. I do have to say the printing and the sharpness of the illustrations are very, very good. I am very impressed by it, I really am.

    As for Pope, I have to shamefully admit I have not read any translation but Pope’s, so cannot comment. I do think it would be wonderful to be able to read it in a more simple fashion, not having to wonder what is meant many times, and would like to stick as close to what Homer wrote as possible….At the same time, I do find Pope very poetic, a wonderful, if sometimes bewildering, read.

    1. Well, having had an entire semester devoted to Alexander Pope when I was in grad school, perhaps my ear has just become very attuned to his style, as I find the meaning is clear. That said, I find most verse translations of Homer to require a closer, more focused read than the best prose translations. Someone mentioned Rouse’s translations on another blog, but I still find Samuel Butler’s Iliad and Odyssey and Palmer’s Odyssey very readable and I prefer their style to Rouse–and Lang, Leaf and Myers’ translations of both works should not be disrespected.

  4. No hate mail, but an opposing point of view. I personally enjoy reading Pope’s translation of these works–precisely for the reason you don’t: it is as much Pope as it is Homer (actually, though my knowledge of ancient Greek is nil, I would venture to say it is more Pope than Homer). I’m glad it isn’t the only translation available, but I’m also very glad that one of the greatest poets in the English language turned his talents to translating the work. I don’t think Homer is as well suited for translation to heroic couplets as is the Aeneid (I still prefer Dryden’s translation of that to any other), especially the Iliad, which loses the headlong rush of the long Homeric similes when it is forced into the rhyme scheme which works perfectly for “The Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot,” “The Essay on Man,” and above all “The Rape of the Lock.”

    I doubt that any but English majors share my viewpoint, but I suspect if anyone is still reading Homer in 100 years, there will still be a sizable coterie of fans for the Pope translation when Fagles, Fitzgerald and Lattimore and the current favorites are as neglected as the once-highly respected “modern” translations by Lang, Leaf and Myers, Palmer, Butler, and Shaw are now.

    Chris, these are very beautiful books, and confirm my long-held belief that beautiful books can be printed with offset as well as with letterpress. Did Avery Lawrence do all the illustrations, or just the vase illustrations? The illustrations shown in Iliad samples 8, 9, & 10 are quite remarkable, and somewhat reminiscent of Flaxman’s.

  5. I am certain this will draw a fair amount of “hate mail”, but I wish the Chester River Press had not used Alexander pope’s three-hundred year old translation. For me, that makes this elegant set a non-starter. While Pope’s translation may be beautiful and poetic, it is so far from current English language that it throws a veil over Homer’s wonderful tale, impedes comprehension and slows the reading considerably for me. It may be a sign of advancing age but I have little patience nowadays for wading through antiquated English, pausing every paragraph to “translate” and decipher it, and then proceed to the next paragraph, especially when they are many excellent translations available in modern English.

    And who is to say that Pope’s translation is correct or is the most accurate?? It is, after all, as much Pope’s poem as it is Homer’s heroic tale. The only author I will still make a valiant attempt to read in English language as originally written is, of course, William Shakespeare. The incomparable beauty of Shakespeare’s language and his poetic ear make the exercise of translating into modern English tolerable. Even here I will have a modern rendition by my side to aid in comprehending fully.

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