The Oresteian Trilogy, by Aeschylus, The Allen Press (1982)

The Lewis and Dorothy Allen Press was, in a word, awesome. Always producing books entirely by hand, the output of their labors is always a wonder to behold. Take for instance their 1982 publication of The Oresteian Trilogy by Aeschylus. It certainly has to be one of the most beautiful editions of this classic ever done. Classically designed with Greek-letter calligraphy and Greek decorations hand-set in ‘flame’ ink along with  hand applied gold illumination on hand-made all rag paper from the Richard de Bas mill in France (founded in 1326!), the work is stunning.

The Oresteian Trilogy is the only surviving example of a trilogy of ancient Greek plays.  The Oresteia was originally performed in Athens in 458 BC, winning first prize.  Just as Athens was learning the world-changing idea of self-governance by the consent of the governed, this great trilogy by Aeschylus highlighted the idea of justice and reason being a more rationale response to wrongs, rather than a viscous cycle of retribution.

Aeschylus (525 BC – 456 BC)  is one of the three great Greek tragedians whose works have had a tremendous influence on our culture (along with Euripides and Sophocles). As he was the first, he is often thought of as the father of tragedy. Though he is estimated to have written nearly a hundred plays, only seven survive along with various fragments that are still occasionally found. His work tended to have significant moral and religious emphasis.

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About the Edition

  • Volume 1 – Agamemnon, Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies; both produced entirely by hand
  • Designed, printed and bound by Lewis and Dorothy Allen
  • Introduction by Mark Livingston
  • Both volumes are individually 10″ x 7″, 148 pages
  • Typeface is Menhart Unciala printed in black brown; the running headings on every page are Solemnis and Libra types, Greek-letter calligraphy (by Mark Livingston), and decorations from Greek sources are printed in ‘flame’ ink; all set by hand
  • Title page and opening of text are embellished with 23 carat gold illumination
  • All rag paper was handmade and watermarked especially for this edition by the Richard de Bas mill in France, established in 1326
  • Printed damp on a Albion hand press made in 1882 in Scotland
  • Cloth binding, books sewn on tapes, is a ‘flame’ fabric imported from France
  • Brown cloth slipcase
  • Limited to 140 copies

Pictures

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Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Books in Slipcase
Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Volumes 1 & 2
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Front Cover
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Macro of Spine
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Macro of Side View
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Macro of Front Cover
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, End Papers and Prospectus
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, End Page Watermark
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Half-Title
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Title Page
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Macro of Title Page Decoration
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Macro of Title Page
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Macro of Title Page ‘M’ (you must enlarge this!)
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Colophon
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Macro of Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Sample Text #2 (Dramatis Personae)
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Sample Text #3 (Beginning)
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Macro of Sample Text #3 (Beginning)
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Sample Text #4
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Sample Text #5
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Sample Text #6
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Macro of Decorations #1
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Macro of Decorations #2
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Macro of Decorations #3
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Sample Text #7
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Sample Text #8
Volume 1 – Agamemnon, The Allen Press, Sample Text #9
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, The Allen Press, Cover
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, The Allen Press, Macro of Spine
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, The Allen Press, Half-Title
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, The Allen Press, Watermark
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, The Allen Press, Title Page
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, The Allen Press, Macro of Title Page
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, The Allen Press, Macro of Title Page #2
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, The Allen Press, Macro of Title Page #3
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, The Allen Press, Colophon
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, Sample Text #1 (Dramatis Personae)
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, Sample Text #2
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, Sample Text #3
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, Sample Text #4
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, Sample Text #5
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, Sample Text #6
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, Sample Text #7
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, Macro of Text #1
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, Macro of Decorations
Volume 2 – The Libation Bearers and The Furies, Macro of Text #2

7 thoughts on “The Oresteian Trilogy, by Aeschylus, The Allen Press (1982)

  1. It is indeed a gorgeous book, and the paper is sublime. I agree that a book printed on a handpress on dampened paper has a wonderful sharpness and clarity (though not superior to first-rate letterpress not, for that matter, to really fine modern offset, as witness the recent posting here of an editon of Homer printed by offset in China), and an unmatched tactile pleasure.

    That said, I find the choice of type very much a stumbling block to readability. I’m not usually fond of the use of majuscule script for the printing of books, even The Bible, and this particular version really defeats these old eyes.

    Although Morshead’s translation is not the most recent, I find it readable and somehow right for Aeschylus, with its measured cadences and loftier diction. I love my Heritage Press edition, which, as leccoll points out, is wonderfully designed with Ayrton’s incredibly good illustrations reproduced on the front and end boards (see, leccoll, I can agree occasionally with you as well!), and though I admire the craftsmanship of the Allens without reservation, I would not exchange my Heritage edition for this one.

    (Incidentally, Don, I did my first term paper in college on Eugene O’Neill, and devoted much space to Mourning Becomes Electra which I considered,and still do, a badly mistaken idea of the playwright’s. I suggest you seek out the film version Dudley Nichols made, with O’Neill’s approval, which features some superb acting by Michael Redgrave, Katina Paxinou, Raymond Massey, and, in a hopeless role, Rosalind Russell. It will be much less painful than plowing through the playwright’s turgid prose.)

  2. Reply to Eclectic Indulgence:

    The translator for both volumes is/was E.D.A. Morshead. Allen Press books can be found listed for sale on the following websites:

    1. http://www.abebooks.com
    2. http://www.alibris.com
    3. http://www.abaa.org

    Incidentally, if you have never seen or handled an Allen Press book you will be shocked at the difference between a book printed letterpress and a book printed with a hand press on dampened paper, as the Allens did in all of their books. The combination results in the lead type biting deeply into the dampened paper, creating a distinct tactile and visual impression. The print is palpable and, because less ink is necessary using a hand press on dampened paper, the printed letters and words have a sharpness and clarity that is unmatched. The great British private presses in the late 19th century that began the fine press/private press revival (Kelmscott, Ashendene, and Doves Presses) as an outgrowth and continuation of the British Arts and Crafts movement all used this technique in their books.

  3. Absolutely stunning books. Curious as to where you primarily buy these editions from…?

    I’m always interested on what translation the publisher’s choose. I read the George Thomson version and enjoyed it, though I own an Easton Press version translated by E.D. Morshead. I find the older, expired copyright translations to be, on the whole, less enjoyable reads.

    My review of the plays themselves: http://eclectic-indulgence.blogspot.ca/2011/10/review-oresteia-by-aeschylus.html

    1. Eclectic Indulgence, great review, thanks for sending the link. Great site also! Mind if I link to it? Pretty much I have gotten was through Abe’s. Thankful to dlphcoracl for turning me on to Allen Press.

  4. Reply to Don Floyd:

    Don, see my original article dated September 21, 2011 on Books and Vines with
    regard to the history of the Allen Press. Briefly, Lewis and Dorothy Allen published
    entirely hand made books, using a hand press on dampened paper, from 1939 to 1992. Their final book (their 58th book) was ‘The Life of Dante’ by Giovanni Bocaccio, published in 1992. I doubt that either are still alive.

  5. Hello Chris –

    I first read this play on the HP edition of 1961. The HP edition is a little nicer than the LEC, especially the large photos of Micael Ayrton illustrations which grace the boards. I now have
    the LEC edition which I was thinking about rebinding since the spine is badly rubbed.

    You keep refering to the Allen Press in the past tense. Is it no more? It is really a beauty. Are the spine and boards printed or
    stamped with the brown ink? Is this your copy? You make me jealous.

    I have read some criticisms of the LEC translation as being hard to read. I had no problems when I read the HP version.

    Someday I hope to read the Eugene O’Neil version which I think is called Mourning Becomes Electra.

    Don Floyd

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