Odes of Horace, The Folio Society Limited Edition

{Ed. Note:  Thanks to Books and Vines contributor Dlphcorcl for the photo’s in this article.}

The Folio Society (TFS) has always impressed me with their ‘standard’ publications. Usually in the $40-80 range, with a focus on classics old and new, FS books are produced in a manner much more thoughtful, creative and lasting than typical non-fine press trade books. However, it is their Limited Editions (LE) which are of emerging interest to private press collectors, and for good reason. While usually not fully utilizing traditional fine press techniques (i.e., letterpress, illustrative reproduction methods such as direct from blocks, pochoir, etc.), the LE’s are extremely well designed and executed, placing them miles beyond typical trade editions (and often legitimately in the realm of fine press quality).   LE’s are sometimes new editions of older classics with newly done illustrations by artists of today, and at other times are facsimiles of important editions from times past. The Odes of Horace is the latter, being a stunning reproduction of the famous and important manuscript from the great William Morris, the original of which is stored at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

The original manuscript was produced in 1874. Morris disdained the mechanization that he saw taking over industry and the arts and sought ways to push back against such ‘progress’. As TFS mentions, Morris’ illuminated manuscripts were amongst his first reaction to the trends of his age; in fact such manuscripts harkened back to the day before modern printing came into being in the late 15th century.

Beautifully calligraphed and intricately ornamented, they stood in defiant opposition to what Morris perceived to be the drab and soulless fruits of modern labour. He believed in the assiduous creation of beauty, both for its own sake and as a path to wisdom; and the delicate art of illumination was, for him, a means of pursuing this ideal…..For Morris, the art of meticulously crafting each letter and adorning each page gave the written word the hallowed form it deserved.

William Morris’s focus on the creation and importance of beauty in art and life created a hugely influential movement, making his creative method of extreme interest. His Odes of Horace gives valuable insight to his method and demonstrates his artistic genius. The FS tells us:

Each of the four books of The Odes opens with a display page in a markedly different style from the rest of the book. These pages – which are in varying degrees of completion – were created in collaboration with Edward Burne-Jones and Charles Fairfax Murray, and are among the most elaborate illuminations Morris ever created. Profusely decorated, they combine glistening floral patterns with images of idealised human faces and figures. The calligraphy is a version of Renaissance italic, while the floral decoration is closest to the Persian model, prefiguring the tapestry Morris would create five years later at Kelmscott Manor, and the foliated borders of the Kelmscott Press books. However, this gem-like private volume has an ethereal quality quite unlike those later creations.

Horace (65 BC – 8 BC) was one of the greatest of Roman poets (along with his contemporary Virgil). His influence on literature in the couple millennium since cannot be overstated. He is at the core of the Western Canon.  Starting in the 1960’s, like many works central to the Western Canon, the Odes have been pushed far to the background and are often even ignored. At some point sanity will return, and the works of Horace will again take center stage. The first three Odes were written sometime around 23 BC, followed by the fourth Ode around 13 BC. The FS description nicely summarizes that “The Odes consist of more than 100 short poems adapted from the lyric verse of Greek poets such as  Pindar and Sappho. Their themes are diverse – from love and friendship to patriotism and religion – and they often have a strong moral vein.” Seeking of tranquility, the importance of moderation and the unpredictability of life are others topics often discussed. Importantly for a website called Books and Vines, wine is also an appreciated subject of The Odes!

This Limited Edition from The Folio Society is, in a word, beautiful. The binding, by Smith Settle, is in Indian smooth-grain goatskin with 5 raised bands on the spine. It is gold blocked on spine, edges and doublures. It was printed by gold-foil printing experts Castelli Bolis in Bergamo, Italy, on Tatami paper in coloured inks with gold and silver foil. The commentary volume contains the important full-verse translation by William Gladstone, a four time Prime Minister of Britain, and considered one of the greatest to hold that position. The companion volume also contains an informative essay by Clive Wilmer (Emeritus Fellow in English at Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge) on the genesis of the book and the unfolding of Morris’s passion for illumination. All in packaged within a nicely designed solander box designed by David Eccles. The solendar box is blocked in silver and gold foil on the front and spine. The edition is limited to 980 copies.

About the Edition

  • Manuscript Facsimile
    • Limited to 980 copies
    • Facsimile volume
    • Printed on Tatami paper in coloured inks with gold and silver foil
    • Printing by Castelli Bolis in Bergamo, Italy, who are specialists in gold-foil printing
    • Bound, by Smith Settle in Yorkshire, in Indian smooth-grain goatskin with 5 raised bands on the spine
    • Gold blocked on spine, edges and doublures
    • Shuffled pages
    • 192 pages
    • 6¾” x 5″
  • Commentary volume
    • Contains a full-verse translation by William Gladstone and an essay by Clive Wilmer (Emeritus Fellow in English at Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge) on the genesis of the book and the unfolding of Morris’s passion for illumination
    • Set in Poliphilus
    • Bound in Freelife Merida Forest paper
    • Frontispiece portrait
    • 64 pages
    • 11″ x 8¾”
  • Solander box
    • Bound in buckram with cloth-lined recess
    • Blocked in silver and gold foil on front and spine
    • Designed by David Eccles
    • 12½” x 9¾

Pictures of the Edition

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided, under fair use, to highlight and visualize the review/criticism of the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is providing education on the historical and cultural benefits of having a healthy fine press industry and in educating people on the richness that this ‘old school approach’ of book publishing brings to the reading process. Books and Vines has no commercial stake or financial interest in any publisher, retailer or work reviewed on this site and receives no commercial interest or compensation for Books and Vines. Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s or material found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

{Ed. Note:  Thanks to Books and Vines contributor Dlphcoracl for the photo’s in this article.}

Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Front cover of clamshell box
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Front cover of clamshell box
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Spine of clamshell box
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Spine of clamshell box
 Clamshell box opened with green commentary and translation book on top.
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Clamshell box opened with green commentary and translation book on top
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Wm. Morris’ illuminated book in dark brown goatskin leather sitting underneath the translation book
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Wm. Morris’ illuminated book in dark brown goatskin leather sitting underneath the translation book
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Illuminated book inside sunken cutout space
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Illuminated book inside sunken cutout space
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition,  Front cover
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Front cover
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition,  Book spine
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Book spine
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition,   Inside front cover with gilt decorated leather turn-ins
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Inside front cover with gilt decorated leather turn-ins
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition,   Sample Text #1
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Sample Text #1
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition,   Sample Text #2
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Sample Text #2
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition,   Sample Text #3
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Sample Text #3
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition,   Sample Text #4
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Sample Text #4
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition,   Sample Text #5
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Sample Text #5
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition,   Sample Text #6
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Sample Text #6
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition,   Sample Text #7
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Sample Text #7
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition,   Companion Volume Title Page and Frontispiece
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Companion Volume Title Page and Frontispiece
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition,   Colophon
Odes of Horace, Folio Society Limited Edition, Colophon

One thought on “Odes of Horace, The Folio Society Limited Edition

  1. The quality and thoughtful design make this a Folio Society limited edition worth owning and the price is quite reasonable for what one is getting. The Tatami paper has a look and feel similar to vellum pages and the reproduction of the illuminated capital letters, elaborate floral border designs and gold leaf is luminous, a splendid job of printing by Castelli Boris of Italy. The translation by William Gladstone is excellent and unfussy, what one would expect from a Classics major at Christ Church, University of Oxford.

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