First Edition of Chapman’s Complete Translation. A Peerless Copy

Homer. Chapman, George (c. 1559-1634), translator

The Iliads of Homer prince of poets· Neuer before in any language (sic!) truely translated. With a co[m]ment vppon some of his chiefe places; donne according to the Greeke by Geo: Chapman

London: printed [by Richard Field] for Nathaniell Butter, ca. 1612


Folio: 28 x 18.5 cm. [π]1, *6(-*1, bank), A-Ff6, G8 (-Gg8, blank), [π]2.


Chapman’s complete translation of Homer’s “Iliad”. This is a variant with two added leaves of sonnets (printed as a bifolium) to Sir Edward Philips, and to Viscounts Cranborne and Rochester. An extraordinary copy, bound in its original binding of stiff vellum, paneled in gold, with a an attractive arabesque at the center of the covers, and tooled with small cherub heads, gilt, at the corners. The binding and text are in superb condition. The text is lily-white and extremely fresh. With the engraved title page, discreetly re-margined along the leading edge, without affecting the engraving.

The impressive engraved title page by William Hole is shows full-length figures of Achilles and Hector in full armor eyeing each other from opposite sides of the architectural frame. Above, seated upon the cornice, are the reclineing figures of Mulciber and Apollo, with the inscription: “Mulciber in Troiam, pro Troia stabat Apollo.” Between them, a cherub (Eros?) holds a laurel crown above a medallion bust of Homer. Housed in a red morocco case. Provenance: With the armorial bookplate of Robert Walsingham Martin (1871–1961). This copy was purchased privately by Bernard Quaritch in 1911 and sold to A.S.W. Rosenbach (acquired from the former, 29 April 1924).

First edition of the complete text, in 24 books, of George Chapman’s celebrated landmark translation of Homer’s “Iliad”, one of the foundational works of Western literature. In this edition, the final 12 books appear for the first time and the first and second books are rewritten. “The unsigned sheet containing the sonnets to Viscounts Cranborne and Rochester and to Sir Edward Philips is a great rarity, only about six copies having it can be traced.”(Pforzheimer) Chapman published his translation of the first 7 books of the “Iliad” in 1598. The first 12 books were published ca. 1609; the complete work in 24 books appeared ca. 1612. Chapman would go on to translate Homer’s “Odyssey”, which he published in two parts, in 1614 and 1615. The “Iliad” and “Odyssey” were then published as “The Whole Works of Homer” in 1616.

Chapman was one of the great Elizabethan playwrights and poets, and it can –and has- been said that his translation of Homer, “make large claims not only as interpretations of Homer but as English epics.”(Lord)

“Chapman was no straightforward translator. Although he taught himself Greek, referring as he worked to Spondanus' parallel Latin translations (1583) and to Scapula's Greek–Latin lexicon (1st ed. 1579), he did not provide literal English versions of his originals; rather, he personalized the epic, appropriating his source and making Homer a writer of the early modern moment. Chapman also digressed from the Greek to stress his own interpretations of the central players. In Hector in the Iliad was found a type who compromises morality to acquire divine spirit. In Odysseus in the Odyssey could be located a humanist protagonist who seeks salvation, regeneration, and enlightenment through stoical dedication.”(Mark Thornton Burnett. ODNB)

“The vigour inherent in his lines is Chapman’s greatest achievement. Pope (Chapman’s most famous admirer) chisels a cameo where the Elizabethan hammers out a vast piece of statuary. And the piece of statuary is at once inspired by the great Greek original and an independent poem… Chapman has taken the only path a translating poet can travel: he has determined that it is his business to provide, not a word-for-word version of the original, but a poem that attempts to recreate the spirit of the original in an alien tongue… In all, Chapman’s ‘Iliads’ must be accounted one of the major poetic achievements of an age rich in achievement. Here is a poet’s echo of a poet –an Elizabethan Englishman calling across the centuries to ancient Greece.”(Nicoll)

"Whatever our views may be on the authorship of the Homeric poems, there is no doubt of their astonishing quality. They combine legends of a very distant past with a lively sense of the living scene, and though their characters are heroes and heroines, they are remarkably real. The story is told with a great simplicity, but this makes its episodes more dramatic, and in their greatest moments they contain some of the greatest poetry in the world. The plot moves with an unusual speed and the climaxes in both poems make an overwhelming impact. The rich, traditional language is ready for every occasion and, despite its richness, helps to maintain the essential simplicity. The poems are variously exciting, humorous, pathetic, and dramatic, and despite their fantastic elements, never far from common humanity. The similes present a whole world of contemporary people and things that lie outside the actual heroic tale, and the description of the shield of Achilles is surely the poet’s vision of his own world, as he knew it in war and peace. The poet or poets fully deserve their place at the beginning of European literature, since they have marked out for succeeding generations what the poetry of action and suffering ought to be." (OCD)

STC 13634; ESTC S119234; Pforzheimer 169