Opera, veterum exemplarium auxilio ab infinitis mendis emendata.

London, excudebat I. H[arrison]. impensis Iohannis Harisoni, sub signo Canis Leporarii, 1602.


8vo. pp. (xiv), 441, (ix). A-Z8, Aa-Ff 8. Italic letter, some Roman. Woodcut printer’s device on title with compass and device ‘Labore et Constantia’ in imitation of Plantin, small floriated woodcut initials, large woodcut tail-piece on verso of last, ‘Issac Shelberye’ in contemporary hand on title, ‘Pretium’ with price (illegible) below. ‘Thomas Syms Emptor’ in contemporary hand to the side, repeated several times on title, also on verso of last with prayers in English, calculations and scribbles, Latin quotation on verso of title, each line of title circled in ink, rear pastedown (now loose) from an early printed leaf in black letter with a list of the psalms, probably from the “Book of Common Prayer”. Light age yellowing, small wormtrail in text of quires A-C affecting a few letters, becoming two single holes until the end, worm trail to gutter from quire Cc to end, mostly marginal, touching a few letters on a few leaves, a few corners folded in, very light occasional marginal stains, the odd thumb mark, F7 and 8 a little dusty. A good copy, entirely unsophisticated, in very good contemporary calf over pasteboards, covers bordered with a triple blind rule, large strapwork arabesque, blind stamped at centres, spine with blind ruled raised bands. Small loss of calf at upper edge of rear cover at turn in, small split at head of spine, corners a little worn, covers with minor stains.

The unique surviving copy of this edition of the works of Ovid containing the Metamorphoses and the ‘Life’ of the author; ESTC records the title page only at the BL and no other copies. The survival rate of the early editions of Ovid, in Latin, printed in England is extraordinarily low. The first edition of the Opera was printed in 1570 by John Kingston, as here with the Metamorphoses and the ‘Life’, with Henrici Glareni’s notes. This survives in four copies only. The second edition of 1572 survives by the title page only. In 1574 the Huguenot printer Thomas Vautrollier was granted a 10-year patent to print Ovid’s works in Latin (see STC 18926.5 and see Arber II.746, 886); his edition of 1576 survives in one copy. The next edition was printed in 1585 by the same printer as here, I. Harrison in London; this too survives in one copy only. This was the last edition before the present, which until now was known by the title page only. Thus, there are only six surviving copies of any edition of the works of Ovid in Latin printed in England before C17.

The number of surviving copies is in complete contrast to Ovid’s enormous influence in England. “Chaucer drew largely on him in the ‘Book of the Duchess’, ‘House of Fame’, ‘Legend of Good Women’ and to a lesser extent in the ‘Canterbury Tales’. John Gower’s ‘Confessio Amantis’ has a multitude of Ovidian tales; Spenser’s ‘Fairie Queene’ contains many allusions to him. Marlowe’s Faustus (‘Dr. Faustus’, pub. 1604) in his last speech movingly quotes the Amores: ‘O lente, lente, currite noctis equi…’ The critic Francis Meres in his Palladis Tami (1598) made the well-known observation that ‘The sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in the mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare, witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugared sonnets among his private friends.’ The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature.

“Ovid (43 BC-AD 17/18) was a Roman poet who had an enormous influence on English literature of the medieval and Renaissance periods…the Metamorphoses was the most influential of Ovid’s works for Shakespeare and his contemporaries… Shakespeare and other English readers of his day could have come into contact with Ovid’s Metamorphoses in a number of ways. As well as the Latin text, readers could have encountered French adaptations…or come across individual tales in English through writers like Chaucer and Gower, who adapted the stories into their own works. The first full English version of the Metamorphoses was by William Caxton (c.1422 – c.1492) out of a French adaptation, although this only survives in a single manuscript…Shakespeare is believed to have read the Metamorphoses in a number of versions, including the original Latin. Ovid is widely agreed to have been Shakespeare’s favourite author. He is the only classical author to be named in any of Shakespeare’s works (in Love Labour’s Lost, 4.2.123), and of the few specific books read by Shakespeare’s characters, the Metamorphoses appears twice (in Titus Andronicus and Cymbaline)…Shakespeare’s narrative poems (Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece) are his most explicitly Ovidian works, but the corpus of plays also shows the influence of Ovid, and particularly the Metamorphoses, throughout. Ovid can be heard in linguistic echoes (both of the Latin and of Golding’s translation), and the flavor of his sweet and witty rhetoric can be discerned in Shakespeare’s plots, for example Romeo and Juliet, which takes the inspiration from the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe. The Metamorphoses are also a key point of reference for the classical allusions with which Shakespeare adds further layers of meaning to his text. For example, Orsino alludes to the story of the hunter Actaeon (who saw the goddess Diana naked and was transformed into a stag and chased and killed by his own dogs) by describing himself as ‘turn’d into a hart’ and pursued by hounds of his own desire on seeing Olivia (Twelfth Night, 1.1.20). There are also broader, more thematic shared concerns between the two writers, such as the treatment of sexuality, the meaning and mechanism of transformation, and the function of myth. As ever though, rather than just rehashing an old story of mimicking a style, Shakespeare takes on board these influences and transforms them into something very much his own.” British Library

A precious and unique survival.

ESTC S123827. STC 18926.9.


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