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Plays of Sophocles

SOPHOCLES. Tragediae Septem cum commentariis. (Edited by Aldus Manutius and John Gregoropoulos)

Venice: Aldus Manutius, August, 1502

Eighteenth-century red goatskin, spine gilt, borders with double-rule borders, gold fleurons as cornerpieces, gilt inner dentelles, all edges gilt. Joints tender but secure, very minor wormholes at end affecting several leaves, minor stain to title. A very good copy in an attractive eighteenth-century binding. Half morocco case.

Editio princeps of the seven surviving complete plays of Sophocles, the greatest of the Greek tragedians. This volume contains the first printing of Oedipus Rex, generally considered the greatest Greek tragedy. This edition served as the fundamental text for more than three hundred years.

Sophocles (497-406 BC) was not only a playwright, but also a leading citizen of Athens during the greatest period of its history. This period brought the military supremacy of Athens after the defeat of Persia in 478 as well as the building of the Parthenon, the great Temple of Athena, and the stone theater of Dionysus. Sophocles was a general with Pericles during the revolt of Samosin in 441, a state supervisor of tribute from the Athenian empire, and finally one of the ten (probouloi) commissioners over the Council of Five Hundred of the oligarchy after the coup of 411. Sophocles wrote more than 120 plays; those in this volume probably owe their survival to their selection for use as an educational textbook. These seven plays contain some of the most powerful and timeless dramas ever written, including Oedipus Rex, a work in which “the poet attains the supreme height of dramatic concentration and tragic intensity” (Lewis Campbell). This play, Oedipus Rex, part of the Theban trilogy, is generally considered the greatest of the Greek tragedies.

A LANDMARK IN THE HISTORY OF PRINTING. This book, printed in Venice by Aldus Manutius, is the first Greek book issued in the Aldine portable format and the first classical text printed in the smallest and finest Aldine Greek type. “By any standard it is a masterpiece, not only of engraving skill executed with marvelous homogeneity on a minute scale, but also of exquisitely planned letter fit” (Barker, Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script and Type). This editio princeps was issued without the commentaries promised on the title-page.

Provenance: two inscriptions on binder’s leaf before title: “H. Girdlestone from Francis Turner Inner Temple 1808” and “H. Girdlestone to John Farnham Messenger 1 January 1864.”