Friday, July 21, 2017

Faces of Aeneas


Detail showing Aeneas from Ogibly's edition
Ogilby's Aeneas
You don't really think of classical characters being altered by 17th-century political turmoil, but the face of Aeneas, Virgil's hero in the Aeneid, was transformed toward the end of the century based on the political leanings of two publishers: John Ogilby and Jacob Tonson.

At least one scholar has suggested that Ogilby’s Aeneid, printed in 1654, pays homage to Charles II in its representations of Aeneas, whose round face and black mustache bears a strong resemblance to the king in his youth. It is probably not a coincidence that Ogilby was tapped to participate in the planning of Charles’s coronation in 1660; that same year, he also published his translation of Homer’s Iliad, which he dedicated to Charles.

Detail showing Aeneas from Tonson's edition
Tonson's Aeneas
Tonson’s edition of the Aeneid is a more complex political creature than Ogilby’s for many reasons. As a founder of the Whig Kit-Cat Club, he would not have been an eager supporter of Charles II. However, Tonson purchased the original engraving plates from Ogilby’s Aeneid for use in Dryden’s translation of Virgil’s works, which meant potentially including images of Charles II in his 1697 edition. As a result, Tonson paid an anonymous engraver to alter the images of Aeneas that looked most like Charles II so that the monarch’s tell-tale mustache was eliminated or obscured.

Close up of Aeneas showing Charles II's nose and mustache
Charles II as Aeneas
Close up of Aeneas clean shaven with Willian III's hook nose
William III as Aeneas

Moreover, John Dryden was Catholic and a staunch supporter of the recently deposed James II, to the extent that he had openly refused to take the oaths of allegiance to William III and Mary II when they took the throne in 1689. As such, Dryden refused to dedicate his translation of the Aeneid to William. This introduced a potential problem for Tonson, whose ability to publish in England relied on the king’s explicit approval. As a solution, to counteract Dryden’s Jacobite leanings in the text, Tonson hired an anonymous engraver to alter further some of Ogilby’s original plates of Aeneas so that the Trojan hero would share William III’s distinctive Roman nose.

Both books are currently on display (through Labor Day) in the Class of 1965 Galleries in our exhibit, "Adorn'd with Sculptures." After that, you can request them by asking for Rare PA6807.A1D7 1697 for the Tonson edition. We are still cataloging the Ogilby--which we just acquired!

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