Since we have been talking about classical writers quite a bit recently, here is a little demonstration of bibliographical detective work where you play the role of the detective.

In gathering books for a page of Ovid, or Publius O’Vidius Naso, the well-known Irish poet, Dr. Boli came across the 1626 edition of the translation of the Metamorphoses by George Sandys (pronounced “Sands,” because the Y is only in there to trip you up). He also came across a 1628 edition, and something about that latter book alerted his keen bibliographical senses. It seemed to him that it was probably a pirated edition.

Having done some research, Dr. Boli is pleased to report that his bibliographical instincts had not failed him. He found an article in the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, Vol. 35, No. 4 (Fourth Quarter, 1941), entitled “Early Editions of George Sandys’s ‘Ovid’: The Circumstances of Production,” by Richard Beale Davis. (You can find it in JSTOR if you have the requisite access.) It turns out that there are complaints recorded in the Stationers’ Court records brought by George Sandys against the printer of the 1628 edition, who was ordered to cease printing and selling the book, and three years later was ordered to desist again because he had ignored the first order.

But what was it that triggered Dr. Boli’s bibliographical alarms?

Both editions carry an elaborate allegorical frontispiece. Here is the one from the 1626 edition:

Enlarge it and examine the details carefully. Now here is the frontispiece from the 1628 edition. Enlarge it, examine the details, compare it to the 1626 edition, and see if you can spot the subtle differences that made Dr. Boli suspect piracy.

You see? You are a bibliographical detective.


  1. von Hindenburg says:

    Whatever else, ‘Englished’ is a much better verb than ‘translated’.

  2. Jane says:

    This is why you make the big bucks.

  3. Occasional Correspondent says:

    The second drawing much cruder than the first although this wouldn’t seem to have much bearing on the matter of theft; I also note the second uses the faddish Arabic numerals for the year instead of the time-honored Roman numerals.

    The first claims Cum Privilegus, the second omits this claim.  Probative? wouldn’t seem so, or not much.

    At the lower left of the first (next to UNTUR), I see what appears to be a signature but too small to make out — Becril? Becili? followed by something even smaller, Jcetq?? Jestig??  This signature[?] is not in the second frontispiece.

    The freebooting printer names himself Robert Young (long before he became Marcus Welby, I guess), then names his fence, er, reseller to boot.  Did he see this publication as innocent? or is this a Dumb Crook story?  (A twistier plot comes to mind, that some enemy of Young was wealthy enough to subsidize a printing and put Young’s name on it to make trouble for Young.)

    I think I’ll leave “bibliographic detective” off my resumé.

    • Dr. Boli says:

      “Cum privilegio” is the seventeenth-century copyright notice. It means Sandys got a special order from the king (who was a personal friend of his, and that sounds like a thing that would set him up for life until we remember that the king was Charles I) prohibiting any unauthorized persons from printing his book.

      The signature is T. Cecil, with the T and the C overlapped. The word after that is an embarrassing error by an otherwise excellent engraver: “sculq” for “sculp” (short for “sculpsit,” meaning “engraved”). The engraver had to draw all the letters backwards, and it is not uncommon to see mistakes like this.

      The “UNTUR” is the second half of the word “ORIUNTUR” in “EX HIS ORIUNTUR CUNCTA”—“From these all things have their being”—a piece of which is under each of the four elements.

      The story seems to be a complicated one. According to the Davis article, Young, the printer of the 1628 edition, had taken over the assets of the 1626 printer, who had died after that earlier edition, and figured Sandys’ translation went with the assets. Sandys, with the law on his side, said that the king’s privilege gave only himself the right to a second edition.

      It is not clear why, in the 1628 engraving, reclining laurel-crowned Ovid, with his lyre, has been punched in the face, but perhaps it is an apt metaphor for the whole production.

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