Richmond Lattimore's Iliad and the University of Chicago Press
Poet and classicist Richmond Lattimore first published passages from his verse translation of the Iliad in the 1945 anthology War and the Poet. In 1946, Lattimore sent an early version of book 1 to Fred Wieck, humanities editor at the University of Chicago Press. Wieck's enthusiastic response encouraged him to complete the translation.
Lattimore's Iliad became a standard classroom translation within a year. The Press expedited production of a cheaper, paperback edition, in part at the request of Columbia University, which wanted to use it for its required Humanities core curriculum. All Columbia freshmen still read Lattimore's Iliad as their first college text. By the time Lattimore completed his translation of the Odyssey, Fred Wieck had moved to Harper & Row, which published Lattimore's Odyssey in 1967.
In 1960, the University of Chicago Press asked wood engraver, sculptor, and artist Leonard Baskin to prepare drawings for an illustrated edition of Lattimore's translation of the Iliad. The handsome volume was much admired although some critics were shocked by the drawings. One claimed that Baskin had created "a gallery of heroes as far removed from Flaxman's as is the translator's work from that of Pope." Another commented they were so savage "that one expects to get blood on his hands when touching the drawings and turning the pages."
Richmond Lattimore, autograph letter signed, to Fred Wieck
Bolton Landing, N.Y., June 27, 1946. University of Chicago Press. Records.
Lattimore explains that he is "interested in the idea of translating Homer" and offers to send for consideration by the Press the first book of the Iliad, which he has "experimentally translated."
David Grene. Manuscript Report on Richard Lattimore's translation of the Iliad, August 6, 1946.
University of Chicago Press. Records.
University of Chicago classicist David Grene was "enthusiastic" in his assessment of Lattimore's translation. He remarked that there was a strong market for a new translation and that Lattimore avoided the "archaisms" that characterized the L. L. Meyers translation currently in classroom use. However, because Meyers cost about $1.50, Grene advised that a new translation would not be commercially successful if priced above $2.50.
Prospectus for Richmond Lattimore.
The Iliad of Homer, . University of Chicago Press. Records.
The Press describes this illustrated book as "a luxury edition of enduring elegance that is a supreme example of the bookmaker's craft." In addition to the generous size, the forty-eight full-page illustrations "are printed on a rich ivory paper, especially manufactured to reproduce as flawlessly as possible the color and texture of the paper used by Leonard Baskin in creating the original drawings." The book was offered at an introductory price of $11.50 after which it would be sold for $13.50.
The Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center