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 in a New Verse Translation, [1951].
University of Chicago Press.  Records.

This promotional piece includes Lattimore's statement on the aims of this translation and advance praise from early readers.

Richmond Alexander Lattimore (1906–1984)
The Iliad of Homer. . . .
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961.
Cover design by Sue Allen.

On loan from Catherine M. Mardikes.

Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son Achilleus
and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the
Achaians,
hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls

of heroes,

Richmond Alexander Lattimore (1906–1984)

The Iliad of Homer
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.
Illustrations by Leonard Baskin.
University of Chicago Press Imprint Collection.

Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son Achilleus
and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the
Achaians,
hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls

of heroes,

Leonard Baskin (1922-2000)
Ink and wash drawings for The Iliad, [1961].

University of Chicago Press.  Records.

In the printed edition, these excerpts from the text appear on the reverse of the illustrations:

  1. Terrible was the clash that rose from the bow of silver
  2. Come then, rather let us go to bed and turn to lovemaking.
    Never before as now has passion enmeshed my senses,
    not when I took you the first time from Lakedaimon the lovely
    and caught you up and carried you away in seafaring vessels,
    and lay with you in the bed of love on the island Kranae,
    not even then, as now, did I love you and sweet desire seize me.
  3. Iphidamas, Antenor's son, the huge and stalwart
  4. who had been reared in generous Thrace, the mother of sheepflocks.
  5.  ... and the black cloud of sorrow closed on Achilleus.
  6. In both hands he caught up the grimy dust, and poured it
  7. over his head and face, and fouled his handsome countenance,
  8. and the black ashes were scattered over his immortal tunic.
  9. And he himself, mightily in his might, in the dust lay
  10. at length, and took and tore at his hair with his hands, and defiled it.

Prospectus for Richmond Lattimore.

The Iliad of Homer, [1961].
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.