THE WOMEN OF HOMER / HELLENISM
PDF – 165 pp
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Oscar Wilde was a brilliant classicist whose love of the life, literature and thought of Ancient Greece and Rome stayed with him throughout him life and exerted a profound influence on him. As a young man, long before his reputation as a writer was established, Wilde wrote, or at least began, two substantial works of criticism that were never published in his lifetime and which have been virtually inaccessible to the general reader ever since. They were published in scholarly critical editions by the Oscar Wilde Society in 2007 and 2012, but both works have long been out of print. They have now been brought together and are made available in one pdf.
THE WOMEN OF HOMER, edited by Thomas Wright and Donald Mead, was published for the first time by the Oscar Wilde Society in 2007.
In 1876 Oscar Wilde, then an undergraduate studying classics at Magdalen College, Oxford, wrote an article surveying the chapter ‘The Women of Homer’ from John Addington Symonds’s newly published Studies of the Greek Poets (Second Series). The article was both a review of Symonds’s book and a general introduction to the heroines of Homer’s epics. Wilde failed to complete the piece, abandoning it after penning 8,500 words.
Wilde’s manuscript has survived. Robert Ross seems to have contemplated including it in his Collected Edition of Wilde’s works but he never finished the work of editing it. Wilde’s article, ‘The Women of Homer’, is published here for the very first time. It is his earliest surviving prose work, and probably his first attempt at reviewing. It has been read by only a handful of scholars and Wildeans.
In this book, the typescript of the article which Christopher Millard prepared at the behest of Robert Ross is collated with Wilde’s manuscript, and reproduced as a scholarly reference text illustrated by facsimiles of pages of the typescript and manuscript, and photographs. It is accompanied by a reading text, aimed at the general reader, in which Wilde’s fragmentary article is re-ordered and fully annotated, and illustrated with designs by John Flaxman.
“This book is a wonderful contribution both to Homeric and to Wildean studies.”
“The editors’ skilful and sensitive rearrangement of the order of the raw manuscript into five sections has resulted in a remarkably coherent and readable essay. This is a beautifully produced edition of Wilde’s earliest surviving prose work, one that is likely to satisfy the editors’ hope that ‘The Women of Homer’ will take its place in Wilde’s oeuvre.”
JOHN SLOAN from the review in The Wildean No. 34
HELLENISM, edited by Thomas Wright, was published by the Oscar Wilde Society for the first time in an accurate edition based on Oscar Wilde’s manuscript, in The Wildean, the journal of the Oscar Wilde Society, in July 2012.
Sometime in 1877 Oscar Wilde, still at Magdalen College, Oxford, wrote down some 2,700 words on the subject of ‘Hellenism’ (i.e. the ethos of Greek culture) making special reference to the city of Sparta. The piece was never published in his lifetime, nor was it apparently finished, having come down to us in fragmentary draft manuscript form. It is not clear whether Wilde wrote it with an eye to publication, or whether it is a series of notes that formed the basis of a lecture, but the latter seems the more likely explanation.
The great Wilde scholar Christopher Millard prepared a typescript of ‘Hellenism’, probably with the idea of publishing it in Robert Ross’ 1908 Collected Edition of Wilde’s works. ‘Hellenism’ was not included in that edition, however, and it would be a further seventy years before Millard’s typescript was published, by the Tragara Press, in their limited edition, Hellenism (Edinburgh, 1979).
Millard’s typescript differs greatly from Wilde’s original manuscript. Not only did he fill in the various gaps of Wilde’s manuscript, and shape the fragments into one continuous ‘essay’, but he also misread Wilde’s words in a number of places. The Tragara Press edition reproduces Millard’s interventions, and errors, without identifying them; it also presents the text without explanatory notes or an introduction. This Wildean edition, the first accurate text of ‘Hellenism’, is based on a fresh investigation of the surviving manuscript pages and Millard’s typescript.
The text of ‘Hellenism’ has also been annotated here for the first time, the notes explaining Wilde’s contribution to various intellectual debates, and revealing his enormous debt to Classical scholars such as J. P. Mahaffy and, above all, George Grote. In his introductory essay Thomas Wright places ‘Hellenism’ in the context of Wilde’s scholarly and literary pursuits at Oxford, and relates it to his Irish Nationalist politics. Wright discusses the various mysteries surrounding its composition, describes the state and chequered history of the manuscript, outlines its themes and style, and considers the light it throws on Wilde’s creative process, and especially his use, and abuse, of his sources.