Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Landmark Thucydides, Herodotus, Xenophon, and Arrian and first principles of collecting

An overview and insightful review of books concerning Alexander the Great, published in the Wall Street Journal, reminded me that I have yet to collect and read, The Landmark Series, which now includes Thucydides, Herodotus, Xenophon and Arrian, all classic histories of the ancient world.

This all started because upon publication of The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War, Edited by Robert B. Strassler, Introduction by Victor Davis Hanson, Free Press, 1996, I did not immediately buy a first printing of this edition.  I hesitated and kept thinking, "I'll get one."  After a period of time I had neither the easy access nor the inclination to pay the asking price for a first edition first printing.  As new titles were released in the Landmark Series, I simply failed to get that first printing of Thucydides along with the newest release.  Now I am behind the eight ball and slowly need to acquire all four titles.

This simple story illustrates a serious issue for any collector, setting first principles of collecting.  In my case collecting involves two fundamental principles.  First, I only buy first edition first printings of recently published books.  A simple rule which I never break.  If I miss the first printing of a new(ish) book, I simply add the book to my memory bank of wants and if that memory rises to the top and gnaws away, I eventually acquire a copy.  Second, I am in no hurry to acquire traditionally defined rare books in the areas I collect.  I have varied interests in truly rare books and beloved authors and my collecting in these areas is restrained by fundamental economic issues.  For example, I have a nice collection of Henry Miller but I do not own and can not afford the true first editions of The Tropic of Cancer ($15,000) and The Tropic of Capricorn ($5,000).  Maybe some day I will be able to acquire a copy of each but for now I am happy with what I have and keep my eye open for more affordable additions to my collection.  My two first principles are the basis for my life goals of developing my private library and within that library, my rare book collection.

The issue I face with the Landmark Series is basic, these books would be a wonderful addition to my private library but I have read them all and own other, 20th century editions of these classics of the ancient world.  The editions I own are not comprehensive, annotated and illustrated and I know I would enjoy browsing these new editions when the spirit moved me.  Why I don't just act and acquire the available titles now is a matter of internal debate!

These classics of the ancient world are collectible and truly rare as early printed books in first English translation.  For example, the newest release in the Landmark Series is The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander, edited by James Romme, Series Editor, Robert B. Strassler, translated by Pamela Mensch, Introduction by Paul Cartledge, Pantheon, 2010 (November 2).  The first appearance of Arrian's history of Alexander's expeditions in English was the translation by John Rooke, published in two volumes in 1729.  The complete title record from the British Library short title catalog, which counts 54 copies held by libraries around the world, is:

Arrian’s history of Alexander’s expedition. Translated from the Greek. With notes historical, geographical, and critical. By Mr. Rooke. In two volumes. ... To which is prefix’d, Mr. Le Clerc’s criticism upon Quintus Curtius. And some remarks upon Mr. Perizonius’s vindication of that author.  Printed for T. Worrall; J. Gray; L. Gilliver; and R. Willock. In two volumes. ... To which is prefix’d, Mr. Le Clerc’s criticism upon Quintus Curtius. And some remarks upon Mr. Perizonius’s vindication of that author.  London, printed for T. Worrall; J. Gray; L. Gilliver; and R. Willock, 2 volumes, plate, map, 8vo (included Arrian's Indian History).

I can't track down any recent sales of this edition but I do know that early English translations of Xenophon and Thucydides cost somewhere between $3000 to $10,000 each.  This is where my quest to develop a fabulous private library runs headlong into my interest in acquiring rare books.  Why spend a hundred or so now on desired new releases of these classics when over time, I can search, discover and acquire truly rare editions?  Maybe not, but I can still dream!  The internal debate continues.

If you have never read these classics, you should and the Landmark editions are a wonderful starting point.

The Landmark Xenophon  The Landmark Herodotus


(Yet again, the publisher web site for the Landmark Series---does not exist.  Via the Random House web site you can find a page listing Robert B. Strassler(linked above) as an author but not all the Landmark editions are listed.  Really sad.)

***A comment from a reader pointed me to the official Landmark Ancient Histories web page.  A wonderful site which seems to be owned by the Editor of the Series.***

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