The Thebaid … translated into English Verse, with Notes and Observations and a Dissertation upon the whole by Way of Preface …

Oxford, Printed at the Clarendon Press. 1767.

2 vols., 8vo., pp. xv, [1], xxiv, [2], 297, [1]; [2], [299]-621, [1]; a fine copy in contemporary calf, green mottled edges, front joint of volume I cracking at head; bookplate and early signature of Lord Forbes.


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First edition: ‘the most successful English rendering of Statius’ Thebaid’ (Sowerby), translated into heroic couplets by William Lillington Lewis. ‘Ably captur[ing] the sublimity, eeriness, and violence of the original’, it was to be his only work (Oxford DNB).

‘As Lewis remarks in his preface, his was the first complete rendering, despite Statius’ reputation as the next best Latin versifier after Virgil. Lewis refers respectfully to Pope’s translation of Book I, from which he takes hints. But his rendering represents an essentially new start, with fewer liberties … The ease, flow, and consistent dignity which characterize Lewis’s version as a whole make it eminently readable’ (Robin Sowerby, The Oxford History of Literary Translation in English, eds. Gillespie & Hopkins, vol. III, p. 168).

Statius was one of three books Johnson subscribed to in 1767, the others being Francis Fawkes’ translation of Theocritus and Handel’s Messiah.

Donald D. Eddy & J. D. Fleeman, A Preliminary Handlist of Books to which Dr. Samuel Johnson subscribed (1993) 59.

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