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Alexander Pope’s ‘Iliad’

Image from Alexander Pope’s ‘Iliad’

Alexander Pope: draft for 'The Iliad'
British Library Add. MS 4808, ff.81v-82
Copyright © The British Library Board
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Alexander Pope was probably the most influential author of his generation. His work continued to influence other writers over 100 years after his death. Shown here is an extract from his draft translation of Homer’s ‘Iliad’, with a sketch of the Shield of Achilles, completed 1720.

Who was Alexander Pope?

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) was born in London, the son of a Roman Catholic linen-draper. He was a sickly child and at the age of 12 was crippled by a tubercular infection of the spine which resulted in his stunted stature. Although largely self-educated, Pope became, between his Pastorals of 1709 and the complete Dunciad of 1743, the most famous English poet and satirist of his age. His version of Homer marked him out as Dryden’s natural successor in the field of classical verse-translation, and English poetry was heavily influenced by his style until the time of Wordsworth.

More about the ‘Iliad’

The first volume of Pope’s translation, or rather reinterpretation, of the ‘Iliad’ appeared in 1715, at the same time as a rival version by Thomas Tickell. It had for the most part been composed at a steady 30 to 50 verses a day, written out on the backs of letters addressed to Pope’s mother and himself at Twickenham. The genius of Pope’s Homer was widely acknowledged, although it actually bore little resemblance to the original Greek text. The pages shown here, in an autograph draft, are the final verses of Achilles’ lament for Patroclus in Book XIX. Opposite is a rough sketch of the shield forged by Hephaestus for the Greek hero.

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