London: Printed for S. Smith and B. Walford, 1702. Octavo, modern full period-style specked calf, boards paneled in blind with floral cornerpieces, raised bands, red morocco spine label lettered in gilt, spine elaborately ornamented in gilt, board edges tooled in gilt, all edges speckled red. Engraved frontispiece portrait of Seneca and five full-page engravings (one for each play, and one before notes in rear). Title leaf cancel (indicating second issue); separate title page for each play; endnotes, index and four-page printer’s catalog at rear. Small ink number to upper corner of front free endpaper and to top right corner of final plate. A few small stains to text block edges.
First edition, second issue with five additional engraved plates, of Sherburne’s English translations of Seneca’s major tragedies. Seneca, the Stoic philosopher who advised the Emperor Nero, was one of the most accomplished writers of Latin’s Silver Age. This collection includes his Medea, in which the tragic heroine speaks more than half the lines; Phaedra and Hippolytus, in which a struggle with lust highlights the virtues of Stoicism; and Troades, in which the women of Troy face death with bravery. The Rape of Helen, also included here, is a mini-epic in Homeric style by the late 5th-century Greek poet Colluthus. Translator Edward Sherburne was a Cavalier poet, a Roman Catholic, and a Loyalist during the English Civil War, when his estate, including his tremendous library, was seized in retribution for his allegiance to the king. Sherburne’s interest in Seneca, who committed suicide by order of his emperor, perhaps reflects his own political sacrifices. Sherburne’s Medea first appeared in 1648, The Rape of Helen in 1651, and Troades in 1679; the present volume is the first appearance of his translation of Phaedra and Hippolytus. Issued in the year of Sherburne’s death, the collection includes not only the four plays, but also his biography of Seneca and a bibliographic essay, a record of Sherburne’s lifelong attention to a philosopher whose values he admired. The 1701 first issue included only the frontispiece portrait of Seneca; the five additional engraved plates were produced for this second issue, which advertises the illustrations on the title page (DNB). That said, first issue copies are recorded with varying numbers of plates, suggesting that the illustrations became available very shortly after the text, in time to be added to some of the earliest copies. A fine copy of Seneca’s tragedies, translated in an era of great political tumult, handsomely bound by Philip Dusel.