Zhitiye Spavnioho Basnotvorca Esopa/Vitae Aesopi Versio Russica

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Strnadel, Josef
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"I realized after spending extensive time with this publication and then cataloguing it that I already have a copy, purchased for just $8 in 2001. Because of the unusual character of the publication -- and because there may be helpful information in one cataloguing not in the other -- I will keep both copies in the collection. This portfolio was a real find in a ZVAB half-price sale. There are two parts inside a board binder/wallet with marbled exterior, with gold lettering on a black rectangular title plate. The two parts are a 21-page brochure and sixteen loose woodcut plates. The brochure offers a four-page background and description of the early Russian "Life of Aesop" in Czech, English, French, German, and Russian. The English version is titled "The Russian Copper-Engraved Print 'The Life of Aesop.'" This introduction is highly political. Fable's vitality "has been preserved due to eternal human and social contentions. Fable has spread wherever people have been denied their rights." This approach suggests what it was like to be in Prague in 1968. The life of Aesop was, for this author, an "organic component of all book editions." Strnadel traces the ancestry of this Russian work back to Steinhöwel. I would not have known that Ulm was at that point "the centre of German humanism." Apparently this Russian vita was published in 1750. By then woodcut had yielded to copper engraving. In editions of this era, illustration was primary and texts were secondary. In fact, texts often lost their original purpose. In Russia in particular, Aesop's life "met with greater attention than his fables themselves." "It was precisely the spirit of anti-serfdom in which the life of Aesop was described in these engraved prints that was responsible for the prohibition imposed on the spreading of these publications by the tsarist censor in the first quarter of the nineteenth century." Used book collectors will be happy to know that the primary copy of the woodcuts was purchased at a second-hand book market in 1935. The plates themselves track the well-known life of Aesop well. The third sheet suggests him vomiting forth clear water while his two guilty fellow slaves look on. One can recognize in the eighth sheet the story showing that the master's dog is the faithful one in his household. Sheet 15 presents Aesop's crazy idea of flying observers. Sheet 16 is clearest of all. All three illustrations are easy to decipher. In the first, Athenian agents "discover" the sacred cup hidden in Aesop's belongings. In the second he seeks an altar for refuge. In the third he is thrown down from a precipice. The publication was put out officially by "Bibliotheca Rei publicae socialisticae Bohemoslovacae Pragensis." Not in Bodemann."
Cimelia Bohemica
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