Aristophanes: Lysistrata, Aristophanes, illus. by Aubrey Beardsley (Beardsley Press, 1927, one of 750 unnumbered)
8.25″ x 11.5″, 99pp, quarter silver over black cloth, with silver and black patterned endpapers, black lettering to spine, good condition for age, bumping and scraping present, Beardsley’s prints are tipped in.
Aristophanes was the greatest writer of ancient Athenian “old comedy,” known for its satires of contemporary life and for its broad, often obscene humor. Lysistrata was first produced in 411 BC, when the Peloponnesian War had been devastating Greece for 20 years. Most people know the plot: Lysistrata assembles women from all of Greece, and they agree that they will not have sex until the men make peace.
Aubrey Beardsley was the greatest and the most controversial Art Nouveau illustrator in England, famous for his illustrations of Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur, Oscar Wilde’s Salome, Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, and for several magazines. Because he was associated with Oscar Wilde, Beardsley lost his job as art editor of a magazine named The Yellow Book in 1895, soon after Wilde was arrested for homosexuality. He was approached by Leonard Smithers, a publisher of erotic books, who asked him to illustrate Lysistrata. His illustrations are very much in the spirit of Aristophanes, as funny as they are obscene. Beardsley converted to Catholicism in 1897, and soon after, he asked Smithers to “destroy all copies of Lysistrata” with its “obscene drawings,” but Smithers refused. Beardsley died of tuberculosis in 1898, at the age of 26. Smithers initially published Lysistrata in a limited edition of one hundred copies. It was occasionally reprinted in very small runs, usually clandestinely, often poorly, but copies have long been scarce and expensive.
Few copies of Beardsley’s Lysistrata printed before 1966 are currently in circulation. This copy is a rare limited edition printed by the Beardsley Press, London and even rarer with the binding intact.