First, a confession: this month’s Crocodile Mystery was originally going to pose a question along the lines of “What’s weird about this image?” or “What makes this picture especially interesting?” but I gave up. I couldn’t figure out how to phrase it in a way that wouldn’t, in fact, be saying “Try to guess what crucial piece of information is being deliberately witheld!”
The longer I looked at the image, the stranger it appeared, so I figured asking for captions would make an interesting Crocodile Mystery, and you came through!
Indeed, this is an image from Book 1 of Virgil’s Aeneid, and it shows Aeneas (with the plumed helmet) and Achates (with the bow) looking on while the beleaguered Trojans prepare a feast on the shore at Carthage. Here’s the full page, from Folger call number 267283 (folio):
So, what’s weird about this image? Answer: Aeneas’s nose. Or rather, his entire face. The copper plate from which this image was printed was originally commissioned for John Ogilby’s 1654 illustrated edition of Virgil. At that time, Aeneas had a small nose and a mustache. Jacob Tonson acquired Ogilby’s printing plates and had them touched-up for reprinting in a new translation of Virgil’s works 43 years later. Compare the same detail in Ogilby’s 1654 printing and Tonson’s 1697 printing:
It was a new translation of the Latin original, but the illustrations were all printed from the same plates that were used in the 1654 edition. Here’s the full illustration from 1654, as seen in Folger call number 225- 452f:
Strenghtening worn-out lines in a copper plate by re-engraving them was standard practice in 17th-century book illustration, but altering a face completely was not. Why would the publisher want to do this? In this case, the answer becomes clear when the re-engraved Aeneas is compared with a portrait King William III, the reigning monarch in 1697:
See the resemblance?
In order to finance publication of John Dryden’s translation of Virgil, Dryden and Tonson needed to make it attractive to wealthy subscribers, the sort of people who would want to be seen supporting a publication that glorified the king. The 101 copper plates that were first used in Ogilby’s 1654 edition provided 101 opportunities for sponsorship. Subscribers could pay 3 guineas up front, then 2 guineas upon receipt of the book, and in return, your name and coat of arms would be engraved on a plate (where they’d replace the coats of arms and inscriptions representing supporters of the 1654 publication. Those had been hammered out, providing a fresh blank surface).
Fun fact: Tonson oversold the subscription, so several people had to have their money refunded in order to make sure that VIPs like Lord Chesterfield had a place.1
Want to see more? The financial records containing the final accounting between Dryden and Tonson are now in the Folger’s manuscripts collection, under call number X.d.12, and they have recently been scanned as high resolution digital images.