It’s one of our oldest written works: “The Iliad” by Homer was part of a 3,000-year-old oral tradtition, first written down around the 10th century, in Greek. So the idea of a “first edition” of the Iliad showing up in English at an American yard sale is just plain silly.
It’s the kind of thing that could only happen in the movies. In the Jennifer Lopez thriller “The Boy Next Door,” to be exact. In the film J-Lo is a high school classics teacher, Claire, who dallies with her sexy 19-year old neighbor Noah (Ryan Guzman).
Noah brings Claire a book: We see “The Iliad” clearly on its beautiful blue and gold cover. “This is a first edition?” Claire says, flipping through it. “I can’t accept this! It must have cost a fortune.” Oh, just a buck at a garage sale, he tells her. Slate calls it “the campiest moment” in the film.
Camp or not, some fans were as seduced as Claire was by Noah’s gift. They’ve been trying to track down the book. On Wednesday, Abebooks, a storefront for used bookstores across the country, announced that “The Iliad, first edition” has been the top search term since the film opened in January.
“It appears people who have watched the film are trying to identify the actual edition handed to Lopez, which has dark yellow and blue boards. I cannot match the book seen in the movie to anything currently for sale on AbeBooks,” said AbeBooks’ Richard Davies in an email. “It could be a movie prop and not even be a real book.”
The Times reached Annie Brandt, the propmaster for “The Boy Next Door,” who assures us that the book is real. “It is in fact an actual copy of the Illiad and not a fabricated prop,” she said in an email.
The book is an 1884 edition of “The Iliad,” translated by Alexander Pope. So while it’s not anywhere near the 10th century, it does have some cachet -- Pope is a well-known poet -- and it is a genuinely handsome edition.
“While searching for copies of the Illiad that would be used for the film, the style and look of this book was chosen by myself and [director] Rob Cohen,” Brandt explains.
This copy of “The Iliad” was specially printed and bound by Donohue & Henneberry of Chicago. The company was apparently in the business of making copies of books that would look good on a Victorian library shelf -- here’s their version of Tennyson’s poetry from 1885.
People who want to read Alexander Pope’s translation and don’t care about book covers can download a digital version from Project Gutenberg for free.
A gold-and-blue-bound copy of “The Iliad” like Claire’s will be harder to find. The book in the film was purchased by Brandt, who gave it to her mother, who’s a bookworm.
Shoppers seeking their own copy will need the complete publishers’ information. Take this -- but don’t call it a “first edition” -- to the rare and collectible book dealer near you: The Iliad of Homer. Translated by Alexander Pope. Notes and introduction by Rev. Theodore Alois Buckley, M.A., F.S.A. and Flaxman’s Designs. Belford, Clarke & Co., 1884. Printed and bound by Donohue & Henneberry, Chicago.
Book news and more; I’m @paperhaus on Twitter