Luhansk, Ukraine: 1970s. Large 4to. (310 x 260 mm / 12" h x 10" w). 64 pp. of thick cardboard, of which 28 are completely filled with artwork, and the remaining 36 pages are blank. Elaborate vernacular brass binding a la repousse, the front cover bearing a soldier (Odysseus) with his lady (Penelope) within an arch, in the background a castle and a seascape; rear cover (likewise a la repousse) depicting a shield rendered in the classical Greek style, original orange velvet spine (small tears at the bottom of inner hinges). WITH: a two-page birthday card with tassel, pasted on the front cover is a small (3 x 2 cm) photograph, presumably of the artist. Preserved in a cloth protective case. Item #3253
AN AMAZING "ILLUMINATED" MANUSCRIPT OF HIGH QUALITY, BEING A UKRAINIAN PRISONER'S OWN BOOK OF THE "ODYSSEY" WHICH HE NOT ONLY ILLUSTRATED BUT BOUND IN BRASS "A LA REPOUSSE."
¶ The underlying themes of the "Odyssey" are CONQUEST and RETURNING HOME, relately directly to the circumstances of the prisoner-artist who created the present manuscript. It remains a visually stunning display of a prisoner's imaginative "Journey Home" under a repressive, totalitarian regime.
¶ Purchased by a Seattle bookseller from the son of the artist / prisoner, we have been informed that the manuscript was created in the confines of a correctional labor facility in the Luhansk (Voroshilovgrad) region of the Ukraine which is presently engaged in fierce combat with Russian troops. Working mostly in pen and ink, colored pencils, and opaque watercolors, the prisoner tells the story of his personal "Odyssey" of his imagination. The manuscript begins with what appears to be a self-portrait of a shakled man behind bars; in the background is a fully rigged sailing ship, seemingly dashed upon great rocks; above him is a scroll, a quill-pen, and a candle. Next is a scene of a stormy ocean tragedy: the same man is clinging to a broken mast which is being engulfed by waves, below him are skulls and creatures of the deep. The following illustration is of a curious forest scene, in which four scantily-clad and female soldiers (or prison guards?) gaze into the distance, their assault rifles carelessly stacked on the ground. The spectacular title-page has a frontispiece of two buxom maidens (apparently water nymphs) likewise scantily clad. The title-page reads: "Adventures with Odysseus. This story came from the distant past, right in the midst of the Trojan War. The Greeks, being superior in numbers, besieged Troy, the capital of the Trojan Kingdom. But the walls of Troy proved strong and tall. Trojans, too, remained stoical -- the seige of the city failed."
¶ This scene initiates the Odyssey cycle: Greeks storm Troy with a hooked ladder, in the distance a vast array of soldiers' tents, already two soldiers have fallen; more battles ensue; there is a charming scene of Penelope and Telemachus (as a child) on a rocky shore at sunset; Odysseus is intentionally tied to the mast of his ship in order to hear the Sirens' songs, while his crew reels in terror at the sight of the bones on the shore; the men come upon the mouth of the cave of the Cyclops, and the bones that are strewn about; next the colossal Cyclops Polyphemus removes the great stone from the cave and enters, crushing an unlucky soldier with his foot; the Cyclops becomes drunk with wine provided by Odysseus; the crew escapes to the ship; Odysseus encounters the witch-goddess Circe and they make love; he is tempted by deadly Sirens; he descends into Hades to consult the prophet Tiresias; he arrives at the palace dressed as a beggar and endures abuse and insults from the suitors of his wife Penelope; Odysseus (with his bow) and Telemachus kill the suitors. The final two illustrations are darker than the others, as they were apparently lightly varnished. In the first Odysseus reunites with his Penelope, their slain enemies underfoot; in the second and final illustration, Odysseus beheads Liodes, the sacrificial priest of the suitors. The manuscript is illustrated with 28 such scenes; judging from the number of blank pages, other illustrations were no doubt intended. MUST BE SEEN TO BE FULLY APPRECIATED.
¶ NB: we are grateful to Zhenya Dzhavgova for her kind assistance in the cataloguing of this manuscript.