Wednesday, September 20, 2017

321. The 2017 Alphabet: O

O is for On.

On Hellespont, guilty of true love's blood,
In view and opposite two cities stood,
Seaborderes, disjoined by Neptune's might;
The one Abydos, the other Sestos hight.

Christopher Marlowe and George Chapman, Hero and Leander,
decorated by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon (1894)
In June 1894, the Bodley Head in London published an edition of Christopher Marlowe's and George Chapman's poem Hero and Leander. The book contained 7 wood-engravings, a border, and seven decorated initials.

Only four initials needed to be drawn, as one could be used four times: 'B' (page 26), 'C' (opposite page 5), 'N' (pages 41, 59, 75, 97), and 'O' (page 5). The letters 'B', 'N', and 'O' belonged to one family (29x29 mm), the 'C' is much smaller (13x20 mm), and somewhat different in design. These were not used in any other book by Ricketts and Shannon. There were two prospectuses for Hero and Leander, and the earliest of these contained an initial 'I' that had been used before, and would not occur in the book.

Christopher Marlowe and George Chapman, Hero and Leander,
decorated by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon (1894)
The initials depict leaves and stems of laurel, one of Ricketts's favourite design elements; he used it for several borders. The larger ones have a peculiar propeller pattern, especially the 'N' and 'O'.

Charles Ricketts, initials 'B', 'N', and 'O' (1894)
The 'O' is the first one to appear in the book, and the small black leaves are not very different from those in the smaller initial 'C'. However, the larger, white leaves form a centrifugal pattern, suggesting rotation, referring to whirling waters, the waves that will form the graves of Leander and Hero in this version of the poem.