When the word Greece is uttered, vibrant mental pictures rise up, much like the frothy spray of the Mediterranean as it lands on the pure white choral that its shorelines are so well endowed with. These picturesque mental pictures include such scenes as the warm European sun bathing ancient cities and castle ruins in invigorating luminosity, trees laden with the burden of plentiful oranges, figs, and lemons, clear aqua and royal blue waters housing a host of various kinds of sea life, and, among other things, the unmistakable sound of a strumming mandolin playing Greece’s tunes of love and loss. This background knowledge on the country of Greece, however, was unbeknownst to the majority of the world’s population until the eighteenth century, with the production of none other than rare books, which described Greece’s beauty from firsthand accounts.
While the absence of modern technological advances in travel caused voyages and explorations to be met with much trepidation and uncertainty, by the mid eighteenth century the Mediterranean was at least devoid of the presence of insidious and nefarious pirates lurking around the bend. Due to this elimination, those curious enough to explore Greece could at least narrow their travel worries down to mainly natural disasters at sea, rather than confrontational concerns with unruly pirates.
Thanks to those who did choose to brave the unpredictable elements at sea, the world is today thoroughly notified as to Greece’s then alluring charm and beauty, partly thanks to a collection of descriptive narratives written by those who traveled to Greece during the eighteenth century. These volumes were written primarily by French explorers, traders, and tourists, and provide a wealth of information concerning all that Greece offers to the inclined individual. A few of these rare books are listed below:
Dupré’s Voyage À Athenes Et À Constantinople, Ou Collection De Portraits, De Vues Et De Costumes Grecs Et Ottomans, Peints Sur Les Lieux, D’Apres Nature. Paris: Dondey-Dupre, (1825)
This account of voyage is filled with various lithographs and forty hand colored beautiful plates of natural sights and the elements of voyage, portraits, costumes and including a Turkish passport plate on double page.
Barthelemy’sVoyage du jeune Anacharsis en Grece. (1788)
This enthralling four volume novel tells the tale of a young man from Scythia who travels to Greece to receive schooling. After returning to his native country, the Scythian is supposed to have written the volumes which describe Greece’s customs, political stance, geographical aspects, and Greece’s literary and musical arts, among other things. The volumes have been reprinted many times, and serve as one of the earliest literary works to describe Greece’s many characteristics and opportunities.
Gouffier’s Voyage pittoresque de la Grece (1782-1822)
2 volumes in 3. Folio (22 x 14 inches). Illustrated with nearly 300 spectacular engraved plates of maps, plans, views, customs and antiquities. Choiseul-Gouffier travelled to Greece as part of the Marquis de Chabert’s expedition to prepare for a new map of the Mediterranean.
Grasset de Saint-Sauveur’s Voyage historique, literaire et pittoresque(1800)
This is a four volume set consisting of 3 in text plus an atlas which includes 30 engraved maps and plans (1 folding).
Sonnini’s Voyage en Greceet en Turquie (1801)
Sonnini guides his readers on a descriptive and exciting tour through Greece, and into Turkey. As is the case with the aforementioned volumes, Sonnin’s account offers valuable insight and a firsthand preview of some of the most beautiful places in his voyage.
Today, we are thoroughly informed and delightfully aware of Greece’s many aspects, partly thanks to this wondrous collection of French rare books. Any copies that become available are usually put up for auction generating significant interest. Arguably the most important collection of this type to come to auction was the “Greece and the Levant: A Private Library,” held by Sothebys on Nov, 13th of 2008. At the time the economic recession did not affect buyers of such valuable ‘real’ objects who bid over a half a million British pounds for a little over 200 books.