Chapter 1

Ancient Greece and Near East

Melville’s writings reveal an interest in Ancient Greece and the Near East from his early “Fragments of a Writing Desk” (1839) to the poems of Timoleon (1891). His entire writing career was also influenced by Biblical sites and scripture. These literary interests were deeply enriched by his visit to the Mediterranean and the Near East in 1856-57, leading to the remarkable fusion of literary, religious, and personal experience that Melville achieved in writing Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (1876). The engravings in this chapter supplement Melville’s life and writings in untold ways. 

Because of the primacy of Ancient Greece and the Near East in Melville’s literary and historical imagination, I have included some engravings in this chapter, by subject, when they might otherwise have appeared in later chapter, by artist. For example, Flaxman’s illustrations of Aeschylus’s The Persians are here rather than in the chapter on engravings after eighteenth-century English artists. Biblical landscapes by W. H. Bartlett and James D. Smillie similarly appear in this chapter rather than in those featuring nineteenth-century English or American artists. Della Bella’s image of a Persian head with a camel appears here rather than in the chapters on Italian or French artists. Such choices throughout this site reflect my own educated guess as to the primary imaginative value that a given print might have had for Melville as a collector, writer, and traveler. Because he, unlike Goethe, did not leave us with his own classification of the hundreds of prints he collected, we must use our own imaginations in thinking through the primary and secondary categories into which he might have assigned each one.