A title from The Old School Press 

The Phoenix

A translation by Eddie Flintoff, from the Latin of Lactantius, with pochoir by Peter Allen 

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One of Peter Allen's pochoir illustrations


About the book

Out of print

When he sent me the manuscript for Punting to Islip which I published in 1994, Eddie Flintoff enclosed his translation – the first for almost a century – of the poem De Ave Phoenice by Lactantius. The Phoenix is an early indicator of the kind of religious revolution that was going on in the time of Constantine, the very era that saw Christianity's ascent as a major world religion. Roman religious feeling was searching its way towards a philosophical reinterpretation of the old myths and legends, hoping to stabilise ancestral ways of thought that were looking increasingly threadbare, by reinterpreting them as moral allegories.

Lactantius was an early Christian theologian and professional rhetor, who attempted to align Christian symbolic teaching with aspects of the old culture, claiming that the church would be the inheritor of the best of classical culture. His claim that Christianity was the true heir of Roman civilised ideals must have seemed no more than bare-faced cheek in the fourth century when he was writing. He offers the symbol of the Phoenix and its mythical rebirth from the ashes of its own death as a symbol of Christ – and thereby as a symbol of the soul's rebirth into immortality.

The poem is vivid and colourful and provides a splendid opportunity to bring together a number of media – and contributors – in presenting Eddie's translation. Calligrapher Alun Briggs has written the text in a hand based on a mid fifth-century Italian manuscript, and it is from blocks made from his writing that the text has been printed. The poem demands coloured illustrations and Peter Allen has designed and pochoired five very striking three-colour full-page illustrations to accompany the text. Finally, to provide context to the poem, its subject matter, and its author, Dr John McGuckin, Reader in Patristic and Byzantine Theology at the University of Leeds, has provided a new introductory essay. The Press is following a long tradition: Aldus's heirs published a Lactantius edition including De Ave Phoenice in 1535, as did Claude Garamont in 1545.

Another of Peter Allen's pochoir illustrations

About the edition

The edition consists of 150 copies. 135 copies have been bound in full black cloth by The Fine Bindery, and a further fifteen sets of sheets were reserved for binders. The standard edition of the book is 213mm by 240mm on Zerkall mould-made paper. The introductory essay is printed in 12pt Monotype Perpetua italic, and supporting material in foundry Perpetua italic. 37pp. Ordinaries £63.

What others have said about the book

'A very attractive book, printed with blocks made from Alun Briggs's original calligraphy and with vibrantly coloured hand-stencilled illustrations'

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Copyright Martyn Ould 2023