More, Thomas - Utopia - ( Item 127608 )
Published in London by Folio Society. 2011. First Thus. Fine Hardback. No inscriptions or bookplates. Fine slipcase. Illustrated by Adam Simpson. Translated by Robert M. Adams and George M. Logan. Quarter-bound in buckram with paper sides. The concept of paradise is as old as humankind, but it was Thomas More, in 1516, who invented Utopia. He derived it from the Greek meaning 'no place', with a pun on the Greek 'good place' - a piece of wordplay typical of More and his circle of learned friends. Utopia is not a straightforwardly philosophical text; it is an intriguing fiction which hides serious meanings beneath a playful exterior - or perhaps the other way around. Utopia opens with Thomas More meeting a mysterious traveller, Raphael Hythloday, in Antwerp. Hythloday contrasts the corrupt state of Europe with 'the wonderfully wise and sacred institutions of the Utopians'. Utopia, he says, is a crescent-shaped country about the size of England, with 54 identical cities. Its inhabitants hold all property in common, avoid war and despise jewels and rich clothing. Every citizen learns a trade, and 'no one sits around in idleness - But no one has to be exhausted with endless toil from early morning to late at night like a beast of burden.' However, travel is severely restricted, euthanasia is practised, and the Utopians rely on slave-labour for less pleasant tasks such as slaughtering animals. What did More intend by this curious, invented country? Is Utopia a satire or a manifesto? Though Utopia is presented as a 'nonsense' tale, the licence of fiction allowed More, the future Lord Chancellor, to put forward radical alternatives to the conventions of Tudor society - some of which, notably communism, found favour in later centuries. The questions raised remain pertinent: Is philosophy compatible with public service? Does power always corrupt? What should be done about crime? A newly commissioned introduction by Peter Ackroyd, More's biographer, places the book in the context of More's legal and rhetorical training, which taught him to argue any case, however outlandish. Adam Simpson's witty illustrations, incorporating words from the text, are an inspired depiction of this strange paradise.
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