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MAHAFFY, John Pentland. Greek Pictures, drawn by Pen and Pencil, by J. P. Mahaffy..., London, The Religious Tract Society, 1890.

John Pentland Mahaffy (1839-1919) was an Irish scholar, clergyman, philologist, Egyptologist, musicologist and professor of ancient History. Mahaffy was born in Switzerland and raised in Germany. He became fluent in several languages. In 1859 he obtained his degree in Classical Studies and his interests immediately turned to ancient Greece. From 1871 he taught ancient History at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1918 he was named Knight of the Great Cross of the British Empire, and later became president of the Royal Academy of Ireland. Finally, at the age of seventy-five, Mahaffy was named rector of Trinity College.

A prolific author, meticulous but plethoric in his oral communications. Mahaffy was famed to be a snob but also a genuinely good person. He travelled widely in Africa, Greece and the United States. He was a teacher of Oscar Wilde and deeply loved Ireland.

Mahaffy composed at least seven important monographs on subjects of ancient Greek history, literature and philosophy, as well as some notable works on Ptolemaic Egypt. He was also the author of a travel account titled Rambles and Studies in Greece (1876). In addition, he made several important contributions to prestigious reviews of the time, among which a fourteen-page article in the June 1889 issue of “Murray's Magazine”, titled “Mount Athos in 1889”.

Mahaffy travelled to Mount Athos with the project of searching for Irish illuminated manuscripts in the monastic libraries. He succeeded in this endeavour, as he was able to investigate twelve libraries on Mount Athos. His knowledge of musicology helped him to make detailed observations on Byzantine psalms; at the same time, hiking revealed to him the beauty of Athonian landscape. After analysing Eastern Orthodox liturgical practice and dogma, Mahaffy came to the conclusion that no Westerner could have genuine sympathy for the Orthodox, and that no union of the churches would ever be possible given the Eastern Orthodox attitude regarding the expression of piety and religious practice.

In the early days of typography, in the 15th century, wood was the preferred medium for printing illustrations (wood engravings). Gradually, in the following (16th to 18th) centuries, copper engravings, lithographs, steel engravings and aquatints were favoured. In the late 18th century, Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) greatly enhanced the technique of wood engraving, which began to be used again to illustrate books. In the last thirty years of the 19th century photography gradually prevailed; photographs provided the basis for the new generation of wood engravings which illustrate travel editions. Except for imaginary depictions, the wood engravings found in the present work were based on the photographs of Malcolm Macmillan and W. Covington.

Written by Ioli Vingopoulou

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