Words in a Nutshell
Miniaturizing Texts in Early Modern England
Keywords:early modern, England, nutshell, metaphor, Iliad, Bible, print culture
After Philemon Holland’s influential English translation of Pliny’s Natural History was first published in 1601, the Iliad-in-a-nutshell mentioned by Pliny became a commonplace motif of virtuosic compression in early modern England. Engaging with the popularity of this image, this article will explore its implications in early modern print culture. Although the frequently-appearing Iliad-in-a-nutshell might seem but a convenient rhetorical flourish, this article proposes that closer attention to it in the context of the small or miniature might help us to consider broader questions about the intertwining of physical and literary scale in early modern printed books as both texts and material objects. It argues that the miniature book, and more general desires to condense large works such as the Bible into smaller volumes, are not merely virtuosic or frivolous, but a manifestation of a wider anxiety about the relationship between physical size and literary weightiness.
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