Ruins of Athens, with Remains and Other Valuable Antiquities in Greece

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by Julien-David Le Roy, translated and edited by Robert Sayer

Ruins of Athens
George Wythe bookplate.jpg
Title not held by The Wolf Law Library
at the College of William & Mary.
Author Julien-David Le Roy
Editor Robert Sayer
Translator Robert Sayer
Published London: Robert Sayer
Date 1759
Edition English
Language First English edition
Volumes volume set
Pages ii, 31, [1] pages, 26 leaves of plates
Desc. (55 cm.)

Robert Sayer (1725-1794) was an English print, map, and chart publisher who catered to the growing public interest in architectural and decorative works in London in the 1750s. Described as a "shrewd and cautious" publisher, Sayer found success based on his commercial skills. Sayer eventually expanded his publication business by reaching provincial, colonial, and foreign markets, but remained based in London.[1]

In 1759, Sayer published Ruins of Athens, a translated version of Les Ruines des plus Beaux Monuments de la Grèce by Julien-David Le Roy (1724?-1803). Le Roy's Les Ruines was a highly controversial work on classical Greek architecture that fueled intellectual debate among scholars of Greek and Roman art during the eighteenth-century Greek Revival.

Despite being billed as a direct translation of Les Ruines, Sayer’s book did not include any of Le Roy’s observations on architectural theory and history, nor Le Roy’s narrative regarding his voyage to Greece. Instead, Ruins of Athens was largely based on George Wheeler’s late seventeenth-century journey to Greece.[2] Ruins of Athens was not faithful to Le Roy’s original architectural figures and drawings either, as Sayer’s adaptation had "monuments crowded together in invented locations" and was viewed as "a cheap 'pirate' edition" of Les Ruines.[3]

While being unfaithful to Le Roy's original material, Ruins of Athens also served as one of the first works to heavily critique Le Roy’s architectural assertions in Les Ruines. In his translated and edited version, Sayer declared Le Roy’s architectural measurements were incorrect, stating that "the small and great Measurements disagree" due to Le Roy’s "own Want of Attention, or inaccuracy of the Engraver."[4] Le Roy’s work was critiqued by others as well. Three years after the publication of Les Ruines, James Stuart and Nicholas Revett published The Antiquities of Athens, a book detailing monumental remains of ancient Greek architecture. Throughout their book, Stuart’s written footnotes continually critiqued Le Roy’s work. In turn, Le Roy offered "savage critiques" of The Antiquities of Athens, even while many others praised Stuart and Revett. [5]

Although, Stuart and Revett’s work became credited for developing the field of classical archeology and served as "the principal source-book for the Greek Revival,"[6] both Le Roy’s Les Ruines and Sayer’s Ruins of Athens have been hailed as "less accurate, but nevertheless important" works on classical architecture.[7] Figures from Ruins of Athens still appear in modern works on classicism in Greek archeology.[8]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as "LeRoy’s Ruins of Athens. fol." This was one of the books kept by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson later sold a copy of "Ruins of Athens" to the Library of Congress in 1815, but it no longer exists to verify Wythe's prior ownership.[9] Both the Brown Bibliography[10] and George Wythe's Library[11] on LibraryThing include the 1759 edition of Sayer's translated version of Le Roy's Les Ruines des plus Beaux Monuments de la Grèce, which may have been the only English version.

As yet, the Wolf Law Library has been unable to purchase a copy of Ruins of Athens.

See also


  1. Susanna Fisher, "Sayer, Roberts (1224/5-1794)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004- ), accessed March 25, 2015.
  2. Christopher Drew Armstrong, Julien-David Leroy and the Making of Architectural History (New York: Routledge, 2012), 6.
  3. Richard Stoneman, Land of Lost Gods: The Search for Classical Greece, rev. ed. (1987; repr., New York: Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2010), 323.
  4. Armstrong, Julien-David Leroy, 6.
  5. Jason M. Kelly, "Society of Dilettanti (act. 1732-2003)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004- ), accessed March 20, 2015.
  6. James Curl, Georgian Architecture, rev. ed. (1993; repr., Singapore: CS Graphics Pte., 2002), 78.
  7. Ibid., 79.
  8. Michael Shanks, The Classical Archaeology of Greece: Experiences of the Discipline (New York: Routledge, 1996), 71.
  9. E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1952-1959), 4:367 (no.4189).
  10. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012, rev. May, 2014) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at:
  11. LibraryThing, s. v. "Member: George Wythe", accessed May 15, 2015.