This is my annotated edition of the first two Cantos of Gordon Lord Byron’s comic epic poem “Don Juan”. I compiled it in June, 2019 ready for the Bi-Centenary of the first publication by John Murray in London on 15 July, 1819. (The link will enable you to see and download the document).
It’s difficult to believe, now, what a sensation the first instalment of "Don Juan" caused. Here was a ‘relegated’* (to Italy) Peer of the Realm publishing a scandalously funny satire of his own public image as a scoundrel and filled with slyly-bitter jibes at the icons of the British establishment (political and poetical).
His entirely respectable publisher, John Murray (he also published, e.g. Jane Austen), hesitated to release this new poem and in the end did so only in an expensive, anonymous, version (as if he could disguise either the authorship or the publishing house!).
It was a sensation and is still — as Germaine Greer wrote in The Guardian — the finest comic work in the English language. But the passage of two centuries, and the decline in ‘classical’ education, has blunted some of Byron’s outrageous jokes. The sole purpose of this ‘annotated’ version is to make them fresh again for a contemporary audience.
My goals in making the PDF (about 7mb) were to keep the verse readable and the annotations brief and non-academic. They’re lined up with the verses so there’s no need to leave-off reading to check on some reference. There are timing marks in the file that align with my Librivox recordings of the two cantos that can be downloaded (separately) from Archive.org. The PDF contains the links.
Still... if you would rather be read-to, I also have an e-book of my illustrated, narrated version of the "Dedication to Don Juan and Canto I" that you can find here. Read-along e-books were briefly a thing for kid’s books. But this still works (it’s made for Apple Books) and is definitely not for kids.
* annotation to my own post!: ‘relegation’ was the official euphemism for ‘exile’ under the rule of the stuffy, dynastically-obsessed Emperor Augustus who permanently ‘relegated’ his own daughter and grand-daughter and also the poet Ovid, (for reasons that remain mysterious 2000 years later). Byron self-exiled to Italy that, probably, he preferred to London in the late-Regency.