A Soldier Saves Homer

November 13, 2012

When U-M alumnus Captain William Wirt Wheeler of the 6th Michigan Volunteers saved 17th-century editions of the Iliad and Odyssey from a fire during the Civil War, he decided it belonged in Ann Arbor.

In a letter dated September 29, 1862, found tucked in the book’s pages, Wheeler wrote to former professor James Robinson Boise from a camp near New Orleans. He explains that he was “able to save from the flames of a gentleman’s library a copy of the Odyssea and another of the Iliad” and that he was sending these two volumes to Professor Boise as a “very small tribute of respectful remembrance from a former pupil who had need of all your indulgence blundering through his Greek at college.” He adds that he “frequently, as you may well suppose, recur to those happy days spent at Alma Mater.” Professor Boise eventually presented these two copies to the U-M Library.  

The letter was one item on display in the exhibit “Translating Homer: from Papyri to Alexander Pope,” which was on display at U-M’s Hatcher Graduate Library from August 9-October 7. Based on holdings from the Papyrology Collection and the Special Collections Library, the exhibit  included a selection of papyri and early printed books illustrating how the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epic poems originally composed in the oral tradition, were first written down, edited, and eventually translated into the main European languages. The exhibit was part of the LSA Fall 2012 Translation theme semester.  

View the letter in the slideshow above, along with additional items that were on display in this unique exhibit.

Captions by Pablo Alvarez, Outreach Librarian & Curator, Special Collections Library. Photographs by Randal Stegmeyer, Media Digital Photographer (DLPS)

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