The Book, the Soldier, and the Professor: A Tale of Flames from the Iliad

The uniqueness of a seventeenth-century edition of the Iliad held at Special Collections lies in the fact that an extraordinary document was inserted between the last page and back cover. It is an original letter that a U-M alumnus, Capt. William Wirt Wheeler of the 6th Michigan Volunteers, wrote to his former professor of Greek, James Robinson Boise, on 29 September 1862. While in a camp near New Orleans, Wheeler wrote 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.” Professor Boise eventually presented these two copies to the U-M Library.
 
This letter along with the mentioned book will be part of the exhibit, Translating Homer: From Papyri to Alexander Pope
 

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Capt. Wheeler, Sep 29 1862
 
 Cap. Wheeler, Sep. 29 1862
 

Transcription of the letter
Camp near New Orleans LA
Sep. 29th 1862
Professor James Boise
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor
 
Dear and respected Sir.
During the course of my peregrinations in this war, I was able to save from the flames of a gentleman’s library a copy of the Odyssea and another of the Iliad and I have waited a long time for an opportunity to send them to you. One of my Sergeants having been promoted Lieutenant of one of the new Regiments from Michigan will leave them at Ann Arbor for you.
 
I presume you may have in your valuable collection of the classics similar codices to the ones I take the liberty of sending. It may be however that such is not the case. At all events I hope you will not be annoyed at receiving this very small tribute of respectful remembrance from a former pupil who had need of all your indulgence while blundering through his Greek at college.
 
Lieutenant AW Chapman of my company (who graduated in the class of 1860) and I frequently, as you may well suppose, recur to those happy days spent at Alma Mater. And I can assure you that your name is first among those whom we loved and venerated. It is our hope and prayer that you may be long spared to the “boys at home” and to our honored University.
 
Please accept our sincere wishes for your continued health, happiness, deserved popularity, and the welfare of your family: believe me Dear Sir as ever.
Your obedient Servant
Capt. Wheeler
6th Mich Vols.   
 

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Iliad, Latin & Greek  Iliad, Latin & Greek
ΗΡΩΙΚΑ. ΟΜΗΡΟΥ ΙΛΙΑΣ, Homeri Ilias, Postrema Editio: Cui originem & exitum belli Troiani addidimus, Coluthi Helenæ raptum: & Tryphiodori Ilij excidium. Latinè omnia ad verbum exposita. Et à F. Porto Cretensi innumeris in locis emendataGeneva: M. Berjon, 1621.
 
One of the two rescued codices is this volume containing a Greek and Latin edition of the Iliad, followed by two additional poems that narrate the events leading to the Trojan War and the destruction of Troy itself. They are “The Rape of Helen,” a short epic poem in 392 verses, by the sixth-century, Greek poet Colluthus, and “The Capture of Ilium,” consisting of 691 verses, composed by Triphiodorus, a Greek epic poet from the second half of the third century C.E.
 
My sincere gratitude goes to Marilyn McNitt (Bentley Library) who provided me with exhaustive information on the protagonists of this letter

 

 

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Last modified: 08/18/2012