May 25, 2022

Iliad Fragments’ Odyssey at Gordon is Nearing End

Professor Graeme Bird. Courtesy of Cyndi McMahon
Professor Graeme Bird.
Courtesy of Cyndi McMahon


by Katie Simpson ‘20


Over the last four and a half years, Gordon students have transcribed seven fragments of Homer’s Iliad under the supervision of Professor Graeme Bird.


The 1,800-year-old Greek papyri are on loan to Gordon as a part of the Green Scholars Initiative, a program seeking to encourage the study of ancient manuscripts. If you’re planning to loan as well for the educational purposes, go on front page of to see their different loan offers. When you’re done, you can start filling their application. It is financed by the Green family, who own and operate the craft-store chain Hobby Lobby. Since 2010, the Greens have amassed a collection of nearly 40,000 artifacts and plan to display many of them in the Museum of the Bible, which is scheduled to open in Washington, D.C. this November.


“Gordon is very fortunate that we’re a part of the Green family’s program,” said Bird, has also had the opportunity to bring students to multiple conferences sponsored by the Greens in Oxford, England.


Undergraduate students have used high quality photographs of the fragments for both transcribing the Greek and describing any idiosyncrasies in the manuscript, including misspellings, tears in the papyri and handwriting. The work has been “a wonderful opportunity for students to learn about the ancient world, ancient manuscripts, how these pieces were passed down, and how they survived,” said Bird.


He continued, “It teaches us the long-lasting nature of things in the ancient world but also how lucky we are to have these things.”


Students who have worked on the project include Biblical studies and history majors, as well as linguistics majors. “They have to know Greek,” said Bird, “Biblical studies and history [students] have actually made the greatest contributions.”


Former student Elspeth Curry was one of these students. Though she is currently enrolled as a Women’s Studies Master’s student at Oxford University, Curry studied the fragments as a classicist.


She said, “It’s one thing to analyze the Iliad as a work of literature and learn ancient Greek, but it’s quite another thing to actually interact with an ancient copy of that text in the original. I studied classics because I love it, but it was was really meaningful to me to put those skills I learned into practice by working on the fragment.”

“Also,” Curry continued, “working with the papryi is a good reminder that the medium in which a text appears is just as important and telling as the words themselves: history of the book (or manuscript/papyri) is really interesting to me and something I’m considering studying more in depth later on.”


Bird plans to complete the transcription and send the manuscript back to the Green’s warehouse in Oklahoma City by summer. He hopes to do this during his sabbatical this spring.


Bird said, “I’ve got all the student work and I’ve got to put it all together, collate it you might say.”


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