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In the section Fiat Voluntas Tua, the Poet receives some mention through the hindsight of history (emphasis mine):

the fable had probably arisen out of the story that one of the early Hannegans had been given a glass eyeball by a brilliant physical theorist who was his protege - Zerchi could not remember whether the scientist had been Esser Shon or Pfardentrott - and who told the prince that it had belonged to a poet who had died for the Faith. He had not specified which faith the poet had died for - that of Peter or that of the Texarkanan schismatics - but evidently the Hannegan had valued it, for he had mounted the eyeball in the clutch of a small golden hand which was still worn upon certain state occasions by princes of the Harq - Hannegan dynasty.

However, the Poet

died in some unnamed skirmish, shot in the belly after leaping out of some bushes at a cavalry officer who had just run down a fleeing refugee woman with a dull saber.

This hardly seems to be a death tied to faith, regardless of which faith you are referring to.

How would details of his death have wound up in the histories? Is there any basis for the claim, or was this just Miller's way of showing the distortions of fact that can find their way into history?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

I agree that I would not classify it "dying for the Faith."

The details of the death are unlikely to have been recorded; after all no one but the Poet would be able to blame it on a dull sword blade, as those were private thoughts. It seems unlikely that anyone that survived the incident would have particularly noticed, much less remembered the Poet's actions.

On the other hand, it is possible that someone stumbling upon the scene after the fact could have identified the Poet, and so could have related his death and some general information to the Thon, directly or indirectly. That it was a cannonball from one of Hannigan's cannons that killed him would be fairly obvious, I would think. That might be enough to have the death classified as being for the Faith; the Hannigan was in opposition to the (New) Vatican, and I can imagine that anyone killed by Hannigan's side might automatically be labeled as "dying for the Faith," at least if there were no details to contradict the assumption (which as pointed out earlier is the case with the Poet's death).

I do not know if that is what you would classify as a "distortion of fact finding its way into history" or not. Nor would I rule out a later distortion of fact. I found such interconnecting references a very enjoyable part of the novel (and if you have the chance to re-read it, you will find some enjoyable foreshadowings and deeper meanings that are not obvious on the first read). But you are possibly correct concerning Miller's motivations for including it; there are certainly other instances in which he provides humorous anecdotes relating to the historical record (e.g. that knowledge of Leibowitz's wife having a gold tooth survived but the names of the political leaders responsible for the atomic war did not and Thon Taddeo's attempt to interpret fiction [presumably Capek's RUR] as history).

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Thanks, and welcome to the site. This is a great first post! –  Beofett May 16 '13 at 22:27
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