A Life Improved By Greek Poetry

Gilbert Murray, A History of Ancient Greek Literature

“To read and re-read the scanty remains now left to us of the Literature of Ancient Greece, is a pleasant and not a laborious task; nor is that task greatly increased by the inclusion of the ‘Scholia’ or ancient commentaries. But modern scholarship has been prolific in the making of books; and as regards this department of my subject, I must frankly accept the verdict passed by a German critic upon a historian of vastly wider erudition than mine, and confess that I ‘stand helpless before the mass of my material.’ To be more precise, I believe that in the domain of Epic, Lyric, and Tragic Poetry, I am fairly familiar with the researches of recent years ; and I have endeavoured to read the more celebrated books on Prose and Comic Poetry. Periodical literature is notoriously hard to control ; but I hope that comparatively few articles of importance in the last twenty volumes of the Hervies, the Rheinisches Museum, the Philologus, and the English Classical Journals, have escaped my consideration. More than this I have but rarely attempted.

If under these circumstances I have nevertheless sat down to write a History of Greek Literature, and have even ventured to address myself to scholars as well as to the general public, my reason is that, after all, such knowledge of Greek literature as I possess has been of enormous value and interest to me; that for the last ten years at least, hardly a day has passed on which Greek poetry has not occupied a large part of my thoughts, hardly one deep or valuable emotion has come into my life which has not been either caused, or interpreted, or bettered by Greek poetry. This is doubtless part of the ordinary narrowing of the specialist, the one-sided sensitiveness in which he finds at once his sacrifice and his reward; but it is usually, perhaps, the thing that justifies a man in writing.”

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