Teaching the Feeling of the Classics

Gilbert Murray, The Interpretation of Ancient Greek Literature

“I remember about twenty years ago reading an obituary notice of Bohn, the editor of the library of translations, written by Mr. Labouchere. The writer attributed to Bohn the signal service to mankind of having finally shown up the Classics. As long as the Classics remained a sealed book to him, the ordinary man could be imposed upon. He could be induced to believe in their extraordinary merits. But when, thanks to Mr. Bohn, they all lay before him in plain English prose, he could estimate them at their proper worth and be rid for ever of a great incubus. Take Bohn’s translation of the Agamemnon, as we may presume it appeared to Mr. Labouchere, and take the Agamemnon itself as it is to one of us: there is a broad gulf, and the bridging of that gulf is the chief part of our duty as interpreters. We have of course another duty as well — our duty as students to know more and improve our own understanding. But as interpreters, as teachers, our main work is to keep a bridge perpetually up across this gulf. On the one side of it is Aeschylus as Bohn revealed him to Mr. Labouchere, Plato as he appeared to John Bright, Homer as he still appears to Mr. Carnegie; I will go much further and take one who is not only a man of genius, like Bright, but a great poet and a Greek scholar, Euripides as he appears to Mr. Swinburne; on the other side is the Aeschylus, the Plato, the Homer, the Euripides, which we, at the end of much study, have at last seen and realized, and which we know to be among the highest influences in our lives. This is not a matter of opinion or argument. What we have felt we have felt. It is a question of our power to make others, not specialists like us, feel the same. It is no impossible task. Like most others, it is one in which a man sometimes succeeds and sometimes fails, and in which he reaches various degrees of comparative success. There is not a classical tutor in this room who does not know that it can be done, and that he can himself do it.”

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