The Greeks Had an Answer

Murray, Gilbert


  • Gilbert Murray describes the religious importance of poetry in his life and how his experiences in WWI guided his efforts to prevent future war.
This object is in collection Subject Temporal Permanent URL
Component ID:
To Cite:
TARC Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights
view transcript only

And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Dr. Gilbert Murray of Britain is internationally distinguished as a Greek scholar, poet, dramatist and statesman. He was professor of Greek at Oxford University for thirty years and was also professor of poetry at Harvard. He participated in the founding of the League of Nations and was the president of the Committee on Intellectual Cooperation. Nearly ninety, Dr. Gilbert Murray is still translating the wisdom of the past and adding to our knowledge of the future.
In trying to say what I really believe, I cannot recite one of the traditional creeds, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or the like. Most of us are born into one of them, and which it is depends simply on what country and what parents we come from. A great mystery surrounds us, in which the human mind can at best catch glimpses and express itself in metaphors.
For myself, I come on my mother’s side from a family of teachers, almost of schoolmarms, and grew up occasionally—accordingly—a good, obedient little boy who kept all the rules. On my father’s side, however, I came of a line of Irish rebels, always suspicious of authorities and deeply prejudiced in favor of the underdog.
I loved new ideas and poetry; so naturally in my teens, I fell deeply under the influence of Shelley. “Prometheus Unbound” was for some years to me almost a sacred book. Such poetry and such a religion, proclaiming a rejection of all the oppressors who misrule the world, all the superstitions that cripple man’s mind and prevent his going straight as the crow flies towards perfection. An illusion, of course. Perhaps I was rather slow in growing out of it.
The other main influence that has gone to forming my beliefs was that of ancient Greece. I could hardly have escaped it, having been a professor of Greek most of my life, from twenty-three to seventy.
It got hold of me first, I suppose, by the charm of its poetry. Then, it seemed to me that the great Greek thinkers were mostly facing the same problems as ourselves, but facing them more freely and frankly, not hampered by all the complexities and inherited conventions that confuse us today. They did sincerely and simply try to understand truth and justice and the good life.
Then, at last, in 1914 came the shock of the Great War, bringing for me, as for so many people, not any change of belief but a great change of focus. The prevention of war became the thing that mattered most in the world. I took part in the founding of the League of Nations, and for thirty years now, I have been working in that cause, learning, I think, a good deal by the way.
It needed more than enthusiasm. It needed patience and experience and commonsense. It needed day by day far more knowledge than I possessed. But I found good guides and companions. I learned to think less of abstract principles and less still of party catchwords and slogans. I have found among all parties, and all religions, men inspired by the great movement that leads toward peace, outward and inward. And I feel much truth in an old Greek philosopher’s saying: “The helping of man by man is God.”
That was Dr. Gilbert Murray, Greek scholar, philosopher and statesman. He lives now in Boar’s Hill, Oxford, but he is truly a citizen of the world.