“The English and Greek languages remained where they were,” T. S. Eliot wrote of a performance of Gilbert Murray’s “eighteen-penny” translation of the Medea. He went on to explain: “Few persons realize that the Greek language and the Latin language, and, therefore, we say, the English language, are within our lifetime passing through a critical period.” Since the Classics are no longer a pillar of the cultural establishment, he continued, “if they are to survive, to justify themselves as literature, as an element in the European mind, as the foundation of the literature we hope to create, they are very badly in need of persons capable of expounding them.” And, by implication, of translating them.

These words were written in 1918, hardly the happiest time in human history, yet the cautiously sanguine note they strike now seems almost to come...

 

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