Article Title

"The Kingdom of Heaven within Us": Inner (World) Peace in Gilbert Murray's Trojan Women


Simon Perris


Gilbert Murray (1866–1957) was perhaps the foremost British classicist of the early twentieth century, as well as being a prominent public intellectual, political commentator, and translator of Greek drama. Murray’s 1905 translation of Euripides’ Trojan Women, which not only sold well but was performed widely, exemplifies and combines his Hellenist, Liberal, and internationalist leanings. Set at Troy after the Greek victory, the play is effectively set in a P.O.W. camp, and it dramatises the effects of defeat on a succession of captive Trojan women. Trojan Women has thus been regarded, simplistically if not mistakenly, as the world’s first anti-war drama. What is more, Murray’s translation was itself often framed in performance as an anti-war play in the early years of the twentieth century. We would do better to read it, however, as pro-compassion rather than anti-war. In line with his Liberal beliefs, Murray felt great compassion for the victims of the Boer conflict, and his oeuvre more generally celebrates pity as the cardinal virtue. This does not, however, necessitate the absence of suffering, for pity is to be a sublime emotion experienced via suffering. In Trojan Women, this aesthetics of pity centers on musical theater, on translating Greek drama into a living theatrical tradition. The translation thus offers a metapoetic reading of Trojan Women as a music-theater reification of suffering rather than a plea for world peace. Murray’s Trojan Women illustrates the two sides of his Hellenism: practical, Liberal concern for one’s fellow man and sublime, esoteric pity.

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