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Murray, Gilbert

Category: Writer

 

George Gilbert Aimé Murray, OM (2 January 1866 – 20 May 1957) was an Australian-born British classicist, humanist, poet and writer. Murray refused a knighthood in 1912, though he was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1941. He received honorary degrees from Glasgow, Birmingham, and Oxford.

He was involved as an internationalist in the League of Nations. Later he was a major influence in the setting-up of Oxfam and of the Students' International Union (later the Institute of World Affairs).  Around 1917, he worked with H. G. Wells in his support of a League of Free Nations Association (LFNA).  In 1912 he also wrote an introduction to The Great Analysis: A Plea for a Rational World-Order, by his friend William Archer.

Murray was an outstanding scholar of the language and culture of Ancient Greece, perhaps the leading authority in the first half of the twentieth century. He is best known for his verse translations of Greek drama, which were popular and prominent in their time. Over time he worked through almost the entire canon of Athenian dramas (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides in tragedy; Aristophanes in comedy). From Euripides, the Hippolytus and The Bacchae (together with The Frogs of Aristophanes; first edition, 1902); the Medea, Trojan Women, and Electra (1905–1907); Iphigenia in Tauris (1910); The Rhesus (1913) were presented at the Court Theatre, in London.  The translation of Œdipus Rex was a commission from W. B. Yeats.

But he was a poet and prose writer who was out of step with the materialistic ‘progressive’ and ‘modernist’ movements at the time. As a poet he is virtually unknown and his experiments with his own prose dramas, were without much success.

Murray wrote and broadcast extensively on religion (Greek, Stoic and Christian); and wrote several books dealing with his version of humanism.  He was baptised as a Roman Catholic; his father was a Catholic and his mother a Protestant.

“No one was exactly sure what Murray believed. His publisher Stanley Unwin took him as Rationalist and not Christian, but found him most Christian-like. (Memoirs of a Publisher). Ford Madox Ford, not always a reliable witness, describes in Return to Yesterday (p.229) a rigmarole Murray produced at a house party of Edward Clodd's, around 1905: Murray had some sort of patent faith of which all I can remember is that a black velvet coffin played a part in it. Murray's interest in some aspects of parapsychology is well documented. A. R. Orage's criticism of Murray (The New Age, 1913) as 'eclectic' applies.

photo by Yousuf Karsh

But perhaps one of the reasons Murray was a little reticent about describing his beliefs is that he was psychic.  The observation for him explains this.  He was also clairvoyant and could ‘thought read’, which is more of a handicap than an asset in the academic world.

Murray was educated, for example, at St John's College, Oxford and in 1889–1899, Murray was Professor of Greek at the University of Glasgow.  Neither institution is known for its sympathies with psychical research.  In fact throughout his distinguished career -  from 1899 to 1905, he returned to Oxford and became involved in dramatic and political writing; and after 1908 he was Regius Professor of Greek at the University of Oxford – he at no time admitted he was psychic.

But his close friends did know.  When Sir Cyril Burt gave the 17th Frederic W H Myers memorial lecture to the Society for Psychical Research in 1968, Murray had been dead for over ten years and Burt considered it safe to add a description of just what Murray was able to do.

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