In ‘Childhood’, the 1st Chapter of his Autobiography, Russell wrote: ‘I hated Latin and Greek, and thought it merely foolish to learn a language that nobody speaks.’
Some twenty years later, on February 26, 1901 Russell wrote to Gilbert Murray, the editor of the Oxford edition of Euripides, on his translation of Euripides’ Hippolytus: ‘I have now read the Hippolytus, and feel impelled to tell you how much it affected me. Those of us who love poetry read the great masterpieces of modern literature before we have any experience of the passions they deal with. To come across a new masterpiece with a more mature mind is a wonderful experience, and one which I have found almost overwhelming. It had not happened to me before, and I could not have believed how much it would affect me. Your tragedy fulfils perfectly – so it seems to me – the purpose of bringing out whatever is beautiful and noble in sorrow; and to those of us who are without religion, this is the only consolation of which the spectacle of the world cannot deprive us. The play itself was entirely new to me, and I have felt its power most keenly. But I feel that your poetry is completely worthy of its theme, and is to be placed in the very small list of truly great English poems. I like best of all the lyric with which you ended your reading at Newnham. I learnt it by heart immediately, and it has been in my head ever since.
Murray replied: ‘Of course I have felt great emotion in working at the Hippolytus; I have been entranced by it. And then the thought has always come to me, that there were dozens of translations of the Greek Tragedians in all the second-hand shops; and that I could not read any of them with the least interest; and that probably the authors of nearly all of them had felt exactly as I was feeling about the extraordinary beauty and power of the matter they were writing down.’