The Wisdom of Aeschylus


I recently shared this on Facebook and it was well received. So I decided to share it with my blogging friends.

Acknowledging the audience’s emotions [following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.],  Robert Kennedy referred to his own grief at the murder of his brother, President John F. Kennedy and, quoting a passage from the play Agamemnon (in translation), said: “My favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote: ‘Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’ What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness; but [what we need] is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black … Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”

There’s really nothing to add.


7 thoughts on “The Wisdom of Aeschylus

  1. It’s not only a beautiful short speech — akin to the Gettysburg Address — it’s testament to a liberal arts education and upbringing. I’ve seen that video several times, and I’m pretty sure he just came up with that on his own, nearly on the fly. He has a small sheet of paper in his hands, but doesn’t look at it, which means he memorized Aeschylus.

    I often wonder how Vietnam and the 1970s would have gone had RFK won the election in 1968. He had been a hawk on a lot of things when he served in his brother’s administration, but always was a firm civil rights reformer. He seemed to undergo genuine transformations on the war and how some of the worst elements of the federal government were used — CIA, FBI wiretapping — and his compassion seemed to really grow in ’67-68. I think he outgrew his brother and perhaps would have been the greater president, less cynical about his idealism than JFK, more expressively compassionate about civil rights than LBJ (who, did, of course, get a lot of civil rights legislation passed). RFK might have brought together all the better angels, or at least many, many of them.

    • Unfortunately we do measure value in dollars and cents: witness Antiques Roadshow! An item of great beauty has no value until an expert puts a dollar sign on it! How sad. And as far as such things as compassion and fellow-feeling go, they are becoming things of the past.

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