Monday, April 10, 2006

Aeschylus and RFK

Speaking to a mostly African-American audience in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968, Robert Kennedy broke the terrible news that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated:

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening because I have some very sad news for all of you -- could you lower those signs please? -- I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight.
Cries and screams and shocked silence follow. Kennedy goes on to quote -- imperfectly, from memory -- words of the chorus from Aeschylus' Agamemnon:
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 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.

So I shall ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, that's true, but more importantly, to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love -- a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.
RFK turned to reading ancient authors after his brother's assassination; his interest in the Greeks was, I gather, deep and real.

» Video of RFK's speech

» The Kennedy Family and Classical Themes (BBC)

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