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RFK's use of A.Ag 179-183 MLK assassination

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RFK's use of A.Ag 179-183 MLK assassination

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Sun Jun 02, 2013 8:24 pm

OK, this has been discussed Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι long ago in many and various ways, so it is very old news. RFK's announcement of MLK’s assassination follows fairly closely Edith Hamilton's translations of Agamemnon. The RFK/Hamilton version has taken on a life of its own, but the words are typically attributed to Aeschylus which is wrong since Hamilton, for all her undeniable brilliance, in this particular passage has given the text a monotheistic cast foreign to original.

A.Ag 175-183
τὸν φρονεῖν βροτοὺς ὁδώ-
σαντα, τὸν <πάθει μάθος>
θέντα κυρίως ἔχειν.
στάζει δ' ἀνθ' ὕπνου πρὸ καρδίας
μνησιπήμων πόνος· καὶ παρ' ἄ-
κοντας ἦλθε σωφρονεῖν.
δαιμόνων δέ που χάρις βίαιος
σέλμα σεμνὸν ἡμένων.


Edith Hamilton 1930:
“God, whose law it is that he who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despite, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

Edith Hamilton Three Greek Plays, 1937:
Hamilton 1937
Guide of mortal man to wisdom,
he who has ordained a law,
knowledge won through suffering.
Drop, drop—in our sleep, upon the heart
sorrow falls, memory’s pain,
and to us, though against our very will,
even in our own despite,
comes wisdom
by the awful grace of God.

Robert F. Kennedy in his announcement of MLK’s assassination :

“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.”

All of the above drags Aeschylus against his will into a monotheistic framework with expressions like the awful grace of God which was employed because it would resonate powerfully with RFK's audience. In RFK's speech the terms God and Grace serve as icons, symbols with strong[1] religious associations for many Americans in 1968.

[1] strong but vague associations, the content of the words God and Grace were less important than the feeling of community created by reference to the numinous. Marshall McLuhan certainly would have liked this quotation and how it was used. It isn't what is said that is important. It is the use of symbols rather then propositions that matters.
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Re: RFK's use of A.Ag 179-183 MLK assassination

Postby daivid » Mon Jun 03, 2013 1:06 am

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:All of the above drags Aeschylus against his will into a monotheistic framework with expressions like the awful grace of God which was employed because it would resonate powerfully with RFK's audience. In RFK's speech the terms God and Grace serve as icons, symbols with strong[1] religious associations for many Americans in 1968.

[1] strong but vague associations, the content of the words God and Grace were less important than the feeling of community created by reference to the numinous. Marshall McLuhan certainly would have liked this quotation and how it was used. It isn't what is said that is important. It is the use of symbols rather then propositions that matters.


The sentiment Aeschylus intends is, if I have grasped the context correctly, is a rejection of a cycle of revenge. To that extent it not important whether the teacher is one god or many. Where Kennedy perhaps is changing the meaning is that in Aeschylus the victims of the vendetta have killed. What Kennedy is arguing against is an ethnic cycle of violence in which revenge is not taken on perpetrators but on those who merely share the same skin color as those who have been perpetrators.

I don't believe that the love, compassion and understanding that Kennedy advocates was intended to apply to the actual murderer of King.

And Clytemnestra lacks the recourse to law that was open to Athenians in the days of Aeschylus and in Kennedy's Ammerica. If Clytemnestra had chosen to forgive the murderer of her daughter would have got away with it.
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Re: RFK's use of A.Ag 179-183 MLK assassination

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Mon Jun 03, 2013 7:36 pm

daivid wrote:The sentiment Aeschylus intends is, if I have grasped the context correctly, is a rejection of a cycle of revenge. To that extent it not important whether the teacher is one god or many.


David,

Zeus was referenced in the immediately preceding text segment:

Ζῆνα δέ τις προφρόνως ἐπινίκια κλάζων
τεύξεται φρενῶν τὸ πᾶν,
175
τὸν φρονεῖν βροτοὺς ὁδώ- {[στρ. γ.}
σαντα, τὸν <πάθει μάθος>
θέντα κυρίως ἔχειν.
στάζει δ' ἀνθ' ὕπνου πρὸ καρδίας
μνησιπήμων πόνος· καὶ παρ' ἄ-
κοντας ἦλθε σωφρονεῖν.
δαιμόνων δέ που χάρις βίαιος
σέλμα σεμνὸν ἡμένων.

... so it is perhaps reasonable to follow Summerstein and others who see Zeus as the subject of ὁδώσαντα however in a 1930 translation in English for Americans the word God doesn't mean anything like Zeus. And RFK is playing on that mistranslation, he is employing it in the context of what has been called civil religion a subject both complex and off topic in this forum. The Edith Hamilton 1930 (The Greek Way page 156) translation has had a life of its own which seems to be independent of Aeschylus. Even if we are willing to tolerate the use of God (unqualified) as a rendering of Zeus, certainly it isn't even close to a rendering of δαιμόνων which is in the vorlage for the awful grace of God which probably is the the phrase that made this translation such a lasting cultural artifact in American culture. I am suggesting that Edith Hamilton's rendering of this particular passage is a literary work in its own right and RFK is quoting Hamilton not Aeschylus because what Aeschylus actually wrote would not have served RFK's purpose in his speech. Nor would it have become a huge success quoted times without number for over eight decades.
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Re: RFK's use of A.Ag 179-183 MLK assassination

Postby daivid » Mon Jun 03, 2013 8:17 pm

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:
... so it is perhaps reasonable to follow Summerstein and others who see Zeus as the subject of ὁδώσαντα however in a 1930 translation in English for Americans the word God doesn't mean anything like Zeus. And RFK is playing on that mistranslation, he is employing it in the context of what has been called civil religion a subject both complex and off topic in this forum. The Edith Hamilton 1930 (The Greek Way page 156) translation has had a life of its own which seems to be independent of Aeschylus. Even if we are willing to tolerate the use of God (unqualified) as a rendering of Zeus, certainly it isn't even close to a rendering of δαιμόνων which is in the vorlage for the awful grace of God which probably is the the phrase that made this translation such a lasting cultural artifact in American culture. I am suggesting that Edith Hamilton's rendering of this particular passage is a literary work in its own right and RFK is quoting Hamilton not Aeschylus because what Aeschylus actually wrote would not have served RFK's purpose in his speech. Nor would it have become a huge success quoted times without number for over eight decades.


I agree Edith Hamilton has mistranslated this. I just don't think the issue of monotheism versus polytheism is central to the message that Aeschylus intends. You may be right that Kennedy intentionally chose that translation but I don't see it as distorting Aeschylus' message - more that he is stripping off the polytheistic packaging that would have been a barrier to Kennedy's audience . Aeschylus is trying to tell his audience that when we follow the road of revenge dire consequences are the result and wisdom tells us not to start on that path. That is also the central message that Kennedy wants to convey.
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Re: RFK's use of A.Ag 179-183 MLK assassination

Postby Markos » Mon Jun 03, 2013 8:47 pm

I more or less agree with Stirling and would add that Hamilton and the Senator, in failing to render the που, add something (faith) that is not found in the text.

δαιμόνων δέ που χάρις βίαιος

"Maybe this is the violent gift of some unknown demon."

Jesus' grace is often awful, but there is no που in Him.
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Re: RFK's use of A.Ag 179-183 MLK assassination

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Mon Jun 03, 2013 10:30 pm

daivid wrote:
I agree Edith Hamilton has mistranslated this. I just don't think the issue of monotheism versus polytheism is central to the message that Aeschylus intends. You may be right that Kennedy intentionally chose that translation but I don't see it as distorting Aeschylus' message - more that he is stripping off the polytheistic packaging that would have been a barrier to Kennedy's audience . Aeschylus is trying to tell his audience that when we follow the road of revenge dire consequences are the result and wisdom tells us not to start on that path. That is also the central message that Kennedy wants to convey.


David,

If so then RFK is assuming his audience knows the whole story and understands what some consider the central theme of the Oresteia which is kind of a tall order for the electorate in the US in 1968. The endless cycle of revenge is clearly a subject that RFK is addressing but how exactly it is connected to this citation from Agamemnon is rather indirect.
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Re: RFK's use of A.Ag 179-183 MLK assassination

Postby daivid » Mon Jun 03, 2013 11:44 pm

Markos wrote:I more or less agree with Stirling and would add that Hamilton and the Senator, in failing to render the που, add something (faith) that is not found in the text.

δαιμόνων δέ που χάρις βίαιος

"Maybe this is the violent gift of some unknown demon."

Jesus' grace is often awful, but there is no που in Him.


I think you are right it is "που" that makes a Christian interpretation impossible.
However, in some ways it strengthens my point. Aeschylus is not acting as an advocate
of Polytheism. Indeed the "perhaps" gives it an almost agnostic feel to it. But while he
may be uncertain as to from where exactly wisdom comes he is not at all hesitant about
saying that there is a message in the pain which teaches a wisdom.

I don't believe that giving it a Christian package is distorting the essential message.

Edit:
Thanks for forcing me to pay attention to που. Reading it as "somewhere" I had trouble translating it and skipped it because it was too difficult to fit in with the rest. I am sure that wasn't why Hamilton skipped it.
Last edited by daivid on Tue Jun 04, 2013 12:47 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: RFK's use of A.Ag 179-183 MLK assassination

Postby daivid » Tue Jun 04, 2013 12:03 am

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:
David,

If so then RFK is assuming his audience knows the whole story and understands what some consider the central theme of the Oresteia which is kind of a tall order for the electorate in the US in 1968. The endless cycle of revenge is clearly a subject that RFK is addressing but how exactly it is connected to this citation from Agamemnon is rather indirect.


Kennedy made the speech having only just heard the news. It was unlikely to have been a carefully thought out speech. He describes the quote as have a personal meaning. It may be that it helped him when his brother was killed - he doesn't say this but his brother's assassination is the thing he mentions just before he reads the extract from Agamemnon.

So it maybe, that had he had more time to think, he would have chosen differently. He chose it because the connection was obvious to him and he did not think through what the audience would make of it.

But I do think the audience did get the point. If you read the quote out of context the connection with vengeance is not obvious and most of the audience would not have known the context of Oresteia.
However, when Kennedy read out the quote, having heard the news of Martin Luther King's death, have heard Kennedy outline the two possible roads for America, how could his audience not interpret it as being about the pain of unjust loss, the temptation of vengeance and that true wisdom is to realise that vengeance is not sweet but very bitter.

That quote had plenty of relevant context even to those who had not even heard of Aeschylus.
Last edited by daivid on Tue Jun 04, 2013 1:11 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: RFK's use of A.Ag 179-183 MLK assassination

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Tue Jun 04, 2013 12:55 am

daivid wrote:
Kennedy made the speech having only just heard the news. It was unlikely to have been a carefully thought out speech. He describes the quote as have a personal meaning. It may be that it helped him when his brother was killed - he doesn't say this but his brother's assassination is the think he mentions just before he reads the extract from Agamemnon.

So it maybe, that had he had more time to think, he would have chosen differently. He chose it because the connection was obvious to him and he did not think through what the audience would make of it.

But I do think the audience did get the point. If you read the quote out of context the connection with vengeance is not obvious and most of the audience would not have known the context of Oresteia.
However, when Kennedy read out the quote, having heard the news of Martin Luther King's death, have heard Kennedy outline the two possible roads for America, how could his audience not interpret it as being about the pain of unjust loss, the temptation of vengeance and that true wisdom is to realise that vengeance is not sweet but very bitter.

That quote had plenty of relevant context even to those who had not even heard of Aeschylus.


David,

I guess your right, this wasn't a product of speech writing but a spontaneous response to bad news. It seems to me the citation from Edith Hamilton is a general statement about human suffering and loss, not about revenge or violence. As a statement about human suffering and loss, It has relevance to the death of MLK, JFK and RFK (near future) so it is a powerful text. The endless cycle of violence is a connection that RFK makes here but the quote on its own doesn't supply that without knowing the context. So I agree that RFK makes the connection, but I don't think most of his audience would have seen any connection to the endless cycle of violence unless RFK had explicitly employed the citation for that purpose. An abstract point, I guess. The citation as a stand alone text without RFK's context (i.e., chain of violence, hatred MLK death, JFK, death) would not in my view suggest that context.
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Re: RFK's use of A.Ag 179-183 MLK assassination

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Fri Jun 07, 2013 12:07 am

daivid wrote:
Markos wrote:I more or less agree with Stirling and would add that Hamilton and the Senator, in failing to render the που, add something (faith) that is not found in the text.

δαιμόνων δέ που χάρις βίαιος

"Maybe this is the violent gift of some unknown demon."

Jesus' grace is often awful, but there is no που in Him.


I think you are right it is "που" that makes a Christian interpretation impossible.
However, in some ways it strengthens my point. Aeschylus is not acting as an advocate
of Polytheism. Indeed the "perhaps" gives it an almost agnostic feel to it. But while he
may be uncertain as to from where exactly wisdom comes he is not at all hesitant about
saying that there is a message in the pain which teaches a wisdom.

I don't believe that giving it a Christian package is distorting the essential message.

Edit:
Thanks for forcing me to pay attention to που. Reading it as "somewhere" I had trouble translating it and skipped it because it was too difficult to fit in with the rest. I am sure that wasn't why Hamilton skipped it.


Just now getting around to looking at the που. Makes the proposition tentative. Nothing inherently anti-Monotheistic about a tentative proposition. Monotheism as a world view was inherently foreign to classical Greek myth according to Elizabeth Vandiver. Aeschylus isn't bound by constraints regarding theological orthodoxy, a concept missing in Polytheism which was an open theism that morphed and expanded to embrace the deities and the practices of surrounding cultures.

Not conversant with the wisdom literature of 5th cent but have noted D-P's skepticism about the wisdom through suffering formula in Aeschylus. Who becomes wise when Agamemnon suffers or when Clytemnestra is killed or when Orestes is tormented by the Furies? Does Electra become wise?

The note of compulsion/force βίαιος which qualifies χάρις to a modern western way of thinking is inherently objectionable at least and probably would be considered evil to most. It is rendered awful[1] by Edith Hamilton in both her 1930 and later version. In greek is it an oxymoron intentionally (?) or perhaps just to modern western ears?

καὶ παρ' ἄ-
κοντας ἦλθε σωφρονεῖν.
δαιμόνων δέ που χάρις βίαιος

[1]Note that awful once had an ambiguous meaning, particularly classical studies of the period when Edith Hamilton lived and taught. It has lost the positive meaning "awe inspiring" in contemporary speech is only a negative term.
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Re: RFK's use of A.Ag 179-183 MLK assassination

Postby daivid » Fri Jun 07, 2013 10:34 pm

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:Just now getting around to looking at the που. Makes the proposition tentative. Nothing inherently anti-Monotheistic about a tentative proposition. Monotheism as a world view was inherently foreign to classical Greek myth according to Elizabeth Vandiver. Aeschylus isn't bound by constraints regarding theological orthodoxy, a concept missing in Polytheism which was an open theism that morphed and expanded to embrace the deities and the practices of surrounding cultures.

It seems to me a bit just being a little tentative - its a sort of maybe this wisdom comes from some god but who knows. Doubt is not totally alien to the Christian world view but the level of doubt is.
But, as you say, it would in fact be rather surprising if Aeschylus had the monotheistic view that Edith Hamilton's translation gives it. But the doubt does suggest that he wouldn't be too bothered by her misrepresentation. He wants the audience to take to heart the wisdom but isn't really interested in the question of where that wisdom really comes from.

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:Not conversant with the wisdom literature of 5th cent but have noted D-P's skepticism about the wisdom through suffering formula in Aeschylus. Who becomes wise when Agamemnon suffers or when Clytemnestra is killed or when Orestes is tormented by the Furies? Does Electra become wise?

I take it as meaning the Greeks as a whole. Aeschylus is saying we must learn the lessons of our past learn from the tragic fate of Clytemnestra and others. Doesn't Polybios justify history in such a way?


C. S. Bartholomew wrote:The note of compulsion/force βίαιος which qualifies χάρις to a modern western way of thinking is inherently objectionable at least and probably would be considered evil to most. It is rendered awful[1] by Edith Hamilton in both her 1930 and later version. In greek is it an oxymoron intentionally (?) or perhaps just to modern western ears?

καὶ παρ' ἄ-
κοντας ἦλθε σωφρονεῖν.
δαιμόνων δέ που χάρις βίαιος

[1]Note that awful once had an ambiguous meaning, particularly classical studies of the period when Edith Hamilton lived and taught. It has lost the positive meaning "awe inspiring" in contemporary speech is only a negative term.



The words do conjure up a harsh fate who will punish us if we transgress its laws without either anger or compassion.
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