Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
through the awful grace of God.
As Christopher S. Morrissey explains, this quotation is from Edith Hamilton’s 1930 translation of Aeschylus' drama Agamemnon, and contains a slight but significant misquotation:
HAMILTON’S 1930 AESCHYLUS (Agamemnon 179-183):
“And even in our sleep [d' ény' Ïpnou] pain that cannot forget [mnhsipÆmvn pÒnow], falls drop by drop [stãzei] upon the heart [prÚ kard€aw], and in our own despite [s°lma semnÚn ≤m°nvn], against our will [ka‹ par' êkontaw], comes wisdom to us [∑lye svfrone›n] by the awful grace of God [daimÒnvn d° pou xãriw b€aiow].”
Edith Hamilton’s translation of these lines from Aeschylus (Agamemnon, 179-183) is most famous in a mistranslation that has been widely propagated. The mistranslation can be attributed to Robert F. Kennedy, who misquoted Edith Hamilton’s prose version from The Greek Way, misquoting “despair” for “despite” in a famous speech upon the assassination of Martin Luther King (April 4, 1968).
AESCHYLUS IN RFK’s SPEECH:
“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.“
Note Kennedy’s hesitation at 3:21, with the repetition of the first syllable of “despair”. We may interpret it either as the hesitation upon the occasion of a deliberate, or an accidental but fortuitous, misquotation.
To help improve the meaning of these lyrics, visit “Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.” by Robert F. Kennedy and leave a comment on the lyrics box