The X-Files + Robert F. Kennedy’s Misquotation + Aeschylus
Aeschylus was first introduced to me by The X-Files. There was an episode (I think in the fourth season) titled “The Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man”, which recounted the life of the black-lunged-son-of-a-bitch… In this episode we see how The Smoking Man became the man he was. We see him assassinate the President John F. Kennedy. Then we see him assassinate Martin Luther King, a man he always admired (“I’ll do it myself. I have too much respect for the man”)… Now here’s the interesting part. After he kills Luther King, he watches Robert F. Kennedy on TV making that superb and famous speech in Indianapolis. In this speech, Kennedy misquotes few lines of Edith Hamilton’s 1930
translation of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon… Here’s what Robert Kennedy said: “My favourite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote: Even in our sleep, pain WHICH cannot forget falls drop by drop upon heart, UNTIL, in our own DESPAIR, against our will, comes wisdom through the awesome grace of God.” … In Edith Hamilton’s translation, instead of WHICH there was THAT. Then there was no UNTIL. And also Kennedy had omitted TO US. It should’ve been “comes wisdom TO US through the awesome grace of God.” But most importantly, it should’ve been DESPITE instead of DESPAIR… Although this last misquatation changes the meaning completely in my opinion, I think it makes it much more beautiful than the original translation by Hamilton… Okay. Now back to The X-Files. As he watches Kennedy make that speech and misquote Hamilton’s translation of Agamemnon, the Smoking Man recites those same lines along with Kennedy. He knows it by heart. How does he know Kennedy’s misquatation by heart? It was Glenn Morgan who wrote this episode. That’s a big mistake Glenn… Anyway, it was The X-Files that introduced Aeschylus to me. Since then he’s always been my favourite of great greek tragedians. Even when I later realised that Sophocles a was much better dramatist than he ever was, Aeschylus remained my favourite. Part of the reason was The X-Files. Part of the reason was the fact that I’m a quite religious man for a man who doesn’t have a religion.