Ajax

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Ajax
by Sophocles, translated by Richard Claverhouse Jebb
(before c. 441 BCE)

Trans. Richard C Jebb, The Tragedies of Sophocles. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1917.

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ


ATHENA

AJAX

ODYSSEUS

TECMESSA

TEUCER

MENELAUS

AGAMEMNON

CHORUS OF SALAMINIAN SAILORS


MUTE: The child EURYSACES and his attendant; Two heralds accompanying
Menelaus (v. 1047); Two bodyguards in attendance on Agamemnon;
Attendants of Teucher (v. 977)


Before the tent of Ajax, at the eastern end of the Greek camp, near Cape Rhoeteum on the northern coast of the Troad. ODYSSEUS is closely examining footprints in the sandy ground. ATHENA is seen in the air.

Athena. Ever have I seen thee, son of Lartius, seeking to snatch some occasion against thy foes; and now at the tent of Ajax by the ships, where he hath his station at the camp's utmost verge, I see thee long while pausing on his trail and scanning his fresh tracks, to find whether he is within or abroad. Well doth it lead thee to thy goal, thy course keen-scenting as a Laconian hound's. For the man is even now gone within, sweat streaming from his face and from hands that have slain with the sword. And there is no further need for thee to peer within these doors; but say what is thine aim in this eager quest, that thou mayest learn from her who can give thee light.

Odysseus. Voice of Athena, dearest to me of the Immortals, how clearly, though thou be unseen, do I hear thy call and seize it in my soul, as when a Tyrrhenian clarion speaks from mouth of bronze! And now thou hast discerned aright that I am hunting to and fro on the trail of a foeman, even Ajax of the mighty shield. 'Tis he, and no other, that I have been tracking so long.

This night he hath done to us a thing which passes thought—if he is indeed the doer; for we know nothing certain, but drift in doubt; and I took upon me the burden of this search. We have lately found the cattle, our spoil, dead—yea, slaughtered by human hand—and dead, beside them, the guardians of the flock.

Now, all men lay this crime to him. And a scout who had descried him bounding alone over the plain with reeking sword brought me tidings, and declared the matter. Then straightway I rushed upon his track; and sometimes I recognise the footprints as his, but sometimes I am bewildered, and cannot read whose they are. Thy succour is timely; thine is the hand that ever guides my course—as in the past, so for the days to come.

Ath. I know it, Odysseus, and came early on the path, a watcher friendly to thy chase.

Od. Dear mistress, do I toil to purpose?

Ath. Know that yon man is the doer of these deeds.

Od. And why was his insensate hand put forth so fiercely?

Ath. In bitter wrath touching the arms of Achilles.

Od. Why, then, this furious onslaught upon the flocks?

Ath. 'Twas in your blood, as he deemed, that he was dyeing his hand.

Od. What? Was this design aimed against the Greeks?

Ath. He would have accomplished it, too, had I been careless.

Od. And how had he laid these bold plans? What could inspire such hardihood?

Ath. In the night he went forth against you, by stealth, and alone.

Od. And did he come near us? Did he reach his goal?

Ath. He was already at the doors of the two chiefs.

Od. What cause, then, stayed his eager hand from murder?

Ath. I, even I, withheld him, for I cast upon his eyes the tyrannous fancies of his baneful joy; and I turned his fury aside on the flocks of sheep, and the confused droves guarded of herdsmen, the spoil which ye had not yet divided. Then he fell on, and dealt death among the horny throng, as he hewed them to the earth around him; and now he deemed that the two Atreidae were the prisoners whom he slew with his hand, now 'twas this chief, now 'twas that, at each new onset. And while the man raved in the throes of frenzy, I still urged him, hurled him into the toils of doom. Anon, when he rested from this work, he bound together the living oxen, with all the sheep, and brought them home, as though his captives were men, not goodly kine. And now he torments them, bound together, in the house.

But to thee also will I show this madness openly, that when thou hast seen it thou mayest proclaim it to all the Greeks. And be thou steadfast and of a good courage, nor look for evil from the man; for I will turn away the vision of his eyes, and keep them from beholding thy face.

Ho, thou who art binding with cords the back-bent arms of thy captives, I call thee, come hither! Ajax, what ho! come forth from the house!

Od. What dost thou, Athena? Never call him forth.

Ath. Hold thy peace! Do not earn the name of coward!

Od. Forbear, I pray thee; be content that he stay within.

Ath. What is the danger? Was he not a man before?

Od. Yea, a foeman to thy servant, and still is.

Ath. And to mock at foes—is not that the sweetest mockery?

Od. Enough for me that he abide within his doors.

Ath. Thou fearest to see a madman in full view?

Od. No fear had made me shun him, if he were sane.

Ath. Nay, even now, he shall not see thee, though thou art near.

Od. How so, if he still sees with the same eyes?

Ath. I will darken them, though they are open.

Od. Well, all is possible when a god contrives.

Ath. Stand silent, then, and stay where thou art.

Od. I must stay. Would that I were far from here!

Ath. What ho, Ajax, once again I call thee! is this thy scanty regard for thine ally?

Enter AJAX, holding a blood-stained scourge in his hand.

Ajax. Hail, Athena! Hail, Zeus-born maid! How well hast thou stood by me! Yea, I will crown thy shrine with trophies of pure gold for this prize!

Ath. 'Tis fairly spoken. But tell me this—hast thou dyed thy sword well in the Greek camp?

Aj. That vaunt is mine; I disclaim it not.

Ath. And perchance turned thine armed hand on the Atreidae?

Aj. So that nevermore will they dishonour Ajax.

Ath. The men are dead, as I take thy meaning:

Aj. Dead: now let them rob me of my arms!

Ath. Good: and then the son of Laertius—in what plight hast thou left him? Hath he escaped thee?

Aj. What, thou askest me of that accursed fox?

Ath. Yea, in sooth—of Odysseus, thine adversary.

Aj. No guest so welcome, Lady: he is sitting in the house—in bonds: I do not mean him to die just yet.

Ath. What wouldst thou do first? What larger advantage wouldst thou win?

Aj. First, he shall be bound to a pillar beneath my roof—

Ath. The hapless man—what despite wilt thou do unto him?

Aj. —and have his back crimsoned with the scourge, ere he die.

Ath. Nay, do not torture the wretch so cruelly.

Aj. In all else, Athena, I say, have thy will; but his doom shall be none but this.

Ath. Nay, then, since it delights thee to do thus, hold not thy hand, abate no jot of thine intent.

Aj. I go to my work: but thou, I charge thee, stand ever at my side as thou hast stood to-day!

Exit AJAX

Ath. Seest thou, Odysseus, how great is the strength of the gods? Whom couldest thou have found more prudent than this man, or more valiant for the service of the time?

Od. I know none; and I pity him in his misery, for all that he is my foe, because he is bound fast to a dread doom: I think of mine own lot no less than his. For I see that we are but phantoms, all we who live, or fleeting shadows.

Ath. Therefore, beholding such things, look that thine own lips never speak a haughty word against the gods, and assume no welling port, if thou prevailest above another in prowess or by store of ample wealth. For a day can humble all human things, and a day can lift them up; but the wise of heart are loved of the gods, and the evil are abhorred.

Enter the CHORUS OF SALAMINIAN SAILORS, followers of AJAX.
Chorus

Son of Telamon, thou whose wave-girt Salamis is firmly throned upon the sea, when thy fortunes are fair, I rejoice: but when the stroke of Zeus comes on thee, or the angry rumour of the Danai with noise of evil tongues, then I quake exceedingly and am sore afraid, like a winged dove with troubled eye.

And so, telling of the night now spent, loud murmurs beset us for our shame; telling how thou didst visit the meadow wild with steeds, and didst destroy the cattle of the Greeks, their spoil—prizes of the spear which had not yet been shared—slaying them with flashing sword.

Such are the whispered slanders that Odysseus breathes into all ears; and he wins large belief. For now the tale that he tells of thee is specious; and each hearer rejoices more than he who told, despitefully exulting in thy woes.

Yea, point thine arrow at a noble spirit, and thou shalt not miss; but should a man speak such things against me, he would win no faith. 'Tis on the powerful that envy creeps. Yet the small without the great can ill be trusted to guard the walls; lowly leagued with great will prosper best, great served by less.

But foolish men cannot be led to learn these truths. Even such are the men who rail against thee, and we are helpless to repel these charges, without thee, O king. Verily, when they have escaped thine eye, they chatter like flocking birds: but, terrified by the mighty vulture, suddenly, perchance—if thou shouldst appear—they will cower still and dumb.

Was it the Tauric Artemis, child of Zeus, that drave thee—O dread rumour, parent of my shame!—against the herds of all our host—in revenge, I ween, for a victory that had paid no tribute, whether it was that she had been disappointed of glorious spoil, or because a stag had been slain without a thank-offering? Or can it have been the mail-clad Lord of War that was wroth for dishonour to his aiding spear, and took vengeance by nightly wiles?

Never of thine own heart, son of Telamon, wouldst thou have gone so far astray as to fall upon the flocks. Yea, when the gods send madness, it must come; but may Zeus and Phoebus avert the evil rumour of the Greeks!

And if the great chiefs charge thee falsely in the furtive rumours which they spread, or sons of the wicked line of Sisyphus, forbear, O my king, forbear to win me an evil name, by still keeping thy face thus hidden in the tent by the sea.

Nay, up from thy seat, wheresoever thou art brooding in this pause of many days from battle, making the flame of mischief blaze up to heaven! But the insolence of thy foes goes abroad without fear in the breezy glens, while all men mock with taunts most grievous; and my sorrow passes not away.

Enter TECMESSA.

Tecmessa. Mariners of Ajax, of the race that springs from the Erechtheidae, sons of the soil—mourning is our portion who care for the house of Telamon afar. Ajax, our dread lord of rugged might, now lies stricken with a storm that darkens the soul.

Ch. And what is the heavy change from the fortune of yesterday which this night hath brought forth? Daughter of the Phrygian Teleutas, speak: for to thee, his spear-won bride, bold Ajax hath borne a constant love; therefore mightest thou hint the answer with knowledge.

Te. Oh, how shall I tell a tale too dire for words? Terrible as death is the hap which thou must hear. Seized with madness in the night, our glorious Ajax hath been utterly undone. For token, thou mayest see within his dwelling the butchered victims weltering in their blood, sacrifices of no hand but his.

Ch. What tidings of the fiery warrior hast thou told, not to be borne, nor yet escaped—tidings which the mighty Danai noise abroad, which their strong rumour spreads! Woe is me, I dread the doom to come: shamed before all eyes, the man will die, if his frenzied hand hath slain with dark sword the herds and the horse-guiding herdsmen.

Te. Alas! 'twas thence, then—from those pastures—that he came to me with his captive flock! Of part, he cut the throats on the floor within; some, hewing their sides, he rent asunder. Then he caught up two white-footed rams; he sheared off the head of one, and the tongue-tip, and flung them away; the other he bound upright to a pillar, and seized a heavy thong of horse-gear, and flogged with shrill, doubled lash, while he uttered revilings which a god, and no mortal, had taught.

Ch. The time hath come for each of us to veil his head and betake him to stealthy speed of foot, or to sit on the bench at the quick oar, and give her way to the sea-faring ship. Such angry threats are hurled against us by the brother-kings, the sons of Atreus: I fear to share a bitter death by stoning, smitten at this man's side, who is swayed by a fate to which none may draw nigh.

Te. It sways him no longer: the lightnings flash no more; like a southern gale, fierce in its first onset, his rage abates; and now, in his right mind, he hath new pain. To look on self-wrought woes, when no other hath had a hand therein—this lays sharp pangs to the soul.

Ch. Nay, if his frenzy hath ceased, I have good hope that all may yet be well: the trouble is of less account when once 'tis past.

Te. And which, were the choice given thee, wouldst thou choose—to pain thy friends, and have delights thyself, or to share the grief of friends who grieve?

Ch. The twofold sorrow, lady, is the greater ill.

Te. Then are we losers now, although the plague is past.

Ch. What is thy meaning? I know not how thou meanest.

Te. Yon man, while frenzied, found his own joy in the dire fantasies that held him, though his presence was grievous to us who were sane; but now, since he hath had pause and respite from the plague, he is utterly afflicted with sore grief, and we likewise, no less than before. Have we not here two sorrows, instead of one?

Ch. Yea verily: and I fear lest the stroke of a god hath fallen. How else, if his spirit is no lighter, now that he malady is overpast, than when it vexed him?

Te. Thus stands the matter, be well assured.

Ch. And in what wise did the plague first swoop upon him? Declare to us, who share thy pain, how it befell.

Te. Thou shalt hear all that chanced, as one who hath part therein. At dead of night, when the evening lamps no longer burned, he seized a two-edged sword, and was fain to go forth on an aimless path. Then I chid him, and said; "What dost thou, Ajax? why wouldst thou make this sally unsummoned—not called by messenger, not warned by trumpet? Nay, at present the whole army sleeps."

But he answered me in curt phrase and trite: "Woman, silence graces women." And I, thus taught, desisted; but he rushed forth alone. What happened abroad, I cannot tell: but he came in with his captives bound together—bulls, shepherd dogs, and fleecy prisoners. Some he beheaded; of some, he cut the back-bent throat, or cleft the chine; others in their bonds, he tormented as though they were men, with onslaughts on the cattle.

At last, he darted forward through the door, and began ranting to some creature of his brain—now against the Atreidae, now about Odysseus—with many a mocking vaunt of all the despite that he had wreaked on them in his raid. Anon he rushed back once more into the house; and then, by slow, painful steps, regained his reason.

And as his gaze ranged over the room full of his wild work, he struck his head, and uttered a great cry: he fell down, a wreck amid the wrecks of the slaughtered sheep, and there he sat, with clenched nails tightly clutching his hair. At first, and for a long while, he sat dumb: then he threatened me with those dreadful threats, if I declared not all the chance that had befallen; and asked in what strange plight he stood. And I, friends, in my fear, told all that had been done, so far as I surely knew it. But he straightway broke into bitter lamentations, such as never had I heard from him before. For he had ever taught that such wailing was for craven and low-hearted men; no cry of shrill complaint would pass his lips; only a deep sound, as of a moaning bull.

But now, prostrate in his utter woe, tasting not of food or drink, the man sits quiet where he has fallen, amidst the sword-slain cattle. And plainly he yearns to do some dread deed: there is some such meaning in his words and his laments. Ah, my friends—indeed, this was my errand—come in and help, if in any wise ye can. Men in his case can be won by the words of friends.

Ch. Tecmessa, daughter of Teleutas, dread are thy tidings, that our lord hath been frenzied by his sorrows.

Aj. (within) Woe, woe is me!

Te. Soon there will be worse, belike. Head ye not Ajax—heard ye not that resounding cry?

Aj. Woe, woe is me!

Ch. The man seems to be distempered, or else to be grieving for the distempers which lately vexed him, when he sees their work.

Aj. O my son, my son!

Te. Ah me! Eurysaces, 'tis for thee he calls! What can be his purpose? Where art thou? Unhappy that I am!

Aj. Ho, Teucer! Where is Teucer? Will his foray last for ever? And I perish!

Ch. He seems to be sane. Come, open there! open—perchance e'en at the sight of me he may come to a more sober mood.

Te. Behold, I open: thou canst look on yon man's deeds, and his own plight.

AJAX is discovered sitting amidst the slaughtered cattle.

Aj. Alas, good sailors, alone of my friends, alone still constant to your loyalty, behold what a wave hath but now surged around me and hemmed me in, under stress of a deadly storm!

Ch. Ah, lady, how sadly true seems thy report! The fact proves that no sane mind is here>

Aj. Alas, ye mates staunch in sea-craft, ye who manned the ship and made the oar-blade flash upon the brine—in you, in you alone I see a defence against misery: come, slay me also!

Ch. Hush thy wild lips: cure not ill by ill, nor increase the anguish of the doom.

Aj. Seest thou the bold, the strong of heart, the dauntless in battles with the foe—seest thou how I have shown my prowess on creatures that feared no harm? Alas, the mockery! How then have I been shamed!

Te. Ajax, my lord, I implore thee, speak not thus!

Aj. Hence! out with thee! avaunt—begone!—Woe is me! woe is me!

Ch. For the gods' love, yield to counsel, and learn wisdom!

Aj. Wretch that I am, who suffered the accursed men to slip through my hands, but fell on horned kine and goodly flocks, and made their dark blood flow!

Ch. Why grieve when the deed is past recall. These things can never be but as they are.

Aj. Ah, thou who watchest all things, thou ready tool of every crime, ah, son of Lartius, thou foulest knave in all the host, I warrant thou laughest loud and long for joy!

Ch. As the god gives, so every man laughs or mourns.

Aj. Ye would that I could see him, shattered though I am! Ah me, ah me!

Ch. Speak no proud word: seest thou not to what a plight thou hast come?

Aj. O Zeus, father of my sires, would that I might slay that deep dissembler, that hateful knave, and the two brother-chiefs, and lastly die myself also!

Te. When thou makest that prayer, pray therewith for me also that I die: wherefore should I live when thou art dead?

Aj. Alas, thou darkness, my sole light! O thou nether gloom, fairer for me than any sunshine! take me to dwell with you—yea, take me; for I am no longer worthy to look for help to the race of the gods, or for any good from men, the children of a day.

No, the daughter of Zeus, the strong goddess, torments me to the death. Whither then shall a man flee? Whither shall I go to find rest? If my past fame is destroyed, my friends, along with such victims as these near me—if I have set myself to win a madman's triumphs, and all the host, with sword uplifted in both hands, would strike me dead!

Te. Ah me unhappy, that a good man and true should utter such words—words that, till now, he ne'er would have deigned to speak!

Aj. Alas, ye paths of the sounding wave, ye sea-caves and wooded pastures by the shore, long time, long time and very weary have ye known me tarrying at Troy; but no more shall ye know me—no more with the breath of life: of so much let sane men be sure.

Ah, streams of Scamander near us, kindly to the Greeks, never shall ye look on Ajax more; whose peer in the host—for I will utter a proud word—never hath Troy seen come from the land of Hellas: but now, behold, he hath been humbled to the dust!

Ch. In sooth I know not how to restrain thee, or how suffer thee to speak, whom woes so grievous have befallen.

Aj. Ay me! Who could e'er have thought that my name would chime so meetly with my doom? For well may I now mourn—yea, twice and three times mourn—in those sad syllables that shape my name; such heavy griefs are mine, whose sire by his prowess won the fairest prize of all the host, and brought all glory home from this land of Ida; but I his son, who came after him in might not less to this same ground of Troy, and proved the service of mine hand in no meaner deeds, thus perish, dishonoured of the Greeks. Yet, methinks, of thus much am I sure; if Achilles lived, and had been called to decree the first place in valour to any claimant of his arms, no one would have grasped them before me. But now the Atreidae have conveyed them to a villain, and thrust away the high deeds of Ajax.

And if these eyes, if this warped mind had not swerved from the purpose that was mine, never would they have procured such a judgment against another man. As it was, the daughter of Zeus, the fierce-eyed, unconquerable goddess, foiled me at the instant when I was making ready my hand against them, struck me with a plague of frenzy, made me imbrue my hands in the blood of these poor cattle. And yon men exult to have escaped me—by no good-will of mine; but if a god send harm, verily e'en the base man can elude the worthier.

And now what shall I do; who plainly am hateful to the gods, abhorred by the Greek host, hated by all Troy and all these plains? Shall I forsake the station of the ships, and leave the Atreidae forlorn, and go homeward across the Aegean? And what face shall I show to my father when I come—to Telamon? How will he find heart to look on me, when I stand before him ungraced—without that meed of valour whereby he won a great crown of fame? 'Tis not to be endured.

But then shall I go to the stronghold of the Trojans—attack alone, where all are foes—and, in doing some good service, lastly die? Nay, thus I might haply gladden the Atreidae. It must not be. Some emprise must be sought whereby I may prove to mine aged sire that in heart, at least, his son is not a dastard.

'Tis base for a man to crave the full term of life, who finds no varying in his woes. What joy is there in day following day—now pushing us forward, now drawing us back, on the verge—of death? I rate that man as nothing worth, who feels the glow of idle hopes. Nay, one of the generous strain should nobly live, or forthwith nobly die: thou hast heard all.

Ch. No man shall say that thou hast spoken a bastard word, Ajax, or one not bred of thy true soul. Yet forbear: dismiss these thoughts, and suffer friends to overrule thy purpose.

Te. Ajax, my lord, the doom given by fate is the hardest of evils among men. I was the daughter of a free-born sire, wealthy and mighty, if any Phrygian was; and now I am a slave: for so the gods ordained, I ween, and chiefly thy strong hand. Therefore, since wedlock hath made me thine, I wish thee well; and I do entreat thee, by the Zeus of our hearth, by the marriage that hath made us one, doom me not to the cruel rumour of thy foes, abandon me not to the hand of a stranger! On what day soever thou die and leave me lonely by thy death, on that same day, be sure, I also shall be seized forcibly by the Greeks, and, with thy son, shall have the portion of a slave. Then shall some one of my masters name me in bitter phrase, with keen taunts: "See the concubine of Ajax, his, who was the mightiest of the host; see what menial tasks are hers, who had such bliss!" Thus shall men speak; and destiny will afflict me; but these words will be shameful for thee and for thy race.

Nay, have thought for thy father, whom thou forsakest in a drear old age; for thy mother—and hers are many years—who oft prays to the gods that thou come home alive; and pity, O king, thy son, if, bereft of fostering care, he must spend his days forlorn of thee, the ward of unloving guardians; think how great is this sorrow, which at thy death thou wilt bequeath to him and me.

I have nothing left whereunto I can look, save thee. Thou didst ravage my country with the spear, and another doom hath laid low my mother and my sire, that they should dwell with Hades in their death. What home, then, could I find, if I lost thee? What wealth? On thee hangs all my welfare. Nay, have thought for me also: a true man should cherish remembrance, if anywhere he reap a joy. Tis kindness that still begets kindness. But whosoever suffers the memory of benefits to slip from him, that man can no more rank as noble.

Ch. Ajax, I would that pity touched thy soul as it doth mine: so wouldst thou approve her words.

Aj. Verily she shall have approval on my part, if only she take heart to do my bidding well.

Te. Nay, dear Ajax, I will obey in all things.

Aj. Then bring me my son, that I may see him.

Te. Oh, but in those fears I released him from my keeping.

Aj. During these troubles of mine? Or what meanest thou?

Te. Yea, lest haply the poor child should meet thee, and die.

Aj. Aye truly, that would have been worthy of my fortune.

Te. Well, at least I was watchful to avert that woe.

Aj. I praise thy deed, and the foresight which thou hast shown.

Te. How, then, can I serve thee, as the case stands now?

Aj. Let me speak to him, and see him face to face.

Te. Oh yes—he is close by, in charge of attendants.

Aj. Then wherefore is his coming delayed?

Te. My child, thy father calls thee. Bring him hither, servant, whosoever is guiding his steps.

Aj. Comes the man at thy call? Or hath he failed to hear thy words?

Te. Even now, one of the servants there draws near with him.

Enter Attendant with EURYSACES.

Aj. Lift him, lift him to mine arms. He will feel no dread, I ween, in looking on this newly shed blood, if he is indeed my true-born son. But he must at once be broken into his father's rugged ways, and moulded to the likeness of his nature. Ah, boy, mayest thou prove happier than thy sire, but in all else like him; and thou wilt prove not base. Yet even now I may well envy thee for this, that thou hast no sense of these ills. Yea, life is sweetest before the feelings are awake, [for lack of feeling is a painless ill]—until one learns to know joy or pain. But when thou shalt come unto that knowledge, then must thou see to prove among thy father's foes of what mettle and what sire thou art.

Meanwhile feed on light breezes, and nurse thy tender life, for this thy mother's joy. No fear, I wot, lest any of the Greeks assail thee with cruel outrage, even when thou hast me no more. So trusty is the warder whom I will leave to guard thee, even Teucer; who will not falter in his care for thee, albeit now he is following a far path, busied with the chase of foes.

O my warriors, seafaring comrades! On you, as on him, I lay this task of love; and give ye my behest to Teucer, that he take this child to mine own home, and set him before the face of Telamon, and of my mother, Eriboea, that so he may prove the comfort of their age evermore [until they come unto the deep places of the nether god]. And charge him that no stewards of games, nor he who worked my ruin, make mine arms a prize for the Greeks. No, this take thou, my son—the broad shield from which thou hast thy name—hold and wield it by the well-wrought thong, that sevenfold, spear-proof targe! But the rest of my armour shall be buried in my grave.

(To TECMESSA) Come, tarry not; take the child straightway, make fast the doors, and utter no laments before the house: in sooth a woman is a plaintive thing. Quick, close the house! It is not for a skilful leech to whine charms over a sore that craves the knife.

Ch. I am afraid when I mark this eager haste: I like not the keen edge of thy speech.

Te. Ajax, my lord, on what deed can thy mind be set?

Aj. Ask not, inquire not; 'tis good to be discreet.

Te. Ah, my heavy heart! Now, by thy child,—by the gods—I implore thee, be not guilty of forsaking us!

Aj. Nay, thou vexest me over much: knowest thou not that I no longer owe aught of service to the gods?

Te. Hush, hush!

Aj. Speak to those who hear.

Te. And wilt thou not hearken?

Aj. Already thy words have been too many.

Te. I am afraid, O prince!

Aj. (To the Attendants). Close the doors, I say, this instant!

Te. For the gods' love, be softened!

Aj. 'Tis a foolish hope, methinks, if thou wouldst begin now to school my temper.

AJAX is shut into the tent. Exit TECMESSA with EURYSACES.


Chorus

O famous Salamis, thou, I ween, hast thy happy seat among the waves that lash thy shore, the joy of all men's eyes for ever; but I, hapless, have long been tarrying here, still making my couch, through countless months, in the camp on the fields of Ida, worn by time, and darkly looking for the day when I shall pass to Hades, the abhorred, the unseen.


And now I must wrestle with a new grief, woe is me!—the incurable malady of Ajax, visited by a heaven-sent frenzy; whom in a bygone day thou sentest forth from thee, mighty in bold war; but now, a changed man who nurses lonely thoughts, he hath been found a heavy sorrow to his friends. And the former deeds of his hands, deeds of prowess supreme, have fallen dead, nor won aught of love from the loveless, the miserable Atreidae.


Surely his mother, full of years and white with eld, will uplift a voice of wailing when she hears that he hath been stricken with the spirit's ruin; not in the nightingales' plaintive note will she utter her anguish: in shrill-toned strains the dirge will rise, with sound of hands that smite the breast, and with rending of hoary hair.


Yes, better hid with Hades is he whom vain fancies vex; he who by the lineage whence he springs is noblest of the war-tried Achaeans, yet now is true no more to the promptings of his inbred nature, but dwells with alien thoughts.

Ah, hapless sire, how heavy a curse which never yet hath clung to any life of the Aeacidae save his!


Enter AJAX, with a sword in his hand.

Aj. All things the long and countless years first draw from darkness, then bury from light; and there is nothing for which man may not look; the dread oath is vanquished, and the stubborn will. For even I, erst so wondrous firm—yea, as iron hardened in the dipping—felt the keen edge of my temper softened by yon woman's words; and I feel the pity of leaving her a widow with my foes, and the boy an orphan.

But I will go to the bathing-place and the meadows by the shore, that in purging of my stains I may flee the heavy anger of the goddess. Then I will seek out some untrodden spot, and bury this sword, hatefullest of weapons, in a hole dug where none shall see; no, let Night and Hades keep it underground! For since my hand took this gift from Hector, my worst foe, to this hour I have had no good from the Greeks. Yes, men's proverb is true: "The gifts of enemies are no gifts, and bring no good."

Therefore henceforth I shall know how to yield to the gods, and learn to revere the Atreidae. They are rulers, so we must submit. How else? Dread things and things most potent bow to office; thus it is that snow-strewn winter gives place to fruitful summer; and thus night's weary round makes room for day with her white steeds to kindle light; and the breath of dreadful winds can allow the groaning sea to slumber; and, like the rest, almighty Sleep looses whom he has bound, nor holds with a perpetual grasp.

And we—must we not learn discretion? I, at least, will learn it; for I am newly aware that our enemy is to be hated but as one who will hereafter be a friend; and towards a friend I would wish but thus far to show aid and service, as knowing that he will not always abide. For to most men the haven of friendship is false.

But concerning these things it will be well. Woman, go thou within, and pray to the gods that in all fulness the desires of my heart may be fulfilled. And ye, my friends—honor ye these my wishes even as she doth; and bid Teucer, when he comes, have care for me, and good-will towards you withal. For I will go whither I must pass; but do ye what I bid; and ere long, perchance, though now I suffer, ye will hear that I have found peace.

Exit AJAX.

Ch. I thrill with rapture, I soar on the wings of sudden joy! O Pan, O Pan, appear to us, O Pan, roving o'er the sea, from the craggy ridge of snowbeaten Cyllené, king who makest dances for the gods, that with me thou mayest move blithely in the measures that none hath taught thee, the measures of Nysa and of Cnosos! For now am I fain to dance. And may Apollo, lord of Delos, come over the Icarian waters to be with me, in presence manifest and spirit ever kind!

The destroying god hath lifted the cloud of dread trouble from our eyes. Joy, joy! Now, once again, now, O Zeus, can the pure brightness of good days come to the swift sea-cleaving ships; since Ajax again forgets his trouble, and hath turned to perform the law of the gods with all due rites, in perfectness of loyal worship.

The strong years make all things fade; nor would I say that aught was too strange for belief, when thus, beyond our hopes, Ajax hath been led to repent of his wrath against the Atreidae, and his dread feuds.

Enter MESSENGER from the Greek camp.

Messenger. Friends, I would first tell you this—Teucer is but now returned from the Mysian heights; he hath come to the generals' quarters in mid camp, and is being reviled by all the Greeks at once. They knew him from afar as he drew near, gathered around him, and then assailed him with taunts from this side and from that, every man of them, calling him "that kinsman of the maniac, of the plotter against the host," saying that he should not save himself from being mangled to death by stoning. And so they had come to this, that swords plucked from sheaths were drawn in men's hands; then the strife, when it had run well-nigh to the furthest, was allayed by the soothing words of elders. But where shall I find Ajax, to tell him this? He whom most it touches must hear all the tale.

Ch. He is not within; he hath gone forth but now; for he hath yoked a new purpose to his new mood.

Me. Alas! Alas! Too late, then, was he who sent me on this errand—or I have proved a laggard.

Ch. And what urgent business hath been scanted here?

Me. Teucer enjoined that the man should not go forth from the house, until he himself should come.

Ch. Well, he is gone, I tell thee—intent on the purpose that is best for him—to make his peace with the gods.

Me. These are words of wild folly, if there is wisdom in the prophecy of Calchas.

Ch. What doth he prophesy? And what knowledge of this matter dost thou bring?

Me. Thus much I know—for I was present. Leaving the circle of chiefs who sat in council, Calchas drew apart from the Atreidae: then he put his right hand with all kindness in the hand of Teucer, and straitly charged him that, by all means in his power, he should keep Ajax within the house for this day that now is shining on us, and suffer him not to go abroad—if he wished ever to behold him alive. This day alone will the wrath of divine Athena vex him—so ran the warning.

"Yea," said the seer, "lives that have waxed too proud, and avail for good no more, are struck down by heavy misfortunes from the gods, as often as one born to man's estate forgets it in thoughts too high for man. But Ajax, even at his first going forth from home, was found foolish, when his sire spake well. His father said unto him: 'My son, seek victory in arms, but seek it ever with the help of heaven.' Then haughtily and foolishly he answered: 'Father, with the help of gods e'en a man of nought might win the mastery; but I, even without their aid, trust to bring that glory within by grasp.' So proud was his vaunt. Then once again, in answer to divine Athena—when she was urging him onward and bidding him turn a deadly hand upon his foes—in that hour he uttered a speech too dread for mortal lips: 'Queen, stand thou beside the other Greeks; where Ajax stands, battle will never break our line.' By such words it was that he brought upon him the appalling anger of the goddess, since his thoughts were too great for man. But if he lives this day, perchance with the god's help we may find means to save him."

Thus far the seer: and Teucer had no sooner risen from where they sat than he sent me with these mandates for thy guidance. But if we have been foiled, that man lives not, or Calchas is no prophet.

Ch. Hapless Tecmessa, born to misery, come forth and see what tidings yon man tells; this peril touches us too closely for our peace.

Enter TECMESSA.

Te. Why do ye break my rest again, ah me, when I had but just found peace from relentless woes?

Ch. Hearken to yon man, and the tidings of Ajax that he hath brought us, to my grief.

Te. Alas, what sayest thou, man? Are we undone?

Me. I know not of thy fortune, but only that, if Ajax is abroad, my mind is ill at ease for him.

Te. He is abroad indeed, so that I am in anguish to know thy meaning.

Me. Teucer straitly commands that ye keep Ajax under shelter of the roof, and suffer him not to go forth alone.

Te. And where is Teucer, and wherefore speaks he thus?

Me. He hath but now returned; and forbodes that this going forth is fraught with death to Ajax.

Te. Unhappy me! from whom can he have learned this?

Me. From Thestor's son, the seer, this day—when the issue is one of life or death for Ajax.

Te. Ah me, my friends, protect me from the doom threatened by fate! Speed, some of you, to hasten Teucer's coming' let others go to the westward bays, and others to the eastward, and seek the man's ill-omened steps. I see now that I have been deceived by my lord, and cast out of the favour that once I found with him. Ah me, my child, what shall I do? We must not sit idle: nay, I too will go as far as I have strength. Away—let us be quick—'tis no time to rest, if we would save a man who is in haste to die.

Ch. I am ready, and will show it more than word; speed of act and foot shall go therewith.


(The scene changes to a lonely place on the shore of the Hellespont, with underwood or bushes.)

Enter AJAX.

Aj. The slayer stands so that he shall do his work most surely—if leisure serves for so much thought—the gift of Hector, that foeman-friend who was most hateful to my soul and to my sight; 'tis fixed in hostile soil, the land of Troy, with a new edge from the iron-biting when; and I have planted it with heedful care, so that it should prove most kindly to me in a speedy death.

Thus on my part all is ready; and next be thou, O Zeus—as is meet—the first to aid me: 'tis no large boon that I will crave. Send, I pray thee, some messenger with the ill news to Teucer, that he may be the first to raise me where I have fallen on this reeking sword, lest I be first espied by some enemy, and cast forth a prey to dogs and birds. For thus much, O Zeus, I entreat thee; and I call also on Hermes, guide to the nether world, that he lay me softly asleep, without a struggle, at one quick bound, when I have driven this sword into my side.

And I call for help to the maidens who live forever, and ever look on all the woes of men, the dread, far-striding Furies; let them mark how my miserable life is blasted by the Atreidae. And may they overtake those evil men with doom most evil and with utter blight [even as they behold me fall self-slain, so, slain by kinsfolk, may those men perish at the hand of their best-loved offspring]. Come, ye swift and vengeful Furies, glut your wrath on all the host, and spare not!

And thou whose chariot-wheels climb the heights of heaven, thou Sun-god, when thou lookest on the land of my sires, draw in thy rein o'erspread with gold, and tell my disasters and my death to mine aged father and to the hapless woman who reared me. Poor mother! I think, when she hears those tidings, her loud wail will ring through all the city. But it avails not to make idle moan: now for the deed, as quickly as I may.

O Death, Death, come now and look upon me! Nay, to thee will I speak in that other world also, when I am with thee. But thee, thou present beam of the bright day, and the Sun in his chariot, I accost for the last, last time—as never more hereafter. O sunlight! O sacred soil of mine own Salamis, firm seat of my father's hearth! O famous Athens, and thy race kindred to mine! And ye, springs and rivers of this land—and ye plains of Troy, I greet you also—farewell, ye who have cherished my life! This is the last word that Ajax speaks to you: henceforth he will speak in Hades with the dead.

AJAX falls upon his sword.
The CHORUS re-enters, in two bands.

First Semi-Chorus. Toil follows toil, and brings but toil! Where, where have my steps not been? And still no place is conscious of a secret that I share. Hark—a sudden noise!

Second Semi-Chorus. 'Tis we, the shipmates of your voyage.

Semi-Ch. I. How goes it?

Semi-Ch. II. All the westward side of the ships hath been paced.

Semi-Ch. I. Well, hast thou found aught?

Semi-Ch. II. Only much toil, and nothing more to see.

Semi-Ch. I. And clearly the man hath not been seen either along the path that fronts the morning ray.

Ch. O for tidings from some toiling fisher, busy about his sleepless quest, or from some nymph of the Olympian heights, or of the streams that flow toward Bosporus—if anywhere such hath seen the man of fierce spirit roaming! 'Tis hard that I, the wanderer who have toiled so long, cannot come near him with prospered course, but fail to descry where the sick man is.

Enter TECMESSA.

Te. Ah me, ah me!

Ch. Whose cry broke from the covert of the wood near us?

Te. Ah, miserable!

Ch. I see the spear-won bride, hapless Tecmessa: her soul is steeped in the anguish of that wail.

Te. I am lost, undone, left desolate, my friends!

Ch. What ails thee?

Te. Here lies our Ajax, newly slain—a sword buried and sheathed in his corpse.

Ch. Alas for my hopes of return! Ah, prince, thou hast slain me, the comrade of thy voyage! Hapless man—broken-hearted woman!

Te. Even thus it is with him: 'tis ours to wail.

Ch. By whose hand, then, can the wretched man have done the deed?

Te. By his own: 'tis well seen: this sword, which he planted in the ground, and on which he fell, convicts him.

Ch. Alas for my blind folly, all alone, then, thou hast fallen in blood, unwatched of friends! And I took no heed, so dull was I, so witless! Where, where lies Ajax, that wayward one, of ill-boding name?

Te. No eye shall look on him: nay, in this enfolding robe I will shroud him wholly; for no man who loved him could bear to see him, as up to nostril and forth from red gash he spirts the darkened blood from the self-dealt wound. Ah, me, what shall I do? What friend shall lift thee in his arms? Where is Teucer? How timely would be his arrival, might he but come, to compose the corpse of this his brother! Ah hapless Ajax, from what height fallen how low! How worthy, even in the sight of foes, to be mourned!

Ch. Thou wast fated, hapless one, thou wast fated, then, with that unbending soul, at last to work out an evil doom of woes untold! Such was the omen of those complainings which by night and by day I heard thee utter in thy fierce mood, bitter against the Atreidae with a deadly passion. Aye, that time was a potent source of sorrows, when the golden arms were made the prize in a contest of prowess!

Te. Woe, woe is me!

Ch. The anguish pierces, I know, to thy true heart.

Te. Woe, woe is me!

Ch. I marvel not, lady, that thou shouldst wail, and wail again, who hast lately been bereft of one so loved.

Te. 'Tis for thee to conjecture of these things—for me, to feel them but too sorely.

Ch. Yea, even so.

Te. Alas, my child, to what a yoke of bondage are we coming, seeing what task-masters are set over thee and me!

Ch. Oh, the two Atreidae would be ruthless—those deeds of theirs would be unspeakable, which thou namest in hinting at such a woe! But may the gods avert it!

Te. Never had these things stood thus, save by the will of the gods.

Ch. Yea, they have laid on us a burden too heavy to be borne.

Te. Yet such the woe that the daughter of Zeus, the dread goddess, engenders for Odysseus' sake.

Ch. Doubtless, the patient hero exults in his dark soul, and mocks with keen mockery at these sorrows born of frenzy. Alas! And with him, when they hear the tidings, laugh the royal brothers, the Atreidae.

Te. Then let them mock, and exult in this man's woes. Perchance, though they missed him not while he lived, they will bewail him dead, in the straits of warfare. Ill-judging men know not the good that was in their hands, till they have lost it. To my pain hath he died more than for their joy, and to his own content. All that he yearned to win hath he made his own—the death for which he longed. Over this death concerns the gods, not them—no verily. Then let Odysseus revel in empty taunts. Ajax is for them no more: to me he hath left anguish and mourning—and is gone.

Teucer, (approaching) Woe, woe is me!

Ch. Hush—methinks I hear the voice of Teucer, raised in a strain that hath regard to this dire woe.

Enter TEUCER.

Teu. Beloved Ajax, brother whose face was so dear to me—hast thou indeed fared as rumour holds?

Ch. He hath perished, Teucer: of that be sure.

Teu. Woe is me, then, for my heavy fate!

Ch. Know that thus it stands—

Teu. Hapless, hapless that I am!

Ch. And thou hast cause to mourn.

Teu. O fierce and sudden blow!

Ch. Thou sayest but too truly, Teucer.

Teu. Ay me!—but tell me of yon man's child—where shall I find him in the land of Troy?

Ch. Alone, by the tent.

Teu. (To TECMESSA.) Then bring him hither with all speed, lest some foeman snatch him up, as a whelp from a lioness forlorn! Away—haste—bear help! 'Tis all men's wont to triumph o'er the dead, when they lie low.

Exit TECMESSA

Ch. Yea, while he yet lived, Teucer, yon man charged thee to have care for the child, even as thou hast care indeed.

Teu. O sight most grievous to me of all that ever mine eyes have beheld! O bitter to my heart above all paths that I have trod, the path that now hath led me hither, when I learned thy fate, ah best-loved Ajax, as I was pursuing and tracking out thy footsteps! For a swift rumour about thee, as from some god, passed through the Greek host, telling that thou wast dead and gone. I heard it, ah me, while yet far off, and groaned low; but now the sight breaks my heart!

Come—lift the covering, and let me see the worst.

(The corpse of AJAX is uncovered.)

O thou form dread to look on, wherein dwelt such a cruel courage, what sorrows hast thou sown for me in thy death!

Whither can I betake me, to what people, after bringing thee no succour in thy troubles? Telamon, methinks thy sire and mine, is like to greet me with sunny face and gracious mien, when I come without thee. Aye, surely—he who, even when good fortune befalls him, is not wont to smile more brightly than before.

What will such an one keep back? What taunt will he not utter against the bastard begotten from the war-prize of his spear, against him who betrayed thee, beloved Ajax, like a coward and a craven—or by guile, that, when thou wast dead, he might enjoy thy lordship and thy house? So will he speak—a passionate man, peevish in old age, whose wrath makes strife without a cause. And in the end I shall be thrust from the realm, and cast off—branded by his taunts as no more a freeman but a slave.

Such is my prospect at home; while at Troy I have many foes, and few things to help me. All this have I reaped by thy death! Ah me, what shall I do? how draw thee, hapless one, from the cruel point of this gleaming sword, the slayer, it seems, to whom thou hast yielded up thy breath? Now seest thou how Hector, though dead, was to destroy thee at the last?

Consider, I pray you, the fortune of these two men. With the very girdle that had been given to him by Ajax, Hector was gripped to the chariot rail, and mangled till he gave up the ghost. 'Twas from Hector that Ajax had this gift, and by this hath he perished in his deadly fall. Was it not the Fury who forged this blade, was not that girdle wrought by Hades, grim artificer? I, at least, would deem that these things, and all things ever, are planned by gods for men; but if there be any in whose mind this wins no favour, let him hold to his own thoughts, as I hold to mine.

Ch. Speak not at length, but think how thou shalt lay the man in the tomb, and what thou wilt say anon: for I see a foe, and perchance he will come with mocking of our sorrows, as evil-doers use.

Teu. And what man of the host dost thou behold?

Ch. Menelaüs, for whom we made this voyage.

Teu. I see him; he is not hard to know, when near.

Enter MENELAÜS.

Menelaüs. Sirrah, I tell thee to bear no hand in raising yon corpse, but to leave it where it lies.

Teu. Wherefore hast thou spent thy breath in such proud words?

Me. 'Tis my pleasure, and his who rules the host.

Teu. And might we hear what reason thou pretendest?

Me. This,—that, when he had hoped we were bringing him from home to be an ally and a friend for the Greeks, we found him, on trial, a worse than Phrygian foe; who plotted death for all the host, and sallied by night against us, to slay with the spear; and, if some god had not quenched this attempt, ours would have been the lot which he hath found, to lie slain by an ignoble doom, while he would have been living. But now a god hath turned his outrage aside, to fall on sheep and cattle.

Wherefore there is no man so powerful that he shall entomb the corpse of Ajax; no, he shall be cast forth somewhere on the yellow sand, and become food for the birds by the sea. Then raise no storm of angry threats. If we were not able to control him while he lived, at least we shall rule him in death, whether thou wilt or not, and control him with our hands; since, while he lived, there never was a time when he would hearken to my words.

Yet 'tis the sign of an unworthy nature when a subject deigns not to obey those who are set over him. Never can the laws have prosperous course in a city where dread hath no place; nor can a camp be ruled descreetly any more, if it lack the guarding force of fear and reverence. Nay, though a man's frame have waxed mighty, he should look to fall, perchance, by a light blow. Whoso hath fear, and shame therewith, be sure that he is safe; but where there is licence to insult and act at will, doubt not that such a State, though favouring gales have sped her, some day, at last, sinks into the depths.

No, let me see fear, too, where fear is meet, established; let us not dream that we can do after our desires, without paying the price in our pains. These things come by turns. This man was once hot and insolent; now 'tis my hour to be haughty. And I warn thee not to bury him, lest through that deed thou thyself shouldst come to need a grave.

Ch. Menelaüs, after laying down wise precepts, do not thyself be guilty of outrage on the dead.

Teu. Never, friends, shall I wonder more if a low-born man offends after his kind, when they who are accounted of noble blood allow such scandalous words to pass their lips.

Come, tell me from the first once more—Sayest thou that thou broughtest the man hither to the Greeks, as an ally found by thee? Sailed he not forth of his own act—as his own master? What claim hast thou to be his chief? On what ground hast thou a right to kingship of the lieges whom he brought from home? As Sparta's king thou camest, not as master over us. Nowhere was it laid down among thy lawful powers that thou shouldst dictate to him, any more than he to thee. Under the command of others didst thou sail hither, not as chief of all, so that thou shouldst ever be captain over Ajax.

No, lord it over them whose lord thou art, lash them with thy proud words: but this man will I lay duly in the grave, though thou forbid it—aye, or thy brother-chief—not shall I tremble at thy word. 'Twas not for thy wife's sake that Ajax came unto the war, like yon toil-worn drudges—no, but for the oath's sake that bound him—no whit for thine; he was not wont to reck of nobodies. So, when thou comest again, bring more heralds, and the Captain of the host; at thy noise I would not turn my head, while thou art the man that thou art now.

Ch. Such speech again, in the midst of ills, I love not; for harsh words, how just soever, sting.

Me. The bowman, methinks, hath no little pride.

Teu. Even so; 'tis no sordid craft that I profess.

Me. How thou wouldst boast, wert thou given a shield!

Teu. Without a shield, I were a match for thee full-armed.

Me. How dreadful the courage that inspires thy tongue!

Teu. When right is with him, a man's spirit may be high.

Me. Is it right that this my murderer should have honour?

Teu. Murderer? A marvel truly, if, though slain, thou livest.

Me. A god rescued me: in yon man's purpose, I am dead.

Teu. The gods have saved thee: then dishonour not the gods.

Me. What, would I disparage the laws of Heaven?

Teu. If thou art here to forbid the burying of the dead.

Me. Yea, of my country's foes: for it is not meet.

Teu. Did Ajax e'er confront thee as public foe?

Me. There was hate betwixt us; thou, too, knewest this.

Teu. Yea, 'twas found that thou hadst suborned votes, to rob him.

Me. At the hands of the judges, not at mine, he had that fall.

Teu. Thou couldst put a fair face on many a furtive villainy.

Me. That saying tends to pain—I know, for whom.

Teu. Not greater pain, methinks, than we shall inflict.

Me. Hear my last word—that man must not be buried.

Teu. And hear my answer—he shall be buried forthwith.

Me. Once did I see a man bold of tongue, who had urged sailors to a voyage in time of storm, in whom thou wouldst have found no voice when the stress of the tempest was upon him, but, hidden beneath his cloak, he would suffer the crew to trample on him at will. And so with thee and thy fierce speech—perchance a great tempest, though its breath come from a little cloud, shall quench thy blustering.

Teu. Yea, and I have seen a man full of folly, who triumphed in his neighbor's woes; and it came to pass that a man like unto me, and of like mood, beheld him, and spake such words as these: "Man, do not evil to the dead; for, if thou dost, be sure that thou wilt come to harm." So warned he the misguided one before him; and know that I see that man, and methinks he is none else but thou: have I spoken in riddles?

Me. I will go: it were a disgrace to have it known that I was chiding when I have the power to compel.

Teu. Begone then! For me 'tis the worse disgrace that I should listen to a fool's idle prate.

Exit MENELAÜS.

Ch. A dread strife will be brought to the trial. But thou, Teucer, with what speed thou mayest, haste to seek a hollow grave for yon man, where he shall rest in his dark, dank tomb, that men shall ever hold in fame.

Enter TECMESSA and Child.

Teu. Lo, just in time our lord's child and his wife draw nigh, to tend the burial of the hapless corpse.

My child, come hither: take thy place near him, and lay thy hand, as a suppliant, upon thy sire. And kneel as one who implores help, with locks of hair in thy hand—mine, hers, and thirdly thine—the suppliant's store. But if any man of the host should tear thee by violence from this dead, then, for evil doom on evil deed, may he perish out of the land and find no grave, and with him be his race cut off, root and branch, even as I sever this lock. Take it, boy, and keep; and let on one move thee, but kneel there, and cling unto the dead.

And ye, be not as women at this side, but bear you like men for his defence, til I return, when I have prepared a grave for this man, though all the world forbid.

Exit TEUCER.


Chorus

When, ah when, will the number of the restless years be full, at what term will they cease, that bring on me the unending woe of a warrior's toils throughout the wide land of Troy, for the sorrow and the shame of Greece?


Would that the man had passed into the depths of the sky, or to all-receiving Hades, who taught Greeks how to league themselves for war in hateful arms! Ah, those toils of his, from which so many toils have sprung! Yea, he it was who wrought the ruin of men.


No delight of garlands or bounteous wine-cups did that man give me for my portion, no sweet music of flutes, the wretch, or soothing rest in the night; and from love, alas, from love he hath divorced my days.

And here I have my couch, uncared for, while heavy dews ever wet my hair, lest I should forget that I am in the cheerless land of Troy.


Erewhile, bold Ajax was alway my defence against nightly terror and the darts of the foe; but now he hath become the sacrifice of a malignant fate. What joy, then, what joy shall crown me more?

O to be wafted where the wooded sea-cape stands upon the laving sea, O to pass beneath Sunium's level summit, that so we might greet sacred Athens!


Enter TEUCER, followed by AGAMEMNON.

Teu. Lo, I am come in haste, for I saw the Captain of the host, Agamemnon, moving hither apace; and I wot he will not bridle perverse lips.

Agamemnon. So 'tis thou, they tell me, who hast dared to open thy mouth with such blustering against us—and hast yet to smart for it? Yea, I mean thee—thee, the captive woman's son. Belike, hadst thou been bred of well-born mother, lofty had been thy vaunt and proud thy strut, when, nought as thou art, thou hast stood up for him who is as nought, and hast vowed that we came out with no title on sea or land to rule the Greeks or thee; no, as chief in his own right, thou sayest, sailed Ajax forth.

Are not these presumptuous taunts for us to hear from slaves? What was the man whom thou vauntest with such loud arrogance? Whither went he, or where stood he, where I was not? Have the Greeks, then, no other men but him? Me thinks we shall rue that day when we called the Greeks to contest the arms of Achilles, if whatever the issue, we are to be denounced as false by Teucer, and if ye never will consent, though defeated, to accept that doom for which most judges gave their voice, but must ever assail us somewhere with revilings, or stab us in the dark—ye the losers in the race.

Now, where such ways prevail, no law could ever be firmly stablished, if we are to thrust the rightful winners aside, and bring the rearmost to the front. Nay, this must be checked. 'Tis not the burly broad-shouldered men that are surest at need; no, 'tis the wise who prevail in every field. A large-ribbed ox is yet kept straight on the road by a small whip. And this remedy, methinks, will visit thee ere long, if thou fail to gain some measure of wisdom; thou who, when the man lives no more, but is now a shade, art so boldly insolent, and givest such licence to thy tongue. Sober thyself, I say; recall thy birth; bring hither some one else—a freeborn man—who shall plead thy cause for thee before us. When thou speakest, I can take the sense no more; I understand not thy barbarian speech.

Ch. Would that ye both could learn the wisdom of a temperate mind! No better counsel could I give you twain.

Teu. Ah, gratitude to the dead—in what quick sort it falls away from men and is found a traitor, if this man hath no longer the slightest tribute of remembrance for thee, Ajax—he for whom thou didst toil so often, putting thine own life to the peril of the spear! No—'tis all forgotten, all flung aside!

Man, who but now hast spoken many words and vain, hast thou no more memory of the time when ye were shut within your lines—when ye were as lost in the turning back of your battle—and he came alone and saved you—when the flames were already wrapping the decks at your ships' stern, and Hector was bounding high over the trench towards the vessels? Who averted that? Were these deeds not his, who, thou sayest, nowhere set foot where thou wast not?

Would ye allow that he did his duty there? Or when, another time, all alone, he confronted Hector in single fight—not at any man's bidding, but by right of ballot, for the lot which he cast in was not one to skulk behind, no lump of moist earth, but such as would be the first to leap lightly from the crested helm! His were these deeds, and at his side was I—the slave, the son of the barbarian mother.

Wretch, how canst thou be so blind as to rail thus? Knowst thou not that thy sire's sire was Pelops of old—a barbarian, a Phrygian? That Atreus, who begat thee, set before his brother a most impious feast—the flesh of that brother's children? And thou thyself wert born of a Cretan mother, with whom her sire found a paramour, and doomed her to be food for the dumb fishes? Being such, makest thou his origin a reproach to such as I am? The father from whom I sprang is Telamon, who, as prize for valour peerless in the host, won my mother for his bride, by birth a princess, daughter of Laomedon; and as the flower of the spoil was she given to Telamon by Alcmena's son.

Thus nobly born from two noble parents, could I disgrace my kinsman, whom, now that such sore ills have laid him low, thou wouldst thrust forth without burial—yea, and art not ashamed to say it? Now be thou sure of this—whereso ever ye cast this man, with him ye will cast forth our three corpses also. It beseems me to die in his cause, before all men's eyes, rather than for thy wife—or thy brother's should I say? Be prudent, therefore, not for my sake, but for thine own also; for, if thou harm me, thou wilt wish anon that thou hadst been a very coward, ere thy rashness had been wreaked on me.

Enter ODYSSEUS.

Ch. King Odysseus, know that thou hast come in season, if thou art here, not to embroil, but to mediate.

Od. What ails you, friends? Far off I heard loud speech of the Atreidae over this brave man's corpse.

Ag. Nay, King Odysseus, have we not been hearing but now most shameful taunts from yonder man?

Od. How was that? I can pardon a man who is reviled if he engage in wordy war.

Ag. I had reviled him; for his deeds toward me were vile.

Od. And what did he unto thee, that thou hast a wrong?

Ag. He says the he will not leave yon corpse ungraced by sepulture, but will bury it in my despite.

Od. Now may a friend speak out the truth, and still, as ever, ply his oar in time with thine?

Ag. Speak: else were I less than sane; for I count thee my greatest friend of all the Greeks.

Od. Listen, then. For the love of the gods, take not the heart to cast forth this man unburied so ruthlessly; and in no wise let violence prevail with thee to hate so utterly that thou shouldest trample justice under foot.

To me also this man was once the worst foe in the army, from the day that I became master of the arms of Achilles; yet, for all that he was such toward me, never would I requite him with indignity, or refuse to avow that, in all our Greek host which came to Troy, I have seen none who was his peer, save Achilles. It were not just, then, that he should suffer dishonour at thy hand; 'tis not he, 'tis the law of Heaven that thou wouldst hurt. When a brave man is dead, 'tis not right to do him scathe—no, not even if thou hate him.

Ag. Thou, Odysseus, thus his champion against me?

Od. I am; yet hated him, when I could honourably hate.

Ag. And shouldst thou not also set thy heel on him in death?

Od. Delight not, son of Atreus, in gains which sully honour.

Ag. 'Tis not easy for a king to observe piety.

Od. But he can show respect to his friends, when they counsel well.

Ag. A loyal man should hearken to the rulers.

Od. Enough: the victory is thine, when thou yieldest to thy friends.

Ag. Remember to what a man thou showest the grace.

Od. Yon man was erst my foe, yet noble.

Ag. What canst thou mean? Such reverence for a dead foe?

Od. His worth weighs with me far more than his enmity.

Ag. Nay, such as thou are the unstable among men.

Od. Full many are friends at one time, and foes anon.

Ag. Dost thou approve, then of our making such friends?

Od. 'Tis not my wont to approve a stubborn soul.

Ag. Thou wilt make us appear cowards this day.

Od. Not so, but just men in the sight of all the Greeks.

Ag. So thou wouldst have me allow the burying of the dead?

Od. Yea: for I too shall come to that need.

Ag. Truly in all things alike each man works for himself!

Od. And for whom should I work rather than for myself!

Ag. It must be called thy doing, then, not mine.

Od. Call it whose thou wilt, in any case thou wilt be kind.

Ag. Nay, be well assured that I would grant thee a larger boon than this; yon man, however, as on earth, so in the shades, shall have my hatred. But thou canst do what thou wilt.

Exit AGAMEMNON.

Ch. Whoso saith, Odysseus, that thou hast not inborn wisdom, being such as thou art, that man is foolish.

Od. Yea, and I tell Teucer now that henceforth I am ready to be his friend—as staunch as I was once a foe. And I would join in the burying of your dead, and partake your cares, and omit no service which mortals should render to the noblest among men.

Teu. Noble Odysseus, I have only praise to give thee for thy words; and greatly hast thou belied my fears. Thou wast his deadliest foe of all the Greeks, yet thou alone hast stood by him with active aid; thou hast found no heart, in this presence, to heap the insults of the living on the dead—like yon crazed chief that came, he and his brother, and would have cast forth the outraged corpse without burial. Therefore may the Father supreme in the heaven above us, and the remembering Fury, and Justice that brings the end, destroy those evil men with evil doom, even as they sought to cast forth this man with unmerited despite.

But, son of aged Laertes, I scruple to admit thy helping hand in these funeral rites, lest so I do displeasure to the dead; in all else be thou indeed our fellow-worker; and if thou wouldst bring any man of the host, we shall make thee welcome. For the rest, I will make all things ready; and know that to us thou hast been a generous friend.

Od. It was my wish; but if it is not pleasing to thee that I should assist here, I accept thy decision, and depart.

Exit ODYSSEUS.

Teu. Enough: already the delay hath been long drawn out. Come, haste some of you to dig the hollow grave; place, some, the high-set caldron girt with fire, in readiness for holy ablution; and let another band bring the body-armour from the tent.

And thou, too, child, with such strength as thou hast, lay a loving hand upon thy sire, and help me to uplift this prostrate form; for still the warm channels are sprouting upward their dark tide.

Come, each one here who owns the name of friend, haste, away, in service to this man of perfect prowess; and never yet was service rendered to a nobler among men.

Ch. Many things shall mortals learn by seeing; but, before he sees, no man may read the future, or his fate.

This is a translation and has a separate copyright status from the original text. The license for the translation applies to this edition only.
Original:
This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.
 
Translation:
This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.