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AJAX by Sophocles, Part 03


Athena
Against the Atreidae didst thou arm thy hand?

AJAX
So that Ajax nevermore shall they insult.

Athena
The men are dead, if rightly I take thy meaning.

AJAX
Yes, dead. Now let them rob me of my arms.

Athena
'Tis well. And what then of Laertes' son?
In what plight does he stand? Or has he escaped thee?

AJAX
Wouldst thou know where is that accursed fox?

Athena
Even so-Odysseus, thine old adversary.

AJAX
Goddess, a most dear captive in my tent
He sits. I do not mean him to die yet.

Athena
Till thou hast done what, gained what further vantage?

AJAX
Till bound fast to a pillar beneath my roof-

Athena
What evil wilt thou inflict on the poor wretch?

AJAX
His back the scourge must crimson ere he dies.

Athena
Nay, do not torture so the wretched man.

AJAX
Athena, in all else will I do thy will;
But his shall be no other doom than this.

Athena
Thou then, since thy delight is to act thus,
Smite, spare not, abate nought of thy intent.

AJAX
To my work I return: and thus I charge thee,
As now, so always fight thou upon my side.
AJAX goes back into the tent.

Athena
Seest thou, Odysseus, how great the strength of gods?
Whom couldst thou find more prudent than this man,
Or whom in act more valiant, when need called?

ODYSSEUS
I know none nobler; and I pity him
In his misery, albeit he is my foe,
Since he is yoked fast to an evil doom.
My own lot I regard no less than his.
For I see well, nought else are we but mere
Phantoms, all we that live, mere fleeting shadows.

Athena
Warned therefore by his fate, never do thou
Thyself utter proud words against the gods;
Nor swell with insolence, if thou shouldst vanquish
Some rival by main strength or by wealth's power.
For a day can bring all mortal greatness low,
And a day can lift it up. But the gods love
The wise of heart, the froward they abhor.
Athena vanishes and ODYSSEUS departs. The CHORUS OF SALAMINIANS enters.

CHORUS singing
Son of Telamon, lord of Salamis' isle,
On its wave-washed throne mid the breaking sea,
I rejoice when fair are thy fortunes:
But whene'er thou art smitten by the stroke of Zeus,
Or the vehement blame of the fierce-tongued Greeks,
Then sore am I grieved, and for fear I quake,
As a fluttering dove with a scared eye.
Even so by rumour murmuring loud
Of the night late-spent our ears are assailed.
'Tis a tale of shame, how thou on the plains
Where the steeds roam wild, didst ruin the Danaan
Flocks and herds,
Our spear-won booty as yet unshared,
With bright sword smiting and slaughtering.
Such now are the slanders Odysseus forges
And whispers abroad into all men's ears,
Winning easy belief: so specious the tale
He is spreading against thee; and each new hearer
Rejoices more than he who told,
Exulting in thy degradation.
For the shaft that is aimed at the noble of soul
Smites home without fail: but whoe'er should accuse me
Of such misdeeds, no faith would he win.
'Tis the stronger whom creeping jealousy strikes.
Yet small men reft of help from the mighty
Can ill be trusted to guard their walls.
Best prosper the lowly in league with the great;
And the great have need to be served by the less.
But none to the knowledge of such plain truths
May lead minds witless and froward.
Even such are the men who murmur against thee:
And vainly without thine aid, O King,
We strive to repel their accusing hate.
For whene'er they are safe from the scorn of thy glance,
They chatter and screech like bids in a flock:
But smitten with dread of the powerful vulture,
Doubtless at once, should'st thou but appear,
They will cower down dumbly in silence.

 

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