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AJAX by Sophocles, Part 05


'Tis time that now each with shamefully muffled head
Forth from the camp should creep with stealthy footsteps.
Nay, on the ship let us muster, and benched at the oars
Over the waves launch her in swift flight.
Such angry threats sound in our ears hurled by the brother princes,
The Atreidae: and I quake, fearing a death by stoning,
The dread portion of all who would share our hapless master's ruin.

Yet hope we: for ceased is the lightning's flash:
His rage dies down like a fierce south-wind.
But now, grown sane, new misery is his;
For on woes self-wrought he gazes aghast,
Wherein no hand but his own had share;
And with anguish his soul is afflicted.

Nay, if 'tis ceased, there is good cause to hope.
Once 'tis past, of less moment is his frenzy.

And which, were the choice thine, wouldst thou prefer,
To afflict thy friends and feel delight thyself,
Or to share sorrow, grieving with their grief?

The twofold woe, lady, would be the greater.

Then we, though plagued no more, are undone now.

What mean thy words? Their sense is dark to me.

Yonder man, while his spirit was diseased,
Himself had joy in his own evil plight,
Though to us, who were sane, he brought distress.
But now, since he has respite from his plague,
He with sore grief is utterly cast down,
And we likewise, no less than heretofore.
Are there not here two woes instead of one?

Yes truly. And I fear, from some god came
This stroke; how else? if, now his frenzy is ceased,
His mind has no more ease than when it raged.

'Tis even as I said, rest well assured.

But how did this bane first alight upon him?
To us who share thy grief show what befell.

Thou shalt hear all, as though thou hadst been present.
In the middle of the night, when the evening braziers
No longer flared, he took a two-edged sword,
And fain would sally upon an empty quest.
But I rebuked him, saying: "What doest thou,
Ajax? Why thus uncalled wouldst thou go forth?
No messenger has summoned thee, no trumpet
Roused thee. Nay, the whole camp is sleeping still."
But curtly he replied in well-worn phrase:
"Woman, silence is the grace of woman."
Thus schooled, I yielded; and he rushed out alone.
What passed outside the tent, I cannot tell.
But in he came, driving lashed together
Bulls, and shepherd dogs, and fleecy prey.
Some he beheaded, the wrenched-back throats of some
He slit, or cleft their chines; others he bound
And tortured, as though men they were, not beasts.
Last, darting through the doors, as to some phantom
He tossed words, now against the Atreidae, now
Taunting Odysseus, piling up huge jeers
Of how he had gone and wreaked his scorn upon them.
Soon he rushed back within the tent, where slowly
And hardly to his reason he returned.
And gazing round on the room filled with havoc,
He struck his head and cried out; then amidst
The wrecks of slaughtered sheep a wreck he fell,
And sat clutching his hair with tight-clenched nails.
There first for a long while he crouched speechless;
Then did he threaten me with fearful threats,
If I revealed not all that had befallen him,
Asking what meant the plight wherein he lay.
And I, friends, terror-stricken, told him all
That had been done, so far as I had knowledge.
Forthwith he broke forth into bitter wailing,
Such as I ne'er had heard from him before
For always had he held that such laments
Befitted cowards only, and low-souled men:
But uttering no shrill cries, he would express
His grief in low groans, as of a moaning bull.
But now prostrate beneath so great a woe,
Not tasting food nor drink, he sits among
The sword-slain beasts, motionless where he sank.
And plainly he meditates some baleful deed,
For so portend his words and lamentations.
But, O friends!-'twas for this cause I came forth-
Enter and help, if help at all you can:
For by friends' words men so bestead are won.


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