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AJAX by Sophocles, Part 16

You, Sir, I warn you, raise not yonder corpse
For burial, but leave it as it lies.

For what cause do you waste such swelling words?

'Tis my will, and his will who rules the host.

Let us know then what pretext you allege.

We hoped that we had brought this man from home
To be a friend and champion for the Greeks:
But a worse than Phrygian foe on trial we found him.
Devising death for the whole host, by night
He sallied forth against us, armed for slaughter.
And had not some god baffled this exploit,
Ours would have been the lot which now is his:
While we lay slain by a most shameful doom,
He would have still been living. But his outrage,
Foiled by a god, has fallen on sheep and herds.
Wherefore there lives no man so powerful
That he shall lay this corpse beneath a tomb;
But cast forth somewhere upon the yellow sands
It shall become food for the sea-shore birds.
Then lift not up your voice in threatening fury.
If while he lived we could not master him,
Yet in death will we rule him, in your despite,
Guiding him with our hands, since in his life
At no time would he hearken to my words.
Yet 'tis a sign of wickedness, when a subject
Deigns not to obey those placed in power above him.
For never can the laws be prosperously
Stablished in cities where awe is not found;
Nor may a camp be providently ruled
Without the shield of dread and reverence.
Yea, though a man be grown to mighty bulk,
Let him look lest some slight mischance o'erthrow him.
He with whom awe and reverence abide,
Doubt not, will flourish in security.
But where outrage and licence are not checked,
Be sure that state, though sped by prosperous winds,
Some day at last will founder in deep seas.
Yes, fear should be established in due season.
Dream not that we can act as we desire,
Yet avoid payment of the price in pain.
Well, fortune goes by turns. This man was fiery
And insolent once: 'tis mine now to exult.
I charge thee, bury him not, lest by that act
Thou thyself shouldst be digging thine own grave,

Menelaus, do not first lay down wise precepts,
Then thyself offer outrage to the dead.

Never, friends, shall I marvel any more,
If one of low birth acts injuriously,
When they who are accounted nobly born
Can utter such injurious calumnies.
Come, once more speak. You say you brought him hither?
Took him to be a champion of the Greeks?
Did he not sail as his own master, freely?
How are you his chieftain? How have you the right
To lord it o'er the folk he brought from home?
As Sparta's lord you came, not as our master.
In no way was it your prerogative
To rule him, any more than he could you.
As vassal of others you sailed hither, not
As captain of us all, still less of Ajax.
Go, rule those whom you may rule: chastise them
With proud words. But this man, though you forbid me,
Aye, and your fellow-captain, by just right
Will I lay in his grave, scorning your threats.
It was not for the sake of your lost wife
He came to Troy, like your toil-broken serfs,
But for the sake of oaths that he had sworn,
Not for yours. What cared he for nobodies?
Then come again and bring more Heralds hither,
And the captain of the host. For such as you
I would not turn my head, for all your bluster.

Such speech I like not, either, in peril's midst:
For harsh words rankle, be they ne'er so just.

This bowman, it seems, has pride enough to spare.

Yes, 'tis no mean craft I have made my own.

How big would be your boasts, had you a shield!


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