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Sophocles Index


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AJAX by Sophocles, Part 18


TEUCER
Look yonder, where the child and wife of Ajax
Are hastening hither in good time to tend
The funeral rites of his unhappy corpse.
My child, come hither. Stand near and lay thy hand
As a suppliant on thy father who begat thee.
And kneel imploringly with locks of hair
Held in thy hand-mine, and hers, and last thine-
The suppliant's treasure. But if any Greek
By violence should tear thee from this corpse,
For that crime from the land may he be cast
Unburied, and his whole race from the root
Cut off, even as I sever this lock.
There, take it, boy, and keep it. Let none seek
To move thee; but still kneel there and cling fast.
And you, like men, no women, by his side
Stand and defend him till I come again,
When I have dug his grave, though all forbid.
TEUCER goes out.

CHORUS singing
strophe 1

When will this agony draw to a close?
When will it cease, the last of our years of exile?
Years that bring me labour accurst of hurtling spears,
Woe that hath no respite or end,
But wide-spread over the plains of Troy
Works sorrow and shame for Hellas' sons.

antistrophe 1

Would he had vanished away from the earth,
Rapt to the skies, or sunk to devouring Hades,
He who first revealed to the Greeks the use of arms
Leagued in fierce confederate war!
Ah, toils eternally breeding toils!
Yea, he was the fiend who wrought man's ruin.

strophe 2

The wretch accurst, what were his gifts?
Neither the glad, festival wreath,
Nor the divine, mirth-giving wine-cup;
No music of flutes, soothing and sweet:
Slumber by night, blissful and calm,
None he bequeathed us.
And love's joys, alas! love did he banish from me.
Here couching alone neglected,
With hair by unceasing dews drenched evermore, we curse
Thy shores, O cruel Ilium.

antistrophe 2

Erewhile against terror by night, javelin or sword, firm was our trust:
He was our shield, valiant Ajax.
But now a malign demon of fate
Claims him. Alas! When, when again
Shall joy befall me?
Oh once more to stand, where on the wooded headland
The ocean is breaking, under
The shadow of Sunium's height; thence could I greet from far
The divine city of Athens.
TEUCER enters, followed by AGAMEMNON and his retinue.

TEUCER
In haste I come; for the captain of the host,
Agamemnon, I have seen hurrying hither.
To a perverse tongue now will he give rein.

AGAMEMNON
Is it you, they tell me, have dared to stretch your lips
In savage raillery against us, unpunished?
'Tis you I mean, the captive woman's son.
Verily of well-born mother had you been bred,
Superb had been your boasts and high your strut,
Since you, being nought, have championed one who is nought,
Vowing that no authority is ours
By sea or land to rule the Greeks or you.
Are not these monstrous taunts to hear from slaves?
What was this man whose praise you vaunt so loudly?
Whither went he, or where stood he, where I was not?
Among the Greeks are there no men but he?
In evil hour, it seems, did we proclaim
The contest for Achilles' panoply,
If come what may Teucer is to call us knaves,
And if you never will consent, though worsted,
To accept the award that seemed just to most judges,
But either must keep pelting us with foul words,
Or stab us craftily in your rage at losing.
Where such discords are customary, never
Could any law be stablished and maintained,
If we should thrust the rightful winners by,
And bring the rearmost to the foremost place.
But such wrong must be checked. 'Tis not the big
Broad-shouldered men on whom we most rely;
No, 'tis the wise who are masters everywhere.
An ox, however large of rib, may yet
Be kept straight on the road by a little whip.
And this corrective, I perceive, will soon
Descend on you, unless you acquire some wisdom,
Who, though this man is dead, a mere shade now,
Can wag your insolent lips so freely and boldly.
Come to your senses: think what you are by birth.
Bring hither someone else, a man born free,
Who in your stead may plead your cause before us.
For when you speak, the sense escapes me quite:
I comprehend not your barbarian tongue.

 

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