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AJAX by Sophocles, Part 19

Would that you both might learn wisdom and temperance.
There is no better counsel I can give you.

Alas! how soon gratitude to the dead
Proves treacherous and vanishes from men's minds,
If for thee, Ajax, this man has no more
The least word of remembrance, he for whom oft
Toiling in battle thou didst risk thy life.
But all that is forgotten and flung aside.
Thou who but now wast uttering so much folly,
Hast thou no memory left, how in that hour
When, pent within your lines, you were already
No more than men of nought, routed in battle,
He alone stood forth to save you, while the flames
Were blazing round the stern-decks of the ships
Already, and while Hector, leaping high
Across the trench, charged down upon the hulls?
Who checked this ruin? Was it not he, who nowhere
So much as stood beside thee, so thou sayest?
Would you deny he acted nobly there?
Or when again chosen by lot, unbidden,
Alone in single combat he met Hector?
For no runaway's lot did he cast in,
No lump of clammy earth, but such that first
It should leap lightly from the crested helm?
His were these exploits; and beside him stood
I the slave, the barbarian mother's son.
Wretch, with what face can you fling forth such taunts?
Know you not that of old your father's father
Was Pelops, a barbarian, and a Phrygian?
That your sire Atreus set before his brother
A feast most impious of his own children's flesh?
And from a Cretan mother you were born,
Whom when her father found her with a paramour,
He doomed her for dumb fishes to devour.
Being such, do you reproach me with my lineage?
Telamon is the father who begat me,
Who, as the foremost champion of the Greeks,
Won as his bride my mother, a princes
By birth, Laomedon's daughter: a chosen spoil
She had been given him by Alcmena's son.
Thus of two noble parents nobly born,
How should I shame one of my blood, whom now,
Laid low by such calamity, you would thrust
Unburied forth, and feel no shame to say it?
But of this be sure: wheresoever you may cast him,
Us three also with him will you cast forth.
For it beseems me in his cause to die
In sight of all, rather than for the sake
Of your wife-or your brother's should I say?
Look then not to my interest, but your own.
For if you assail me, you shall soon wish rather
To have been a coward than too bold against me.
ODYSSEUS enters.

In good time, King Odysseus, hast thou come,
If 'tis thy purpose not to embroil but reconcile.

What is it, friends? Far off I heard high words
From the Atreidae over this hero's corpse.

Royal Odysseus, but now from this man
We have been listening to most shameful taunts.

How shameful? I could find excuse for one
Who, when reviled, retorts with bitter words.

Yes, I repaid his vile deeds with reviling.

What has he done thee whereby thou art wronged?

He says he will not leave yon corpse unhonoured
By sepulture, but will bury it in my spite.

May now a friend speak out the truth, yet still
As ever ply his oar in stroke with thine?

Speak: I should be witless else; for thee
Of all the Greeks I count the greatest friend.


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