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Sophocles Index


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AJAX by Sophocles, Part 20


ODYSSEUS
Then listen. For the gods' sake venture not
Thus ruthlessly to cast forth this man unburied:
And in no wise let violence compel thee
To such deep hate that thou shouldst tread down justice.
Once for me too this man was my worst foe,
From that hour when I won Achilles' arms;
Yet, though he was such towards me, I would not so
Repay him with dishonour as to deny
That of all Greeks who came to Troy, no hero
So valiant save Achilles have I seen.
So it is not just thou shouldst dishonour him.
Not him wouldst thou be wronging, but the laws
Of heaven. It is not righteousness to outrage
A brave man dead, not even though thou hate him.

AGAMEMNON
Thou, Odysseus, champion him thus against me?

ODYSSEUS
Yes; but I hated him while hate was honourable.

AGAMEMNON
Shouldst thou not also trample on him when dead?

ODYSSEUS
Atreides, glory not in dishonouring triumphs.

AGAMEMNON
'Tis hard for a king to act with piety.

ODYSSEUS
Yet not hard to respect a friend's wise counsel.

AGAMEMNON
A good man should obey those who bear rule.

ODYSSEUS
Relent. 'Tis no defeat to yield to friends.

AGAMEMNON
Reflect who it is to whom thou dost this grace.

ODYSSEUS
This man was once my foe, yet was he noble.

AGAMEMNON
Can it be thou wilt reverence a dead foe?

ODYSSEUS
His worth with me far outweighs enmity.

AGAMEMNON
Unstable of impulse are such men as thou.

ODYSSEUS
Many are friends now and hereafter foes.

AGAMEMNON
Do you then praise such friends as worth the winning?

ODYSSEUS
I am not wont to praise a stubborn soul.

AGAMEMNON
Cowards you would have us show ourselves this day.

ODYSSEUS
Not so, but just men before all the Greeks.

AGAMEMNON
You bid me then permit these funeral rites?

ODYSSEUS
Even so: for I myself shall come to this.

AGAMEMNON
Alike in all things each works for himself.

ODYSSEUS
And for whom should I work, if not myself?

AGAMEMNON
Let it be known then as your doing, not mine.

ODYSSEUS
So be it. At least you will have acted nobly.

AGAMEMNON
Nay, but of this be certain, that to thee
Willingly would I grant a greater boon.
Yet he, in that world as in this, shall be
Most hateful to me. But act as you deem fit.
AGAMEMNON and his retinue go out.

LEADER
After such proof, Odysseus, a fool only
Could say that inborn wisdom was not thine.

ODYSSEUS
Let Teucer know that I shall be henceforth
His friend, no less than I was once his foe.
And I will join in burying this dead man,
And share in all due rites, omitting none
Which mortal men to noblest heroes owe.

TEUCER
Noble Odysseus, for thy words I praise thee
Without stint. Wholly hast thou belied my fears.
Thou, his worst foe among the Greeks, hast yet
Alone stood by him staunchly, nor thought fit
To glory and exult over the dead,
Like that chief crazed with arrogance, who came,
He and his brother, hoping to cast forth
The dead man shamefully without burial.
May therefore the supreme Olympian Father,
The remembering Fury and fulfilling Justice
Destroy these vile men vilely, even as they
Sought to cast forth this hero unjustly outraged.
But pardon me, thou son of old Laertes,
That I must scruple to allow thine aid
In these rites, lest I so displease the dead.
In all else share our toil; and wouldst thou bring
Any man from the host, we grudge thee not.
What else remains, I will provide. And know
That thou towards us hast acted generously.

ODYSSEUS
It was my wish. But if my help herein
Pleases you not, so be it, I depart.
ODYSSEUS goes out.

TEUCER
'Tis enough. Too long is the time we have wasted
In talk. Haste some with spades to the grave:
Speedily hollow it. Some set the cauldron
On high amid wreathing flames ready filled
For pious ablution.
Then a third band go, fetch forth from the tent
All the armour he once wore under his shield.
Thou too, child, lovingly lay thy hand
On thy father's corpse, and with all thy strength
Help me to lift him: for the dark blood-tide
Still upward is streaming warm through the arteries.
All then who openly now would appear
Friends to the dead, come, hasten forwards.
To our valiant lord this labour is due.
We have served none nobler among men.

CHORUS chanting
Unto him who has seen may manifold knowledge
Come; but before he sees, no man
May divine what destiny awaits him.


THE END

 

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