The Fall of Troy
Page: 47He spake: replied Agamemnon lord of spears:
"Ancient, there is none other in our midst
Wiser than thou, of Danaans young or old,
In that thou say'st that unforgiving wrath
Will burn in him to whom the Gods herein
Deny the victory; for these which strive
Are both our chiefest. Therefore mine heart too
Is set on this, that to the thralls of war
This judgment we commit: the loser then
Shall against Troy devise his deadly work
Of vengeance, and shall not be wroth with us."
He spake, and these three, being of one mind,
In hearing of all men refused to judge
Judgment so thankless: they would none of it.
Therefore they set the high-born sons of Troy
There in the midst, spear-thralls although they were,
To give just judgment in the warriors' strife.
Then in hot anger Aias rose, and spake:
"Odysseus, frantic soul, why hath a God
Deluded thee, to make thee hold thyself
My peer in might invincible? Dar'st thou say
That thou, when slain Achilles lay in dust,
When round him swarmed the Trojans, didst bear back
That furious throng, when I amidst them hurled
Death, and thou coweredst away? Thy dam
Bare thee a craven and a weakling wretch
Frail in comparison of me, as is
A cur beside a lion thunder-voiced!
No battle-biding heart is in thy breast,
But wiles and treachery be all thy care.
Hast thou forgotten how thou didst shrink back
From faring with Achaea's gathered host
To Ilium's holy burg, till Atreus' sons
Forced thee, the cowering craven, how loth soe'er,
To follow them—would God thou hadst never come!
For by thy counsel left we in Lemnos' isle
Groaning in agony Poeas' son renowned.
And not for him alone was ruin devised
Of thee; for godlike Palamedes too
Didst thou contrive destruction—ha, he was
Alike in battle and council better than thou!
And now thou dar'st to rise up against me,
Neither remembering my kindness, nor
Having respect unto the mightier man
Who rescued thee erewhile, when thou didst quaff
In fight before the onset of thy foes,
When thou, forsaken of all Greeks beside,
Midst tumult of the fray, wast fleeing too!
Oh that in that great fight Zeus' self had stayed
My dauntless might with thunder from his heaven!
Then with their two-edged swords the Trojan men
Had hewn thee limb from limb, and to their dogs
Had cast thy carrion! Then thou hadst not presumed
To meet me, trusting in thy trickeries!
Wretch, wherefore, if thou vauntest thee in might
Beyond all others, hast thou set thy ships
In the line's centre, screened from foes, nor dared
As I, on the far wing to draw them up?
Because thou wast afraid! Not thou it was
Who savedst from devouring fire the ships;
But I with heart unquailing there stood fast
Facing the fire and Hector ay, even he
Gave back before me everywhere in fight.
Thou—thou didst fear him aye with deadly fear!
Oh, had this our contention been but set
Amidst that very battle, when the roar
Of conflict rose around Achilles slain!
Then had thine own eyes seen me bearing forth
Out from the battle's heart and fury of foes
That goodly armour and its hero lord
Unto the tents. But here thou canst but trust
In cunning speech, and covetest a place
Amongst the mighty! Thou—thou hast not strength
To wear Achilles' arms invincible,
Nor sway his massy spear in thy weak hands!
But I they are verily moulded to my frame:
Yea, seemly it is I wear those glorious arms,
Who shall not shame a God's gifts passing fair.
But wherefore for Achilles' glorious arms
With words discourteous wrangling stand we here?
Come, let us try in strife with brazen spears
Who of us twain is best in murderous right!
For silver-footed Thetis set in the midst
This prize for prowess, not for pestilent words.
In folkmote may men have some use for words:
In pride of prowess I know me above thee far,
And great Achilles' lineage is mine own."
He spake: with scornful glance and bitter speech
Odysseus the resourceful chode with him:
"Aias, unbridled tongue, why these vain words
To me? Thou hast called me pestilent, niddering,
And weakling: yet I boast me better far
Than thou in wit and speech, which things increase
The strength of men. Lo, how the craggy rock,
Adamantine though it seem, the hewers of stone
Amid the hills by wisdom undermine
Full lightly, and by wisdom shipmen cross
The thunderous-plunging sea, when mountain-high
It surgeth, and by craft do hunters quell
Strong lions, panthers, boars, yea, all the brood
Of wild things. Furious-hearted bulls are tamed
To bear the yoke-bands by device of men.
Yea, all things are by wit accomplished. Still
It is the man who knoweth that excels
The witless man alike in toils and counsels.
For my keen wit did Oeneus' valiant son
Choose me of all men with him to draw nigh
To Hector's watchmen: yea, and mighty deeds
We twain accomplished. I it was who brought
To Atreus' sons Peleides far-renowned,
Their battle-helper. Whensoe'er the host
Needeth some other champion, not for the sake
Of thine hands will he come, nor by the rede
Of other Argives: of Achaeans I
Alone will draw him with soft suasive words
To where strong men are warring. Mighty power
The tongue hath over men, when courtesy
Inspires it. Valour is a deedless thing;
And bulk and big assemblage of a man
Cometh to naught, by wisdom unattended.
But unto me the Immortals gave both strength
And wisdom, and unto the Argive host
Made me a blessing. Nor, as thou hast said,
Hast thou in time past saved me when in flight
From foes. I never fled, but steadfastly
Withstood the charge of all the Trojan host.
Furious the enemy came on like a flood
But I by might of hands cut short the thread
Of many lives. Herein thou sayest not true
Me in the fray thou didst not shield nor save,
But for thine own life roughtest, lest a spear
Should pierce thy back if thou shouldst turn to flee
From war. My ships? I drew them up mid-line,
Not dreading the battle-fury of any foe,
But to bring healing unto Atreus' sons
Of war's calamities: and thou didst set
Far from their help thy ships. Nay more, I seamed
With cruel stripes my body, and entered so
The Trojans' burg, that I might learn of them
All their devisings for this troublous war.
Nor ever I dreaded Hector's spear; myself
Rose mid the foremost, eager for the fight,
When, prowess-confident, he defied us all.
Yea, in the fight around Achilles, I
Slew foes far more than thou; 'twas I who saved
The dead king with this armour. Not a whit
I dread thy spear now, but my grievous hurt
With pain still vexeth me, the wound I gat
In fighting for these arms and their slain lord.
In me as in Achilles is Zeus' blood."
He spake; strong Aias answered him again.
"Most cunning and most pestilent of men,
Nor I, nor any other Argive, saw
Thee toiling in that fray, when Trojans strove
Fiercely to hale away Achilles slain.
My might it was that with the spear unstrung
The knees of some in fight, and others thrilled
With panic as they pressed on ceaselessly.
Then fled they in dire straits, as geese or cranes
Flee from an eagle swooping as they feed
Along a grassy meadow; so, in dread
The Trojans shrinking backward from my spear
And lightening sword, fled into Ilium
To 'scape destruction. If thy might came there
Ever at all, not anywhere nigh me
With foes thou foughtest: somewhere far aloot
Mid other ranks thou toiledst, nowhere nigh
Achilles, where the one great battle raged."
He spake; replied Odysseus the shrewd heart:
"Aias, I hold myself no worse than thou
In wit or might, how goodly in outward show
Thou be soever. Nay, I am keener far
Of wit than thou in all the Argives' eyes.
In battle-prowess do I equal thee
Haply surpass; and this the Trojans know,
Who tremble when they see me from afar.
Aye, thou too know'st, and others know my strength
By that hard struggle in the wrestling-match,
When Peleus' son set glorious prizes forth
Beside the barrow of Patroclus slain."