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The Fall of Troy

Page: 47

  He 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."


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