Consecration as a hero
The successive moods of Ajax.
His speech in vv. 646 —692.
1 In his excellent essay on the Ajax in the Rhein. Museum for 1829, pt. 3, pp. 43—92, 229—264 (reprinted in his Kleine Schriften).
2 Op. cit. p. 229. Welcker compares the language of Ajax here to that of the prayer which Clytaemnestra utters in Electra's presence—a “κεκρυμμένη βάξις”, as she herself terms it ( El. 638). That is, the terms in which Ajax expresses his purpose are, indeed, only allusive; but there is nothing in them which it is impossible for the hearers to understand; no clue is wanting which they do not possess,—as Aegisthus, for instance, does not possess the clue to Electra's irony ( El. 1448 ff.). The answer to Welcker's view may, I think, be given in Aristotle's phrase ( Rhet. 1. 2.§ 13), “ὁ γὰρ κριτὴς ὑπόκειται εἶναι ἁπλοῦς”. A sufficiently acute hearer would perhaps have suspected the truth; but the Chorus and Tecmessa are supposed to be simple persons.
3 In his German Translation of Sophocles, with notes: vol. II. pp. 150 f. (1838). He is in general agreement with Welcker; but allows that, if Ajax had no intention to deceive, it is at least remarkable that his purpose is described throughout only in ‘figurative’ language; and that a misapprehension of it would be easy.
4 In his essay ‘On the Irony of Sophocles,’ where Welcker's view of this speech is examined, and, on the whole, approved (Phil. Museum, vol. I. pp. 514 ff.: 1833). Thirlwall is the only writer (so far as I know) who has really grappled with the objections to Welcker's view that the words “κρύψω τόδ᾽ ἔγχος τοὐμόν”, etc., might be spoken by Ajax without intention to deceive. He grants that this passage ‘at first sight’ suggests ‘a deliberate intention to mislead.’ Nay, he admits that any other view is ‘scarcely possible, if it had been only the fatality of the weapon that he had in his thoughts.’ [The italics are mine.] ‘But,’ Thirlwall proceeds, ‘perhaps it may be more easily conceived, if we suppose him to have reflected on it rather as having been once the object of his pride, a tribute of respect to his valour from a respected enemy, and afterward the instrument of his shame. He was now about to expiate his pride, and to wipe off his shame: in both respects he might be said to “hide” his sword in the most emphatic sense, when he sheathed it in his own body.’—Thirlwall's argument (as I understand it) comes to this. It is just conceivable that, in saying “κρύψω τόδ᾽ ἔγχος”, etc., Ajax did not intend to deceive, if we suppose that the thought in his mind was:—‘I will put that sword, once my glory and my joy, out of sight for ever’ [and not: ‘I will bury that sword, which has brought me only woe’]: because the words, so viewed, would suggest an antithesis between glorious life—and something else. But, if Ajax had been thus thinking of his sword, as ‘once the object of his pride,’ would he have said merely, “κρύψω τόδ᾽ ἔγχος τοὐμόν, ἔχθιστον βελῶν”? Does not this (with the two verses which follow) clearly show that it was ‘only the fatality of the weapon that he had in his thoughts’?
5 As is well observed by Welcker (p. 235), and by Thirlwall (p. 519).
6 Verse 666, “τὸ λοιπόν”. For Ajax himself this signifies, ‘in what of life remains to me.’ Thirlwall observes (op. cit. p. 519): ‘These professions would certainly be mere dissimulation if they referred to anything but the approaching termination of his career, whereas they seem to imply a prospect of its continuance. Yet, if Ajax contemplated his death as a satisfaction both to divine and human justice, his manner of describing the lesson which he had learnt and would thenceforth practise, is not unnatural, but strongly emphatic.’ The last sentence is true; but not (I venture to think) the dilemma stated in the first. Ajax means his hearers to understand that he has resolved to go on living. Yet his utterance is not ‘mere dissimulation’; for he is really prepared to ‘yield to the gods,’ and (in his own sense) to ‘revere the Atreidae.’
7 For instance, Döderlein, in his essay on the Ajax, sums up his estimate of the speech in the words, ‘tota simulatio est’ (Abhandl. der Philosophisch-Philolog. Classe der k. Bayer. Akad., vol. II. p. 120, 1837). Schlegel's view is similar (Dramatic Lit., p. 107, Eng. tr.). This was, indeed, the traditional conception.
8 Thus Thirlwall says (op. cit. p. 519): ‘If the aim of Ajax is to deceive his friends, admitting the contrivance to be worthy of his character, and consistent with his previous conduct, he cannot reasonably be supposed more in earnest in one part of the speech than another.’
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