Armorum iudicium. Aiax.
AJAX AND ULYSSESThe chiefs were seated, and the soldiers form
a circle round them. Then Ajax, the approved
lord of the seven-fold shield, arose and spoke.
Impatient in his wrath, he looked with stern,
set features, out over Sigaean shores,
and over the fleet of ships upon the beach,
and, stretching out his hands, he said,
O Jupiter, our cause before the ships,—
Ulysses vies with me! He did not shrink
from giving way before the flames of Hector,
when I withstood them and I saved the fleet.
'Tis safer then to fight with lying words
than with his hands. I am not prompt to speak,
nor he to act. I am as good in war
and deadly battle as he is in talk.
Pelasgians, I do not suppose my deeds
must here be mentioned: you have witnessed them
but let Ulysses tell of deeds which he
performed without a witness and which Night
alone is conscious of. I own the prize
we seek is great, but such a rival makes
it small. To Ajax there s no cause for pride
in having any prize, however great,
for which Ulysses hoped. But he has won
reward enough already. He can boast,
when vanquished, that he strove with me.
“I, even if my merit were in doubt
should still excell in birth. I am the son
of Telamon, who with great Hercules
brought low the power of Troy and in the ship
of Jason voyaged even to the Colchian shores.
His father, Aeacus, now is a judge
among the silent shades—where Sisyphus
toils and is mocked forever with the stone.
Great Jove himself calls Aeacus his son.
Thus, Ajax is the third from Jupiter.
But, Greeks, let not this line of my descent
avail me, if I do not share it with
my cousin, great Achilles. I demand
these arms now due me as a cousin. Why
should this one, from the blood of Sisyphus,
and like him for his thefts and frauds, intrude
the names of that loathed family upon
honored descendants of brave Aeacus?
“Will you deny me arms because I took
arms earlier, no man prompting me,
and call this man the better, who last of all
took up arms, and, pretending he was mad,
declined war, till the son of Naplius
more shrewd than he (but to his future cost)
discovered the contrivance of the fraud
and had the coward dragged forth to the arms
he had avoided. And shall this man have
the world's best arms, who wanted none?
Shall I lack honor and my cousin's gift
because I faced the danger with the first?
“Would that his madness had been real, or
had been accepted as reality
and that he never had attended us,
as our companion to the Phrygian towers,
this counsellor of evil! Then, good son
of Poeas, Lemnos would not hold you now,
exposed through guilt of ours! You, as men say,
hidden in forest lairs, are moving with your groans
the very rocks and asking for Ulysses
what he so well deserves—what, if indeed
there still are gods, you shall not ask in vain.
And now, one of our leaders, he that was
sworn to the same arms with ourselves! by whom
the arrows of great Hercules are used,
as his successor; broken by disease
and famine, clothed with feathers, now must feed
on birds and squander for his wretched fare
the arrows destined for the wreck of Troy.
“At least he lives, because he has not stayed
too near Ulysses. Hapless Palamedes
might wish that he too had been left behind,
then he would live or would have met a death
without dishonor. For this man, who well
remembered the unfortunate discovery
of his feigned madness, made a fraudulent
attack on Palamedes, who he said
betrayed the Grecian interest. He proved
his false charge to the Greeks by showing them
the gold which he himself hid in the ground.
By exile or by death he has decreased
the true strength of the Greeks. And so he fights,
for such things men have cause to fear Ulysses!
“Should he excel the faithful Nestor by
his eloquence, I'd yet be well convinced
the way he forsook Nestor was a crime,
old Nestor, who implored in vain his aid,
when he was hindered by his wounded steed
and wearied with the years of his old age,
was then deserted by that scheming man.
The charge that I have made is strictly true,
and the son of Tydeus knows it all too well;
for he at that time called him by his name,
rebuked him and upbraided his weak friend
for coward flight.
“The gods above behold
the affairs of men with justice. That same man
who would not help a friend now calls for help;
he who forsook a friend, should be forsaken,
the law he made returns upon himself.
He called aloud on his companions;
I came and saw him trembling, pale with fear,
and shuddering, at the thought of coming death.
I held my shield above him where he lay,
and that way saved the villain's dastard life,
and little praise I have deserved for that.
If you still wish to claim this armor, let
us both return to that place and restore
the enemy, your wound, and usual fear—
there hide behind my shield, and under that
contend with me! Yet, when I faced the foe,
he, whom his wound had left no power to stand,
forgot the wound and took to headlong flight.
“Hector approached, and brought the gods with him
to battle; and, wherever he rushed on,
not only this Ulysses was alarmed,
but even the valiant, for so great the fear
he caused them. Hector, proud in his success
in blood and slaughter, I then dared to meet
and with a huge: stone from a distance hurled
I laid him flat. When he demanded one
to fight with, I engaged him quite alone,
for you my Greek friends, prayed the lot
might fall upon me, and your prayers prevailed.
If you should ask me of this fight, I will
declare I was not vanquished there by him.
“Behold, the Trojans brought forth fire and sword
and Jove, as well, against the Grecian fleet,
where now has eloquent Ulysses gone?
Truly, I did protect a thousand ships
with my breast, saving the hopes of your return.—
for all these many ships, award me arms!
But, let me speak the truth, the arms will gain
more fame than I, for they will share my glory.
And they need Ajax, Ajax needs not them.