“Nor am I to be blamed, if Vulcan's isle
of Lemnos has become the residence
of Philoctetes. Greeks, defend yourselves,
for you agreed to it! Yes, I admit
I urged him to withdraw from toils of war
and those of travel and attempt by rest
to ease his cruel pain. He took my advice
and lives! The advice was not alone well meant
(that would have been enough) but it was wise.
Because our prophets have declared, he must
lead us, if we may still maintain our hope
for Troy's destruction—therefore, you must not
intrust that work to me. Much better, send
the son of Telamon. His eloquence
will overcome the hero's rage, most fierce
from his disease and anger: or else his
invention of some wile will skilfully
deliver him to us.—The Simois
will first flow backward, Ida stand without
its foliage, and Achaia promise aid
to Troy itself; ere, lacking aid from me,
the craft of stupid Ajax will avail.
“Though, Philoctetes, you should be enraged
against your friends, against the king and me;
although you curse and everlastingly
devote my head to harm; although you wish,
to ease your anguish, that I may be given
into your power, that you may shed my blood;
and though you wait your turn and chance at me;
still I will undertake the quest and will
try all my skill to bring you back with me.
If my good fortune then will favor me,
I shall obtain your arrows; as I made
the Trojan seer my captive, as I learned
the heavenly oracles and fate of Troy,
and as I brought back through a host of foes
Minerva's image from the citadel.
“And is it possible, Ajax may now
compare himself with me? Truly the Fates
will hold Troy from our capture, if we leave
the statue. Where is valiant Ajax now,
where are the boasts of that tremendous man?
Why are you trembling, while Ulysses dares
to go beyond our guards and brave the night?
In spite of hostile swords, he goes within
not only the strong walls of Troy but even
the citadel, lifts up the goddess from
her shrine, and takes her through the enemy!
If I had not done this, Telamon's son
would bear his shield of seven bull hides in vain.
That night I gained the victory over Troy—
'Twas then I won our war with Pergama,
because I made it possible to win.
“Stop hinting by your look and muttered words
that Diomed was my partner in the deed.
The praise he won is his. You, certainly
fought not alone, when you held up your shield
to save the allied fleet: a multitude
was with you, but a single man gave me
his valued help.
“And if he did not know
a fighting man can not gain victory
so surely as the wise man, that the prize
is given to something rarer than a brave right hand,
he would himself be a contender now
for these illustrious arms. Ajax the less
would have come forward too, so would the fierce
Eurypylus, so would Andraemon's son.
Nor would Idomeneus withhold his claim,
nor would his countryman Meriones.
Yes, Menelaus too would seek the prize.
All these brave men, my equals in the field,
have yielded to my wisdom.
“Your right hand
is valuable in war, your temper stands
in need of my direction. You have strength
without intelligence; I look out for
the future. You are able in the fight;
I help our king to find the proper time.
Your body may give service, and my mind
must point the way: and just as much as he
who guides the ship must be superior
to him who rows it; and we all agree
the general is greater than the soldier; so,
do I excel you. In the body lives
an intellect much rarer than a hand,
by that we measure human excellence.
“O chieftains, recompense my vigilance!
For all these years of anxious care, award
this honor to my many services.
Our victory is in sight; I have removed
the opposing fates and, opening wide the way
to capture Pergama, have captured it.
Now by our common hopes, by Troy's high walls
already tottering and about to fall,
and by the gods that I won from the foe,
by what remains for wisdom to devise
or what may call for bold and fearless deeds—
if you think any hope is left for Troy,
remember me! Or, if you do not give
these arms to me, then give them all to her!”
And he pointed to Minerva's fateful head.
The assembled body of the chiefs was moved;
and then, appeared the power of eloquence:
the fluent man received, amid applause,
the arms of the brave man. His rival, who
so often when alone, stood firm against
great Hector and the sword, and flames and Jove,
stood not against a single passion, wrath.
The unconquerable was conquered by his grief.
He drew his sword, and said:—“This is at least
my own; or will Ulysses also claim
this, for himself. I must use this against
myself—the blade which often has been wet,
dripping with blood of Phrygians I have slain,.
Will drip with his own master's:blood,
lest any man but Ajax vanquish Ajax.”
Saying this, he turned toward the vital spot
in his own breast, which never had felt a wound,
the fated sword and plunged it deeply in.
though many sought to aid, no hand had strength
to draw that steel—deep driven. The blood itself
unaided drove it out. The ensanguined earth
sprouted from her green turf that purple flower
which grew of old from Hyacinthine blood.
Its petals now are charged with double freight—
the warrior's name, Apollo's cry of woe.
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