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Ovid XIII Chapter 1: 1-122 The debate over the arms: Ajax speaks
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|When the captains were seated, and the rank and file were standing, in a circle, around them, Ajax, master of the seven-layered shield, leapt up, and, fired with indignation, he looked back fiercely at the Sigean shore, and the ships beached on the shore, and, pointing to them, he said: 'It is in front of these vessels I plead my cause, and Ulysses opposes me, by Jupiter! Yet he did not hesitate to give way before Hector's blazing torches, which I resisted, which I drove away from the boats. But then, it is less risky to battle using lying words, than to fight with fists, and I am not prompt to speak, as he is not to act. I am as powerful in the fierce conflicts of the battle, as that man is in talk. I do not think however that I need to mention my deeds to you, Pelasgians, since you have seen them: let Ulysses tell you of his that are conducted without witness, in which night is the only sharer! I confess the prize I seek is great: but my rival detracts from the honour of it. There is nothing magnificent for Ajax in it, however great the thing is, if Ulysses has aspired to it. He has already won the prize in this contest, since when he is defeated he can say he fought it out with me. As for me, if my courage were in doubt, my noble birth is a powerful argument, a son of Telamon, he who, under brave Hercules, captured the walls of Troy, and sailed in the ship from Pagasae, with the Argonauts, to Colchis. Telamon's father was Aeacus, who judges there, among the silent dead, where Sisyphus,son of Aeolus rolls his heavy stone. Lofty Jupiter acknowledges Aeacus and confesses him to be his son: so Ajax is third in descent from Jove. Yet even this ancestry would not further my cause, if I did not share it with great Achilles. Our fathers, Peleus and Aeacus, were brothers: Achilles was my cousin, I ask for my cousin's weapons! Why are you, Ulysses, the son of Sisyphus, and similar to him in your capability for fraud and trickery, involving an alien race in the affairs of the Aeacidae? Are the arms denied me because I took up arms first, and without being rooted out, and shall he seem the better man who seized his weapons last, and shirked the fight with a pretence of madness, until Palamedes, son of Nauplius, the shrewder man, uncovered this cowardly spirit's deceit, and dragged him to the weapons he shunned? Shall he own all, who wanted none: shall I, who was the first to put myself at risk, be denied honour, and my cousin's gifts? If only his madness had been real, or been believed, and this exhorter to crime had never been our companion against the Phrygian fortresses! Then Lemnos would not hold you, to our shame, Philoctetes, son of Poeas, of whom they say that, hidden in the woodland caves, you move the stones, now, with your laments, calling down on Laertes's son the curses that he deserves, and, if there are gods, do not curse in vain! Now, alas, he who was sworn to the same conflict as ourselves, one of our captains, heir to Hercules's arrows, weakened by sickness and hunger, clothed and fed by the birds, employs the arrows, that fate intended for Troy, in firing at birds! Still, he is alive, because he did not accompany Ulysses further: luckless Palamedes would have preferred to be left behind also: he would have been alive, or at least have died an irreproachable death: that man there, remembering all too well the exposure of his own supposed madness, accused him of betraying the Greek cause, and uncovered gold, he had previously hidden, as evidence of the fabricated charge. So, by abandonment or death, he has drawn the strength of Achaea: that is how Ulysses fights, that is why he is to be feared! Though he be greater than Nestor, the true, in eloquence, I will never believe that his desertion of Nestor in battle was anything but a crime. When Nestor implored Ulysses's help, weary as he was with old age, and slowed by a wound to his horse, he was abandoned by his companion. Diomede, son of Tydeus, is well aware that I am not inventing the charge: he called Ulysses repeatedly, by name, and reproached his cowardly friend for running away. The gods look down, with the eyes of the just, at human dealings! Look, he who gave no help needs it: and as he had abandoned Nestor, so he would have been abandoned: he himself had established his own precedent. He shouted to his companions. I approached, and saw him, trembling and pale, and shaking with fear of impending death. I thrust out the mass of my shield, and covered him as he lay there, and (small cause for praise in that) I saved his cowardly life. If you go through with this contest, let us revisit that spot: revisit the enemy, your wound, and your usual cowardice, hide behind my shield, and contend with me under it! Yet, after I had snatched him up, he who was granted no strength to stand, because of his wounds, ran for it, not slowed by his wounds at all. Hector approaches, and, with him, leads the gods to battle, and brave men as well as you are terrified, Ulysses, when he rushes onwards, such is the fear he brings. I felled him to the ground with a huge rock hurled from a distance, as he was exulting in the success of his bloodthirsty slaughter. When he challenged one warrior to meet him, I withstood him. You wished the lot would fall to me, Achaeans, and your prayers were answered. If you ask what the outcome of that conflict was I was not beaten by Hector. See, the Trojans bring fire and sword, and Jupiter himself, against the Greek ships: where now is the eloquent Ulysses? Surely I, with my own breast, shielded the thousand ships, your hope of return: grant me the arms for all that fleet. Yet, if I may speak the truth, the arms search for greater honour than I do, to be linked to my glory, and the arms seek out Ajax, not Ajax the arms. Let the Ithacan compare with these things his killing of Rhesus, and of cowardly Dolon, his taking captive Helenus, Priam's son, and his theft of Pallas's image, the Palladium: nothing performed in daylight, nothing without Diomede present. If ever you grant the armour for such worthless service, divide it, and let Diomede have the greater share of it. Nevertheless why give them to the Ithacan, who carries things out secretly, and always unarmed, deceiving the unsuspecting enemy with his tricks? The gleam of the helmet, radiant with shining gold, will reveal his scheming, and show where he hides. The Dulichian's head beneath Achilles's helmet, will not bear so great a weight, and the spear-shaft, from Pelion, cannot be anything but heavy and burdensome for his arm, unsuited to war, and the shield, with its engraved design of the vast world, will not be fit for that cowardly left hand born for stealing. Perverse man, why do you go after a prize that will cripple you, one that, if it is given you in error by the Achaean people, will be a reason for being despoiled by the enemy, not feared by them? And running away, in which you surpass everyone, you master-coward, will turn out to be a slow game for you, if you are carrying such a weight. Add to that your shield that is rarely used in battle, and uninjured, and mine split in a thousand places from fending off spear-thrusts, that needs a new successor. Finally (what is the use of words?) let us be seen together in action! Send out the brave hero's arms into the middle of the enemy ranks: order them to be recovered from there, and let the retriever be equipped with what he retrieves.'