Ajax - Sophocles - ebook

Ajax is enraged because Achilles' armor was awarded to Odysseus, rather than to him. He vows to kill the Greek leaders who disgraced him. Before he can enact his extraordinary revenge, though, he is tricked by the goddess Athena into believing that the sheep and cattle that were taken by the Achaeans as spoil are the Greek leaders. He slaughters some of them, and takes the others back to his home to torture, including a ram which he believes to be his main rival, Odysseus.

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New Edition

Published by Sovereign Classic


This Edition

First published in 2015

Copyright © 2015 Sovereign Classic









TECMESSA, concubine of AJAX


TEUCER, half-brother of AJAX



Mute Persons


Attendants, Heralds, etc.


Before the tent of AJAX in the Greek camp at Troy. It is dawn. ODYSSEUS is discovered examining the ground before the tent. ATHENA appears from above.

ATHENA Son of Laertes, ever do I behold thee

Scheming to snatch some vantage o’er thy foes.

And now among the tents that guard the ships

Of Ajax, camped at the army’s outmost verge,

Long have I watched thee hunting in his trail,

And scanning his fresh prints, to learn if now

He be within or forth. Skilled in the chase

Thou seemest, as a keen-nosed Spartan hound.

For the man but now has passed within, his face

And slaughterous hands streaming with sweat and blood.

No further need for thee to peer about

Inside these doors. But say what eager quest

Is thine, that I who know may give thee light.

ODYSSEUS Voice of Athena, dearest of Gods to me,

How clearly, though thou be invisible,

Do I hear thy call, and seize it with my soul,

As when a bronze-mouthed Tyrrhene trumpet sounds!

Rightly thou judgest that on a foe’s trail,

Broad-shielded Ajax, I range to and fro.

Him, and no other, I have long been tracking.

This very night against us he has wrought

A deed incredible, if in truth ‘tis he.

For we know nothing sure, but drift in doubt.

Gladly I assumed the burden of this task.

For not long since we found that our whole spoil

Had been destroyed, both herds and flocks, slaughtered

By some man’s hand, their guardians dead beside them.

Now ‘tis on him that all men lay this guilt:

And a scout who had seen him swiftly bounding

Across the plain alone with reeking sword,

Informed me and bore witness. I forthwith,

Darting in hot chase, now pick out his tracks,

But now, bewildered, know not whose they are.

Timely thou comest. As in past days, so

In days to come I am guided by thy hand.

ATHENA I know it, Odysseus: so on the path betimes

A sentinel friendly to thy chase I came.

ODYSSEUS Dear mistress, do I labour to good purpose?

ATHENA Know ‘twas by yonder man these deeds were wrought.

ODYSSEUS And why did he so brandish a frenzied hand?

ATHENA In grievous wrath for Achilles’ panoply.

ODYSSEUS Why then upon the flocks did he make this onslaught?

ATHENA Your blood he deemed it was that stained his hand.

ODYSSEUS Was this outrage designed against the Greeks?

ATHENA He had achieved it too, but for my vigilance.

ODYSSEUS What bold scheme could inspire such reckless daring?

ATHENA By night he meant to steal on you alone.

ODYSSEUS Did he come near us? Did he reach his goal?

ATHENA He stood already at the two chiefs’ doors.

ODYSSEUS What then withheld his eager hand from bloodshed?

ATHENA ‘Twas I restrained him, casting on his eyes

O’ermastering notions of that baneful ecstasy,

That turned his rage on flocks and mingled droves

Of booty yet unshared, guarded by herdsmen.

Then plunging amid the thronging horns he slew,

Smiting on all sides; and one while he fancied

The Atreidae were the captives he was slaughtering,

Now ‘twas some other chief on whom he fell.

And I, while thus he raved in maniac throes,

Urged him on, drove him into the baleful toils.

Thereafter, when he had wearied of such labours,

He bound with thongs such oxen as yet lived,

With all the sheep, and drove them to his tents,

As though his spoil were men, not horned cattle.

Now lashed together in the hut he tortures them.

But to thee too will I expose this madness,

That seeing thou mayst proclaim it to all the Greeks.

Boldly await him here, nor apprehend

Mischance; for I will turn aside his eyes,

Foiling his vision lest he see thy face. (She calls to AJAX within

the tent.) Hearken, thou who art pinioning with cords

The wrists of captives; hither, I bid thee, come.

Thou, Ajax, hear me: come to thy tent’s door.

ODYSSEUS What dost thou, Athena? Do not summon him forth.

ATHENA Abide in silence. Earn not the name of coward.

ODYSSEUS Nay, by the Gods, let him remain within.

ATHENA What dost thou dread? Was he not once a man?

ODYSSEUS Yes, and to me a foeman, and still is.

ATHENA To mock foes, is not that the sweetest mockery?

ODYSSEUS I am content he should remain indoors.

ATHENA To look upon a madman art thou afeard?

ODYSSEUS Had he been sane, no fear had made me shrink.

ATHENA Even now he shall not see thee, near as thou art.

ODYSSEUS How so, if still with the same eyes he sees?

ATHENA His orbs will I make dark, though vision is theirs.

ODYSSEUS Well, all is possible, when ‘tis a god contrives.

ATHENA Stand then silent, abiding as thou art.

ODYSSEUS Stay I must; yet I fain would be far hence.

ATHENA Ho, Ajax! Once again I summon thee.

So slight is thy regard for thine ally? (AJAX appears in the tent

door, with a blood-stained scourge in his hand.)

AJAX Oh hail, Athena! Hail thou Zeus-born maid!

Nobly hast thou stood by me. Now will I crown thee

With trophies all of gold for this rich conquest.

ATHENA Thy words are welcome. But now tell me this:

Hast thou dyed well thy sword in the Argive host?

AJAX Such vaunt is mine. I disclaim not that glory.

ATHENA Against the Atreidae didst thou arm thy hand?

AJAX So that Ajax nevermore shall they insult.

ATHENA The men are dead, if rightly I take thy meaning.

AJAX Yes, dead. Now let them rob me of my arms.

ATHENA ‘Tis well. And what then of Laertes’ son?

In what plight does he stand? Or has he escaped thee?

AJAX Wouldst thou know where is that accursed fox?

ATHENA Even so-Odysseus, thine old adversary.

AJAX Goddess, a most dear captive in my tent

He sits. I do not mean him to die yet.

ATHENA Till thou hast done what, gained what further vantage?

AJAX Till bound fast to a pillar beneath my roof-

ATHENA What evil wilt thou inflict on the poor wretch?

AJAX His back the scourge must crimson ere he dies.

ATHENA Nay, do not torture so the wretched man.

AJAX Athena, in all else will I do thy will;

But his shall be no other doom than this.

ATHENA Thou then, since thy delight is to act thus,

Smite, spare not, abate nought of thy intent.

AJAX To my work I return: and thus I charge thee,

As now, so always fight thou upon my side. (AJAX goes back into the


ATHENA Seest thou, Odysseus, how great the strength of gods?

Whom couldst thou find more prudent than this man,