Aias

Sophokles

(Aias, 348-429)

AIAS:
Io,
my loving crew, alone among my comrades
only you hold to orthodox ship-custom,
so look at what a swell the blood-bearing squall has caused to rise up
and roll all around me now.

KHOROS:
I fear then, lady, the witness you bore was true,
it’s clear seen, he has no hold over his thoughts.

AIAS:
Io,
you skill-borne race of able mates
who put out to sea rolling the oar blades around
it’s you, it’s you alone, must hold off the hostile forces to come;
slaughter me with these others.

KHOROS:
Let better omens sound. By evil, evil can’t
be unwound, don’t sail further into this madness.

AIAS:
See the raging, beautiful heart-borne one,
he, unshakeable in the battle’s heat,
against tame animals brought his crushing hands.
Raw meat for laughter, an ass running wild.

TEKMESSA:
Please, despota Aias, I beg, no words like these.

AIAS:
Outside now, turn your feet around, get out to graze.

KHOROS:
O, by the gods, step away, let your brains be still.

AIAS:
O, disaster-borne fate, my hands
let go those revenge-reaping men, then set to horn-twisting
oxen and a plethora of glorious goats,
and so their blood darkly flowed.

KHOROS:
Why continue to ache when work's already done,
these things may only be that as which they were born.

AIAS:
Io, that all-seeing eye, eternal
organ of evil, Laertes’ child,
the grinder of poisoned corn for the army
no doubt you have laughed till broken down with your joy.

KHOROS:
By the grace of gods, all men laugh and lament.

AIAS:
Just to see him, even in this my shattered strength
Io, me, me.

KHOROS:
Do not speak grandly, can’t you see your own evil?

AIAS:
O, Zeus, patriarch of first fathers
how happy if the dissembler, grinder of hate-spiked corn,
and two-taxiarch basileon could be killed,
then I was to find my death.

TEKMESSA:
When you pray like that, match it with one for my own
dying: why should I keep living when you are dead?

AIAS:
Io,
darkness, my own bright light,
and Erebos, O, to me, most beautifully shining country
take my hand, take my hand, let me live in you
take my outstretched hand. I can no longer look to the race
of gods nor ephemeral man, being unworth the saving.
For the daughter of Zeus
brave-hearted goddess
does me nearly to death         
but where can I run
or stop for some rest?
If my glory is to decay, friends, in
the same grave-mound as the carcasses of the prey from my crazed hunt
the army will double-handedly
drive swords in my chest.

TEKMESSA:
O, dismal misery, that this man, necessary
to me, should speak previously unthinkable words.

AIAS:
Io,
you straits of sounding sea,
wave filling caves and forests that stand on the shore
many, many days too long you’ve kept me
here surrounding Troy in siege. But now no more, no more while I can
draw in the air to breathe, those in their right minds may be sure.
O, Scamander’s stream, you
fruit-bearing neighbour
beautiful to the Greeks,
do not seek to gaze
on this man again,
whom if I may speak grandly no one in Troy
ever saw the equal among the army that came here from
Greece; but here relieved of all Timos
bows before you now.

KHOROS:
I don’t know how to dam you up or how to stop this speech
coming, such a wave of evil breaks over you.          

 

(Aias, 596-747)

KHOROS:     
O, Glorious Salamis, and your
sea-crashed shores, beautiful-daimon-borne,
brightly shining light of a torch:
I have abided here a great and lasting time
defending Ida’s meadows under canvas through unnumbered moons
forever alert for the last deadly ambush. 
Time drains away my strong powers
expecting evil to fall
never knowing when I may be
banished from all men down to unseen Hades’ home.

And by incurable Aias I         
must sit and wait to wrestle, O, me,
while with god’s mania he’ll dance.
He that once went out from our ranks to try his strength
with raging Ares. Now his thoughts pasture far out on their own, for
his friends found his sorrows were much too great to bear.
Those hands which once did works which were
supreme in Arete
these are friendless, numb and friendless,
sitting idle in the face of the Atreidae.
                      
It is sure that the first nurse of the ancient days        
his white-age bearing mother, when hearing of his mind
destroying sickness will cry
Ailinon, Ailinon,
and the songbird’s weeping dirge will not be heard
as she laments her fate, but rather the sharp-toned odes
of mourning rites, and hand-beaten  
sounds’ll violently resound from her
chest where they’ll fall with grey and loose hanging hair.

Hades better houses such vanity-plagued men,
whose fathers descended from the greatest line of the
many-troubled Achaeans,
not now nurtured with the rest
but uprooted in the season of their bloom.
O father Telamon, what a rotten curse is upon your
son in this blighting madness,
one that has never yet reared
an Aiakid in such a way but him.

AIAS:
All things by long and immeasurable time are
first brought to light and then buried away,
no man should marvel at what may come; still hostage
to the failing of oaths and the unbending will.
For I myself, who was once strong in endurance,
like ice-cooling iron, feel my mouth softening in
the fire of this woman’s words; pity surges for
a widow with an orphan among enemies.
But I will go to the baths in the sea-adjoined
meadow, so that I may cleanse my defiled soul,
and escape the heavy toll of the god’s anger,
and hope to reach some untrodden Khoros where I
can bury this my spear, hateful throwing missile,
covering it over with earth where no one can see.
Let Nyx and Hades themselves hide it down below.
No good has come since I took it in my hand as
a gift from Hector, my bitterest enemy;
for the Argive army no longer trusted me.
So the proverb that mortals speak is very true,
gifts aren’t gifts when your enemies give them to you.
So in my remaining time, I’ll give way before
the gods, and practice revering the Atreidae.
They are Archontes, and we must submit. These things
cannot change, he that weighs heavy in his own strength
must bow to authority. And so the winter
snows depart when the beautiful-fruit-bearing heat
arrives, day drives off night in an endless cycle
when her white horses bring the shining skies alive.
The blasting breath of the blowing wind at last
lets the groaning seas die, and all-powerful sleep
breaks its shackles, holding no one forever more.
So all men must come to know peace in their own minds.
I will, for now I have learned that it is fitting
to hate a hated enemy only so far as
you may come to love him in the end, and a friend
should only be helped so far as you wish to aid
a future opponent: the multitude of men     
are right to view Hetairaiai with suspicion.
So in such light this would be wise: you go quickly
inside and make your prayers to the great gods, woman,
pray that these my desires shall all be fulfilled.
And you, my Hetaroi, likewise, speed my wishes
with reverence, show and tell Teukros when he comes
that he must be my guardian, and give you beautiful
kindnesses, for I am going now where I must.
Do as I have told you and soon you may perhaps learn,
though now in evil fortune, I have found some peace.
                   
KHOROS:
I’m shivering with Eros, up on the wings of joy                   
Io Pan, Io Pannyes
O, Pan, Pan, appear here please, sea-traversing one, from Kyllene’s
snow
-pelted chain of mountain ranges, O, Khoros-
of-the-gods-leading lord, so that you and I
may make the self-taught Nysian and Knosian dances;
I feel the need for Khoral stepping.   
And may Lord Apollo take a stride across the Ikarian sea from
beautiful-greeting Delos
and make union with me never-endingly bright.

Our eye-clouding pain has been rolled away by Ares
Io, Io, now anew
now, Zeus, bring upon us the white shining light of a beautiful day
as we sail away in our sea-swift ships
for the pain slips from Aias’ brain once more
and he’s performed the god’s rites in good order with great and pious
awe.
All things shall be cured by great time.
and I can no longer tell what can be believed, since against all hoping
Aias’ self-surpassing
soul has given up its struggle with the Atreidae.

MESSENGER:
Friend-hearted men, I shall bear you this first message:
Teukros now comes down from the heights of Mysian
Kremnon, and in the midst of the strategeion
receives the hate of the united Argive host.
Recognising his stride from afar they circled
around him to learn his news, then began to abuse
him from every side, and no man was holding back,
calling him kin to the maniac, the plotter
of evil for the army, that he’d have no protection
against the hail of their flesh-breaking stones when dead.
It had now escalated to the point that hands
had gone to their scabbards and swords were ready-drawn.
But then when on course to reach the last decision,
the older men spoke calm words in comradely tone.
But whereabout will I find Aias, to tell him,
our leader must be given the full account.

KHOROS:
Not within, he has completely vanished, a new
plan must have bloomed in the youth of the man’s new mood.

MESSENGER:
Io, Io.
Too slow was I in being sent along this road
or else I made my way with insufficient speed.

KHOROS:
What do you need? Which part of your task is lacking?

MESSENGER:
This man was banned by Teukros from going out
from under this roof until he himself arrived.
 
KHOROS:
But he has departed to harvest a better
vine, thus settling his choler toward the gods.

MESSENGER:
These words fill a full skin with many ripe follies,
if indeed Kalchas has a mind for divining.

KHOROS:
How so? What else do you know of these present things?

translated from the Ancient Greek by William Heath