AJAX Monologue by Sophocles


Strangely the long and countless drift of time
Brings all things forth from darkness into light,
Then covers them once more. Nothing so marvelous
That man can say it surely will not be–
Strong oath and iron intent come crashing down.

My mood, which just before was strong and regid,
No dipped sword more so, now has lost its edge–
My speech is womanish for this woman’s sake;
And pity touches me for wife and child,
Widowed and lost among my enemies.

But now I’m going to the bathing place
And meadows by the sea, to cleanse my stains,
In hope the goddess’ wrath may pass from me.
And when I’ve found a place that’s quite deserted,
I’ll dig in the ground, and hide this sword of mine,
Hatefulest of weapons, out of sight. May Darkness
And Hades, God of Death, hold it in their safe keeping.
For never, since I took it as a gift
Which Hector, my great enemy, gave to me,
Have I known any kindness from the Greeks.
I think the ancient proverb speaks the truth:
An enemy’s gift ruinous and no gift.

Well, then,
From now on this will be my rule: Give way
To Heaven, and bow before the sons of Atreus.
They are our rulers, they must be obeyed.
I must give way, as all dread strengths give way,
In turn and deference. Winter’s hard-packed snow
Cedes to the fruitful summer; stubborn night
At last removes, for day’s white steeds to shine.
The dread blast of the gale slackens and gives
Peace to the sounding sea: and Sleep, strong jailer,
In time yields up his captive. Shall not I
Learn place and wisdom? Have I not learned this,
Only so much to hate my enemy
As though he might again become my friend,
And so much good to wish to do my friend,
As knowing he may yet become my foe?
Most men have found friendship a treacherous harbor.
Enough: this will be well.

you, my wife, go in
And fervently and continually pray the gods
To grant fulfillment of my soul’s desire.

And you, my friends, heed my instructions too,
And when he comes, deliver this to Teucer:
Let him take care for me and thought for you.
Now I am going where my way must go;
Do as I bid you, and you yet may hear
That I, though wretched now, have found my safety.


IMAGE:  [Telamonian Aias is preparing to commit suicide. Reproducing illustration of an antique Greek black-figure amphora (colour litho), depiction by Exekias (530-525 BC)]

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