The Penn Greek Drama Series presents original literary translations of the entire corpus of classical Greek drama: tragedies, comedies, and satyr plays. It is the only contemporary series of all the surviving work of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and Menander.
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and Kenneth McLeish
ATHENA, the goddess
ODYSSEUS, king of Ithaca, Greek warrior
AJAX, Greek warrior, son of Telamon and Eriboea
CH0RUS of Ajax' sailors
TECMESSA, a captive princess, Ajax' concubine
TEUCER, Ajax' brother
MENELAUS, king of Sparta, Greek warrior
AGAMEMNON, king of Mycenae, Greek warrior
Eurysaces, young son of Ajax and Tecmessa
(Outside Ajax' tent in the Greek camp outside Troy. Darkness before
dawn. Enter Odysseus. Athena speaks; at first he doesn't see her.)
I'm always seeing you, Odysseus, on the prowl
for some enemy, on the lookout for some advantage.
And here you are again, where Ajax' sailors
pitch their tents. The back of beyond.
On the scent as usual, scanning the ground
for the big man's fresh-made footprints:
Is he in or is he out? If he's there, you'll find him.
You're like some Spartan hound, with your retriever's itch.
And he's there all right, your man's in there:
the lathered head all sweat, the killer hands
that swung the sword. No need to peek and pry.
First tell me what you think you're onto;
then hear the truth from one who knows.
Athena speaks. Dearest of the gods to me.
I don't know where you are, can't see you,
but I hear your voice, it lifts my heart--
no war cry, no trumpet, ever sounds so clear.
You're onto me. I am sniffing round for Ajax,
Mister Fancy Shield. No friend of mine.
I'm on his trail; what other suspect is there?
Last night, he did something, if he did it,
that no one on earth would choose to see.
No one else could explain it; it fell to me,
as usual, to volunteer, to find out what happened.
We've just found all our cattle, our spoils from Troy,
slaughtered, their herdsmen hacked to pieces.
It's him. Where else to point the blame?
He was seen, skipping openly across the plain,
sword hot with blood. So we have a witness,
and now I want evidence. These tracks:
some are clearly his, the rest could be anyone's.
What should I do? Lady, thank God you're here.
As in the past, so now, my course is yours to guide.
I knew, Odysseus, and--such is my care for you--
I hurried here to help you.
So then, dear lady: I've got it right?
He did it. He hurt you. The work is his.
What madness made him do it?
Rage. They voted Achilles' arms to you, not him.
Can that explain his coming down on sheep?
He wallowed in their blood and dreamt it yours.
He thought he was killing Greeks?
Had I not been watching, he would have been.
And thought he'd get away with it?
It was dark. He meant to pounce and run.
And he nearly succeeded?
Agamemnon's tent, Menelaus' tent: as near as that.
What stopped him? On the brink of murder: what?
I stopped him. Before his eyes
I conjured fantasies to thwart his glee,
turned his hand against cows and sheep,
Greek booty spoiled from Trojan farms,
guarded by yokels, unallocated still.
He fell on them, slashed their horny ranks,
like a scytheman in a meadow, cut a swathe of spines.
Now he was stabbing Agamemnon, Menelaus,
then another general, single-handed, and another.
I baited the trap; I rushed him into craziness.
When he was done, panting among the carcasses,
he roped the survivors and marched them home.
He thought them warriors; they were cows and sheep.
They're prisoners now, inside: he's torturing them.
I'll show you his madness, as clear as day:
I'll show you, you can tell the Greeks.
What's wrong? Are you afraid of him?
Don't worry. I'll baffle his eyes.
He'll see you, but he won't know who you are.
Inside. Stop racking those prisoners' limbs.
Come out. Yes, Ajax, you. I want you, now.
What are you doing? Don't fetch him here.
Be quiet. What are you, afraid of him?
In God's name, leave him where he is.
What can happen? He's just one man.
My enemy. Today won't change him.
He's down, your enemy is down. Enjoy it.
I'd rather he stayed indoors.
He's mad--are you afraid to face him?
If he had his wits, I'd face him.
He won't even see you.
He still has his eyes.
I'll blur them.
As you wish. Gods do as they choose.
Say nothing, then. Stand there.
I'll do it. Reluctantly, I'll do it.
Ajax. Inside. It's me again,
Your ally. Is this how you treat your friends?
(Enter Ajax. He carries instruments of torture.)
Hullo, Athena. Daughter of Zeus, good morning.
How glad I am you came. Gold necklaces for you,
in thanks for the booty I've rustled up, inside.
Thank you. But tell me:
Your sword's well soused in blood, Greek blood?
Oh, yes. I flatter myself it is.
Agamemnon, Menelaus: had a go at them?
They won't be voting Ajax down again.
They're dead, the pair of them?
Oh, now let's see them steal my arms.
And Laertes' son? Any luck?
Or did he get away?
The fox of foxes, is that who you mean?
Your rival Odysseus, yes.
The best tidbit of all, dear lady.
Got him sat in there. He won't die soon.
You're licking your lips. What plans for him?
I'll tie him to the tentpole--
Ouch. Then what?
Take a whip, make jam of him, and then he dies.
Add shame to all he's suffered?
Lady, as a rule, your word, I jump.
But in his case, the sentence stands.
If that's your pleasure, enjoy yourself.
Don't flinch. Leave nothing out.
I'm off to work. But hear the order of the day:
be always at my side and fight my fight.
You see, Odysseus? What strength gods have?
Whose mind was clearer, once?
on the battlefield, who matched his skill?
Who knew better what to do or when to do it?
I know of no one. No friend to me--
And yet I pity him, now he's undone,
and yoked like a beast to savage fate.
I see his fortune could be mine;
I see we're counterfeits, we mortals,
we're shadows, blown on the wind.
Remember that, say not one word
that puts you above the gods.
You're strong? You're rich?
Don't make too much of it.
A single day can sink a man
or raise him up: that's all.
When mortals show respect
we favor them; and if they don't, we don't.
(Exeunt. Music. Enter Chorus.)
Ajax, son of Telamon,
lord of sea-washed Salamis,
your success is ours.
But when the lash of Zeus
or slanders from Greeks torment you,
dread tenants our souls,
hearts pound, we're doves,
Noise, rumors in the night:
scandal. Our lord's awake,
padding across the plains,
the fields of Troy, where cattle graze,
where sheep and cattle graze,
Greek spoils from Troy.
Knife gleams in the dark,
he stabs and stabs.
Odysseus whispers it,
drops poison in every ear.
Oh, they believe him, easy, easy,
they pass along your shame, and laugh to hear it.
Who slanders little men?
Only the great are envied,
our bastions in battle.
Even there, in the clatter and roar of war,
spite yaps at their heels.
But without their leader,
the rabble crumble.
We need each other:
We need our princes,
our princes need us,
can't survive without us.
Try teaching fools
to learn what they cannot.
That's why they shout against you now,
our voices dare not answer them.
Speak up for us, lord,
look them in the eye,
shut their mouths,
make them tremble into silence,
as a hawk makes sparrows tremble.
Come out, dear lord, and speak.
Some god did this,
brought shame on us,
sent him springing against the cattle.
Was it Artemis, bull-Artemis,
daughter of Zeus on high
who mothered our shame?
Did he forget to honor her for victory,
hold back her battle-spoils, her hunting-spoils?
Or was it Ares, leaping in bronze,
our warlord, was it he we slighted?
Was this his punishment,
dark dealings in the night?
Some god did this,
stole Ajax' wits,
made him prance against cattle:
some god did this to you.
it's done, so be it.
Still keep his reputation high.
Send him out, lord, out
from your tent beside the sea.
his Lordship of Ithaca:
they're stealing your name,
No. No. Come out
and face them down.
Lord, get up. Come out.
Don't rest from war too long.
You skulk inside,
bonfires of hate
that sear the sky and scorch the winds.
Nothing stops them:
they prance all over us:
our hearts are broken.
(The music changes as Tecmessa enters.)
Lord Ajax' friends,
weep for him,
your prince so far from home,
weep for him.
Ajax is down,
our great one, our champion:
his pride is smashed,
his dazzle dimmed,
his strength storm-tossed.
Lady, what's happened?
Night treads on the heels of day:
bad news. Lady, dear lady,
our warlord's prize
beloved, chosen above all others,
what's happened? Tell us.
You're the one who knows.
Find words: how can I?
It's worse than death:
he's mad, great Ajax,
in a single night
struck blind with madness.
Look, inside: his victims,
death-offerings, blood on his hands,
a hero and his fate.
Madness flares in him.
Unbearable. It's here.
It's time. It's inescapable.
His mind's on fire--
and the news is out,
their lordships know it,
it's ravenous, it grows.
What will happen now?
If he killed those cattle,
their herdsmen in the dark,
if he lifted the blood-black blade, he's dead.
Prisoners-of-war he took from over there,
a herd, a silly herd,
he ripped them, gutted them.
Two rams he took. White hoofs.
Beheaded one, tore out its tongue,
lashed the other to a tent-pole
and flogged it, flogged it.
His horsewhip whirred and whirred.
He was cursing, shrieking,
spitting his demons:
a man possessed.
We must hide.
We must cover our heads and hide,
or pull out to sea, row clear
of the tide of their vengeance,
If we stand with him and face them,
they'll stone us, stone us.
His fate is sealed.
He's calm. Storm over.
Lightning ripped, winds howled;
no more. He's sane again.
His eyes are open. He sees what he did,
what no one else has done.
The pain of it, the bite: he knows.
If it's over, things may yet be well,
if the fit has passed. Less said, the better.
Suppose you had the choice--
be happy by yourself,
or, hand in hand, share the pain of those you love?
Ours, theirs: pain doubled, pain twice as much.
He's cured. We're left with it.
I don't understand.
When he was sick, he gloried in it,
understood nothing: we knew his pain,
felt shock and shame. And now he's sane,
now he's come to himself, is free of it,
resumes the horrors riding on his back--
are we then free of it? Are we not the same?
Heap pain on pain: is that a cure for it?
You're right. Some god did this.
He may be sane, but perhaps
when he was mad he was happier.
If it's so, it must be so. Accept it.
So he was ... touched. How did it begin?
Your grief is ours. So tell us.
What's mine is yours. You'll hear it all.
It was pitch dark. The evening lamps
no longer flared. He reached for his sword--
that huge war-sword--and started out.
I didn't like it. "Ajax," I said,
"What are you doing? Why stand to arms?
Was there a trumpet? I heard no call.
The army's all asleep."
His answer? What men always say:
"A woman's best ornament is silence."
I've no idea, can't say, what happened next--
but back he came, with cattle roped like prisoners,
dogs, a flock of shaggy sheep.
He severed heads; turned others upside down,
slit and gutted them; tied others up
and racked them, you'd have thought them human.
Next minute he darted outside,
started boasting to some shadow there--
he was giggling--Agamemnon, Menelaus,
Odysseus: he'd paid them out, and how.
Then in he charged again. And all at once
he bent his head, slowly, painfully,
came to his senses, became himself again.
He saw the room all crammed with death,
and struck his head and yelped his shame.
Sat in the mud, there on that butcher's floor,
grabbed handfuls of his hair, sat still ...
At first, no words.
Then he was shouting, shouting at me:
I was to tell him every detail,
what he'd done, what would happen now.
I was so afraid. I told him all I knew:
the whole disaster, all I knew of it.
He started sobbing like a woman,
sounds I'd never heard from him before--
only mommies' boys and babies ever wept like that,
he'd always said; you'd never hear
shrill keening from a warrior,
only bellowing, brave bellowing, bull-bellowing ...
So now, flattened by Fate,
not eating, not drinking, our hero sits
numbed among bits of animals.
And there's worse to come:
to judge by his cries, his sobs,
there's worse to come.
Friends, you go in. Please.
I came to ask you. Do it.
You're his friends: he'll listen.
Tecmessa, daughter of Teleutas,
vile things you tell us of a man possessed.
Eeoh moee moee.
Another fit. Did you hear?
Great Ajax, howling.
Eeoh moee moee.
Is he sick again? Or is it knowing now
what madness did that racks him so?
My son, my son.
I can't bear this. He wants his son.
Eurysaces. What for? Where are you?
Please, what am I to do?
Teucer. Brother. Where are you?
Must you attack, attack, and I am lost?
Open the door. He sounds sane enough.
He'll see us; perhaps he'll be himself.
I'll do it. See for yourselves
What he's done, what he's come to ...
(Music. The doors are opened. Tableau: Ajax sitting among the
slaughtered animals. [Note: in the original Greek
production, Ajax' speeches as far as line 465, all in
lyric meters, were possibly sung or declaimed to
musical accompaniment, a standard practice in the
presentation of madness or extreme emotion; those
of Tecmessa and the Chorus, by contrast, were in
ordinary iambics, and were spoken.])
out of all the Greeks
who sailed to Troy,
only you still loyal:
see me, storm-tossed,
waves of blood,
I'm rolling, drowning.
Tecmessa, what you told us was true.
With our own eyes we see his madness.
on your blades
as they carved the sea,
carved sea for Troy:
help me, ease me,
who else can help me?
Butcher me, cut me,
end me now, here, now.
Don't ask it, lord. Pile pain on pain--
in a sea of troubles, what help is that?
Look at me:
my strong right arm,
my courage ablaze in battle--
and this is what I do, kill sheep,
rage and triumph over sheep.
Oh, look at me and laugh.
Ajax, no. Don't say this. Lord Ajax, no.
Don't touch me.
Leave me. Go.
Aee aee. Aee aee.
Aee aee. Aee aee.
In God's name listen, lord. Do as we tell you.
I had them in my hands,
the wicked ones, who hurt me:
I dropped them, I turned on sheep,
on harmless sheep,
sheep's thick black blood.
It's over. Don't rack yourself.
You'll never go back where you were before.
Laertes' son, Odysseus,
fox of all evil,
is he to see this now,
see this and laugh?
God's will, lord: laughter or tears, God's will.
I'd see to him,
even now I'd see to him.
Eeoh moee moee.
No threats, lord: see where you are, be calm.
Zeus protector, father,
he smiles, he lies,
all lies he is.
Let me tear him--and them,
those brothers, I spit on them,
those princes, let me kill them,
then kill me too.
O Ajax, pray for me. If you must die,
pray for me, let me die too, die with you, die.
Light's turned dark
and day means night,
take me, snatch me,
open Hell's gates for me.
What god will pity me,
what mortal? Take me.
she hunts me,
pants after me
to ride me down--
no escape, no hiding.
What's left for me?
I'll lie with silly sheep,
till my army comes, my comrades come
and end me, end me.
I'm done for.
that my lord should come to this,
my lovely lord. I'm done for.
Waves of the restless sea,
rocks, woods of Troy,
I smiled on you,
too long I stayed with you.
Death calls, must I leave you now?
Bear it, I must.
river of Troy,
little streams your children,
you smiled on Greeks,
now say goodbye,
never see me more.
Ajax the great,
no man in Troy, no Greek my equal,
here, humbled in the dust.
Don't say such things. And yet,
in the pit of misery, what else to say?
Table of Contents
—Translated by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish
Women of Trachis
—Translated by Brendan Galvin
—Translated by Henry Taylor
—Translated by Armand Schwerner
Pronouncing Glossary of Names
About the Translators