Sophocles, creator; Sophocles the plays and fragments with critical notes, commentary, and translation in English prose Part 7 The Ajax; Jebb, Richard Claverhouse, Sir, 1841-1905, editor, translator. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1893.
First Hector with the very warrior’s belt given to him by Ajax was lashed to the chariot-rail and shredded without end, until his life fled with his breath. Now Ajax here had this gift from Hector, and by this he has perished in his deadly fall. Was it not the Fury who forged this blade,
was not that belt the product of Hades, the grim artificer? I, for my part, would affirm that these happenings and all happenings ever are designed by the gods for men. But if there is anyone in whose judgment my words are unacceptable, let him cherish his own thoughts, as I do mine.
Do not go on at length, but consider how you will bury him and what you will next say. For I see our enemy approaching, and chances are that he comes to mock at our sorrows, like one who would do us harm.
What man of the army do you see?
Menelaus, the beneficiary of this expedition.
I see him; he is not hard to recognize when near.
You there, I tell you not to lift that corpse for burial, but leave it where it lies.
Why do you waste your breath on this arrogant command?
It conveys my decree, and the decree of the army’s supreme ruler.
Would you mind, then, telling me what reason you pretend?
This—that when we had hoped we were bringing Ajax from home to be an ally and a friend for the Greeks, we found him on closer examination to be an enemy worse than the Phrygians,
since he plotted the murder of the entire army and marched by night against us in order to take us with his spear. And if some god had not smothered this attempt, we would have been allotted the fate which he now has, and we would be dead and lie prostrate by an ignoble doom,
while he would be living. But now a god has turned his outrage aside, so that it fell on the sheep and cattle. For this reason there is no man so powerful that he will be able to entomb the corpse of Ajax. Instead he shall be cast forth somewhere on the yellow sand
to become forage for the birds of the seashore. So then do not inflame the terrible force of your spirit. If we were unable to master him while he lived, in any case in death, at least, we shall rule him despite your opposition and control him by force of our hands. For while he lived, there never was a time
when he would obey my commands. Now it is, in truth, the mark of a base nature when a commoner does not think it right to obey those who stand over him. Never can the laws maintain a prosperous course in a city where fear has no fixed place,
nor can a camp be ruled any more with moderation, if it lacks the guarding force of fear and reverence. A man, though he grow his body great and mighty, must expect to fall, even from a light blow. Whoever knows fear and shame both,
you can be certain that he has found his salvation; but where there is license to attack others and act at will, do not doubt that such a State, though she has run before a favoring wind, will eventually sink with time into the depths. No, let me see fear, too, established, where fear is fitting;
let us not think that we can act on our desires without paying the price in pain. These things come by turns. He was once the hot attacker, now it is my hour to glory. And so I warn you not to bury him,
so that you can avoid falling into your own grave.
Menelaus, after laying down wise precepts, do not then violate the dead.