Bk XIII:123-381 The debate over the arms: Ulysses speaks.
The son of Telamon finished, and the crowd's applause followed his closing words. Until the hero, son of Laërtes, stood. He gazed at the ground for a while and then raised his eyes to look at the captains, and opened his lips for the speech they anticipated: his eloquent words did not lack grace in their delivery.
"If my wishes and yours, Pelasgians, had been worth anything, there would be no question as to who should inherit the arms in this great contest: you, Achilles, would have your armour, and we would have you. But since unequal fate has denied his presence to me and to you, (and he made as if to wipe a tear from his eye), who better to take Achilles's place than the man through whom mighty Achilles took his place among the Greeks? Only do not let it help him that he is slow-witted, as he seems to be, nor harm my case that my ability has always profited you Greeks. And let this eloquence of mine, if it exists, that often spoke for you, and now speaks for its master, escape envy: no man should refuse to employ his talents.
Now, as to race, and ancestry, and whatever we have not personally achieved; I hardly call those things ours. But since Ajax has recalled that he is Jove's great grandson, Jupiter is the founder of my bloodline also, and I am the same distance from him. Laërtes is my father, Arcesius was Laërtes's father, and he was the son of Jupiter: and there are no exiled criminals, like Peleus and Telamon, amongst them. Also there is the addition to my nobility of Cyllenian Mercury through my mother, Anticleia. The gods are in both my parents. But I do not claim the arms lying there because I am nobler on my mother's side, nor because my father is innocent of a brother's blood. Judge the case on its merits. Provided that it is not regarded as Ajax's merit that Telamon and Peleus were brothers, and that what is considered in this award is respect for ability not the claims of blood! Or, if you are asking who is the next of kin, and the lawful heir, well Peleus is Achilles's father, and Pyrrhus is Achilles's son: where is Ajax's claim? Take the arms to Peleus's Phthia, or Pyrrhus's Scyros! Teucer is no less Achilles's cousin than Ajax, yet does he ask for the arms, and if he did, would he gain them? So, since it is a contest about naked achievements, I have done more than I can recount in glib words, but I will take things in their proper order.
Thetis, Achilles's Nereid mother, foreseeing her son's death, disguised his appearance, and wearing women's clothes he deceived everyone, including Ajax. But, among the things women buy, I placed arms to stir a man's spirit. Before the hero had abandoned the clothes of a girl, while he held the shield and spear, I said: 'Pergama the citadel doomed to be destroyed, waits for you, son of the goddess! Why do you hesitate to overthrow mighty Troy?' And I took him in hand, and sent the brave out to do brave things. So his deeds are mine: I overcame warring Telephus with my spear, and healed him with it, when he was defeated and begging for help. It is down to me that Mysian Thebes fell: credit the capture of Lesbos to me, Tenedos to me, Chryse and Cilla the cities of Apollo, and Phrygian Scyros as well. Imagine that my right hand razed Lyrnesus's walls to the ground. I gave you the man who could destroy fierce Hector, not to speak of those other Trojans: through me glorious Hector lies low! I seek these arms for the arms that revealed Achilles: I gave to the living, I claim from the dead.
When one man's sorrow fell on all the Greeks, and a thousand ships gathered at Euboean Aulis, though they waited for a long time, there were adverse winds or no wind. Then a cruel oracle ordered Agamemnon to sacrifice his innocent daughter, Iphigenia, to pitiless Diana. The father said no, angered with the gods themselves: and there is still a father even in a king. I with my skill in words turned him away from a parent's fondness and towards the common good. I had a difficult case indeed to plead, before (I confess, and may Atrides pardon the confession) a prejudiced judge, but given the needs of his brother and the expedition, and the high command vested in him, he balanced glory against blood. Then I was sent to the mother, Clytaemnestra, who was not to be persuaded, but deceived by cunning. If Telamon's son had gone, our sails would still be waiting for the winds.
Also, as an ambassador, I was sent to Troy's citadel, and saw and entered the senate house of lofty Ilium, still full of heroes. As I was charged to do by Greece, for the common good, undaunted, I accused Paris, demanded the return of Helen and what Paris had plundered, and stirred Priam, and Antenor, at one with Priam. But Paris, and his brothers, and those who plundered with him, could scarcely keep their sinful hands off me (you know it, Menelaüs) and that first day of danger to me was shared with you.
It would take a long time to tell what I have achieved that has been useful, by stratagem and deed, in the long space of this conflict. After the first onslaught the enemy kept inside the city walls for a long time, and there was no chance for open warfare. Finally in the tenth year we fought it out. What were you doing meanwhile, Ajax, you who only know about battles? What use were you then? If you ask what I was doing, I laid ambushes for the enemy; surrounded the defences with a ditch; encouraged our allies so that they might bear the weariness of a long campaign with patience of mind; advised on how we should be fed and armed; was sent wherever benefit required it.
See, deceived by a dream in sleep, Agamemnon, the king, commanded by Jupiter, orders us to give up all concern with the war we have begun. He can justify his words by this dream's authority. Let Ajax prevent it, and demand that the citadel, Pergama, be destroyed, let him do what he can do, fight! Why does he not restrain those who are for returning home? Why does he not take up arms, and give a lead for the fickle mob to follow?
That was not too much to ask of one who never speaks without boasting: but what of the fact that he fled as well?
I saw you, Ajax, and was ashamed to see it, when, turning your back, you readied your dishonourable sails. Instantly I shouted: 'What are you doing? What madness is urging you to abandon captured Troy? What are you taking home with you, except disgrace?' With these words, and others, in which my anguish made me eloquent, I turned men from their flight, and led them back. Atrides assembled the allies who were quaking with fear: even then the son of Telamon did not dare utter a thing, but even Thersites dared to attack the kings with insolent words, though not without punishment from me! I rose to my feet and urged on my frightened countrymen against the enemy, and by my voice restored their lost courage. From that time on, whatever bravery this man can be seen to have shown, is mine, who dragged him back when he was given to flight.
Next, which of the Greeks praises you or seeks you out, Ajax? Yet Diomede shares what he does with me, supports me, and always trusts Ulysses as his companion. That is something, to be singled out by Diomede from so many thousand Greeks! No drawing of lots forced me to go: yet, disregarding the dangers of night and the enemy, I killed Dolon, the Phrygian, out on the same errand as we were, but not before I had forced him to tell what he knew, and had learned what perfidious Troy was planning. I had discovered everything, and had no need to spy further, and could now return with the glory I sought: yet not content with that, I searched out Rhesus's tents, and I killed him and his comrades in their camp. And so, a victor, with what I prayed for achieved, as if it were a triumph, I rode his captured chariot. Deny me the arms of Achilles, whose horses my enemy, Dolon, asked of Hector, for his night's work, and let Ajax be more generous than you.
Why should I have to mention the ranks of Sarpedon of Lycia cut to pieces by my sword? With bloody slaughter I killed Coeranos, Iphitus's son; Alastor and Chromius; Alcander, Halius, Noëmon and Prytanis; and I dealt destruction to Thoön, Chersidamas, Charopes, and Ennomos driven by inexorable fate; and others less well known fell to my hand under the walls of the city. I have wounds, friends, honourable ones, as their position shows: do not believe empty words, look!' and he pulled his tunic open with his hand, 'here is my breast that has always been employed in your actions! But the son of Telamon has shed no blood for his companions, in all these years, and his flesh is unwounded!
What relevance is it that he declares he took up arms against the Trojans and against Jove? I agree, he did (since I do not maliciously disparage beneficial actions) but do not let him seize the honour that is shared, and let him grant you some respect also. It was Patroclus, son of Actor, protected by being disguised in Achilles's armour, who pushed back the Trojans from the ships that would have gone up in flames, with Ajax, their defender. He thinks that he is the only one who dared to face Hector's spear, forgetting the captains and the king, and myself: he was the ninth to volunteer, and selected by the luck of the draw. But what was the result of your struggle, strongest of men? Hector retreated without receiving a single wound.
Alas, with what sadness I am forced to recall that time when Achilles, the defence of Achaia, fell! Yet tears, grief, fear did not prevent my lifting his body from the earth: I carried the body of Achilles over these shoulders, these very shoulders, along with the weapons, that now also I am anxious to carry. I have strength enough for such a burden, and a mind that can surely appreciate the honour. Was it for this that his mother, the sea-goddess, was so ambitious for her son, that the gifts of heaven, the works of such artistry, should adorn an ignorant and thoughtless soldier? He understands nothing of the shield's engraving, Ocean, or earth, or high starry sky; the Pleiades and the Hyades, the Bear that is always clear of the waters, and opposite, beyond the Milky Way, Orion, with his glittering sword. He demands to bear armour that he does not comprehend!
What of the fact that he accuses me of shirking the harsh duties of war, and of coming late to a labour already begun? Does he not see that he is speaking ill of great Achilles? If you call it a crime to dissimulate, we both dissimulated: if delay is a fault, I was the earlier to arrive. A loving wife detained me, a loving mother Achilles. Our priority was given to them, the rest to you. I hardly fear an accusation, even if I cannot defend myself against it, shared with such a man: he was revealed by Ulysses's cunning, but not Ulysses by Ajax's.
Let us not be astonished that he pours out against me the invective from his foolish tongue, since he reproaches you shamefully. Was it a disgrace for me to accuse Palamades on an erroneous charge, but proper for you to condemn him? But then the son of Nauplias could not defend himself against so great a crime, and one so clearly proven: nor did you merely hear of the crime: you saw it, revealed by the gold I exposed.
Nor do I merit being called a criminal because Lemnos, Vulcan's isle, holds the son of Poeas, Philoctetes, (defend your own actions, since you agreed to it!) but I will not deny that I persuaded him to withdraw from the hardships of war and the journey, and to try and relieve his terrible agonies in rest. He agreed – and he still lives! Not only was my opinion offered in good faith, though it is enough that it was in good faith, but it turned out well. Now since our seers demand his presence for the destruction of Troy, do not commission me! Telamon's son, with his eloquence, had better go and soothe that man, maddened by pain and fury, or bring him by some cunning trick! If my mind were idle on your behalf, the River Simoïs would flow backwards, and Mount Ida stand there leafless, and Achaia help Pergama, before the skill, of foolish Ajax, would benefit the Greeks.
I would go to you, harsh Philoctetes, and try to bring you back with me, though you are aggressive towards king and countrymen, and myself; though you execrate me, and pour curses endlessly on my head; and, in your pain, long for me to be given into your power, to drink my blood, and to have your chance at me, as I did at you. And I would gain possession of your arrows (by Fortune's favour), as I took possession of the Dardanian seer, Helenus, whom I captured; as I revealed the gods' oracles and the fate of Troy; as I stole the image of Phrygian Minerva from the inner sanctuary, from the midst of the enemy. Does Ajax compare himself to me? The fates surely denied our capturing Troy without it.
Where is brave Ajax now? Where are the great hero's mighty words? What do you fear then? Why does Ulysses dare to go through the sentries and commit himself to night; to enter not only the walls of Troy but also the heights of the citadel, past the sharp swords; and to snatch the goddess from her temple, and carry her captive through the enemy ranks? If I had not done it, the son of Telamon would have carried the seven-layered bull's-hide shield on his left arm in vain. That night the victory over Troy was established: I defeated Pergama then, when I secured the possibility of her defeat.
You can stop pointing out with your murmurs and looks, Ajax, that Diomede was my partner: he has his share of praise in this! Nor were you alone, when you held your shield in defence of the allied ships: you had a crowd of companions: I had only one. If he did not know that a fighter is worth less than a thinker, and that the prize is not owed merely because of an indomitable right hand, he would also claim it; so would the lesser Ajax, fierce Eurypylus, and Thoas, the son of famous Andraemon, and no less surely would Idomeneus, and Meriones born of the same nation, and Menelaüs, the brother of Agamemnon.
In fact, they accept my counsel, these strong right hands, not second to me in battle. Your right hand, useful in war, needs the guidance of my intellect. You have power without mind, mine is the care for the future. You can fight, but Atrides, with me, chooses the time to fight. You only display the flesh, I the spirit. By as much as he who steers the ship is superior to him who rows, by as much as the general exceeds the soldier, by that much I surpass you. No less is the head more powerful than the hand, in our body: the energy of the whole is within it.
O princes, grant the prize to your sentry, for the many years I have spent in anxious care, grant me the judgement, this honour for my services. Now my labour is done: I have removed fate's obstacles, and by making it possible to take high Pergama, have taken her. Now, by our common expectation; by Troy's doomed walls; by the gods I recently took from the enemy; by whatever else remains that needs to be done wisely; I pray, that if there is still some bold and dangerous thing to attempt, if you think that anything is yet in store involving Troy's fate, remember me! And if you do not give me the arms, give them to her!' and he pointed towards Minerva's fatal statue.