Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Death of Ajax

This is my translation from Book 13 of Ovid's Metamorphoses, lines 382–98. Ulysses and Ajax have been arguing over who should inherit Achilles' weapons and armor. Ajax is clearly the one who deserves them, but Ulysses was tricky and eloquent, so the judges sided with him. My translation picks up right after the council makes their decision:

The council of the princes was moved,
proving the might of speech:
a quick tongue won
the great hero’s sword.
Ajax, who alone withstood
Hector, steel, and fire
—and at times the very will of Jove—
fell to his own wrath.
Anguish conquered the unconquerable.

 He seized his sword and screamed:
“Surely this remains mine,
or does Ulysses beg it too?
This edge will work a sacrifice
for ruin, of myself unto myself.
Ever soaked in Phrygian blood,
this my blade shall feed on its master.
None shall defeat Ajax, save Ajax.”

This he spake, and into his breast
the point lept quick. There,
where never he had suffered wound,
the hilt slid fixed.
What hand could loose the blade?
The hero’s blood itself
pushed the weapon out.

Watered with the sanguine waste,
the earth answered back
with a budding violet blossom—
a flower first sprung from
a youthful Spartan’s wound.
And in the center of this bloody flower,
shared by the boy and by the warrior,
letters appeared inscribed:
A name. And a cry of woe.

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