“All things time…”

The best thing I read today is Ajax’s Time Soliloquy, in which he convinces his wife and soldiers that he is not going to commit suicide so that they will let him go and commit suicide. I am too tired to make my own translation so I will use Sir Richard Jebb’s, with the only caveat being that the most important word in the speech is mistranslated.

This is often called the Time Speech or the Time Soliloquy, and yet…where is the word “time”? In Jebb’s translation it only occurs in an adverbial sense (as the object of a preposition). But it is in the first line here translated as “years” (chronos=χρόνος). Chronos can mean a year, and in fact here it may be impossible to translate it as “time” and still get the adjectives.

Enter Ajax, sword in hand, followed by Tecmessa.


All things the long and countless years first draw from darkness, and then bury from light; and there is nothing which man should not expect: the dread power of oath is conquered, as is unyielding will. [650] For even I, who used to be so tremendously strong—yes, like tempered iron—felt my tongue’s sharp edge emasculated by this woman’s words, and I feel the pity of leaving her a widow and the boy an orphan among my enemies.

But I will go to the bathing-place and [655] the meadows by the shore so that by purging my defilements I may escape the heavy anger of the goddess. Then I will find some isolated spot, and bury this sword of mine, most hateful weapon, digging down in the earth where none can see. [660] Let Night and Hades keep it underground! For ever since I took into my hand this gift from Hector, my greatest enemy, I have gotten no good from the Greeks. Yes, men’s proverb is true: [665] the gifts of enemies are no gifts and bring no good.

And so hereafter I shall, first, know how to yield to the gods, and, second, learn to revere the Atreidae. They are rulers, so we must submit. How could it be otherwise? Things of awe and might [670] submit to authority. So it is that winter with its snow-covered paths gives place to fruitful summer; night’s dark orbit makes room for day with her white horses to kindle her radiance; the blast of dreadful winds [675] allows the groaning sea to rest; and among them all, almighty Sleep releases the fettered sleeper, and does not hold him in a perpetual grasp.

And we men—must we not learn self-restraint? I, at least, will learn it, since I am newly aware that an enemy is to be hated only as far as [680] suits one who will in turn become a friend. Similarly to a friend I would wish to give only so much help and service as suits him who will not forever remain friendly. For the masses regard the haven of comradeship as treacherous.

But concerning these things it will be well. You, wife, [685] go inside and pray to the gods that the desires of my heart be completed to the very end. Exit Tecmessa.

You also, my comrades, honor my wishes just as she does, and command Teucer, when he comes, to take care of us, and to be kind to you at the same time. [690] I am going to where my journey inexorably leads. But you do as I say, and before long, perhaps, though I now suffer, you will hear that I have found rest and peace. Exit Ajax.


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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