Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.361-8 (Odysseus to Ajax)

“Your right hand, so useful in battle, is your special talent, but it needs my guidance. You exercise your strength mindlessly, but I consider the future; you can fight, but it is with my counsel that Agamemnon selects the moment of battle; you help out with your body alone, but I put my mind to good use; and by as much as a captain surpasses an oarsman, or a general his troops, thus far do I surpass you.”

…tibi dextera bello
utilis, ingenium est, quod eget moderamine nostro;
tu vires sine mente geris, mihi cura futuri;
tu pugnare potes, pugnandi tempora mecum
eligit Atrides; tu tantum corpore prodes,
nos animo; quantoque ratem qui temperat, anteit
remigis officium, quanto dux milite maior,
tantum ego te supero…

NOTE: For those unfamiliar with the myth, a contest was held following the death of Achilles, which was to determine who would inherit his magnificent arms; they were, ostensibly, to be given to the best living warrior among the Achaeans. Ajax (a stout and powerful warrior) and Odysseus (a really tricky bastard) contended for the prize. Odysseus wowed the audience with his speech, and was awarded the arms. Ajax then, as the story was told by Sophocles, resolved to kill all of the Greek leaders. Athena prevented him from carrying out this resolution by the happy substitution of sheep for the Greeks; after learning that he had been deceived, Ajax killed himself. In The Odyssey, Odysseus encounters Ajax in the underworld, but the latter ignores him completely. Odysseus makes some vain protestation about wishing that he had never won the arms, but one can be forgiven for thinking that his regret was not entirely sincere.

Odysseus was never regarded as a particularly kind character, but Ovid does an excellent job of bringing out his wily character in a quite long and convoluted speech, from which this is excerpted.

3 thoughts on “Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.361-8 (Odysseus to Ajax)

  1. I fear that Odysseus fails the sincerity condition of speech acts repeatedly. He’s almost as noisome as Aeneas in the Aeneid when he sees Dido in the Underworld and is like “Did I do that? Come on, I didn’t do this, did I? No, really, there’s no way this is my fault…”

  2. He has a point, though – wasn’t it ultimately his mom’s fault? That’s the perfect manly-man excuse.

Leave a Reply