Cursed Gifts

Giovanni Boccaccio, Genealogy of the Pagan Gods:

“Ajax, a most warlike man, was the son of Telamon. When he took up arms to destroy Troy with the other Greeks, and (to omit the other miraculous things which he performed in his contests), he dared to take part in a single combat against Hector, and if any faith is to be given to Homer, Ajax would have returned to his own people as the victor if an excessively hasty night had not intervened. Yet, when it did intervene, and Hector had given him a sword in the ancient way while receiving a belt from Ajax in return, fresh and spirited Ajax allowed the exhausted Hector to return to Troy.

According to Servius, these gifts were cursed, since Ajax later killed himself with that sword, and Hector was killed by Achilles while wearing that belt. Ajax however, when Ilium had been captured and destroyed, had a huge contest against Ulysses for the arms of Achilles. At last, when he could see that military virtue must yield to mere eloquence, he was turned to fury, and killed himself with the very sword which he had taken from Hector, and (according to Ovid) was turned into the flower bearing his name. In this, antiquity teaches us that our powers may easily melt into nothing, after the fashion of a wilting flower.”

De Ayace Thelamonis filio.

Aiax, bellicosissimus homo, Thelamonis fuit filius. Hic cum aliis Grecis ad delendam Troiam arma sumpsit, et ut reliqua, que in certaminibus miranda fecit, omittam, singulare certamen adversus Hectorem arripere ausus est, et si Omero fides ulla prestanda est, ni illud nimis festina nox diremisset, victor Aiax, rediisset ad suos. Ea tamen superveniente cum illi vetusto more Hector donasset gladium, et ab eo baltheum suscepisset, recens Aiax et animosus discedens fessum Hectorem Troiam ire permisit. Hec dona secundum Servium nephasta fuere, cum eo se gladio postea interemit Aiax, et cum baltheo ab Achille occisus sit Hector. Aiax autem, Ylione capto atque diruto, de armis Achillis premortui adversus Ulixem ingens litigium habuit; tandem cum cerneret virtutem bellicam eloquentie cedere, in furorem versus, eo se, quem ab Hectore susceperat, gladio interemit, et, ut ait Ovidius, in florem sui nominis versus est. In quo nos docet antiquitas nostras vires caduci floris more in nichilum facile solvi.

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