“Nothing More than Ghosts”: Reading Sophocles’ “Ajax” Online

Sophokles, Ajax 79

“Isn’t laughing at our enemies the sweetest laugh of all?”

οὔκουν γέλως ἥδιστος εἰς ἐχθροὺς γελᾶν;

Sophocles Ajax

I have been helping  the Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre to present scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’  in our time of isolation. As Paul O’Mahony, whose idea this whole thing was said in an earlier blog post, Since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.

Each week we select scenes from a play, actors and experts from around the world, and put them all together for 90 minutes or so to see what will happen. This process is therapeutic for us; and it helps us think about how tragedy may have had similar functions in the ancient world as well.

Sophokles, Ajax 121-126

“I know nothing more—but I pity him
Now that he suffers, even if he hates me,
Since this evil ruin has him bound.
Really, I am looking no more at his fate than my own.
For I see that those of us alive are nothing
More than ghosts or empty shadows.”

ἐγὼ μὲν οὐδέν᾿ οἶδ᾿· ἐποικτίρω δέ νιν
δύστηνον ἔμπας, καίπερ ὄντα δυσμενῆ,
ὁθούνεκ᾿ ἄτῃ συγκατέζευκται κακῇ,
οὐδὲν τὸ τούτου μᾶλλον ἢ τοὐμὸν σκοπῶν.
ὁρῶ γὰρ ἡμᾶς οὐδὲν ὄντας ἄλλο πλὴν

Today at 3 PM we turn to Sophokles’ Ajax. This play may not be his best known, but it has gained a lot of attention over the past few years as a play deeply concerned with psychological issues, especially those of trauma at war. It is clear from the play’s ruminations, that issues of madness and sense are central to the play as well as those of the caprice of the gods, but the play also has deep political concerns. In the abstract, it looks at the aftermath of unexpected distribution of goods. It echoes the very conflict that causes the rupture between Agamemnon and Achilles at the beginning of the Iliad: fury when expected honors and goods are given to someone else.

Scenes (Using Ian Johnston’s translation)

1-71 (Odysseus, Athena
464-698 (Ajax, Tecmessa, Chorus)
764-820 (Ajax)
973-1024 (Ajax)
1470-1740 (Agamemnon, Odysseus, Teucer, Chorus)

Sophokles, Ajax 265-3

“If you had the choice, would you
Cause your friends pain while you enjoyed pleasure?
Or be a partner in grief, to share with your friends?”

πότερα δ᾿ ἄν, εἰ νέμοι τις αἵρεσιν, λάβοις,
φίλους ἀνιῶν αὐτὸς ἡδονὰς ἔχειν,
ἢ κοινὸς ἐν κοινοῖσι λυπεῖσθαι ξυνών;

Actors and Crew

Athena – Anne Mason
Odysseus – Paul O’Mahony
Ajax – Tim Delap
Tecmessa – Evelyn Miller
Agamemnon – Argyris Xafis
Teucer – Brian Nelson
Chorus – Patrick Walshe McBride

Special Guest: Bruce King

Dramaturgical assistance: Emma Pauly

Direction: Paul O’Mahony

Posters: John Koelle

Technical, Moral, Administrative Support: Lanah Koelle, Allie Mabry, Janet Ozsolak, Helene Emeriaud, Sarah Scott, Keith DeStone

The Suicide of Ajax

Sophokles, Ajax 640-645

“Someone who is pointlessly sick
Is better when lying in Hades.
Look—one who came from one of the best lines
Of the much suffering Achaeans
Is no longer secure
In his childhood’s mind.
He wanders outside of it.
Miserable parent, what kind of a fate
remains for you to learn of your child,
the kind of life no other the descendants of Aiakos
faced before now.”

κρείσσων γὰρ Ἅιδᾳ κεύθων ὁ νοσῶν
ὃς εἷς πατρῴας ἥκων γενεᾶς ἄρι-
στα πολυπόνων Ἀχαιῶν,
οὐκέτι συντρόφοις
ὀργαῖς ἔμπεδος, ἀλλ᾿ ἐκτὸς ὁμιλεῖ.
ὦ τλᾶμον πάτερ, οἵαν σε μένει πυθέσθαι
παιδὸς δύσφορον ἄταν,
ἃν οὔπω τις ἔθρεψεν
αἰὼν Αἰακιδᾶν ἄτερθε τοῦδε.

Upcoming Readings (Go here for the project page)

Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannos, June 10th

Euripides, Ion, June 17th[10 AM EDT/3PM GMT]

Euripides, Hecuba, June 24th

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, July 1st

Sophokles, Ajax 1185-1191

“What is left, what will be the final number
For the years of wandering lost?
This count piling up an endless
Ruin of battle’s toils,
The Greeks’ sorrowful insult,
Wide-wayed Troy.”

τίς ἄρα νέατος, ἐς πότε λή-
ξει πολυπλάγκτων ἐτέων ἀριθμός,
τὰν ἄπαυστον αἰὲν ἐμοὶ δορυσσοήτων
μόχθων ἄταν ἐπάγων
ἂν τὰν εὐρώδη Τροΐαν,
δύστανον ὄνειδος Ἑλλάνων;

Videos of Earlier Sessions (Go here for the project page)
Euripides’ Helen, March 25th
Sophocles’ Philoktetes, April 1st
Euripides’ Herakles, April 8th 
Euripides’ Bacchae, April 15th
Euripides’ Iphigenia , April 22nd
Sophocles, Trachinian Women, April 29th
Euripides, Orestes  May 6th
Aeschylus, Persians, May 13th
Euripides, Trojan Women May 20th


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