Dialogues of the Dead 23

Photo: Ajax and Teucer defending the Greek ships from an onslaught of Trojan soldiers (By John Flaxman, 1795)

Dialogues of the Dead 23

By Noah Apter


Αἶας καὶ Ἀγαμέμνων.


εἰ σὺ μανείς, ὠ Αἶαν, σαυτὸν ἐφόνευσας, ἐμέλλησας δὲ καὶ ἡμᾶς ἅπαντας. τί αἰτιᾷ τὸν Ὀδυσσέα καὶ πρῴην οὔτε προσέβλεψας αὐτόν, ὁπότε ἧκε μαντευσόμενος, οὔτε προσειπεῖν ἠξίωσας ἄνδρα συστρατιώτην καὶ ἑταῖρον, ἀλλ᾽ ὑπεροπτικῶς μεγάλα βαίνων παρῆλθες;



εἰκότως, ὦ Ἀγάμεμνον: αὐτὸς γάρ μοι τῆς μανίας αἴτιος κατέστη μόνος ἀντεξετασθεὶς ἐπὶ τοῖς ὅπλοις.



ἠξίωσας δὲ ἀνανταγώνιστος εἶναι καὶ ἀκονιτὶ κρατεῖν ἁπάντων;



ναί, τά γε τοιαῦτα: οἰκεία γάρ μοι ἦν ἡ πανοπλία τοῦ ἀνεψιοῦ γε οὖσα. καὶ ὑμεῖς οἱ ἄλλοι πολὺ ἀμείνους ὄντες ἀπείπασθε τὸν ἀγῶνα καὶ παρεχωρήσατε μοι, ὁ δὲ Λαέρτου, ὃν ἐγὼ πολλάκις ἔσωσα κινδυνεύοντα κατακεκόφθαι ὑπὸ τῶν Φρυγῶν, ἀμείνων ἠξίου εἶναι καὶ ἐπιτηδειότερος ἔχειν τὰ ὅπλα.



αἰτιῶ τοιγαροῦν, ὦ γενναῖε, τὴν Θέτιν, ἣ δέον σοὶ τὴν κληρονομίαν παραδοῦναι τῶν ὅπλων συγγενεῖ γε ὄντι, φέρουσα ἐς τὸ κοινὸν κατέθετο αὐτά.



οὔκ, ἀλλὰ τὸν Ὀδυσσέα, ὃς ἀντεποιήθη μόνος.



συγγνώμη, ὦ Αἶαν, εἰ ἄνθρωπος ὢν ὠρέχθη δόξης ἡδίστου πράγματος, ὑπὲρ οὗ καὶ ἡμῶν ἕκαστος κινδύνους ὑπέμενεν, ἐπεὶ καὶ ἐκράτησέ σου καὶ ταῦτα ἐπὶ Τρωσὶ δικασταῖς.



οἶδα ἐγώ, ἥτις μου κατεδίκασεν: ἀλλ᾽ οὐ θέμις λέγειν τι περὶ τῶν θεῶν. τὸν δ᾽ οὖν Ὀδυσσέα μὴ οὐχὶ μισεῖν οὐκ ἂν δυναίμην, ὦ Ἀγάμεμνον,οὐδ᾽ εἰ αὐτή μοι ἡ Ἀθηνᾶ τοῦτ᾽ ἐπιτάττοι.


23: Ajax and Agamemnon

Agamemnon: O’ Ajax, if you were driven so mad that you intended to kill us all and ultimately committed suicide, why do you blame Odysseus? Why didn’t you even glance at him earlier when he had come to consult with the oracle, nor think it right to address the man, a fellow warrior and companion, but instead contemptuously pass him by in long strides?


Ajax: Reasonably, O’ Agamemnon; he was the one responsible for my madness, since he alone had competed against me for the arms of Achilles. 


Agamemnon: And did you deem it right to be unchallenged and to rule over all without a struggle? 


Ajax: Indeed, in that circumstance. For the suit of armor was mine, since it was my cousin’s. You others, though far better than Odysseus, gave up the contest and conceded to me. But the son of Laertes, whom I saved many times when he was in danger of being slaughtered by the Phrygians, deemed himself better than I and a more suitable man to take the arms of Achilles.


Agamemnon: Then blame Thetis, O’ noble man. Though it was necessary to hand over the arms to you, being his relative, she took the arms and put them up for grabs.


Ajax: No, I instead blame Odysseus, who alone laid claim to the arms. 


Agamemnon: It is entirely excusable, O’ Ajax, if Odysseus, a man by nature, was longing for glory, the sweetest reward, for the sake of which each one of us experienced dangers, when he surpassed you and won the arms of Achilles in front of Trojan judges.


Ajax: I know who gave judgment against me. It is not custom for one to say anything concerning the gods, but I would not be able to hate Odysseus more, O’ Agamemnon, not even if Athena should command me to do so. 


Author’s Statement

Lucian’s Dialogues of the Dead contains thirty largely comedic miniature dialogues between deceased Greek figures. The 23rd dialogue, which is notably more somber than the others, occurs between Ajax and Agamemnon in Hades. Ajax, the famed hero of Homer’s Iliad, demonstrates his unyielding hatred for Odysseus, who was awarded the arms of Achilles over Ajax.

In Sophocles’ Ajax, a telling of the hero’s suicide, Ajax is characterized as having an immense grudge against Odysseus, insistant that he, not Odysseus, should have won the arms of Achilles. In this dialogue, Lucian retains Ajax’s general aura of obstinacy and hatred, suggesting that he was most likely drawing from Sophocles’ work. As Ajax and Agamemnon feature heavily in the Iliad, he draws on some specifics of the epic as well, alluding to the scene in Book 11 where Odysseus is facing certain death at the hands of a group of Phrygians, only to be miraculously saved by Ajax. Throughout this short dialogue Lucian demonstrates his close reading of both Sophocles and Homer.

NB. There are two numbering systems for Lucian’s Dialogues of the Dead, the β and γ-families. This dialogue appears as number 29 in the β-family, and number 23 in the γ-family. The Greek text I worked from (Lucian: Seventy Dialogues by Harry L. Levy) uses the γ-family, so I have decided to number my translation as such.


Noah Apter (he/him, College ‘25) is a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying Classical Studies (Languages and Literature) and Philosophy.