Monday, January 24, 2011


Achilles displayed before the troops the prizes set
for the third event, the grueling wrestling match.
For the winner a large tripod made to stride a fire
and worth a dozen oxen, so the soldiers reckoned.
For the loser he led a woman through their midst,
worth four, they thought, and skilled in many crafts.
And he rose up tall and challenged all the Achaeans:
"Now two come forward--fight to win this prize!"
And the giant Ajax got to his feet at once.
Odysseus stood up too,
an expert at every subtle, cunning hold.
Both champions, belted tight, stepped into the ring
and grappling each other hard with big burly arms,
locked like rafters a master builder bolts together,
slanting into a pitched roof to fight the ripping winds.
And their backbones creaked as scuffling hands tugged
for submission-holds and sweat streamed down their spines
and clusters of raw welts broke out on ribs and shoulders
slippery, red with blood, and still they grappled, harder,
locking for victory, locked for that burnished tripod:
Odysseus no more able to trip and bring to ground
his man than Ajax could--Odysseus' brawn held out.
A stalemate.  And the troops were growing bored,
so at last the giant Ajax spurred his rival,
grunting, "Son of Laertes--resourceful one, enough--
you hoist me or I hoist you--and leave the rest to Zeus."
  As Ajax heaved him up Odysseus never missed a trick--
he kicked him behind the knee, clipping the hollow,
cut his legs from under him, knocked him backward--
pinned as Odysseus flung himself across his chest!
That roused the crowd, they leaned to look and marveled.
The next throw now--long-enduring Odysseus' turn . . .
he tried to hoist Great Ajax, budged him a little
off the ground, true, but he could not heave him clear,
then hooked him round a knee and down they sprawled together,
both men clenched in a death-lock, tussling round in dust.
And now they'd have jumped up, gone for the third fall
if Achilles himself had not stepped in and stopped them:
"No more struggling--don't kill yourselves in sport!
Victory goes to both.  Share the prizes.  Off you go,
so the rest of the men can have a crack at contests."
--Iliad XXXIII.780-820, trans. Robert Fagles

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