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"Be Like Thersites"

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Achilles and Thersites

"Agamemnon sends his regards,"
     says Odysseus, son of Laertes.

"Agamemnon sends his pet,"
     Achilles retorts,
          and Odysseus
             puts a hand to his chest
                  as if wounded
               by a thrusted spear.

Great Ajax groans
     at the play,
     at the drama,
     at the pretense of rapport.
Instead,
     Ajax prefers a straightforward appeal.
"Return with us, Cousin.
         Why grieve alone
         when Myrmidon comrades await
         to cheer your return?
Or if sadness is your true desire,
     every man will wail at your request,
     every woman will beat her breast,
     every horse will stand with lowered head,
     every pig will wallow in its pen,
     every rat will retire to its hole-"

"But not I,"
     boasts Bow-Legged Thersites.

Ajax sputters,
     and loses the procession of his thoughts.
He never was the best at speeches.

The others
     restrain
          their strangle-minded fingers
          from the neck of ill-reputed infantryman.
"Any embassy that includes Odysseus
     should be balanced by a blunt truth-teller,"
          Diomedes had suggested,
          and Agamemnon had agreed.
And so here was Thersites,
     despite Ajax's suspicion
          that Diomedes,
               for a while,
          just wanted to be rid of the fool.

"Why should the great Achilles mope about
     in lamentations?"
          Thersites asks.
"Why should the great Achilles shed tears
     over corpse-crumbs in a golden urn?
You won't see bold Thersites crying for the past.
     Not ever.
     The past is dead!
     The past stinks like rotted fish!
'Leave the past behind,'
     is what Thersites says.
Accomplish new deeds of renown!
Seek new enemies to defeat!
     You, my friend,
          are a truly great warrior,
               but
     your deeds and victories,
          though already numerous,
     are now in the past,
          and the past,
               as Thersites has said, 
          is a rotted fish.
     No,
     dear Achilles,
starting now,
dear Achilles,
     looking forward,
     dear Achilles,
          make for yourself a plan
          as bold as your boldest companion!"

Achilles considers Thersites.
     A long moment passes.
"So if I don't misunderstand,
     Thersites,
          what you think
          is that I,
     Achilles,
          should be more like you?"

Thersites sighs.
     "Oh, how quickly this war would end
          if Achilles were more like Thersites
          and if Thersites were more like Achilles,
     and oh,
          if I were more like you,
               with the armor,
               with the arms,
               with the bloodline of gods and heroes,
          and oh,
               with that girl,
                    Briseis,
               who sits her nightly vigil
                    in your tent,
          the end of the war could not come soon enough."

Achilles snaps
     to attention.
         "No man touches her!"

"Not even the Atreides would dare,"
     Podarces assures,
          with a glare at Thersites
               who grins,
               and says,
          "Not after the last time."

Once,
     Achillies had pledged himself to Deidamia,
          who still waits for him
          and remains loyal to him
          on the island of Skyros
          with their son.
Once,
     ill-fated Iphigenia,
     was led to believe
     Achilles was her intended,
          before ruthless Agamemnon 
          led that poor girl to slaughter
          to appease the goddess.
Once,
     Achilles had turned down
     an offer from Agamemnon,
          overlord of the host,
     to wed his choice of Argive princesses
     upon a successful return to the lands of Hellas.
Once,
     Patroclus had urged Achilles
     to take Briseis as his wife,
     back when life beyond the war
     was something he could still contemplate.
But now?
     Achilles shakes his head.
         "No man touches her,"
     he says,
as he remains,
rooted in place,
     and strums the lyre.

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