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Ulysses means that in accordance with the drift of his whole argument an active Ajax is bound to be preferred to a torpid Achilles. He then tells Achilles that his name was once in everyone’s mouth and might again be if he stopped burying himself alive and hiding his reputation in his tent. For good measure, Ulysses reminds Achilles that his glorious deeds on the battlefield had caused the deities including Great Mars to descend and take sides. Achilles says he has strong reason for his behavior. Ulysses counters that the reasons against him behaving in this way are even greater. He tells him that it is known that he is in love with one of Priam’s daughters.
Achilles is surprised. Referring to the Greek intelligence service, Ulysses tells him that not only does watchful prudence know almost everything, understand what is thought and is proverbially swift, but also it knows it before it can be uttered. He tells Achilles that they are aware of his dealings with Troy. ‘‘All the commerce that you have had with Troy/As perfectly is ours as yours,’ he says, continuing that it would suit Achilles better ‘To throw down Hector than Polyxena.’ Then, cunningly evoking Achilles’ son Pyrrhus or Neoptolemus, he says the young man would feel terrible when word of his father’s behavior reached Greece and Greek girls sang: ‘Great Hector’s sister did Achilles win, /But our great Ajax bravely beat down him.’
Before Ulysses exits, he says he speaks as one who wishes Achilles well, and that ‘The fool slides o’er the ice that you should break.’ He means that Ajax will be merely play-acting, in his meeting with Hector, by comparison with the serious fighting of which only Achilles was capable.
Thersites enters and tells them that Ajax is stalking about the field, full of himself, proud and sure of his success on the following day. ‘The man’s undone for ever, for if Hector break not his neck i’th’combat, he’ll break’t himself in vainglory,’ says the biting Thersites. In trying hard to appear wise, Ajax strikes all the proper attitudes. Thersites’ language is mimetic, the words cry out for the actor’s gesture.
Achilles attempts to send Thersites but the latter says that Ajax has grown so proud that ‘he professes not answering; speaking is for beggars, he wears his tongue in’s arms.’ He recounts how he had said ‘Good morrow, Ajax’ and the warrior had replied ‘Thanks, Agamemnon.’ ‘What think you of this man, that takes me for the general?,’ he wonders. Thersites then says that he and Patroclus will act out Ajax for Achilles so he can see ‘the pageant of Ajax.’ Achilles invites Patroclus to extemporize: ‘Tell him I humbly desire the valiant Ajax to invite valorous Hector to come unarmed to my tent, and to ...’ . This is followed by a little skit where Patroclus enacts what he will say to Ajax with interjections from Thersites who as usual uses burlesque language. Eventually, Thersites is told to take a letter to Ajax, and Achilles and Patroclus exit.
Thersites has the last coarse word as usual, when Achilles says his mind is as troubled as a stirred fountain and that he could not see the bottom of it, ‘Would the fountain of your mind were clear again, that I might water an ass at it. I would rather be a tick in a sheep than such a valiant ignorance.’