Ajax - THE PROLOGUE

THE PROLOGUE

TO THE READER OF THE METAMORPHOSIS OF AJAX.

            GREAT Captain AJAX, as is well known to the learned, and shall here be published for the unlearned, was a warrior of Greece, strong, heady, rash, boisterous, and a terrible fighting fellow; but neither wise, learned, staid, nor politic. Wherefore falling to debate with Ulysses, and receiving so foul a disgrace of him, to be called fool afore company, and being bound to the peace, that he might not fight with so great a counsellor, he could endure it no longer, but became a perfect malcontent; viz. his hat without a band, his hose without garters, his waist without a girdle, his boots without spurs, his purse without coin, his head without wit, and thus swearing he would kill and slay. <1> First he killed all the horned beasts he met, which made Agamemnon and Menelaus now more afraid than Ulysses; whereupon he was banished the towns presently, and then he went to the woods and pastures, and imagining all the fat sheep he met, to be of kin to the coward Ulysses, because they ran away from him, he massacred a whole flock of sheep, not ewes. Last of all, having nobody else to kill, [the] poor man killed himself: what became of his body is unknown; some say that wolves and bears did eat it, and that makes them yet such enemies to sheep and cattle. But his blood, as testifieth P. Ovidius the excellent historiographer, was turned into a hyacinth, which is a very notable kind of grass or flower.

            Now there are many miracles to be marked in this Metamorphosis, to confirm the credit of the same: for in the grass itself remains such pride of this noble blood, that as the graziers have assured me of their credits (and some of them may be trusted for one hundred thousand pounds), the rother-beasts that eat too greedily hereof will swell till they burst. The poor sheep still, for an old grudge, would eat him without salt (as they say); but if they do, they will soon after rot with it. <2>

            Further, I read that now of late years a French gentleman, son to one Monsieur Gargasier, and a young gentleman of an excellent spirit and towardness, as the reverent Rabelais (quem honoris causa nomino; that is, whom should not name without save-reverence) writes in his first book, xiii. Chap. <3> But the story you shall find more at large in the xiv. book of his tenth decad.<4> This young gentleman having taken some three or four score pills to purge melancholy, every one as big as a pome-cittern, commanded his man to mow an half acre of grass, to use at the privy: and notwithstanding that the owners (to save their hay perhaps) swore to him it was of that ancient house of AJAX, and therefore reserved of purpose only for horses of the race of Bucephalus, or Rabycano, yet he would not be persuaded: but in further contempt of his name, used a phrase that he had learned at his being in the low countries, and bade Skite upon Ajax. But suddenly (whether it were the curse of the people, or the nature of the grass, I know not) he was stricken in his posteriors with St. Anthony's fire; and despairing of other help, he went on pilgrimage in hope of remedy hereof to Japan near China: where he met a French surgeon, in the university of Macao, that cured him both of that and the verol, that he had before in his priorums, with the momio of a Grecian wench, that Ulysses buried in his travel upon the coast of the further Ethiopia: and so he came back again by Restinga des ladrones, through St. Lazaro;<5> and crossing both the tropics, Cancer and Capricorn, he came by Magellans, swearing he found no straits there, but came from thence straight home. And so in twenty-four hour's sail, and two or three odd years beside, he accomplished his voyage; not forgetting to take fresh wine and water at Capon de Bona Speranza.<6> Yet ere he could recover his health fully, he was fain to make divers vows (for now he was grown very religious with his long travel); among which, one was, that in remembrance of China, of all meats, he would honour the chine of beef most; another was, that of all offices of the house, he should do honour to that house of office, where, he had committed that scorn to AJAX; and that there he should never use any more such fine grass, but rather tear a leaf out of Holinshed's Chronicles, or some of the books that lie in the hall, than to commit such a sin against AJAX. Wherefore, immediately on his coming home, he built a sumptuous privy, and in the most conspicuous place thereof, namely, just over the door, he erected a statue of AJAX, with so grim a countenance, that the aspect of it being full of terror, was half as good as a suppository: and further, to honour him, he changed the name of the house, and called it after the name of this noble captain of the greasy ones (the Grecians I should say), AJAX: though since, by ill pronunciation, and by a figure called Cacophonia, the accent is changed, and it is called a Jakes.

            Further, when the funeral oration was ended,<7> to do him all other compliments that appertained to his honour, they searched for his pedigree, and an excellent antiquary and a herald, by great fortune, found it out in an old church book, in the Austin Friars at Genoa. And it was proclaimed on this fashion:

AJAX, son of Telamon.
Son of Aeacus.
Son of Jupiter.<8>

Jupiter, alias dictus Picus.
Son of old Saturn,<9>

Alias dictus Stercutius.<10>

            Which when it was made known unto the whole fraternity of the brethren, there was nothing but rejoicing and singing, unto their god Sarcotheos, a devout Shaame, in honour of this Stercutius, the great great grandfather of AJAX. Which sonnet hath a marvellous grace in their country, by means they do greatly affect these same similiter desinentia,<11> every friar singing a verse, and a brother answering him in the tune following; amounting just to four and twenty, which is the mystical number of their order.

            But, by the way, if any severe Catos take exceptions, and any chaste Lucretias take offence at the matter or music here following, let them pardon me, that sought but to keep decorum, in speaking of a slovenly matter, and of slovenly men somewhat slovenly.

            Vos vero viri eruditi si qua hic scurriliter nimis dicta videbuntur, ignoscite, equissimum enim est, ut quam voluptatem scelerati male faciendo capiant, eandem (quod fieri potest) male audiendo amittant. Videtis autem cujusmodi farinae homines taxare instituimus: non pius, doctos, sanctos, continentes, sed luxuriosos, hereticos, barbaros, impios. Quibus ego me per omnem vitam acerrimum hostem, ut et verum misacmos semper profitebor. Nostris proverbium, Cretisandum cum Cretensibus, et certe hoc dignum est patella operculum. Nam similes habere debent labra lactucas <12>

{Illustration 2 - Music}

1. O tu qui dans oracula.
2. Scindis cotem novacula.
3. Da nostra ut tabernacula.
4. Lingua canant vernacula.
5. Opima post jentacula.
6. Hujusmodi miracula.
7. Sit semper plenum poculum.
8. Habentes plenum loculum.
9. Tu serva nos ut specula.
10. Per longa et laeta saecula.
11. Ut clerus et plebecula.
12. Nec nocte nec diecula.
13. Curent de ulla recula.
14. Sed intuentes specula.
15. Dura vitemus spicula.
16. Jacentes cum amicula.
17. Quae garrit ut cornicula.
18. Seu tristis seu ridicula.
19. Tum porrigamus oscula.
20. Turn colligamus floscula.
21. Ornemus ut coenaculum.
22. Et totum habitaculum.
23. Tum culi post spiraculum.
24. Spectemus hoc spectaculum.<13>

      Then, suitable to this hymn, they had a dirge for AJAX, with a prayer to all their chief saints whose names begin with A.

Sauntus Ablabius.                                   )
Sauntus Acachius.                                   )
Sauntus Arrius.                                       )
Sauntus Aerius.                                       ) Ora pro
Sauntus Aetius.                                       ) AJAX
Sauntus Alnaricus.                                  )
Sauntus Adiaphoristae.                           )
Saunti 11000 Anabaptistae.                    )
Et tu Sauntiss. Atheos.                            )

And so ended the black Sauntus.

            Some of these denied the godhead of Christ with Arrius, some the authority of bishops, as Aerius, which you may see in Prateolo de vita haereticorum. <14> Almaricus denied the resurrection of the body, which is an heresy that mars all, as St. Paul saith, 1 Cor. xv. 14. That then our faith were vain.

            By all which you may see, that it is but lack of learning, that makes some fellows seek out stale English etymologies of this renowned name of A JAX. One imagined it was called so of black-jacks, because they look so slovenly, that a mad Frenchman wrote, we did carry our drink in our boots: but that is but a bald etymology, and I will never agree that Jack, though he were never so black, should be thus slandered. But if you stand so much upon your English, and will not admit our Greek and our Roman tongue, you shall see I will cast about, to have one in English for you.

            First then, you have heard the old proverb, "age breeds aches;" now you must imagine, that an old man, almost fourscore years old, and come to the psalm of David, Labour and dolour, being somewhat costive, at the house groaned so pitifully, that they thought he had been sick: whereupon one ran to him to hold his head, and asked him what he ailed: He told them he ailed nothing, but only according to the proverb, he complained, that age breeds aches; and minding to speak it shorter, by the figure of abbreviation, or perhaps by the rule, Quod potest fieri per pauciora, non debet fieri per plura <15> (I pray you pardon me for being again in my Latin); oh, saith he, masters make much of youth, for I tell you, age aches, age, aches. I feel it, age aches. Upon which pathetical speech of his, delivered in that place, the younger men that bare him special reverence, termed the place age aches: which agrees fully in pronunciation, though it may be since, some ill orthographers have miswritten it, and so now it passeth current to be spoken and written A JAX. And because, as the saying is, loquendum cum vulgo,<16> we must now take him as we find him, with all his faults.

            But yet for reformation of as many as we can, and specially of one fault he is much subject unto, you must remember that this A JAX was always so strong a man, that his strength being an inseparable accident to him, doth now only remain in his, breath, and that in diverse extremities, and contrary fashions. Sometime, with the heat of his breath, he will be ready to overcome a strong man; another time, he will take a weak man at the vantage, and strike him behind with such a cold, that he shall be the worse for, it a month after. Now many have wrestled with him, to seek to stop his breath, and never maim him, but he makes them glad to stop their noses; and that indeed is some remedy, for such whose throats have a better swallow, than their heads have capacity. As some men that are forced at sea to drink stinking puddle water, do wink and close their nostrils, that they may not offend three senses at once.

            Now again, some arm themselves against A JAX with perfumes, but that methinks doubles the grief, to imagine what a good smell this were, if the other were away: as he that should have had ten thousand pounds with an ugly Mopsa, <17> said, not without a great sigh, Oh, what a match were this were the woman away! But the device that shall be hereafter discovered, will so confound this gentleman with the strong breath, that save we carry about us some traitors, that are ready to take his part, he should never be able so much as to blow upon you. Yet I would have the favourable readers (of what sort soever) thus far satisfied, that I took not this quarrel upon me voluntarily, but rather in mine own defence: and standing upon the punctilio of honour, having been challenged, as you may partly see in the letter precedent, by one, as it seems, of the Captain's own countrymen: for his name is Philostilpnos, which I thought at first was a word to conjure a spirit, till at last, a fellow of mine of Cambridge, told me the Philo was Greek, and that he would say in English, that he loveth cleanliness. Now I being bound by the duello, having accepted the challenge, to seek no advantage, but even to deal with him at his own weapon, entered the lists with him, and fighting after the old English manner without the stockados (for to foin or strike below the girdle, we counted it base and too cowardly), after half a score downright blows, we grew to be friends, and I was content to subscribe, Yours, &c. And to the end I may answer him in the same language, I am called Misacmos, which is cousin and ally to his name, and it signifieth a hater of filthiness; and to all such as are of kin to either of our names or conditions, we commend this discourse ensuing.

Ad Zoilum et Momum.

Cease, masters, any more
To grudge, chafe, pine, and fret;

Lo stuff for you good store,
To gnaw, chew, bite, and eat.

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