During the past couple of years that the pandemic has raged around the world, we have seen how some have risen to fight the virus with all that they had at their disposal, while others cowered and dithered over what to do next.
It was imperative that the world tackled the pandemic head-on and yet, there were the heroic and brave scientists and health workers who made immense sacrifices and then, there were political leaders who used the pandemic to either spread fear, or to tighten their grip on the population.
In this edition of Ovid in the Time of Covid, I use the story of the Trojan war and of Ajax in particular, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Ajax, who tried to save Achilles, and fought Hector and others with his bravery and might, seeks recognition of his efforts, against Ulysses, the leader who sought exile.
As the Covid-19 pandemic waxed and waned
Through the many months, as though they were seasons
There were indeed some who deigned
To fight it with the forces of reason
Others too content to spread fear
Denied it was ever a problem
When it got out of control, dear,
They pretended it was indeed, solemn.
He cried “Before your ships ye judge this cause,
And, with those ships in sight, Ulysses dares
To stand my Rival! Where was he, when fierce
With torch and brand raged Hector on the shore
‘Twas I who saved them—I who drove him back!”
The speech of Ajax from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XIII, Lines 6-11
What the rest of the people were
To make of the confusion that reigned
Was enough to spread more fear
Than was necessary to contain
A virus so virulent and lethal
It struck entire populations hard
Both physical and psychological
No effort could be spared, from the start.
The brave ones were at work
Quietly in their lab coats and protective gear
They were not willing to shirk
Efforts that could save lives each year.
Every day, week and month chimed
As if on a clock
It was a race against time
The one thing that wasn’t in stock.
“Let him tell his, whereof, I doubt, the most
Can vouch no witness save himself and Night.
‘Tis no mean stake we play for—true: —but this,
My rival, cheapens it! whate’er its worth
Poor toast it is to me to bear away
A prize that such as he may hope to win: —
And for Ulysses more than praise enough “
That, beaten as he was, the world shall say
He coped with Ajax! — For myself, if deeds
Were lacked or valour doubtful, birth and race
The speech of Ajax from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XIII, Lines 17-27
The fight was also between lockdowns
And reopening economies for business
Vaccines attracted both relief and frowns
When they were the route to success
Against this mighty adversary
That would not be tamed
It soon became necessary
To fight variants, no matter how named.
Leaders of rich countries wanted booster doses
And their little ones to be vaccinated
When poorer countries hadn’t had their first doses
And the pandemic was exacerbated
It didn’t matter how hard the brave fought
This was simply the way it had to be
All their valiant efforts come to nought
Because the rich must have their way, you see.
“What folly bids thee seek
This worse than useless prize? If, sore misled,
Greece held thy claim the better, of what boot
Would be the boon —To make thee robbed, not feared;
Thy foes would spoil and mock thee! Or thy speed
In flight—wherein above all living men
I hold thee paramount, and there alone,
“Would fail thee, weak with that heroic weight!
The speech of Ajax from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XIII, Lines 144-151.
Not to be deterred, the pharma companies
Simply keep churning out new drugs
The rate of new discoveries
Is, of course, hard to shrug
When not enough have access to them
What should the heroes do?
Fall on their sword at the helm,
Like Ajax was wont to do?
The featured image at the start of this post is of Sorrowful Ajax by Jacob Carstens (1791) from Wikimedia Commons