In a play written by James Shirley (1596-1666), an English poet and dramatist, titled: “The Contention of Ajax and Ulysses, for the Armor of Achilles,” six princes are carrying the body of Ajax to the temple when a wise man named Calchas, who was walking with them, made the statement: “Only the actions of the fair-minded smell sweet and blossom in the dust.”1
These words came at the end as Calchas spoke posthumously to Ajax as he laid on a stretcher while being carried. Calchas said: “The garlands wither on your brow; then boast no more your mighty deeds. Upon Death’s purple altar now see where the victor-victim bleeds: Your heads must come to the cold tomb.”2 In other words, all your trophies and awards will now be relics of the past. Both winners and losers end up at the same place – their inevitable appointment with death.
One of the most revered and hallowed grounds in the USA is the National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. Here the remains of our most valiant and beloved casualties of America’s conflicts are laid to rest. As far as I know, there is no National Cemetery for our most infamous criminals and murders.
I read where someone suggested that this poem by Shirley is loosely based on the sentiments found in Psalm 122. It reminds us that we all have a destiny, where all of our acts and words in life will be immortalized for others to appreciate. Years ago we used to sing a song that goes: “Precious memories, how they linger, how they ever flood my soul. In the stillness of the midnight, precious, sacred scenes unfold.”3
As the wise man, Calchas said: “Only the actions of the fair-minded smell sweet and blossom in the dust.” I’m sure, all of us want our journey here on earth to become a precious memory to someone after we’re gone. But the only way to ensure that it will be is to live life in such a way that we will be missed for all the right reasons. Remember, our acts of love and kindness can become treasures in someone’s heart and mind, so we need to contribute as much as we can while we’re here. – Dr. Robert R Seyda
1 “The Contention of Ajax and Ulysses, for the Armor of Achilles,” [Printed 1659], Scene III
2 James Shirley Dramatist, by Arthur Huntington Nason, New York, 1911, pp. 149-151
3 Written by J.B.F. Wright in 1925