Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare

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"Time Hath, My Lord, A Wallet At His Back"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In the eighth year of the Trojan War, the Greeks find their military power lacking chiefly because of the pride and, consequently, the insubordination of their greatest fighter, Achilles. When a challenge to single combat comes from Hector, the Trojan champion, the Greek generals, knowing well that the challenge is directed at Achilles, plan to send the dull Ajax to accept the challenge as a slight to Achilles, their most noted warrior. When Achilles, aware of the snub, asks whether his own deeds are forgotten, Ulysses replies:

Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back,
Wherein he puts alms for oblivion,
A great-sized monster of ingratitudes.
Those scraps are good deeds past, which are devoured
As fast as they are made, forgot as soon
As done. Perseverance, dear my lord,
Keeps honour bright; to have done, is to hang
Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail,
In monumental mockery. Take the instant way
For honour travels in a strait so narrow,
Where one but goes abreast; keep then the path.
For emulation hath a thousand sons,
That one by one pursue. If you give way,
Or hedge aside from the direct forthright,
Like to an entered tide they all rush by,
And leave you hindmost; . . .