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Ajax
Ajax suicide.jpg
Ajax preparing for suicide
Written by Sophocles
Chorus Sailors from Salamis
Characters Athena
Odysseus
Ajax
Tecmessa
Messenger
Teucer
Menelaus
Agamemnon
Mute Attendants
Hats
Servants
Soldiers
Eurysaces

Ajax (Greek: Αίας, Aias) is a play by Sophocles. The date of its first performance is unknown, but most scholars regard it as an early work, about 450 BCE to 430 BCE (J. Moore, 2). It chronicles the fate of the warrior Ajax after the events of the Iliad but before the end of the Trojan War.

Contents

Plot

At the onset of the play, Ajax is enraged because Achilles' armor was awarded to Odysseus, rather than him. He vows to kill the Greek leaders who disgraced him. Before he can enact his revenge, though, he is tricked by the goddess Athena into believing that the sheep and cattle that were taken by the Achaeans as spoil are the Greek leaders. He slaughters some of them, and takes the others back to his home to torture, including a ram which he believes to be his main rival, Odysseus.

After coming to his senses, he pities himself over his disgrace. His wife Tecmessa pleads for him not to leave her and her child unprotected. He pretends that he is moved by her speech, and says that he is going out to purify himself and bury the sword given to him by Hector. After he has gone, a messenger arrives to say that the seer Calchas has warned that if Ajax leaves his house that day, he will die. His wife and soldiers try to track him down, but are too late. Ajax had indeed buried the sword, but has left the blade sticking out of the ground and has impaled himself upon it. Sophocles lets us hear the speech Ajax gives immediately before his suicide (which, unlike in most Greek tragedies, where action and death are reported, is called for to take place onstage), in which he calls for vengeance against the sons of Atreus (Menelaus and Agamemnon) and the whole Greek army.

The last part of the play revolves around the dispute over what to do with Ajax's body. Ajax's half brother Teucer intends on burying him despite the demands of Menelaus and Agamemnon that the corpse is not to be buried. Odysseus, although previously Ajax's enemy, steps in and persuades them to allow Ajax a proper funeral by pointing out that even one's enemies deserve respect in death, if they were noble. The play ends with Teucer making arrangements for the burial (which is to take place without Odysseus, out of respect for Ajax).

Themes

An argument over whether to deny the burial of a disgraced man is the subject of Antigone, another early play by Sophocles.

The degenration and rehabilitiation of the hero.

Another Sophoclean tragedy of the old ethic being replaced by the new, Ajax of strength being replaced by Odysseus of wit.

Translations

Adaptations

  • Robert Auletta, 1986 - prose
  • Paul Roche, 2001 - prose
  • John Tipton, 2008 - metrical form of one English word for every metrical foot in the Greek, which Tipton calls "a counted line." ISBN 9780978746759. The Nation review accessed 2008-08-31.
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