Ajax (mythology)

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For other uses of the name Ajax, see Ajax.

Ajax or Aias (Greek: Αἴας) was a legendary Greek hero and king of Salamis. He plays an important role in Homer's Iliad and in the Epic Cycle, epic poems concerning the Trojan War. To distinguish him from Ajax, son of Oileus, he is called Telamonian Ajax, Greater Ajax, or "Ajax the Great"

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[edit] Ajax the Great

In Homer's Iliad he is described as of great stature and colossal frame, the tallest and strongest of all the Achaeans, second only to his cousin Achilles in skill-at-arms, and the 'bulwark of the Achaeans'. He was trained by the centaur Chiron (who had also trained his father, Telamon, and Achilles' father Peleus), at the same time as Achilles. Aside from Achilles, Ajax is the most valuable warrior in Agamemnon's army, though he is not as intelligent as Nestor, Idomeneus, or, of course, Odysseus. He commands his army wielding a great axe and a huge shield made of seven ox-hides with a layer of bronze. He is not wounded in any of the battles described in the Iliad, and he is the only principal character on either side who does not receive personal assistance from any of the gods who take part in the battles. As such, he embodies the virtues of hard work and perseverance.

[edit] Trojan War

In the Iliad, Ajax is notable for his abundant strength and courage, seen particularly in two fights with Hector. In Book 7, Ajax is chosen by lot to meet Hector in a duel which lasts most of a whole day. Ajax at first gets the better of the encounter, wounding Hector with his spear and knocking him down with a large stone, but Hector fights on until the heralds, acting at the direction of Zeus, call a draw: the action ends without a winner and with the two combatants exchanging gifts.

The second fight between Ajax and Hector occurs when the latter breaks into the Achaean camp, and fights with the Greeks among the ships. In Book 14, Ajax throws a giant rock at Hector which almost kills him. In Book 15, Hector is restored to his strength by Apollo and returns to attack the ships. Ajax, wielding a spear as a weapon and leaping from ship to ship, holds off the Trojan armies virtually single-handedly. In Book 16, Hector is able to disarm Ajax (although Ajax is not hurt) and Ajax is forced to retreat under heavy fire. Hector and the Trojans succeed in burning one Greek ship, the culmination of an assault that almost finishes the war. Ajax manages to kill many of the other Trojan lords, including Phorkys.

Achilles was absent during these encounters because of his feud with Agamemnon. In Book 9, Agamemnon and the other Greek chiefs send Ajax, Odysseus and Phoenix to the tent of Achilles in an attempt to reconcile with the great warrior and induce him to return to the fight. Although Ajax speaks earnestly and is well received, he does not succeed in convincing Achilles.

When Achilles' best friend Patroclus is killed, Hector tries to steal his body and feed him to the dogs. Ajax is the man who fights to protect the body, and he takes it back safely to Achilles at the camp. Ajax, assisted by Menelaus, succeeds in fighting off the Trojans and taking the body back with his chariot; of course, the Trojans had already stolen the armor and left the body naked. Ajax's prayer to Zeus to remove the fog that has descended on the battle to allow them to fight or die in the light of day has become proverbial.

Like most of the other Greek leaders, Ajax is alive and well as the Iliad comes to a close. Later, when Achilles dies, killed by Paris (with help from Apollo), Ajax and Odysseus are the heroes that fight against the Trojans to get the body and bury it next to his dear friend, Patroclus. Ajax, with his great axe, manages to get the Trojans away, while Odysseus pulls the body towards his chariot, and rides away. After the burial, both claim the armor for themselves, as recognition for their efforts. But in the end, after some discussion, Odysseus is given the armor. Ajax is furious about it, and falls to the ground, exhausted. When he wakes up, he becomes mad and goes to a group of sheep, and slaughters them, imagining they are the Achaean leaders, including Odysseus and Agamemnon. When he comes to his senses, covered in blood, and realizes what he did, he decides that he prefers to kill himself rather than to live in shame. He did it with the same sword Hector had given him when they exchanged presents. (Odyssey, 11.541). From his blood sprang a red flower, as at the death of Hyacinthus, which bore on its leaves the initial letters of his name Ai, also expressive of lament (Pausanias 1.35.4). His ashes were deposited in a golden urn on the Rhoetean promontory at the entrance of the Hellespont. This account of his death is from the Ajax of Sophocles; in Pindar's Nemean, 7; and in Ovid's Metamorphoses, 13.1. Homer is somewhat vague about the precise manner of Ajax's death but does ascribe it to his loss in the dispute over Achilles's armour: when Odysseus visits Hades, he begs the soul of Ajax to speak to him, but Ajax, still resentful over the old quarrel, refuses and descends silently back into Erebus.

Like Achilles, he is represented (although not by Homer) as living after his death in the island of Leuke at the mouth of the Danube (Pausanias 3.19.11). Ajax, who in the post-Homeric legend is described as the grandson of Aeacus and the great-grandson of Zeus, was the tutelary hero of the island of Salamis, where he had a temple and an image, and where a festival called Aianteia was celebrated in his honour (Pausanias 1.35). At this festival a couch was set up, on which the panoply of the hero was placed, a practice which recalls the Roman Lectisternium. The identification of Ajax with the family of Aeacus was chiefly a matter which concerned the Athenians, after Salamis had come into their possession, on which occasion Solon is said to have inserted a line in the Iliad (2.557-558), for the purpose of supporting the Athenian claim to the island. Ajax then became an Attic hero; he was worshipped at Athens, where he had a statue in the market-place, and the tribe Aiantis was named after him. Pausanias also relates that a gigantic skeleton, its kneecap 5 inches in diameter, appeared on the beach near Sigeum, on the Trojan coast; these bones were identified as those of Ajax, the great champion of the Greeks in the Iliad.

[edit] Family

Ajax is the son of Telamon, who was the son of Aeacus and grandson of Zeus, and his first wife Periboea. He is the cousin of Achilles, the most remembered Greek warrior, and elder half-brother of Teucer. Many illustrious Athenians, including Cimon, Miltiades, Alcibiades and the historian Thucydides, traced their descent from Ajax.

[edit] Palace

In 2001, Yannos Lolos began excavating a Mycenaean palace on the island of Salamis that may have been Ajax's home. The ruins have been excavated at a site near the village of Kanakia of Salamis, a few miles off the coast of Athens. The multi-story structure covers 750 m² (8,000 ft²) and had perhaps 30 rooms. It appears to have been abandoned at about the era of the Trojan War. [1]

[edit] In Popular Culture

[edit] References

  • Homer, Iliad 7.181-312
  • Homer, Odyssey 11.543-67
  • Apollodorus, Epitome III, 11-V, 7
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses 12.620-13.398

[edit] External links

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This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.bg:Аякс Теламонид ca:Àiax el Gran da:Ajax de:Ajax der Große es:Áyax el Grande fr:Ajax fils de Télamon it:Aiace Telamonio he:איאקס lt:Ajaksas nl:Ajax (mythologie) ja:大アイアス pl:Ajaks pt:Ájax ru:Аякс Великий fi:Aias uk:Аякс Теламонід

Ajax (mythology)

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