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Ajax


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A: Sophocles Pf:c.441 bc, Athens Tr: 1714 G: Greek trag. in verse S: Before Ajax's tent and the seashore near Troy, during the Trojan War C: 6m, 2f, extras, chorus (m)When Achilles is killed in the war against Troy, his splendid armour is given to the wily Odysseus. Ajax, who believes himself much more deserving of this honour, becomes enraged and swears revenge on his fellow Greeks. Athene intervenes to make Ajax insane, so that while he believes he is killing Greek soldiers, he is in fact slaughtering sheep and cattle. When he recovers from his madness, his shame is so great that he takes his own life. Odysseus persuades the commanders Agamemnon and Menelaus to accord Ajax an honourable burial.

A: Sophocles Pf:c.441 bc, Athens Tr: 1714 G: Greek trag. in verse S: Before Ajax's tent and the seashore near Troy, during the Trojan War C: 6m, 2f, extras, chorus (m)

Ajax is possibly the earliest of Sophocles' tragedies, but written when he was already in his fifties. It is the only one of his plays in which there is visible divine intervention (if we except the appearance of Heracles in Philoctetes). It is also the only extant Greek tragedy which changes location (so making a nonsense of the neo-classical insistence on unity of place). Ajax leaves his tent to go to the seashore, leaving behind his wife Tecmessa, and remarkably without the accompanying chorus of seamen, to commit suicide alone. Although Ajax is the title figure, the main interest of the piece rests with Odysseus, who, though he was a rival to Ajax in the award of Achilles' armour, is finally moved to generosity of spirit. He boldly confronts his generals with his demand that, despite everything, Ajax should be honourably buried (a humane and pious insistence that Sophocles explored fully in his Antigone). In terms of its staging, it is likely that Athene would make her appearance above the action by means of a stage crane. This was the mechane, now familiar in the Latin phrase deus ex machina, although here significantly her intervention, while sparing Greek lives, by no means solves all the complications of the plot.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Sophocles (496—406 bc)


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