Ajax preparing for suicide
|Chorus||Sailors from Salamis|
|Original language||Ancient Greek|
Sophocles's Ajax (Ancient Greek: Αίας, Aias) is a Greek tragedy written in the 5th century BC. The date of Ajax's first performance is unknown, but most scholars regard it as an early work, circa 450 - 430 B.C. (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.
At the onset of the play, Ajax is enraged because Achilles' armor was awarded to Odysseus, rather than to 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.
Ajax realizes what he has done and is in agony over his actions. Ajax’s pain is not because of his wish to kill Agamemnon and Odysseus. He is extremely upset that Athena fooled him and is sure that the other Greek warriors are laughing at him. Ajax contemplates ending his life due to his shame. His concubine, Tecmessa, pleads for him not to leave her and her child unprotected. Ajax then gives his son, Eurysaces, his shield. Ajax leaves the house saying that he is going out to purify himself and bury the sword given to him by Hector. Teucer, Ajax’s brother, arrives in the Greek camp to taunting from his fellow soldiers. Calchas warns that Ajax should not be allowed to leave his tent until the end of the day or he will die. Teucer sends a messenger to Ajax’s campsite with word of Calchas’ prophesy. Tecmessa 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. Ajax also wishes for the first to find his body to be Teucer, so that he is not found by an enemy and his body left without a proper burial. Tecmessa is the first to discover Ajax impaled on his sword, with Teucer arriving shortly after. He orders that Eurysaces be brought to him so that he will be safe from Ajax’s foes. Menelaus appears on the scene and orders the body not to be moved.
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).
The central theme to Sophocles' Ajax is the values of living and dying. Ajax decides to commit suicide because he feels that he has lost his nobility and discovers that the world is subject to the constant flux of change. Ajax has called himself "unalterable", but in his Deception Speech (lines 646-90) he realises that the world is in constant flux, both in terms of physical state and human relationships. Ajax cannot accept this and decides to commit suicide.
This first theme occupies the first half of the play. The second half largely contains a debate between Ajax's dependants and the Atreidae over allowing Ajax's burial. There are subtle hints here to the pluralistic attitude to suicide in fifth-century suicide, where in some cases a body would be buried and in others it would be left exposed.  In a continuation of the first theme it is Odysseus, Ajax's enemy, who wins the burial by appealing to the Atreidae to acquiesce and establishes a friendship with Ajax's dependants.
One could argue that a further theme is brought out by Sophocles. Namely the pluralism of ideals in the fifth-century polis, whereby the audience can still understand Ajax's motives and admire him for committing suicide to retain his honour and the fixed views he has of the world and human relationships which are part of the Homeric world. Yet Odysseus' more flexible approach fits in more with the democratic arena of the polis where relationships between people are mutable and people are required to be flexible. Whilst Ajax is part of an older ideal, those ideals are still present in the polis. As Dodds says, "A new system of ideals rarely effaces completely ones of old". So the fifth-century audience is faced with a conflict of values present in their own society.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
|Greek Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
Grant, Michael. "Sophocles." Greek and Latin Authors 800 BC-AD 1000. New York: HW Wilson Company, 1980. 397-402. Print.
Dictionary and translator for handheld
New : sensagent is now available on your handheld
A windows (pop-into) of information (full-content of Sensagent) triggered by double-clicking any word on your webpage. Give contextual explanation and translation from your sites !
With a SensagentBox, visitors to your site can access reliable information on over 5 million pages provided by Sensagent.com. Choose the design that fits your site.
Improve your site content
Add new content to your site from Sensagent by XML.
Crawl products or adds
Get XML access to reach the best products.
Index images and define metadata
Get XML access to fix the meaning of your metadata.
Please, email us to describe your idea.
Lettris is a curious tetris-clone game where all the bricks have the same square shape but different content. Each square carries a letter. To make squares disappear and save space for other squares you have to assemble English words (left, right, up, down) from the falling squares.
Boggle gives you 3 minutes to find as many words (3 letters or more) as you can in a grid of 16 letters. You can also try the grid of 16 letters. Letters must be adjacent and longer words score better. See if you can get into the grid Hall of Fame !
Change the target language to find translations.
Tips: browse the semantic fields (see From ideas to words) in two languages to learn more.