Ajax - Sophocles

SOPHOCLES

Ajax

Critics usually regard Ajax as an early work in Sophocles’ career. Sophocles’ source was probably Homer. Although, information is not certain, the play’s first performance probably took place about 444 B.C. 

The story is about the warrior Ajax, after the events of the Iliad and the Trojan War. Ajax and Odysseus are great fighters in the battle against Achilles. They both retrieve Achilles’ body after his death and receive the honors of Greek society. However, the commanders vote that Achilles’ armor should be given to Odysseus, as an award. This generates Ajax’s rage. 

The play opens with furious Ajax, who decides to kill the Greek leaders who disgraced him. Ajax is being tricked by the goddess Athena. He is made to believe that the spoil taken by the Achaeans, the sheep and cattle were, in fact, the Greek leaders he wanted to kill. Therefore, he kills some of them, and takes the rest to his home to torture. He also tortures a ram, which he thinks to be Odysseus, his rival.

After finishing this slaughter he comes back to his senses and realizes what he has done. He decides to go out to purify himself and also to bury the sword, he had from Hector. Although, his wife Tecmessa begs him not to live her and their child alone and unprotected, he still leaves. After he has gone, a messenger brings a warning from seer Calchas. 

According to the seer, Ajax will die, if he leaves his house that day. Tecmessa and some soldiers go to find him, but they track him after he commits suicide. Before his suicide, Ajax calls for vengeance against the whole Greek army and the sons of Atreus, Menelaus and Agamemnon. 

The last subject of the play is a familiar theme for Sophocles’ work, also found in Antigone – is an enemy to be buried with proper ritual. Menelaus and Agamemnon demand that Ajax ‘s corps is not to be buried, while Ajax’s half brother Teucer intends on burying him Odysseus, Ajax's enemy, persuades Menelaus and Agamemnon to allow Ajax a proper funeral. 

The last lines of the play show Teucer making arrangements for his brother’s funeral.