32. Ajax, by Sophocles (440 BC)

Plot : Back to the aftermath of the Iliad, and Achilles has died from an arrow in the heel. Ajax and Odysseus both claim his armour, and after days of tied competition, Odysseus’s smooth tongued rhetoric wins him the booty. Ajax in a fit of rage sets out to kill Odysseus, Agamemnon and Menelaus, but Athena intervenes and tricks Ajax into slaughtering sheep and cattle instead. Embarrassed by his actions, Ajax falls on the sword he took from Hector. Agamemnon and Menelaus give orders to leave the body on the sands for the seagulls to pick apart, but Teucer his brother, and surprisingly Odysseus, defend Ajax’s right to a proper burial.
My copy is the Penguin edition covering Sophocles’ plays Ajax, Electra, Women of Trachis and Philoctetes, translated by E. F. Watling (ISBN 0140440283)

My thoughts: Once again, Sophocles bases his story on the conflict between two parties arguing over the fate of the dead body of a once respected soldier now held in contempt for his ‘treasonous’ actions.
While the scale of Tragedy did not match that of Antigone, I was most impressed with Odysseus’ defense of his ‘enemy’ and his stand taken in front of Agamemnon.

Diversions/digressions: I thought back to the Iliad to see if the enmity between Ajax and Odysseus was evident. I didn’t remember any rancour, so perhaps the feud between them only arose over the possession of Achilles’ armour after those events. I remember being impressed by Homer’s depiction of Greater Ajax and had him marked down as a valiant and honest fighter, so was surprised by his treatment and fate in this play.  Apparently Ajax had been boastful of his spurning of any aid from the Gods, so he had brought this calamity down on himself.

Personal rating: 6/10

Next : Alcestis, by Euripides.

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