Ajax the Great

Summary

Ajax (Ancient Greek: Αἴας, Áiās) is a character from Greek mythology. He is one of the main characters in Homer”s Iliad and the Epic Cycle, that is, that group of poems that narrate the events of the Trojan War and those related to this conflict.

To distinguish him from his namesake Ajax of Oileo, he is called by the patronymic “Telamonius” (meaning son of Telamon) or even “Ajax the Greater.”

The son of Telamon, he married Tecmessa, who made him the father of Eurysace.

The portrait

In the Iliad, Ajax is described as the tallest of the Achaeans, endowed with a sturdy build, second only to his cousin Achilles in strength in fights; he is judged a genuine pillar of the Greek army. It is said that shortly before the hero”s birth, Heracles, a great friend of Ajax”s father, had found him at Salamis feasting with his friends. The hero was immediately offered a golden cup of wine in his hands, and his friend invited him to libare to his father Zeus. Heracles, who had seen that the child”s mother, Peribea, was about to give birth, after libating stretched out his arms to heaven and prayed to his father thus, “O Father, grant Telamon a splendid son, with skin as tough as a lion”s and equivalent courage!”

He was educated by the centaur Chiron, who had also been the tutor of his father Telamon, Achilles” father Peleus, and Achilles himself. After his cousin, Ajax was the most valiant warrior in the army led by Agamemnon, although he was not endowed with the same sagacity as Nestor, Idomeneus, and, of course, Odysseus.

He stood at the head of his soldiers, carrying a broad bronze shield covered with seven layers of ox hide. He emerged unscathed from all the battles described in the Iliad and is the only one among the poem”s protagonists to never resort to the help of one of the gods deployed on the side of the warring parties. He is the very embodiment of the virtues of constancy in commitments and perseverance.

In the Trojan War

In the Iliad, Ajax performs many valiant feats. In the fourth book he strikes the young Trojan warrior Symesius with his spear, causing his death. He then demonstrates his courage in duels against Hector. In the seventh book, Ajax is drawn to clash with Hector and thus disputes a duel that lasts almost a whole day. At first he seems to succeed and manages to injure Hector with his spear and throw him to the ground, hitting him with a large stone, but then Hector recovers and the fight continues until the heralds, on Zeus”s orders, rule that the fight is even: the two men exchange gifts as a sign of respect.

The second duel between Ajax and Hector occurs when the Trojan violently enters the Achaean camp and confronts the Greeks in the midst of their ships. Ajax hurls a large stone at Hector, which nearly kills him. In Book XV, Apollo heals Hector and restores his strength. Thus, the latter returns to the attack. Ajax, meanwhile, manages to hold off the Trojan army virtually single-handedly. In the next book, Hector disarms Ajax, although he has not wounded him, and the latter is forced to retreat, while the Trojans set fire to one of the ships. Ajax, however, before Hector sharply chops off the tip of his shaft and before the fire broke out on Protesilaus” ship, reacted to the act of setting fire to his ships by killing many enemy warriors, including the lord of Phrygia, Phorcius, who was allied with the Trojans.

Because of his quarrel with Agamemnon, Achilles does not participate in these fights. In Book IX, Agamemnon and the other Achaean leaders send Ajax, Odysseus, and Phoenix to Achilles” tent to persuade him to return to battle. Although Ajax does his best, the mission fails. During the Trojan assault on the Greek ships, Achilles” cousin Patroclus (who had tried to impersonate him to give the Greeks courage) is killed by Hector, who tries to take his corpse and feed it to the dogs. Ajax, along with Menelaus, fights hard to prevent him from doing so and eventually brings the body back in a chariot to the camp and delivers it to Achilles, who, furious with grief, decides to return to battle. His return will give the war a major turning point.

Ajax Telamonius prepared to counterattack the Trojans, when the latter, led by Queen Penthesilea and the Amazons, advanced on the battlefield, filling the plain with corpses. Grazed by a dart from Penthesilea, which had barely nicked his helmet, the hero renounced confrontation with the woman, judging such easy prey worthy of his cousin. Achilles, after killing Hector in a duel to avenge Patroclus, later fell slain at the hands of Paris: Ajax and Odysseus fought against the Trojans to snatch from them the body of the fallen hero. Ajax, swinging his immense axe, takes care of keeping the Trojans away, while Odysseus loads Achilles onto his chariot and carries him away.

During this battle, Ajax performs bloody prodigies by slaughtering Glaucus, son of Hippolocus and Lycian ruler, and seriously wounding Aeneas and Paris. After the funeral ceremony, both heroes claim the right to keep Achilles” weapons for themselves in recognition of their valor: in the end, after some argument, it is Odysseus who wins the day, and Ajax, blinded by grief, decides to take revenge on those responsible for the verdict that very evening.

When he woke up, maddened by a spell cast on him by Athena, he threw himself at a flock of sheep and slaughtered them, believing he was killing the Atrides, namely Agamemnon and Menelaus.

Coming to his senses, he sees himself covered in blood and realizes what he has actually done: having lost his honor in this way, he would rather commit suicide than continue living in shame. He throws himself on the sword that Hector had given him at the conclusion of their duel. From the soil soaked in his blood sprouts a red flower (as had also happened at the time of Hyacinth”s death), bearing on its leaves the letters Ai, which represented both the initials of his name and the sorrow of the world for his loss. His ashes were laid to rest on the promontory Reteo, at the entrance to the Hellespont.

This account of Ajax”s death can be found in the tragedy Ajax, written by Sophocles, in Pindar”s Nemées, in Ovid”s The Metamorphoses, and in Foscolo”s tragedy Ajax in which the hero embodies the ideal of rebellion against the tyrant, while Homer, in the Odyssey, keeps vague, reporting only that his death occurred because of Achilles” arms dispute: during his journey to Hades, Odysseus encountered Ajax”s shadow and begged him to speak to it, but Ajax, still resentful of him, refused and returned silently to Heraebo; a second hypothesis states that, as had happened with Achilles, Ajax in Hades changed his nature: from a warrior to a simple man, so Ajax may have forgiven Odysseus, but, not having drunk the blood necessary for the shadows of Hades to speak (see Tiresias), he did not speak. But what Ajax and Odysseus do not know is that Achilles” weapons, which Odysseus now no longer possesses, were brought to Ajax”s tomb while the two were talking in Hades.

Family

Ajax was the son of Telamon, who in turn was the son of Aeacus and grandson of Zeus and his first wife, Peribea. He was also cousin of Achilles, the strongest and most famous of the Greek heroes, and half-brother of Teucer. His wife was Tecmessa, a Phrygian concubine. Many distinguished Athenians, including Cimon, Milziades, Alcibiades and the historian Thucydides claimed to be descendants of Ajax. In Italy, too, the cult of Ajax as the mythical ancestor of various families was widespread. Scholar Maggiani recently showed how an Etruscan tomb dedicated to Racvi Satlnei in Bologna (5th century B.C.) bears the expression ”aivastelmunsl = of the lineage of Ajax Telamonius,” along with a depiction of Ajax”s suicide, as the heraldic insignia of the Etruscan Satlna family.

The palace of Ajax

In 2001, archaeologist Yannos Lolos began excavations in the ruins of an ancient Mycenaean palace on the island of Salamis, which is thought to have been the palace of Ajax. The ruins were unearthed near the village of Kanakia of Salamis, a few kilometers off the coast of Athens. The structure covers an area of 750 m² and consists of about 30 rooms. It appears to have been abandoned around the time of the Trojan War and The site on which it stands coincides with that already known to the much later geographer Strabo.

Victims of Ajax Telamonius

During the war, Ajax killed many warriors including:

Modern

Sources

  1. Aiace Telamonio
  2. Ajax the Great
  3. ^ Inscription on the so-called Eurytios Krater, a Corinthian black-figured column-krater dated c. 600 BC, using the Corinthian iota shaped like Σ.
  4. ^ a b (EN) Apollodoro, Biblioteca III, 12.6 e 7, su theoi.com. URL consultato il 29 giugno 2019.
  5. ^ È uno degli attacchi più pericolosi sferrati dai troiani, che per poco non cambia le sorti della guerra.
  6. ^ Pausania, I 35,4.
  7. Homer, Ilias 3,226–227
  8. Jean Haudry, Achille et Patrocle, Collection de l”Institut des Sciences et Techniques de l”Antiquité, Année 1992, 460, pp. 33-55
  9. Flacelière 1993
  10. a et b Traduction de l’Iliade par Paul Mazon, édition des Belles Lettres, 1937–1938.
  11. Homère, Iliade [détail des éditions] [lire en ligne], III, 226-227.
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