Ajax the Great Hero of the Trojan war

Ajax also called “Ajax the Great”is a mythical hero who plays an important role in the Iliad and the Epic Cycle and is described as a towering and courageous warrior, second only to Achilles among Greek war heroes. Ajax was the son of Perivoia and Telamon, who was the son of Aiacus and the grandson of Zeus. Through his uncle Peleus (brother of Telamon) he is a cousin of Achilles and a half-brother of Teukros. Its name comes from the root αἰάζω = to mourn.

However, Hesiod in his work “Great Hoiai” mentions a story according to which Hercules, while celebrating with his friend Telamon, king of Salamis, prayed to Zeus that Telamon would have a brave son and immediately an eagle appeared. Later, the child was born, who was named Ajax after the Eagle, as Heracles had requested. Many prominent Athenians, including Cimon, Miltiades, Alcibiades and the historian Thucydides, trace their origins to Ajax.

ajaxIn the account of the Trojan priest Darius the Phrygian, Ajax is mentioned as powerful. His voice was clear, his hair black and curly. He was absolutely solitary and relentless in battle.” Meanwhile, in the Iliad he is described as large, with a colossal body and the strongest of all the Achaeans.

Known as “the bulwark of the Achaeans”, he was trained by the centaur Chiron (who had trained Ajax’ father Telamon and Achilles’ father Peleus and later died in an accident caused by Herakles, whom he was training at the time) the same era with Achilles.

He was characterized as fearless, strong and powerful but also with a very high combat intelligence. Ajax commands his army holding a huge shield made of seven cowhides with a layer of copper. Most notably, he is not injured in any of the battles described in the Iliad and is the only character on either side who takes part in the battles and has no real help from any gods (except Agamemnon) although in book 13, Poseidon strikes him Aianda with his staff, renewing his strength.

In contrast to Diomedes, Agamemnon and Achilles, Ajax appears as a defensive warrior, contributing to the defense of the Greek camp and the ships and body of Patroclus. When the Trojans are on the attack, they often seem to cover the retreat of the Achaeans.
It is emphasized that throughout the saga while he is one of the deadliest heroes, Aedas is not seen attacking.

Ajax in the Trojan War

In the Iliad, Ajax stands out for his inexhaustible strength and courage, which was particularly evident in two duels with Hector. In book 7, he is chosen by lot to face Hector in a duel that lasted almost an entire day. Ajax at first gains the advantage, wounding Hector with his spear and striking him with a large stone, but Hector continues to fight until the heralds Idaeus and Talthybius, acting on the instructions of Zeus, announce a draw, with the two combatants to exchange gifts, where Ajax gives Hector a purple girdle and Hector gives Aiatus his sharp sword.

The second battle between Ajax and Hector occurs when the latter invades the Mycenaean camp and fights the Greeks among the ships. In book 14, Ajax throws a giant rock at Hector and nearly kills him. In book 15, Hector regains his power from Apollo and returns to attack the ships.

Ajax, wielding a huge spear as a weapon and leaping from ship to ship, holds off the Trojans almost single-handedly. In book 16, Hector and Ajax duel once again. Hector then disarms Ajax and he is forced to retreat, seeing that Zeus clearly favors Hector.

Hector and the Trojans in the climax of an attack manage to burn a Greek ship, which almost ends the war. Aeas was responsible for the death of several Trojan lords, including Phorcy of Phrygia.Ajax often fought alongside his brother Teucros, known for his skill with the bow. Ajax held his famous shield, while Teucros covered his back.

Achilles was absent from these battles because of his feud with Agamemnon. In book 9 of the Iliad, Agamemnon and the other Mycenaean leaders sent Ajax Odysseus and Phoenicus in Achilles’ tent in an attempt to reconcile with the great warrior and induce him to return to war. Although Ajax speaks honestly and is accepted, he fails to convince Achilles.

When Patroclus is killed, Hector tries to steal his body. Ajax, aided by Menelaus, manages to fight the Trojans and take the body back in his chariot. However, the Trojans have already stripped Patroclus of Achilles’ armor. It is proverbial that Ajax prays to Zeus to remove the fog that has descended on the battle to enable them to fight or die in daylight. According to Hyginus, Ajax killed a total of 28 Trojans.

Death of Ajax

Towards the end of the Iliad, Ajax and most of the Greeks are alive. When Achilles dies, killed by Paris (with the help of Apollo) Ajax and Odysseus are the heroes who fight against the Trojans to take his body and bury it with Patroclus. Ajax, with his large shield and spear, manages to recover Achilles’ body and transport it to the ships, while Odysseus fights the Trojans.

After the burial, each claims for himself the armor of Achilles, forged on Olympus by the god Hephaestus, in recognition of their heroic efforts. A consultation is held to determine who is worthy of the armor. Ajax argues that he is entitled to the armor because of his strength and the battles he fought for the Greeks, including saving the ships from Hector when he hurled a huge rock at him.

However, Odysseus proves more eloquent and with the help of Athena, convinces the council to give him the armor. Ajax, distressed by the result, kills himself by plunging his sword into his chest. In the Little Iliad, Ajax becomes enraged at Odysseus’ victory and slaughters the herds of the Greeks. When he comes to, he kills himself in shame. The Belvedere Corpus, a marble human torso in the Vatican Museums, is thought to depict Hades “contemplating his suicide”.

In Sophocles’ play Ajax, after the armor is awarded to Odysseus, Ajax feels so insulted that he wants to kill Agamemnon and Menelaus. Athena intervenes by clouding his mind and he goes to a flock of sheep and slaughters them, mistaking them for the Achaean leaders, including Odysseus and Agamemnon.

When he comes to, covered in blood, he realizes that what he has done has diminished his honor and decides to kill himself rather than live in shame. He does so with the sword Hector gave him when they exchanged gifts. From his blood sprang a red flower, as at the death of Hyacinthus, which bore on its leaves the initial letters of Ai’s name, also expressive of mourning. His ashes were deposited in a golden urn at Cape Roiteio at the entrance to the Hellespont.

Aiades’ half-brother, Teucros, was put on trial before his father for not bringing back Aiades’ body or famous weapons. Tevkros was acquitted of liability, but found guilty of negligence. His father disowned him and he was not allowed to return to Salamis.

Homer is somewhat vague about the exact manner of Ajax’ death, but attributes it to the dispute over Achilles’ armor. When Odysseus visits Hades, he begs the soul of Hades to speak to him, but he angrily refuses and descends silently back to Erebus.

Like Achilles, he is represented (not by Homer) as living after his death on the island of Lefki at the mouth of the Danube. Ajax, who in post-Homeric myth is described as the grandson of Aiacus and great-grandson of Zeus, was the hero of Salamis, where he had a temple and an icon and in his honor the Aianteia were celebrated during which a table was set up where the hero’s armor was placed.

The identification of Aiatus with the Aeacus family was a matter of concern to the Athenians after Salamis came into their possession, so Solon is said to have inserted a verse in the Iliad (2.557–558) to support the Athenian claim to the island. Since then Ajax became a hero of Attica, he was worshiped in Athens, where he had a statue in the market place and the Aiandis tribe was named after him. Pausanias mentions that a gigantic skeleton appeared on the beach near Sigium, on the Trojan coast, with a kneecap 13 cm in diameter, the bones of which were identified as those of Ajax.

In Salamis, and specifically at the site of Kanakia, a multi-year archaeological investigation discovered the remains of an ancient building complex estimated at the 13th to 12th century BC. and coincides with the Mycenaean era in which Ajax lived. If we assume that this is a real historical person, then this building must have been the palace of Ajax.

Legacy and Influence on Modern Culture

Ajax, has left a lasting legacy that continues to influence modern culture. From his incredible feats on the battlefield to his tragic downfall, Ajax’s story captivates audiences and serves as a reminder of the complexities of human nature.

Throughout history, Ajax has been portrayed in various forms of art and literature, showcasing his strength and resilience. His character is often used as a symbol of courage, loyalty, and honor. In contemporary times, references to Ajax can be found in popular culture such as movies, books, and even video games.

Despite his flaws and ultimate demise, Ajax remains a revered figure whose legend lives on through storytelling and artistic interpretations. His tale serves as a timeless reminder of the consequences of unchecked pride and the importance of humility.

In essence, Ajax’s impact transcends ancient mythology to resonate with audiences today, serving as a testament to the enduring power of storytelling and its ability to shape our understanding of human nature.