Places: Ajax

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First transcribed: Aias, early 440’s b.c.e. (English translation, 1729)

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Tragedy

Time of work: Trojan War

Places DiscussedGreek camp

Greek Ajaxcamp. Encampment of the Greek army outside the walled city of Troy where the play opens in front of the Greek hero Ajax’s hut. His position is dangerously exposed; the location reflects both his reputation for reliability as a warrior and his political marginality. To appreciate this setting, one must understand the disposition of troops in ancient Greek war camps. Inferior in strength only to the dead Greek hero Achilles, Ajax guarded the second most vulnerable area, providing protection for the Greek ships. Since Achilles is dead when the play opens, the location of Ajax’s hut suggests that Ajax now is the preeminent warrior.

However, there are more ways than geography to judge merit. Athena, goddess of wisdom, as well as the Greek commanders Agamemnon and Menelaus, believe that clever Odysseus is more deserving than Ajax of being awarded the fallen Achilles’ armor. Feeling affronted, Ajax sets out to kill those who have slighted him, and his hut becomes both the location of his mad acts and a visual reminder of his disastrous intent. Colored by what can be learned through dialogue about Ajax’s actions there, the site becomes an encapsulation of the plot: Ajax’s physical preeminence, the affront to him, and his madness in mistaking cattle for humans and dragging them into the hut to torture and kill them.

Wooded area

Wooded area. The second setting is the area to which Ajax, sane again and shamed by his mad assault upon animals instead of enemies, withdraws to commit suicide. The remoteness of the site reflects Ajax’s isolation from his former comrades and his desolation. Other characters enter the area only after he dies, and his corpse then functions as part of the setting, silently testifying to the issue that confronts survivors: Should the former hero be honored with burial, or should he be abandoned in this desolate terrain to become carrion for wild dogs and vultures? In the end, the traditional belief in honoring the dead triumphs, promoted by the noble Odysseus. Under the direction of Teucer, the dead man’s brother, Ajax receives a hero’s burial at the site.

BibliographyBryn Mawr Classical Review 44 (August, 2008).Kirkwood, Gordon MacDonald. A Study of Sophoclean Drama. Vol. 31 in Cornell Studies in Classical Philology. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1958. Analyzes Sophocles’ structures and methods of dramatic composition. Compares the plays of Sophocles. Focuses on the characters, irony, illustrative forms, use of diction, and oracles in each. Excellent coverage of Ajax.The Nation 287, no. 3 (July 21, 2008): 41-44.Publishers Weekly 255, no. 20 (May 19, 2008): 37.Scodel, Ruth. Sophocles. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Focuses on the historical and mythological significance of the character Ajax. Discusses the plot and compares it to Homer’s Iliad. Includes information on Sophocles’ seven plays. Includes a chronology of Sophocles’ life, a bibliography, and an index.Seale, David. Vision and Stagecraft in Sophocles. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. An excellent starting point. Distinguishes Sophocles from other playwrights of his time and demonstrates his influence on later ones. Considers the theatrical technicalities in many Sophoclean plays, including Ajax. Includes an extended explanation and notes regarding Ajax.Segal, Charles. Tragedy and Civilization: An Interpretation of Sophocles. Cambridge, Mass.: Published for Oberlin College by Harvard University Press, 1981. Compares Ajax to the other plays by Sophocles in terms of structure and theme. Traces and explains the plot.Woodard, Thomas, ed. Sophocles: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966. A collection of essays, including writings by Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Virginia Woolf. Draws connections between Ajax and later literary works.
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