Ajax

Ajax was the son of King Telamon and Periboea, and the half-brother of Teucer. He plays an important role, and is portrayed as a towering figure and a warrior of great courage in the Trojan War.

Parents: Telamon and Periboea
Siblings: Teucer

Ajax battling Hector. Engraving by John Flaxman, 1795.

Trojan War

He was described as fearless, strong and powerful but also with a very high level of combat intelligence. Ajax commanded his soliders wielding a huge shield made of seven cow-hides with a layer of bronze. Most notably, Ajax is not wounded in any of the battles described in the Trojan War and he is the only principal character on either side who does not receive substantial assistance from any of the gods.

Unlike Diomedes, Agamemnon and Achilles, Ajax appears as a mainly defensive warrior, instrumental in the defence of the Greek camp and ships and that of Patroclus’ body. When the Trojans are on the offensive, he is often seen covering the retreat of the Greeks.

Death

When Achilles is killed by Paris, Ajax and Odysseus fight against the Trojans to get his body and bury it with his companion, Patroclus. Ajax, with his great shield and spear, manages to recover the body and carry it to the ships, while Odysseus fights off the Trojans. 

Ajax carrying Achilles’ body. Black-figure Amphora. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

After the burial, each claims Achilles‘ magical armour, which had been forged on Mount Olympus by Hephaestus, for himself as recognition for his heroic efforts. A competition is held to determine who deserves the armour. Ajax argues that because of his strength and the fighting he has done for the Greeks, including saving the ships from Hector, he deserves the armour. However, Odysseus proves to be more eloquent, and with the aid of Athena, the council gives him the armour. Ajax becomes crazed and slaughters the Greeks’ herds of captured livestock, believing them to be his enemies through a trick of Athena. Unable to deal with this dual dishonor, he falls upon his own sword and commits suicide.

The suicide of Ajax. Etrurian red-figured calyx-krater, c. 400–350 BC.