Odysseus, chosen by Greek leaders in the Trojan War to replace the dead Achilles as the chief warrior of the Greek forces, paces up and down before the tent of Ajax, who was slighted by the selection of Odysseus. The goddess Athena, appearing above the tent, tells Odysseus that Ajax, covered with blood, is in his tent. Her words confirm Odysseus’s suspicions that it is indeed Ajax who slaughtered all of the Greeks’ livestock and their shepherd dogs. Athena explains that she cast a spell over Ajax, who, in his hurt pride, vowed to murder Menelaus and Agamemnon, the Greek commanders, as well as Odysseus. Under her spell Ajax committed the horrible slaughter in the belief that the animals he slew were the hated leaders who opposed his election to the place of the late Achilles.
When Tecmessa, Ajax’s Phrygian captive, reveals to his followers what the great warrior did, they lament his downfall and question the dark purposes of the gods. Certain that Ajax will be condemned to die for his transgressions, his warriors prepare to retire to their ships and return to Salamis, their homeland.
Ajax, recovered from the spell, emerges from his tent and clearly reveals to his friends that he is a shamed and broken man. Sick in mind at the thought of the taunts of Odysseus, he wishes only to die. Even in his abject misery, however, he is sure that had Achilles personally chosen his successor he would have named Ajax. The despairing man tries to find some means of escape from the consequences of his deed. The alternative to death is to return to Salamis and his noble father, Telamon, but he knows that he can never shame Telamon by facing him. His friends, alarmed at his deep gloom and sensing tragedy, advise him to reflect; Tecmessa urges him to live for her sake and for the sake of their little son, Eurysaces. At the mention of the name of his beloved son, Ajax calls for the boy. Solemnly he gives Eurysaces his great shield and directs that the child be taken to Salamis, so that he might grow up to avenge his father’s disgrace. After dismissing Tecmessa and his son, he remains in his tent alone to clear his troubled thoughts. His followers, meanwhile, resume their lament over their disgraced leader.
Apparently reconciled to his fate, Ajax emerges at last from his tent and declares that he is ready to recognize...
(The entire section is 955 words.)