The problem of individual versus group prerogative is masterfully presented in this play. One finds it tempting to sympathize with Ajax for his devotion to his consort and his son, the love and admiration he commands from his followers, and the courage he displays before the walls of Troy. It is inevitable, however, that his ungovernable pride should bring about his ruin. His downfall is one of the most touching and disturbing in literature.
Ajax is considered the earliest of Sophocles’ plays that have survived, first produced about 442 b.c.e. The playwright was in his middle fifties at that time and had already had a successful dramatic career of about twenty-five years. Thus Ajax was the work of a fully mature writer, and one who had considered life deeply. Whatever problem the play may present structurally, its strengths are remarkable.
Sophocles is the most accomplished poet among the three great Athenian dramatists. His style is marked by smoothness, simplicity, and clarity. It is at once beautiful and lofty, and it has an august dignity that Aeschylus and Euripides could not equal. With Sophocles, even the most intense passions are revealed in a stately, logical, well-polished manner that can be surprisingly moving. For all the formality of his poetry, it never impresses one as being artificial. He created the classical style of writing, and he remains unsurpassed in it.
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