Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 955 words.)
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Scene I Summary
The play opens with Athena telling Odysseus that Ajax slaughtered all the captured sheep and cows during the previous night because Odysseus was given the shield of Achilles, an honor Ajax felt he deserved instead. Athena explains that she cast a spell over Ajax so that he thought the animals were Greek warriors; Ajax thought he was killing his fellow soldiers. Meanwhile, Ajax has recovered his wits and is shocked and ashamed at his actions.
The Chorus enters and underscores how low this great warrior has been brought by fate and the actions of the gods. Tecmessa, Ajax’s captive and the mother of his child, enters and relates the details surrounding Ajax’s attack on the sheep. She also tells of his profound grief and pain when he realized what he had done.
In a lengthy monologue, Ajax bemoans his family honor. He contends that he deserved the honor of Achilles’s arms. Instead, the prize unfairly went to Odysseus. Ajax’s grief derives not from his homicidal impulse to kill Agamemnon or Odysseus, but that Athena fooled him into killing sheep. Worse, he believes that the other warriors are laughing at him.
Ajax speaks of suicide, and Tecmessa argues that he must not kill himself. She maintains that she needs him and so does his son. She also points to his mother’s grief and his father’s love, and Ajax responds by asking that...
(The entire section is 385 words.)
Scene II Summary
Ajax enters, alone. He puts his sword in the sand, hilt first, and asks Zeus to send messengers to inform his brother of his death. Ajax is afraid that his enemies will learn of his death first and his body will be desecrated. Ajax also asks that his death be avenged, and after expressing concern for his mother and father, Ajax falls upon his sword and commits suicide.
The Chorus enters, looking for Ajax, but Tecmessa finds him and emits a loud wailing sound of grief. The Chorus and Tecmessa lament for Ajax’s life, now lost. Teucer enters and he, too, is grief-stricken at his brother’s death. Teucer orders that his nephew be brought so that he can be protected from Ajax’s enemies, who might seek to harm the child. Teucer expresses concern that their father will blame him for having allowed Ajax to die in such a manner.
Menelaus enters and orders that Ajax’s body be left to rot where it fell and that no honor be given to the warrior in death. Menelaus decrees that Ajax’s rotting body will serve as a lesson to any soldier who thinks to raise a hand against him. The Chorus warns that there must be respect for the dead, but Teucer interrupts in anger and reminds Menelaus that he had no authority over Ajax when he was alive and certainly not when he is dead. Teucer will bury his brother because the law of the gods demands it.
(The entire section is 314 words.)