Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 567
Ajax (AY-jaks), the son of Telamon and, excepting Achilles, the strongest and bravest of the Greeks who fought to win Troy. After Achilles was killed, his armor was claimed both by Ajax and by Odysseus; on the testimony of Trojan prisoners that Odysseus had been the more formidable foe, the Greeks awarded the coveted armor to him. Enraged and envious, Ajax left his tent by night, stealthily, to kill not only Odysseus but Agamemnon and Menelaus as well. The goddess Athena cast a madness upon him so that, thinking them Greek leaders, he massacred the flocks and herds. The play begins when Ajax is at the height of his delirium. After the fit has passed, he is seen to be immoderate and proud, but at the same time he commands sympathy not only because of his greatness of spirit but also because he has been, however deservedly, the victim of Athena’s terrible wrath. His magnificent sense of personal honor demands that his scheme be eradicated by suicide, an action he carries out in spite of the pleas of Tecmessa and the Chorus. He is a man of such colossal inner strength, nobility, and self-sufficiency that he is not only alienated from his fellow men but also brought into conflict with the gods themselves.
Odysseus (oh-DIH-see-uhs), a resourceful leader of the Greeks at Troy. Ingenious in action and skillful in speech, he is a foil to Ajax. Whereas Ajax is the type of the hero, Odysseus is the type of the enlightened, reasonable man. Although he is an enemy of Ajax, he is horrified when Athena shows him the hero insanely torturing the animals. After the suicide of Ajax, Odysseus persuades Agamemnon to let Teucer give his corpse an honorable burial and, having befriended Teucer, nobly offers to assist at the funeral. While Ajax was alive, he and Odysseus had been at cross purposes, but after Ajax’s death, Odysseus justly pays tribute of respect to the dead hero’s greatness.
Teucer (TEW-sur), an archer, the son of Telamon and a captive princess. He is a half brother of Ajax. He is absent on a raid during Ajax’s madness and subsequent suicide. On his return to the Greek camp, he is first taunted by enemies of Ajax because of his brother’s shame and then warned by Calchas, the seer, that Ajax’s safety depends on his remaining within his tent for the rest of the day. By the time Teucer reaches Ajax’s tent, the hero has left for the scene where his suicide occurs. There is evidently a deep measure of trust and devotion between the brothers. Defying both Menelaus and Agamemnon, Teucer insists that Ajax be buried properly.
Tecmessa (tehk-MEE-sah), a captive, the devoted concubine of Ajax and mother of his son Eurysaces.
Menelaus (mehn-eh-LAY-uhs), the king of Sparta and the deserted husband of Helen. He is pictured as blustering and pusillanimous, eager to defame his dead enemy Ajax by forbidding burial and leaving his body to scavengers.
Agamemnon (ah-geh-MEHM-non), the commander in chief of the Greek forces and brother of Menelaus. When he denies permission to bury Ajax, Teucer defies him. He at last permits the funeral, quite ungraciously, after the intervention of Odysseus.
Eurysaces (ew-RIH-seh-seez), the young son of Ajax and Tecmessa, who receives his father’s great shield from Ajax’s own hand.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 127
A courageous Greek warrior, Ajax feels that he has been disrespected when he is passed over for the shield of Achilles. In his grief and disappointment he tries to sneak into the tents of the other Greek warriors and slay them. Casting a spell, Athena causes him to think that he has captured Odysseus and that he will torture him, but in reality he has killed sheep and cattle. When the spell wears off and he recovers his wits, Ajax is deeply shamed and kills himself to save face and family honor.
It becomes clear that the gods are punishing Ajax because he has rejected their help. When Athena attempted to help Ajax during battle, he rebuffed her, stating that the gods should help lesser men.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 560
Agamemnon is a great Greek warrior. He appears after Ajax’s suicide to support Menelaus’s decree that Ajax not be buried. He and Teucer argue bitterly, and he also argues with Odysseus. Finally out of friendship with Odysseus, Agamemnon permits Ajax to be buried.
The daughter of the god Zeus, Athena is the goddess of war. It is she who creates the illusion that Ajax is killing Agamemnon and Menelaus; in reality, he is slaying sheep and cattle. She is punishing Ajax for his rejection of her help.
The Chorus sings sections of the play. Their purpose is to explain events or actions and to provide commentary on the events that are occurring. During their first appearance they blame the gods for having brought such a great warrior— Ajax—so low.
Comprised of Ajax’s soldiers, the Chorus laments his death and sympathizes with Tecmessa’s grief. When Menelaus and Agamemnon refuse Ajax’s burial, the Chorus reminds them of the gods’ insistence on observing the proper burial rights. They also provide the voice of reason and compromise.
The son of Ajax and Tecmessa, Eurysaces is a small child. He is taken to Ajax in an emotional farewell scene and again to help prepare his father’s body for burial.
Another great Athenian warrior, Menelaus appears after Ajax dies and refuses permission to have him buried. He argues with Teucer until he finally leaves to get Agamemnon’s help.
Odysseus is a great warrior. He is given the arms of Achilles, much to Ajax’s chagrin. When Ajax’s murder of the sheep is revealed, Odysseus is initially angry; yet when he learns that Ajax has lost his mind, he feels great pity for him.
When Agamemnon refuses to allow Ajax’s burial, Odysseus is the calm voice of reason who reminds those present that Ajax was a great warrior and that he deserves to be honored with a proper burial. Odysseus emerges as a strong, thoughtful leader.
The unnamed soldier brings news of Teucer’s arrival as well as the prophet’s warning.
Tecmessa is Ajax’s Phrygian captive and the mother of his son. She loves him very much and grieves at the madness that has overtaken him. It is Tecmessa who describes to the Chorus and the listening audience the details of Ajax’s madness during the night. She begs Ajax not to kill himself, pointing out that her future will be at great risk. After his suicide, she is the one who finds Ajax’s body.
Teucer is Ajax’s brother. As he rides into camp he is insulted and attacked by soldiers who call his brother a madman. He learns from a prophet that if Ajax remains inside until nightfall, Athena’s rage will end and Ajax will live; in a panic, he sends a soldier ahead to warn Ajax in an attempt to save his brother’s life.
Teucer grieves for his brother and is concerned that his father will blame him for his brother’s death. He also risks his own career in arguing with Menelaus and Agamemnon over the burial of Ajax. Teucer proves himself brave and honorable. When Odysseus agrees with his argument, Teucer is appreciative and thanks Odysseus for his help. He prepares his brother’s body for honorable burial.