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.
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...
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