Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 385
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.
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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 his son be brought to him.
After Ajax and Tecmessa leave the stage, a soldier enters and describes the arrival of Ajax’s brother, Teucer. He has entered the camp to the jeers and insults of soldiers who call him the brother of a madman. He was also warned by a prophet to keep Ajax inside all day, but he has arrived too late to prevent Ajax from leaving. The prophet has predicted that Athena’s rage will be spent by nightfall, and that unless Ajax is kept inside for the day, he will die.
The prophet asserts that humans aim too high and that men should not look to be as great as the gods. This was Ajax’s mistake, and this is why the gods are punishing him. The scene ends with Tecmessa asking that everyone go in search of Ajax and save him.