Greek Hero Dies of Shame

Aias (Ajax the Great) came from the island of Salamis where the famous sea battle occurred during the second Persian War when the Greeks destroyed Xerxes’ fleet. Homer refers to Aias as ‘the great’ because of his size, not only taller than the average Akhaians but also broad-shouldered and powerful. He stood out in the crowd so much so King Priam spotted him from the walls of Troy:

‘Who then is this other Akhaian warrior, valiant and tall, towering above the Argives with his head and broad shoulders?’
Iliad, Book 3 Line 225

Achilles and Ajax play a board game with knucklebones on this late 6th-centurylekythos, a type of oil-storing vessel associated with funeral rites   Diosphos Painter  500 BCE  Louvre Museum courtesy of Wikipedia

Achilles and Ajax play a board game with knucklebones on this late 6th-century lekythos, a type of oil-storing vessel associated with funeral rites
Diosphos Painter, 500 BCE
Louvre Museum Courtesy of Wikipedia

He was compared to Akhilleus for being just as handsome and a skilled fighter.

‘Of the men, Aias son of Telemon was by far the best but only while Akhilleus was in a rage since he, matchless son of Peleus, was the finest man of all…’
Iliad, Book 2 Line 768

He was one of the bravest warriors on the battlefield killing many Trojans and their allies. He also fought Hektor in a single combat. The fight was eventually called off as the combatants did not appear to give ground any time soon. They exchanged gifts, ‘guest-friendship’ (xenia), a tradition which was held in high regard amongst the ancient Greeks in acknowledging hospitality.

‘With these words he (Hektor) gave Aias his silver-riveted sword, which he handed over with its scabbard and sword-belt; and at the same time Aias gave Hektor his brilliant purple belt.’
Iliad, Book 7 Line 303

Aias was regarded as one of the prominent Akhaian leaders and commanded twelve ships and warriors from Salamis. His status was such, Agamemnon asked him, along with Odysseus and Phoenix to persuade Akhilleus to re-join the fight. He was also the one who recovered Patroklos body after he was killed by Hektor.

Following the end of the war and after Akhilleus death, Aias and Odysseus fought for the dead man’s armour (Odyssey, Book 11 Lines 541-65) He lost and not a graceful loser, he planned to exact revenge. Athene stepped in and drove him mad. In later stories, while in this fugue state, Aias was said to have slaughtered sheep and in others cattle and the herdsman. Nevertheless, when he came to his senses he was over taken by remorse and killed himself with the sword gifted to him by Hektor.

The suicide of Ajax the Great. Etrurian red-figured calyx-krater,  ca. 400–350 BC. Vulci  British Museum  Courtesy of Wikipedia

The suicide of Ajax the Great. Etrurian red-figured calyx-krater
ca. 400–350 BC. Vulci
British Museum
Courtesy of Wikipedia

On the island of Salamis in 1999, archaeologist Yiannis Lolos found the remains of a Mycenaean palace believed to be the home of Aias.

Thank you for visiting and reading. As always, your comments are welcomed.
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References:
‘Ajax or Aias’, Salamis the Island
The value of hospitality

Accursed Women
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21 thoughts on “Greek Hero Dies of Shame

  1. A great post on the story of the Greek Homeric hero, Ajax, which you relate to archaeological finds and historical accounts. The photographs depicted on the artifacts adds to the retelling of this legend. Greek mythology continues to fascinate me, as the stories are often dark but there is a hidden message. In this case, it is the moral lesson of retribution exacted on those who seek revenge. Heroes have their darker sides from which we can learn about our own humanity. Thank you, Luciana, for retelling these fascinating tales.

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    • It’s what I love about Greek mythology and mythology in general, the morals and lessons are valid today.

      As always, a wonderful and insightful comment. Thank you Linnea 😀

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  2. Nice, concise. He was still pissed at Odysseus when the latter visited the underworld, and wouldn’t even look at him. Interestingly, and rarely remarked, he also saw Achilles there, who complained that he would rather be alive and a miserable thete than king of the underworld. I think O’s visit to the underworld has lots of interesting stuff that’s worth a second look. Thanks!

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    • Now there is a story in that! I do love that scene in the Odyssey. A journey into darkness 😀

      Thanks as always for your wonderful comments Mikels.

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  3. I loved the story of Ajax ´suicide… The way that Athene drove him mad whcih entrained that when he later came to his senses he was over taken by remorse and commited suicide with the sword gifted to him by Hektor.
    Again this is so classically tragic that Skakespeare would pick up these ideas centuries later…

    Thanks for the great post, Luciana,
    Best wishes, Aquileana 😛

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    • Interestingly, it’s also ties in with Herakles who was driven mad by Hera to kill his family, and the deeds he completed to atone for his actions. Wonder if Homer was inspired by that story?
      Shakespeare knew how to good tragedies!
      thanks again Aquilieana
      cheers
      Luciana 😀

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