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