Who was Ajax? - The Iliad
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Who was Ajax?

Achilles and Ajax
Ajax carrying the dead Achilles

January 2017 - Ajax was one of the great heroes of the Trojan War. He was the king of Salamis, near Athens. Homer says Ajax was a very big and strong man. Only his cousin Achilles, who he had gone to school with, was a better fighter. When Achilles was killed, Ajax rescued his body.

Ajax suicide
Ajax kills himself (Vase by Exekias, ca. 540 BC)

But afterwards, since he had gotten Achilles' body, Ajax thought he should get Achilles' armor as a reward. When the Greeks decided to give the armor to Odysseus instead, Ajax went crazy and killed a whole flock of sheep, thinking they were Greeks. Ajax thought he was killing Odysseus and Agamemnon.

When Ajax realized what he had done, he was so ashamed that he killed himself by fixing his sword upright in the ground and then throwing himself on it. Even later on, when Odysseus visited the underworld, Ajax's ghost was so ashamed that he wouldn't speak to Odysseus.

Learn by doing: make a Greek shield
More about the Iliad

Bibliography and further reading about Ajax:

The Iliad of Homer (Oxford Myths and Legends), by Barbara Leonie Picard. A retelling of the story.

The Iliad (Penguin Classics) by Homer. Translated by Robert Fagles. A great translation!

Approaches to Teaching Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, by Kostas Myrsiades (1987).

A summary of the Iliad
Ancient Greece
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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