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Ajax 1
Αἴας

Ajax 1. 0220: Reflecting Ajax. Reconstruction from plaster cast. Glyptothek, München.

"I am newly aware that an enemy is to be hated only as far as suits one who will in turn become a friend. Similarly to a friend I would wish to give only so much help and service as suits him who will not forever remain friendly." (Ajax 1. Sophocles, Ajax 680).

"… to no man would great Telamonian Ajax yield, to any man that is mortal, and eats the grain of Demeter, and may be cloven with the bronze or crushed with great stones. Nay, not even to Achilles, breaker of the ranks of men, would he give way, in close fight at least; but in fleetness of foot may no man vie with Achilles." (Idomeneus 1 to Meriones. Iliad 13.320).


Ajax 1 was one of the SUITORS OF HELEN, and prominent among the ACHAEAN LEADERS, second only to Achilles. He was son of Telamon, and therefore called "Telamonian", and also "great", to distinguish him from the other Ajax (Ajax 2), the "little", the Locrian, the son of Oileus 1. Ajax 1 was sturdy and broad-shouldered, bigger than anyone in the Achaean host. That is why King Priam 1, seeing him from the walls of Troy, asked Helen:

"Who then is this other Achaean warrior, valiant and tall, towering above the Argives with his head and broad shoulders?" (Iliad 3.225).

And he was a handsome man too, for it is said that "… in comeliness and in deeds of war (Ajax) was above all the other Danaans next to the peerless son of Peleus" (Iliad 17.279), words which also Odysseus confirms when he meets him in the Underworld (Odyssey 11.550).

Ajax 1 used to fight in a team with the "little" Ajax, or with his brother Teucer 1, the best archer in the Achaean army who used to take his stand beneath his shield (Iliad 8.266). The shield Ajax 1 used in battle ("a shield of bronze with sevenfold bull's-hide"—Il.7.220) had been made by Tychius, a man from Hyle (Boeotia). He had used seven hides of bulls, and thereover had wrought an eighth layer of bronze. It was an excellent weapon. However, he lost his mind when he could not get the weapons of Achilles. And then again, even the enemy regarded him as a great man both in stature and wisdom:

"Ajax, seeing God gave thee stature and might, aye, and wisdom, and with thy spear thou art pre-eminent above all the Achaeans, let us now cease from battle and strife for this day; hereafter shall we fight again until God judge between us, and give victory to one side or the other." (Hector 1 to Ajax 1. Iliad 7.288).

He died by his own hand before the fall of Troy, and kept his resentment even after death.

Omen

As Heracles 1 feasted with his friend Telamon, king of Salamis (the island off the coast of Attica in the Saronic Gulf), he prayed to Zeus that Telamon may have a brave son, and having thus spoken, an eagle (aietós) appeared. Later, a child was born, being named Ajax (Aías) after the bird, as Heracles 1 had suggested:

"Telamon, you will have the son that you ask for. Name him after the bird that appeared: wide-ruling Aias, awesome in the war-toils of the people." (Pin.Isth.6.51).

Heracles 1 also prayed for invulnerability ("May he have a body as invulnerable as this skin that is now wrapped around me …"). In vain, for Ajax 1 did die. But his strength became proverbial:

"For I was well aware that he was more proof against money on every side than Ajax against a spear." (Plato, Symposium 219 E).

Still, Plato's translator (W.R.M. Lamb) believes those words allude to Ajax's shield and not to Ajax himself. He refers to Pindar, Isth.5.45 (where it is question of the man's invulnerability), and to Sophocles' Ajax 576, where Ajax 1 gives the shield to his son and indeed calls it "spear-proof". Later myths (see Roscher, Lex. 1.122) tended to regard Ajax as invulnerable in certain parts of the body (shoulder, hip, collar bone). But during a fight between Ajax 1 and Diomedes 2, the Achaeans feared for the life of Ajax 1 as "… Tydeus' son over the great shield sought ever to reach the neck with the point of his shining spearware." (Iliad 23.820)

Leader against Troy

As a young man Ajax 1 is found among the SUITORS OF HELEN, which means he was bound by The Oath of Tyndareus—a defence pact that forced the whole of Hellas to go to war. When war came and a fleet sailed against Troy, Ajax 1 became (along with his half brother—the bastard son of Telamon, Teucer 1) leader of the Salaminians. He contributed with twelve ships to the Achaean fleet (see ACHAEAN LEADERS, to compare with other contributions). Teucer 1 was the son of Telamon by Hesione 2, a Trojan princess captured by the same Telamon and Heracles 1 during their own expedition against Troy (years before the Trojan War).

During the initial phase of the war, Ajax 1 sacked the city of King Teleutas, where he captured the latter's daughter, turning her into his own wife once he had murdered her father (Dictys 2.18), or as she prefers to say:

"I was the daughter of a free-born father mighty in wealth, if any Phrygian was. Now I am a slave, for somehow the gods so ordained..." (Tecmessa 1 in Sophocles, Ajax 486).

This was followed by other campaigns of Ajax 1 in Phrygia (Dictys 2.41), some of them in conjunction with Neoptolemus, "who honored him in place of his father" (4.17).

Slain by Ajax 1
During the war Ajax 1 killed many warriors, among which:

Acamas 2

A Thracian son of Eusorus, in whose shape Ares had previously exhorted the Trojans (Hom.Il.6.5ff.).

Aganippus

(QS.3.230).

Agelaus 11

Son of Maeon 3 (QS.3.229).

Agestratus

(QS.3.230).

Amphius 2

The rich owner of cornfields, whom Fate made serve as an ally to Priam 1 (Hom.Il.5.612).

Archelochus

A Dardanian leader serving in the same company as Aeneas and Acamas 3. He was son of Antenor 1 (Hom.Il.5.70, 12.100, 14.465ff.; Apd.Ep.3.34ff.).

Caletor 2

The son of Clytius 5, one of the Elders of Troy and son of King Laomedon 1. (Hom.Il.15.419).
Deiochus 2 (QS.1.529ff.).

Doryclus 1

son of Priam 1 (Apd.3.12.5; Hyg.Fab.90; Hom.Il.11.489).

Enyeus 2

(QS.1.529ff.).

Epicles

A comrade of Sarpedon 1, the king of Lycia (Hom.Il.12.379).

Erymas 4

(QS.3.231).

Eurynomus 6

(QS.1.529ff.).

Glaucus 3

The Lycian leader, remembered for having exchanged his golden armour for that of Diomedes 2, which was made of bronze (Hom.Il.6.232; Apd.Ep.3.34ff.; QS.3.278; Hdt.1.147).

Hippothous 5

The Pelasgian leader (Apd.Ep.3.34ff, Hom.Il.2.840, 17.288ff.).

Hyllus 5

(QS.1.529ff.).

Hyrtius

Leader of the Mysians and son of Gyrtius (Hom.Il.14.511ff.).

Laodamas 3

Son of Antenor 1 (Hom.Il.15.516).

Lysander

(Hom.Il.11.491).

Nessus 3

(QS.3.231).

Ocythous 2

(QS.3.230).

Pandocus

(Hom.Il.11.490).

Phorcys 1

A Phrygian leader (Apd.Ep.3.34ff.; Hom.Il.17.312ff.).

Pylartes 1

(Hom.Il.11.491).

Pyrasus

(Hom.Il.11.491).

Simoisius

Son of Anthemion (Hom.Il.4.473).

Thestor 2

(QS.3.229).
Zorus (QS.3.231).

Single combat

In the tenth year of the Trojan War, Ajax 1 fought in single combat against Hector 1 until the heralds parted them. The warriors, then, exchanged gifts: Hector 1 gave him his sword, and Ajax 1 gave Hector 1 his belt. He later lamented:

"Ever since I took into my hand this gift from Hector, my greatest enemy, I have gotten no good from the Greeks. Yes, men's proverb is true: the gifts of enemies are no gifts and bring no good." (Ajax 1. Sophocles, Ajax 660).

This proved to be so because Ajax 1 gave Hector 1 the belt by which he was dragged by Achilles, and Hector 1 gave Ajax 1 the sword with which he killed himself.

Embassy

Ajax 1 was part of the embassy (the others being Phoenix 2 and Odysseus), which attempted to persuade Achilles to rejoin the fight (Iliad 9.169ff.). And when he noticed they had failed in their purpose, he told Odysseus:

"Zeus-born son of Laertes, Odysseus of many wiles, let us go our way, for the fulfillment of the charge laid on us will not methinks be brought to pass by our coming here..." (Iliad 9.624ff.).

and reproached Achilles:

"... a man accepts recompense from the slayer of his brother, or for his dead son; and the slayer abides in his own land for the paying of a great price, and the kinsman's heart and proud spirit are restrained by the taking of recompense. But as for thee, the gods have put in thy breast a heart that is obdurate and evil by reason of one only girl..."

However eloquent his words, Achilles turned down the gifts that the embassy had offered on behalf of Agamemnon, and refused to return to battle until his friend Patroclus 1 was killed by Hector 1. Then a fierce fight for the corpse of Patroclus 1 ensued, being Ajax 1 the man who rescued the body.

Ruin

When later Achilles was killed, a fight took place for the corpse. Ajax 1 then made sure that Achilles' arms were taken to the ships, and under a shower of darts carried the body to safety, while Odysseus fought his assailants. Achilles being dead, his arms were offered as a prize to the bravest, and Ajax 1 and Odysseus competed for them. Odysseus was preferred by the judges, and as a revenge, Ajax 1 planned an attack on the army. However, Athena drove him mad, and he slaughtered the cattle with the herdsmen, taking them for the Achaeans. Later, having come to his senses, he slew himself by letting himself fall upon his sword (the sword he had received from Hector 1). That is the madness of Ajax 1, which some call Envy:

"Envy devoured the son of Telamon, throwing him onto his own sword." (Pin.Nem.8.23).

But madness or Envy (or the madness that Envy is) have their root, some think, in the hybris of Ajax 1, his disregard of the gods. This is what a messenger tells us in Sophocles' Ajax 762ff.:

"And Ajax, even at the time he first set out from home, showed himself foolish, when his father advised him well. For Telamon told him, 'My son, seek victory in arms, but always seek it with the help of god.' Then with a tall boast and foolishly he replied, 'Father, with the help of the gods even a worthless man might achieve victory; but I, even without that help, fully trust to bring that glory within my grasp.' So much he boasted."

Ajax 1 believed that the arms were owed to him, either because of his unsurpassed deeds during the war, or because he had rescued the corpse of Achilles. For as Teucer 1 remarks (Soph. Ajax 1276ff.), it was Ajax 1 who saved the day when the flames threatened the Achaean ships, and Ajax 1 again who dared to confront Hector 1 in single combat

Dictys says that contention arose between Ajax 1 on one side, and Odysseus and Diomedes 2 on the other; yet not because of the armour of Achilles, as others have said, but because of the Palladium. For this great Ajax 1 saw himself (and many agreed with him) as the performer of unsurpassed deeds, and therefore (he thought), the Palladium should be his. But on the other hand, Diomedes 2 and Odysseus claimed it on the ground that they had themselves carried it off. So Ajax 1 argued that it was Antenor 1 who had carried the Palladium off, themselves having no troubles. On hearing that true fact, Diomedes 2 yielded, but not Odysseus, who was finally favored by the Atrides Agamemnon and Menelaus on the ground of his merits in this particular case only, since no one dared to put in doubt the prowesses of Ajax 1. Yet it was known that they did so because it was through Odysseus' intercession that Helen, still loved by Menelaus, had been brought back unharmed. For if the will of Ajax 1 had found its way, Helen would be dead, since he, on the verge of the sack of Troy, proposed that she should be killed who had caused the death of so many excellent men like himself. The decision of the Atrides caused unease in the army, which split in two factions. And when the next day Ajax 1 was found dead out in the open (being later buried in Rhoeteum by Neoptolemus), Odysseus, fearing those who believed that Ajax 1 had been treacherously murdered, sailed away, leaving the Palladium behind for Diomedes 2 to keep.

In any case, Ajax 1 resolved to throw himself upon the sword of Hector 1 ("… lest any man save Ajax ever conquer Ajax"Ov.Met.13.390)-

Death is no relief

Ajax 1 kept his resentment even in death. Odysseus recalls his meeting with him in Hades thus:

"Alone of them all the spirit of Ajax, son of Telamon, stood apart, still full of wrath for the victory that I had won over him in the contest by the ships for the arms of Achilles...Would to god I had never won such a prize, the arms that brought Ajax to his grave, the heroic Ajax, who next to Achilles was the finest of all in looks and the noblest in action." (Odysseus. Homer, Odyssey 11.544).

However, Leonymus affirms (Pau.3.19.12ff.) that he saw the soul of Ajax 1 in the White Isle (see also Isles of the Blest). Leonymus was a general from the city of Crotona in southern Italy, which was at war with the Italian Locri. Being related to the Opuntians of Hellas, they believed that Ajax 2 helped them in battle, and so they always left a place empty for him in their lines. On a certain occasion, Leonymus attacked the enemy at that point, and was mysteriously wounded. He came to Delphi to inquire about his wound, and the oracle instructed him to sail to the White Island where Ajax 2 would cure his wound. Having returned healed, Leonymus declared that he had seen Patroclus 1, Achilles, and the AIANTES, among others.


Family 

Parentage

Mates

Offspring

Notes

Telamon & Periboea 2

Telamon was driven fugitive from Aegina by Aeacus because of the murder of Phocus 3. He fled to Salamis, where he became king. Telamon married first Glauce 2, daughter of Cychreus, son of Poseidon and Salamis. At her death, he married Periboea 2, granddaughter of Pelops 1. Telamon had a bastard son Teucer 1 by Hesione 2, daughter of king Laomedon 1 of Troy (sister of Priam 1). Teucer 1 was leader of the Salaminians against Troy (see ACHAEAN LEADERS); he is counted among the SUITORS OF HELEN and among those who hid inside the WOODEN HORSE.

Periboea 2 was sent with Theseus to Crete in payment of the tribute to Minos 2. Periboea 2 and Theseus then became lovers. She was daughter of Alcathous 3, son of Pelops 1 (Pausanias 1.17.3, 1.42.2, 1.43.4).

Tecmessa 1

Eurysaces

Philaeus 1

Tecmessa 1was the daughter of the Phrygian king Teleutas.
Eurysaces was an infant at the time of the Trojan War. Later he became an Athenian.
Philaeus 1, who is also called son of Eurysaces, gave the island of Salamis to Athens after becoming an Athenian himself.


Genealogical Charts

Names in this chart: Aeacus, Aegina, Ajax 1, Alcathous 3, Ares, Asopus, Chariclo 3, Cychreus, Endeis, Eurysaces, Himas, Hippodamia 3, Ladon 1, Metope 1, Oenomaus 1, Pelops 1, Periboea 2, Philaeus 1, Pluto 3, Poseidon, Salamis, Tantalus 1, Tecmessa 1, Telamon, Teleutas, Zeus.


Related sections Ajax 1 in GROUPS: SUITORS OF HELEN, ACHAEAN LEADERS, AIANTES (name given to Ajax 1 and Ajax 2), ODYSSEUS IN HADES 
Sources
Abbreviations

AETH.3; Apd.3.10.8, 3.12.7; Eur.Hel.96; Hdt.6.35; Hom.Il. passim; Hom.Od.11.553; Hyg.Fab.97, 242; Pau.1.5.2, 1.28.11, 1.35.2ff., 3.19.12; Pin.Isth.4.35; Pin.Nem.7.26; Pla.Rep.620b; QS.5. passim; Soph.Aj. passim; Stat.Achil.1.501.

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