After rejecting the help of the gods, boasting about his self-made status, and starting off for a killing rampage after Athena's favourite hero, Ajax is struck with madness, temporarily under the belief that the sheep and cattle he is slaughtering are the Greek hordes. His emnity against his fellow soldiers stems from Achilles' armor being awarded to Odysseus, despite that Ajax is now the best living warrior and most alike to Achilles.
Odysseus shows up at Ajax's tent curious to know whether the rumours are true. Athena herself meets him, reveals what she has done, and gloats. Odysseus is put off by this. As Ajax's war bride and entourage fret about his many hours spent delusionally torturing sheep, Ajax finally regains his senses, and is utterly humiliated. Though they try to persuade him not to do anything drastic, and think of the children, after giving a nice sounding speech that is actually loaded with the implication he is going to commit suicide, he goes out to "bury Hektor's sword".
Meanwhile, Ajax's friends and family are having a party in relief, thinking he's come to reason, only to find out from a messenger that his brother Teucer has arrived and, by the way, prophecy says he really shouldn't leave the tent today. Everyone goes off in search of him, and eventually Tecmessa and Teucer find the body. Menelaus appears and orders them not to bury him in punishment for being a traitor, and leaves after a heated exchange. Agamemnon appears to reiterate this, but Odysseus intervenes on Ajax's behalf, not wanting to carry grudges beyond the grave or offend the gods further. Agamemnon lets him take responsibility and Teucer and Odysseus decide to become friends although Teucer will not let him help bury Ajax out of respect to the dead man's hatred of him.
One of seven surviving plays by Sophocles.
This play contains examples of:
- Axe-Crazy: Guess.
- Blasphemous Boast: Ajax rejects the gods' help and boasts that he will be the best fighter on his own merit.
- Break the Haughty: Athena, helped along by Ajax himself, does a stellar job of this.
- Character Title
- Determinator: Ajax is a man who is determined to follow his will, no matter what, without the help of the gods.
- Dissonant Laughter: Though his protracted torture of sheep is upsetting enough for his friends and family, the sheer glee Ajax derives in doing it just makes it worse.
- Driven to Suicide: Ajax, once the madness is lifted.
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: Coming from a culture where self-worth is relative to publicly received respect, Ajax's anger is slightly more understandable. Odysseus wins Achilles' armor through persuasion, but Ajax, now the greatest warrior on the Greek side, has reason to think he deserved it more.
- Due to the Dead: Odysseus, filled with fear and pity at how the gods can humble men, refuses to continue his grudge againt Ajax and argues for his proper funeral rites.
- Glory Seeker: Ajax, and yeah, he wants his respect.
- Greek Chorus
- Guile Hero: Odysseus. This is actually used positively in the play, as he guides both the Atreides and Teucer to reason when they fight over Ajax's corpse.
- Heroic Spirit: Ajax actually is the hero of the play in spite of being quite certainly morally in the wrong, mostly due to having a lot of this.
- Heroic BSoD: Ajax is fairly subdued once he is relieved of his madness and discovers everyone knows what he's done. This is a prelude to suicide.
- Jerkass Gods: Well, this is the Greek pantheon, but even Odysseus seems to recognize how jerkass Athena is being.
- Now You Tell Me: Played for Drama when Calchas arrives too late to warn against Ajax leaving his tent.
- Speak Ill of the Dead: Agamemnon and Menelaus have good reason to hate Ajax after his attempted slaughter of their army, but veer a little too close to religious blasphemy in denying Ajax burial rights.
- Tragic Hero: Ajax, flawed through his pride and individualism which are also his best assets.