Ajax | Study Guide

Sophocles

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Ajax | Episode 4 | Summary

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Summary

Agamemnon approaches Ajax's body, and Teucer hurries back to meet him. Agamemnon is angry at Teucer for arguing with Menelaus. Agamemnon believes that Ajax should not get a burial. Teucer reminds Agamemnon of Ajax's deeds in battle while Agamemnon cries his outrage at Teucer's audacity. He reminds Teucer that it only takes a little whip to keep a big ox in check. He insults Teucer by detailing Teucer's birth to a barbarian. Teucer points out Agamemnon's own family line, mixed blood, and bloody history. Odysseus arrives in the middle of their argument, and Agamemnon turns to him for support.

Odysseus surprises both men by siding with Teucer. He says that even though Ajax was once his greatest enemy, they would honor Ajax for the valiant hero that he was. Odysseus even offers to help with Ajax's funeral. After listening to Odysseus, Agamemnon allows the funeral to continue and departs. Teucer is concerned about offending Ajax in death. He thanks Odysseus for his help but refuses to let him aid in the funeral. Odysseus leaves, and Teucer and the chorus hurry to bury Ajax.

Analysis

Agamemnon and Teucer engage in a battle of words. Arguments such as Agamemnon and Teucer's were common in Sophocles's plays. Both characters have strong beliefs and morals backing up their point of view. Teucer believes that Agamemnon is being ungrateful for all of the help that Ajax has given him by fighting for him and risking his life for him. Agamemnon acknowledges that Ajax was strong but argues that the wise are the ones responsible for winning the war, not the strong. He uses the analogy of an ox to highlight his point. Both men are sure that their beliefs are correct, so neither is willing to back down.

To argue their point, Agamemnon and Teucer trade blows about their bloodlines. Greek society was dominated by bloodlines and classes. Any person captured in conquest had no legal rights. Teucer was the illegitimate son of King Telamon by a concubine from a conquered Greek territory. Teucer's mother was a foreign spoil of war which gave Teucer the mixed blood that Agamemnon calls into question.

Odysseus shows the depth of his wisdom in allowing Ajax's funeral to proceed. This shows his recognition of the power of the gods and his hesitancy to let his own pride get the better of him. He remains humble and protects Ajax's honor. According to Greek mythology, Ajax refuses to forgive Odysseus even after death. This shows that Ajax clings to his fatal pride and brings it with him to the grave while Odysseus remains true to his wisdom.

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