Ajax | Study Guide

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Ajax | Plot Summary

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Summary

Ajax's Madness

Ajax is set in the Greek camp outside of the walls of Troy. It begins during the Trojan war. The aligned Greek city-states have lost their greatest warrior Achilles. The two great heroes Ajax and Odysseus have retrieved Achilles's body. Ajax is known as a great warrior who is second only to Achilles. He expects to receive Achilles's panoply which is his armor, but it is given to Odysseus. Odysseus is found outside of Ajax's tent at the onset of the play. When the Greeks wake they find their entire captured herd of livestock slaughtered, and Odysseus is investigating a rumor that Ajax is the culprit.

Athena the goddess of wisdom speaks to Odysseus. She aided Odysseus and Ajax in retrieving Achilles's body and had a hand in Odysseus winning the panoply. She confirms that Ajax is the one who did the horrible deed of killing the livestock. She explains that Ajax had been moments away from taking out his anger over the panoply. He had planned to kill Odysseus and the Greek chiefs Agamemnon and Menelaus. She intervened and drove him mad so that he would think the livestock were his enemy. He attacked the livestock and dragged some into his tent to torture them as if they were humans.

The chorus is made up of Ajax's people the Salaminians. The Salaminians struggle to understand what has happened to their hero to drive him mad. They consult Ajax's beloved concubine Tecmessa who has witnessed the whole event. Tecmessa reveals how Ajax went mad during the night. The chorus details the death threats being made towards Ajax. The chiefs want Ajax put to death by stoning. The chorus worries about what Ajax's conviction might mean for his people.

Tecmessa's Plea

Ajax wakes from his madness. His return to sanity gives his concubine and subjects hope that a peaceful resolution can be found. Ajax is distraught and asks to be killed along with the livestock. While he laments his despair, the leader of the chorus urges him to calm down. He is advised to let the past be the way it is and not make the horrible events any worse. Tecmessa pleads with Ajax to see reason, reminding him of his duty to her and their son.

Ajax implores Tecmessa to bring their son Eurysaces to him. Tecmessa had sent Eurysaces away during Ajax's fit of madness in fear for her son's life. The attendant is watching Eurysaces and brings him to his father on Tecmessa's command. Ajax praises his son and gives instructions that his half-brother Teucer will be left in charge of the boy.

Ajax's Doom

Ajax leaves his tent. He brings his sword that was gifted to him out of respect by his Trojan enemy Hector. A messenger arrives after Ajax leaves. The messenger gives news that Teucer is on his way. The messenger also has heard a prophecy that if Ajax leaves his tent he will die. The chorus and Tecmessa hurry to search for Ajax.

As his friends search, Ajax commits suicide by falling on his sword. Tecmessa is the one who finds Ajax's body and covers it to prevent others from seeing him in shame. She cries out her woe to the chorus. Finally Teucer arrives and discovers that he is too late to save his brother. He laments his lost brother and his brother's fate and asks to see the body.

Teucer sends for Eurysaces and begins planning a proper burial with Tecmessa.

Preservation of a Hero

Menelaus the king of Sparta enters the stage and commands Teucer not to give Ajax a burial. Teucer asks for an explanation, and Menelaus says that though Ajax was brought to fight as a hero for Greece, he betrayed them, attempting to murder them in the night. Ajax is no better than their enemy. The leader accuses Menelaus of disrespecting the dead, and Teucer reminds Menelaus that Ajax came to fight for him as a free man, not as one of his subjects.

Teucer and Menelaus continue their heated argument until Menelaus finally leaves. Tecmessa and Eurysaces enter the stage. Teucer digs a grave and leaves Eurysaces guarding his father's body.

Teucer hurries back to Ajax's body when he sees the king of Mycenae coming. Agamemnon is angry at Teucer's insolence. He berates Teucer for the way he talked to Menelaus. Odysseus enters the scene. Agamemnon explains to Odysseus that Teucer and the supporters of Ajax have dared to try and give Ajax a proper burial. Despite being Ajax's main target, Odysseus sides with Teucer, arguing for a hero's burial.

After hearing Odysseus's argument, Agamemnon permits the funeral to continue. Teucer and the chorus hurry to proceed with the funeral because they are worried Agamemnon or Menelaus will change their mind.

Ajax Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction

Introduction

1 Athena explains Ajax's madness to Odysseus.

Rising Action

2 Ajax tortures cattle, thinking they are men.

3 Tecmessa recounts Ajax slaughtering livestock.

4 Ajax regains his senses and is horrified.

5 Tecmessa and the leader try to calm Ajax down.

6 Ajax leaves his tent.

7 A messenger says that if Ajax leaves his tent, he will die.

8 A search begins for Ajax.

Climax

9 Ajax commits suicide by falling on his sword.

Falling Action

10 Menelaus proclaims that Ajax's body should be left for the birds.

11 Odysseus argues that Ajax should be honored.

Resolution

12 Ajax is to be buried as a hero.

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