Ajax the Lesser

Ajax the Lesser

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For other uses of this name, see Ajax (disambiguation).


Ajax (Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

: ) was a Greek
Greeks
The Greeks, also known as the Hellenes , are a nation and ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus and neighboring regions. They also form a significant diaspora, with Greek communities established around the world....

 mythological
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

 hero, son of Oileus
Oileus
In Greek mythology, Oileus was the king of Locris. His father was given as Hodoedocus and his mother as Agrianome , according to Hyginus's Fabulae. Oileus's wife was Eriopis, who bore him a son named Ajax...

, the king of Locris
Locris
Locris was a region of ancient Greece, the homeland of the Locrians, made up of three distinct districts.-Locrian tribe:...

. He was called the "lesser" or "Locrian" Ajax, to distinguish him from Ajax the Great
Ajax (mythology)
Ajax or Aias was a mythological Greek hero, the son of Telamon and Periboea and king of Salamis. He plays an important role in Homer's Iliad and in the Epic Cycle, a series of epic poems about the Trojan War. To distinguish him from Ajax, son of Oileus , he is called "Telamonian Ajax," "Greater...

, son of Telamon
Telamon
In Greek mythology, Telamon , son of the king Aeacus, of Aegina, and Endeis and brother of Peleus, accompanied Jason as one of his Argonauts, and was present at the hunt for the Calydonian Boar. In the Iliad he was the father of Greek heroes Ajax the Great and Teucer the Archer by different...

. He was the leader of the Locrian
Locrians
The Locrians were an ancient Greek tribe in Greece. The Locrians spoke the Locrian dialect, a Doric-Northwest dialect, which indicates that they may have been relatives of the Dorians. They inhabited the ancient region of Locris in Central Greece....

 contingent during the Trojan War
Trojan War
In Greek mythology, the Trojan War was waged against the city of Troy by the Achaeans after Paris of Troy took Helen from her husband Menelaus, the king of Sparta. The war is among the most important events in Greek mythology and was narrated in many works of Greek literature, including the Iliad...

. He is a significant figure in Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

's Iliad
Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...

and is also mentioned in the Odyssey
Odyssey
The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the modern Western canon, and is the second—the Iliad being the first—extant work of Western literature...

and Virgil
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

's Aeneid
Aeneid
The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. It is composed of roughly 10,000 lines in dactylic hexameter...

. In Etruscan legend
Etruscan mythology
The Etruscans were a diachronically continuous population, with a distinct language and culture during the period of earliest European writing, in the Mediterranean Iron Age in the second half of the first millennium BC...

, he was known as Aivas Vilates.

Mythology


His mother's name was Eriopis. According to Strabo
Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

, he was born in Naryx in Locris
Locris
Locris was a region of ancient Greece, the homeland of the Locrians, made up of three distinct districts.-Locrian tribe:...

, where Ovid
Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

 calls him Narycius Heros. According to the Iliad
Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...

, he led his Locrians
Locrians
The Locrians were an ancient Greek tribe in Greece. The Locrians spoke the Locrian dialect, a Doric-Northwest dialect, which indicates that they may have been relatives of the Dorians. They inhabited the ancient region of Locris in Central Greece....

 in forty ships against Troy. He is described as one of the great heroes among the Greeks. When the grammatical dual form of Ajax is used in the Iliad
Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...

, it was once believed that it indicated the lesser Ajax fighting side-by-side with Telamonian Ajax
Ajax (mythology)
Ajax or Aias was a mythological Greek hero, the son of Telamon and Periboea and king of Salamis. He plays an important role in Homer's Iliad and in the Epic Cycle, a series of epic poems about the Trojan War. To distinguish him from Ajax, son of Oileus , he is called "Telamonian Ajax," "Greater...

, but now it is generally thought that that usage refers to the Greater Ajax and his brother Teucer
Teucer
In Greek mythology Teucer, also Teucrus or Teucris , was the son of King Telamon of Salamis Island and his second wife Hesione, daughter of King Laomedon of Troy. He fought alongside his half-brother, Ajax, in the Trojan War and is the legendary founder of the city Salamis on Cyprus...

. In battle, he wore a linen
Linen
Linen is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant, Linum usitatissimum. Linen is labor-intensive to manufacture, but when it is made into garments, it is valued for its exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather....

 cuirass
Cuirass
A cuirass is a piece of armour, formed of a single or multiple pieces of metal or other rigid material, which covers the front of the torso...

 , was brave and intrepid, especially skilled in throwing the spear and, next to Achilles
Achilles
In Greek mythology, Achilles was a Greek hero of the Trojan War, the central character and the greatest warrior of Homer's Iliad.Plato named Achilles the handsomest of the heroes assembled against Troy....

, the swiftest of all the Greeks.

In the funeral games at the pyre
Pyre
A pyre , also known as a funeral pyre, is a structure, usually made of wood, for burning a body as part of a funeral rite...

 of Patroclus
Patroclus
In Greek mythology, as recorded in the Iliad by Homer, Patroclus, or Patroklos , was the son of Menoetius, grandson of Actor, King of Opus, and was Achilles' beloved comrade and brother-in-arms....

, he contended with Odysseus
Odysseus
Odysseus or Ulysses was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. Odysseus also plays a key role in Homer's Iliad and other works in the Epic Cycle....

 and Antilochus
Antilochus
In Greek mythology, Antilochus was the son of Nestor, king of Pylos. One of the suitors of Helen of Troy, he accompanied his father and his brother Thrasymedes to the Trojan War. He was distinguished for his beauty, swiftness of foot, and skill as a charioteer...

 for the prize in the footrace; but Athena
Athena
In Greek mythology, Athena, Athenê, or Athene , also referred to as Pallas Athena/Athene , is the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, warfare, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, justice, and skill. Minerva, Athena's Roman incarnation, embodies similar attributes. Athena is...

, who was hostile towards him and favored Odysseus, made him stumble and fall, so that he won only the second prize. On his return from Troy, his vessel was wrecked on the Whirling Rocks , but he himself escaped upon a rock through the assistance of Poseidon
Poseidon
Poseidon was the god of the sea, and, as "Earth-Shaker," of the earthquakes in Greek mythology. The name of the sea-god Nethuns in Etruscan was adopted in Latin for Neptune in Roman mythology: both were sea gods analogous to Poseidon...

 and would have been saved in spite of Athena, but he said that he would escape the dangers of the sea in defiance of the immortals. In punishment for this presumption, Poseidon split the rock with his trident
Trident
A trident , also called a trishul or leister or gig, is a three-pronged spear. It is used for spear fishing and was also a military weapon. Tridents are featured widely in mythical, historical and modern culture. The major Hindu god, Shiva the Destroyer and the sea god Poseidon or Neptune are...

 and Ajax was swallowed up by the sea.

In later traditions, this Ajax is called a son of Oileus and the nymph
Nymph
A nymph in Greek mythology is a female minor nature deity typically associated with a particular location or landform. Different from gods, nymphs are generally regarded as divine spirits who animate nature, and are usually depicted as beautiful, young nubile maidens who love to dance and sing;...

 Rhene and is also mentioned among the suitors of Helen. After the taking of Troy, it is said he rushed into the temple of Athena, where Cassandra
Cassandra
In Greek mythology, Cassandra was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. Her beauty caused Apollo to grant her the gift of prophecy...

 had taken refuge, and was embracing the statue of the goddess as a supplicant
Supplicant
A Supplicant, one who supplicates, is a term applied to humble petitioners, and in particular to University of Oxford students who have qualified but not yet been admitted into their degree....

. Ajax violently dragged her away to the other captives. According to some writers, he even raped Cassandra inside the temple. Odysseus
Odysseus
Odysseus or Ulysses was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. Odysseus also plays a key role in Homer's Iliad and other works in the Epic Cycle....

, at least, accused him of this crime and Ajax was to be stoned to death, but saved himself by establishing his innocence with an oath. The whole charge was sometimes said to have been an invention of Agamemnon
Agamemnon
In Greek mythology, Agamemnon was the son of King Atreus and Queen Aerope of Mycenae, the brother of Menelaus, the husband of Clytemnestra, and the father of Electra and Orestes. Mythical legends make him the king of Mycenae or Argos, thought to be different names for the same area...

, who wanted to have Cassandra for himself.

Death


Whether true or not, Athena still had cause to be indignant, as Ajax had dragged a supplicant from her temple. According to Apollodorus
Apollodorus
Apollodorus of Athens son of Asclepiades, was a Greek scholar and grammarian. He was a pupil of Diogenes of Babylon, Panaetius the Stoic, and the grammarian Aristarchus of Samothrace...

, no one had realised that Ajax had raped Cassandra until Calchas
Calchas
In Greek mythology, Calchas , son of Thestor, was an Argive seer, with a gift for interpreting the flight of birds that he received of Apollo: "as an augur, Calchas had no rival in the camp"...

, the Greek seer, warns the Greeks that Athena
Athena
In Greek mythology, Athena, Athenê, or Athene , also referred to as Pallas Athena/Athene , is the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, warfare, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, justice, and skill. Minerva, Athena's Roman incarnation, embodies similar attributes. Athena is...

 is furious at the treatment of her priestess and she will destroy the Greek ships if they don't kill him. Despite this, Ajax manages to hide in the altar of an unnamed deity where the Greeks, fearing divine retribution should they kill him and destroy the altar, allow him to live. When the Greeks leave without killing Ajax, despite their sacrifices Athena
Athena
In Greek mythology, Athena, Athenê, or Athene , also referred to as Pallas Athena/Athene , is the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, warfare, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, justice, and skill. Minerva, Athena's Roman incarnation, embodies similar attributes. Athena is...

 is so angry that she persuades Zeus
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

 to send a storm that sinks many of their ships. When Ajax finally leaves Troy
Troy
Troy was a city, both factual and legendary, located in northwest Anatolia in what is now Turkey, southeast of the Dardanelles and beside Mount Ida...

, Athena
Athena
In Greek mythology, Athena, Athenê, or Athene , also referred to as Pallas Athena/Athene , is the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, warfare, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, justice, and skill. Minerva, Athena's Roman incarnation, embodies similar attributes. Athena is...

 hits his ship with a thunderbolt, but Ajax still survives, managing to cling onto a rock. He boasts that even the gods cannot kill him and Poseidon
Poseidon
Poseidon was the god of the sea, and, as "Earth-Shaker," of the earthquakes in Greek mythology. The name of the sea-god Nethuns in Etruscan was adopted in Latin for Neptune in Roman mythology: both were sea gods analogous to Poseidon...

, on hearing this, splits the rock with his trident, causing Ajax to eventually drown. Thetis
Thetis
Silver-footed Thetis , disposer or "placer" , is encountered in Greek mythology mostly as a sea nymph or known as the goddess of water, one of the fifty Nereids, daughters of the ancient one of the seas with shape-shifting abilities who survives in the historical vestiges of most later Greek myths...

 buries him when the corpse washes up on Myconos. Other versions depict a different death for Ajax, showing him to die when on his voyage home. In these versions, when Ajax comes to the Capharean Rocks on the coast of Euboea
Euboea
Euboea is the second largest Greek island in area and population, after Crete. The narrow Euripus Strait separates it from Boeotia in mainland Greece. In general outline it is a long and narrow, seahorse-shaped island; it is about long, and varies in breadth from to...

, his ship was wrecked in a fierce storm, he himself was lifted up in a whirlwind and impaled with a flash of rapid fire from Athena in his chest, and his body thrust upon sharp rocks, which afterwards were called the rocks of Ajax.

After his death his spirit dwelled in the island of Leuce. The Opuntian
Opuntian Locris
Opuntian Locris or Eastern Locris was an ancient Greek region inhabited by the eastern division of the Locrians, the so-called tribe of the Locri Epicnemidii or Locri Opuntii .-Geography:...

 Locrians worshiped Ajax as their national hero, and so great was their faith in him that when they drew up their army in battle, they always left one place open for him, believing that, although invisible to them, he was fighting for and among them. The story of Ajax was frequently made use of by ancient poets and artists, and the hero who appears on some Locrian coins with the helmet, shield, and sword is probably this Ajax.

Other accounts of his death are offered by Philostratus and the scholiast on Lycophron
Lycophron
Lycophron was a Hellenistic Greek tragic poet, grammarian, and commentator on comedy, to whom the poem Alexandra is attributed .-Life and miscellaneous works:...

.

Art


The abduction of Cassandra by Ajax was frequently represented in Greek
Art in Ancient Greece
The arts of ancient Greece have exercised an enormous influence on the culture of many countries all over the world, particularly in the areas of sculpture and architecture. In the West, the art of the Roman Empire was largely derived from Greek models...

 works of art, for instance on the chest of Cypselus
Cypselus
Cypselus was the first tyrant of Corinth in the 7th century BC.With increased wealth and more complicated trade relations and social structures, Greek city-states tended to overthrow their traditional hereditary priest-kings; Corinth, the richest archaic polis, led the way...

 described by Pausanias
Pausanias (geographer)
Pausanias was a Greek traveler and geographer of the 2nd century AD, who lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He is famous for his Description of Greece , a lengthy work that describes ancient Greece from firsthand observations, and is a crucial link between classical...

and in extant works.

Sources