Ajax of Greek Mythology: Story & History

Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson, we will learn who Ajax was. Together, we will take a closer look at his history, the myths and his legacy. We will look closely at his role in Homer's Iliad and his epic demise.


Ajax was a mythological Greek figure. He holds a large role in epic poems about the Trojan War. He has also been known as 'Ajax the Great.'


Ajax, also known as Ajax the Great, was the son of Telamon, who was grandson of Zeus and King of the island of Salamis and Periboea. He was also cousin of the famed Achilles.

Ajax was one of the 99 suitors from all parts of Greece that came to court Helen, daughter of Zeus and whose human parents were the King and Queen of Sparta, and therefore he joined the Greek Trojan War effort. He contributed twelve Salamis ships to the effort.

He was described in Homer's 'Iliad', an ancient Greek poem about the Trojan War, as very tall with a large frame. He was trained in combat by the centaur Chiron, who would later die of wounds inflicted by Hercules during training, at the same time as Achilles. Ajax was noted to be fearless, smart, and of immense strength.

Trojan War

Ajax is noted to carry a huge shield (the size of a large wall) during battle, made of seven cow hides with a layer of bronze. In 'The Iliad', he is most remembered for receiving no injuries during any of the battles. He also received no assistance from the gods.

Throughout 'The Iliad,' he is noted for several significant battles with Hector. Hector, in Greek mythology, was a Trojan prince and the greatest fighter for Troy in the Trojan War. The first fight resulted in some injury to Hector but Zeus intervened and called it a draw. In the second, Hector sets fire to several of the Greek ships and, although uninjured, Ajax was forced to retreat.


When Achilles dies during the Trojan War, Ajax and Odysseus are the mythological individuals who fight the Trojans to reclaim the body to give Achilles a proper burial. The two both claimed Achilles armor as a reward for the accomplishment. The armor was held on Mount Olympus while Ajax and Odysseus held an oral competition to determine who would win the armor. Odysseus managed to convince the gods that he was more deserving and was awarded the armor.

Ajax, full of anger, went insane. Out of rage he went to murder his military comrades. The goddess Athena intervened and Ajax, believing a herd of cattle to be his comrades, slaughtered the cattle instead. When Ajax realized what he had done, he fell onto his own sword and committed suicide. The sword he used to commit suicide was one given to him by Hector.

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