Ajax the Greater's Role in The Iliad

Instructor: Jacob Belknap

Jake has taught English in middle and high school, has a degree in Literature, and has a master's degree in teaching.

Homer's ''The Iliad'' tells the epic story of the Trojan War between the Achaeans and the Trojans. One of the most important Achaean warriors is Ajax the Greater. Read further to explore this hero's background and role in the story.

The Iliad and Ajax the Greater Background

Homer tells the epic story of the Trojan War in his poem The Iliad. This Ancient Greek myth tells of the 10-year struggle between the Achaeans and the Trojans. During this long battle, there were many heroes who fought bravely and earned great honor. One Achaean warrior who fought more bravely than most is Ajax the Greater.

Ajax son of Telemon (or Telamon) is known as Ajax the Great or the Greater to separate him from Ajax the Lesser son of Oïleus. He is from the island of Salamis which owes its allegiance to Greece. This warrior is a huge man who wields an equally enormous shield. He has incredible force on the battlefield and is second only to Achilles as a warrior.

In the following sections, we will look at Ajax's most important moments in The Iliad.

Book 7 - Hector's Challenge

Let's begin in book 7 of The Iliad. In the fray of battle, the Trojan Prince Hector challenges the Achaeans to send a warrior to face him. The Achaean fighters draw lots to see who will face the Trojan. Ajax randomly is chosen to fight Hector. Excited by the chance to win glory, Ajax runs out to meet Hector, scaring the mighty prince. The two fight, trading blows back and forth. Their strength is nearly equal. Eventually, as night begins to fall, generals step in to stop the contest. The two fighters honor tradition by exchanging gifts. Hector gives Ajax his silver-studded sword and Ajax gives Hector his bright scarlet belt.

Book 9 - Appeal to Achilles

Before we get into the next large contribution of Ajax to the events of The Iliad, we first must go over some background. The mightiest warrior of the Achaeans and the focal hero of the story is the great Achilles. No man can stand against this warrior on the battlefield. Unfortunately for the Achaeans, Achilles had an argument with their leader, King Agamemnon. Due to this argument, Achilles refuses to fight.

Without their strongest warrior, they begin losing ground to the Trojans. The kings, warriors, and everyday soldiers all long for Achilles' return to the battlefield. Ajax joins a delegation of Achaean warriors and kings to appeal to Achilles, with the goal of convincing the mighty warrior to return to battle against the Trojans.

Ajax the Greater and Achilles playing dice.

The group sits down and enjoys the refreshments Achilles offers. Ajax is the one to speak up to Achilles, urging him to return. He tries to entice the hero by making several offerings from King Agamemnon. Though Achilles respects what Ajax has to say, he rejects the offerings. The group leaves, disheartened.

Book 14 - Injuring Hector

Just after the Trojans kill the Achaean hero Prothoenor, Poseidon, god of the sea, urges the Achaeans to attack the Trojans despite not having Achilles with them. Ajax and Hector engage each other again. This time, Ajax injures Hector by throwing a rock at the Trojan hero. The Trojans defend Hector and save him from certain death. However, Ajax and the Achaeans fiercely attack and kill many Trojans.

Book 17 - Protecting the Body of Patroclus

Time passes and the war continues. Achilles still sits out of the fighting. Achilles' good friend Patroclus wants to help inspire his fellow Achaeans, so he wears Achilles' armor into battle. This goes well at first, but eventually the Trojan Prince Hector kills Patroclus.

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