Showing posts with label Ajax. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ajax. Show all posts

Monday, July 5, 2021

In Search of Greek Heroes: Ajax

Welcome to my summer series for this year, In Search of Greek Heroes, where I hunt for the facts and myths behind the greatest Heroes of ancient Greek religion. Today we are looking for the mighty Ajax. You may have heard of Him before in less epic narratives. If you look on or underneath your sink, He's probably a household name you know. The toughest cleaning agents ever made for common man have been named after Him. But the real man comes to us from Homeric Epic, The Iliad. Hellenists like myself go to great expense and labor to furnish and decorate their temples, sanctuaries, treasuries and libraries, so I was delighted when Ajax became the Patron Hero of my temple this year.

When I teach about this great Hero, I normally begin by telling people that there were, in fact, two Ajaxes, those being Ajax the Great and Ajax the Lesser. The one normally worshiped is Ajax the Great. Of course that's not to say that Ajax the Lesser cannot be. All of the great men of Homer are considered Heroes, even some who were not Greek. While Achilles was the greatest warrior of the Hellenes, Ajax was by far of the greatest stature and strength, referred to as the Bulwark of the Greeks, possessing a fearless character and a highly intelligent mind, probably notably when it came to battle and strategy. He was also known primarily as a defensive fighter of the Greek lines, camps and ships, and a man of great honor and nobility. In fact, there are no Homeric depictions of Him initiating a fight, only defending against attacks, and after the duel between Him and Hektor, which is called as a draw, the two men exchange gifts with one another. Ajax was also notable for fighting to recover the bodies of dead Greek warriors for proper honor and burial. One of the most favored of the Greeks by the Gods as well, as Poseidon, at one point in The Iliad, uses His trident to restore Ajax's strength.

Ajax met His untimely end when the Trojan War starts to come to a close. There are different explanations as to why it happened, but it is generally accepted that He committed suicide. If true, we know today that there are lots of reasons why veterans of wars meet these ends. But one of the great things about Greek religion is that while something such as suicide is not admired, it is always possible to be redeemed from errors. Just because you commit an offense in this life, does not mean you cannot ascend to higher levels in your more enlightened State. After His death, Ajax received Heroic honors, worship and even festivals in the Greek world. The island of Salamis even hosted a temple and statue to Him, along with a festival called Aianteia. He also became a Hero of Attika who received worship by the Athenians and statues in His honor.

At the turn of the 21st Century, archaeologists began to excavate around the area where it was believed that the residence of Ajax or at least His family once stood, on the island of Salamis. They brought to the surface a palace of over 8,000 square feet. The structure, it was found, had been abandoned around the time of the Trojan War. Pausanias, the ancient Greek traveler and writer who lived in the Roman times, reported that abnormally large bones had been found on the seashore of the former Trojan landmass, near the Greek City of Sigeion. These, he wrote, were declared those of the washed out grave of Ajax. The bones were ordered to be reburied by the Emperor of Rome. There appears to be no modern coordinates for these remains or their new burial site.

My Temple's Prayer to Ajax
written by me.

O' great Ajax,
colossal to men,
noble to Heroes,
holy to Gods,
as our sacrifices pour out,
and burn sweetly to you,
bless our prayers,
that your strength empower us,
and your shield and spear defend.
Watch our backs,
guard our temple,
protect what is ours,
and clothe our bodies and minds in the armor or heaven.

In the Goodness of Ajax,
Chris Aldridge.