Ajax (mythology)

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Ajax or Aias (Greek: Αἴας, gen. Αἴαντος) was a mythological Greek hero, the son of Telamon and Periboea and king of Salamis.[1] 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 (Ajax the Lesser), he is called "Telamonian Ajax," "Greater Ajax," or "Ajax the Great". In Etruscan mythology, he is known as Aivas Tlamunus.

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Ajax the Great

In Homer's Iliad he is described as of great stature, colossal frame, the tallest and strongest of all the Achaeans, second only to Achilles in skill-at-arms, and Diomedes, to whom he lost a sparring competition. Known as the 'bulwark of the Mycenaeans', he was trained by the centaur Chiron (who had trained his father, Telamon, and Achilles' father Peleus), at the same time as Achilles.

Apart from Achilles, Ajax is the most valuable warrior in Agamemnon's army (along with Diomedes), though he is not as cunning as Nestor, Diomedes, Idomeneus, or Odysseus. He commands his army wielding a huge shield made of seven cow-hides with a layer of bronze. Most notably, Ajax is not wounded in any of the battles described in the Iliad, and he is the only principal character on either side who does not receive personal assistance from any of the gods who take part in the battles.

Trojan War

In the Iliad, Ajax is notable for his abundant strength and courage, seen particularly in two fights with Hector. In Book 7, Ajax is chosen by lot to meet Hector in a duel which lasts most of a whole day. Ajax at first gets the better of the encounter, wounding Hector with his spear and knocking him down with a large stone, but Hector fights on until the heralds, acting at the direction of Zeus, call a draw: the action ends without a winner and with the two combatants exchanging gifts.

The second fight between Ajax and Hector occurs when the latter breaks into the Mycenaean camp, and fights with the Greeks among the ships. In Book 14, Ajax throws a giant rock at Hector which almost kills him. In Book 15, Hector is restored to his strength by Apollo and returns to attack the ships, Ajax, wielding an enormous spear as a weapon and leaping from ship to ship, holds off the Trojan armies virtually single-handedly. In Book 16, Hector and Ajax duel once again. Hector is set on burning the ships, the only way he feels the Greeks will truly be defeated. Hector is able to disarm Ajax (although Ajax is not hurt) and Ajax is forced to retreat, seeing that Zeus is clearly favoring Hector. Hector and the Trojans succeed in burning one Greek ship, the culmination of an assault that almost finishes the war. Ajax is responsible for the death of many Trojans lords, including Phorkys.

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