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Ajax the Lesser

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Ajax the Lesser

Ajax the Lesser raping Cassandra

Ajax (Ancient Greek: Αἴας) was a Greek mythological hero, son of Oileus, the king of Locris. He was called the "lesser" or "Locrian" Ajax,[1] to distinguish him from Ajax the Great, son of Telamon. He was the leader of the Locrian contingent during the Trojan War. He is a significant figure in Homer's Iliad and is also mentioned in the Odyssey,[2] in Virgil's Aeneid and in Euripides' The Trojan Women. In Etruscan legend, he was known as Aivas Vilates.


His mother's name was Eriopis. According to Strabo, he was born in Naryx in Locris,[3] where Ovid calls him Narycius Heroes.[4] According to the Iliad,[5] he led his Locrians in forty ships against Troy.[6] He is described as one of the great heroes among the Greeks. When the grammatical dual form of Ajax is used in the Iliad, it was once believed that it indicated the lesser Ajax fighting side-by-side with Telamonian Ajax, but now it is generally thought that that usage refers to the Greater Ajax and his brother Teucer. In battle, he wore a linen cuirass (λινοθώραξ), was brave and intrepid, especially skilled in throwing the spear and, next to Achilles, the swiftest of all the Greeks.[7][8]

In the funeral games at the pyre of Patroclus, he contended with Odysseus and Antilochus for the prize in the footrace; but Athena, who was hostile towards him and favored Odysseus, made him stumble and fall, so that he won only the second prize.[9] On his return from Troy, his vessel was wrecked on the Whirling Rocks (Γυραὶ πέτραι), but he escaped upon a rock through the assistance of Poseidon. He 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 and Ajax was swallowed up by the sea.[10]

In later traditions, this Ajax is called a son of Oileus and the nymph Rhene and is also mentioned among the suitors of Helen.[11][12] After the taking of Troy, it is said he rushed into the temple of Athena, where Cassandra had taken refuge, and was embracing the statue of the goddess in supplication. Ajax violently dragged her away to the other captives.[13][14][15][16] According to some writers, he even raped Cassandra inside the temple.[17][18][19] Odysseus, 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.[20] The whole charge was sometimes said to have been an invention of Agamemnon, who wanted to have Cassandra for himself.


Poseidon killing Ajax the Lesser

Whether or not the accusation that Ajax raped Cassandra was true, Athena still had cause to be indignant, as Ajax had dragged a supplicant from her temple. According to the Bibliotheca, no one was aware that Ajax had raped Cassandra until Calchas, the Greek seer, warned the Greeks that Athena was furious at the treatment of her priestess and she would destroy the Greek ships if they didn't kill him immediately. Despite this, Ajax managed to hide in the altar of an unnamed deity where the Greeks, fearing divine retribution should they kill him and destroy the altar, allowed him to live. When the Greeks left without killing Ajax, despite their sacrifices Athena became so angry that she persuaded Zeus to send a storm that sank many of their ships.

When Ajax finally left Troy during the Returns from Troy, Athena hit his ship with a thunderbolt, but Ajax still survived with some of his men, managing to cling onto a rock. He boasted that even the gods could not kill him and Poseidon, upon hearing this, split the rock with his trident, causing Ajax to eventually drown. [8] Thetis buried him when the corpse washed up on Myconos.[21] Other versions depict a different death for Ajax, showing him dying when on his voyage home. In these versions, when Ajax came to the Capharean Rocks on the coast of Euboea, 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.[16][22]

After his death his spirit dwelt in the island of Leuce.[23] The Opuntian 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.[23][24] 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.[25]

Other accounts of his death are offered by Philostratus and the scholiast on Lycophron.[26][27]


Ajax and Cassandra by Solomon J. Solomon (1886). In the collection of the Art Gallery of Ballarat in Victoria, Australia[28]

The abduction of Cassandra by Ajax was frequently represented in Greek works of art, for instance on the chest of Cypselus described by Pausanias and in extant works.[29][8]


  1. ^ Homer, Iliad ii. 527
  2. ^
  3. ^ Strabo, ix. p. 425
  4. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses xiv. 468
  5. ^ Homer, Iliad ii. 527, &c.
  6. ^ Gaius Julius Hyginus, Fabulae 97 gives the number of ships as twenty
  7. ^ Homer, Iliad xiv. 520, &c., xxiii. 789, &c.
  8. ^ a b c Chisholm 1911.
  9. ^ Homer, Iliad (xxiii. 754), &c.
  10. ^ Homer, Odyssey iv. 499, &c.
  11. ^ Gaius Julius Hyginus, Fabulae 81, 97
  12. ^ Bibliotheca iii. 10. § 8
  13. ^ Virgil, Aeneid ii. 403
  14. ^ Euripides, Troad. 70, &c.
  15. ^ Dict. Cret. v. 12
  16. ^ a b Gaius Julius Hyginus, Fabulae 116
  17. ^ Tryphiodorus, 635
  18. ^ Quintus Smyrnaeus, xiii. 422
  19. ^ Lycophron, 360, with the Scholion
  20. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece x. 26. § 1, 31. § 1
  21. ^ Apollodore, R. Scott Smith, Stephen Trzaskoma, and Hygin. Apollodorus' Library and Hyginus' Fabulae: Two Handbooks of Greek Mythology, Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2007. 84-85. "5.24-6.6."
  22. ^ comp. Virgil, Aeneid i. 40, &c., xi. 260
  23. ^ a b Pausanias, Description of Greece iii. 19. § 13
  24. ^ Conon Narrations 18
  25. ^ Théodore Edme Mionnet, No. 570, &c.
  26. ^ Philostratus, Her. viii. 3
  27. ^ Scholiast on Lycophron l. c.
  28. ^
  29. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece v. 17


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  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain
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