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Ajax passes, then,
The divine judgment. Athena.
reconciled to the gods; and so in a manner suited to that event which is the real end of the play, his accession to the order of worshipped heroes. We may now briefly consider the nature of the divine discipline which he undergoes. The words of the seer Calchas, reported by the Messenger1, must be taken as interpreting the poet's conception of it. Ajax had angered Athena by certain proud words, saying that he did not need divine aid in battle. These were casual boasts, in seasons of elation—like that vaunt of Agamemnon, on hitting a stag, which angered Artemis2. Ajax was not a bad or impious man; but he showed a pride, too great for a mortal, which required chastisement. Athena chose the moment when a wound to this pride had goaded him into plotting the murder of the chiefs. She struck him with the madness in which he slew the cattle. When the frenzy was past, there settled over him a profound despondency which was also sent by her, being the sequel of her visitation. If (said Calchas) he could only be kept in the tent for that day, all would be well; the anger of Athena would vex him for that day only. That is, the despair, which bent his thoughts on suicide, would depart from him on the morrow. He would see that honour did not require his death, since his frenzy had been the judgment of the goddess; cured of his arrogance, he might give new proofs of prudence and valour. But here destiny came in: the message of Calchas arrived too late.

In the opening scene, where Athena holds the dialogue with Ajax and displays his madness, her terrible irony might at first suggest that she is a malignant goddess, exulting in the wretchedness of her victim; but any such impression would be soon corrected by those words of calm majesty in which she points the moral for Odysseus. There is no trace of personal malignity in her attitude towards Ajax. She represents the divine power which judges human arrogance; she corrects it; but she has justly measured the offence, and sets a corresponding limit to her chastisement. It is fated that Ajax shall die; but the shadow of Athena's anger does not rest upon his grave, or trouble the worship which her own people render to him.

1 Verses 756—779.

2 See n. on Electra v. 569.

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