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An “Αἴας μαινόμενος” is ascribed to Astydamas (c. 360 B.C.),
The story of Ajax in later literature.
the younger of two tragic poets who bore that name1. The title suggests a play similar in general scope to that of Sophocles; but nothing is known of it. The “Αἴας” of Carcinus (c. 375 B.C.?) is equally unknown2. The “Αἴας” of Theodectes (c. 330 B.C.) appears to have been more on the lines of Aeschylus; i.e., it contained the “Ὅπλων κρίσις”, with speeches by Ajax and Odysseus3. That contest appears as a theme for rhetorical prose in the harangues for the two heroes which are ascribed to Antisthenes (c. 380 B.C.), and which in any case date probably from the fourth century B.C.4

The earliest author of Latin tragedy, the Greek freedman Livius Andronicus, wrote an Aiax Mastigophorus, doubtless founded, as the title indicates, on Sophocles. These words occurred in it:—

Praestatur laus virtuti, sed multo ocius Verno gelu tabescit5:

an echo, probably, of the words in the Ajax (vv. 1266 f.),

φεῦ: τοῦ θανόντος ὡς ταχεῖά τις βροτοῖς χάρις διαρρεῖ”.

The metaphor of the melting frost (scarcely a happy image for evanescent praise) may have been suggested by “διαρρεῖ”. Nothing is known as to the Aiax of Ennius, but one of the two verses which remain from it recalls a passage in the Ajax of Sophocles6. If we may suppose that Ennius, like Livius Andronicus, based his treatment of the subject wholly or mainly on Sophocles, then there is significance in the fact that the later dramatists, Pacuvius and Attius, each wrote an Armorum Iudicium7; a title which suggests that the desire to vary from their Latin predecessors sent them back to the “Ὅπλων κρίσις” of Aeschylus, and possibly to the play of Theodectes. A fragment from the Armorum Iudicium of Attius belongs to the speech in which Odysseus urged his claim to the arms. The verse which Attius has paraphrased from the Ajax (vv. 550 f.),

Virtuti sis par, dispar fortunis patris, suggests, however, that he may have imitated Sophocles in other details also; perhaps seeking, by such eclecticism of treatment, to distinguish his work from the earlier Armorum Iudicium of Pacuvius. The rhetorical capabilities of the subject are illustrated by Ovid, whose powers of brilliant and ingenious declamation are seen to considerable advantage in the speeches of Ajax and Odysseus8. His spirited and pointed verse presents a striking contrast to the tame and mechanical treatment of the same episode in the Greek epic of Quintus Smyrnaeus9.

The earliest reference in modern literature to the Ajax of Sophocles is of sufficient interest to deserve a passing mention here; it occurs in the first scene of Titus Andronicus, v. 379:—

The Greeks upon advice did bury Ajax That slew himself; and wise Laertes' son Did graciously plead for his funerals.

As Steevens saw, these lines must have been written (or prompted) by some one who knew the Ajax itself; for no translation of Sophocles existed in the sixteenth century, and the mediation of Odysseus is not mentioned elsewhere. Modern criticism doubts, and with good reason, whether Shakespeare had any part in the Titus Andronicus10, though Meres, in 1598, included it among his plays: and in this passage, at all events, we seem to see the work of a playwright who had been at one of the Universities.


1 Nauck, Trag. Gr. Frag. p. 777.

2 Ib.p. 797.

3 Ib.p. 801. One of the points for which Aristotle refers to the “Αἴας” of Theodectes taken from a speech of Odysseus ( II. Rhet. 23§ 24).

4 These pieces, entitled “Αἴας” and “Ὀδυσσεύς”, are printed in the Fragm. Oratorum (p. 167) edited by H. Sauppe, who, with H. FossE. , questions the ascription to Antisthenes. They are “ἐπιδείξεις” of the same class as the speeches for and against Palamedes ascribed respectively to Gorgias and Alcidamas, and the Busiris of Isocrates. (Cp. Attic Orators, vol. II. p. 89, new ed.)

5 Frag. II. (Ribbeck, p. 2).

6 Frag. II. (Ribbeck, p. 17): Animam misso sangui tepido tullii efflantes volant. The word tullii is explained by Festus as=silani (springs), or rivi. The sense is then, ‘The warm blood flows,—the streams fly forth, spirting out the life.’ There is a marked resemblance, as Scaliger noted, to Soph. Ai. 1411 ff., “ἔτι γὰρ θερμαὶ σύριγγες ἄνω φυσῶσι μέλαν μένος”. The verbal parallelism of efflantes with “φυσῶσι”, and tepido with “θερμαί”, strongly suggests imitation.

7 Ribbeck, p. 80 (Pacuvius): p. 154 (Attius).

8 Metamorph. XIII. 1—398.

9 Posthomerica v. 181—316.

10 See Dowden, Shakspere, p. 54.

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hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (2):
    • Aristotle, Rhetoric, 2.23
    • Sophocles, Ajax, 1411
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