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The author of the Little Iliad seems
The Little Iliad.
to have worked in a spirit quite different from that of Arctînus. The Aethiopis was a grave epic, more in the temper of the Iliad; while the other poem had more affinity to the Odyssey, more of the lighter Ionian vein, and a larger element of romance. The contest for the arms was managed in a way which indicates the desire to avoid imitation of some earlier poet who had referred the award to the Trojan captives. By Nestor's advice, the Greeks send spies to the walls of Troy, in the hope that they may overhear some Trojan comments on the rival Greek heroes. The spies are fortunate. At that very moment two Trojan maidens are discussing Ajax and Odysseus. One of them deems Ajax the braver, since he carried the corpse of Achilles out of the fray. The other, inspired by Athena, reproves her;—‘even a woman can bear a burden, when it is laid on her,—but she cannot fight’; —and added, doubtless, that it was Odysseus who had protected the retreat. The Greek chiefs, on hearing the report of their messengers, adjudged the arms to Odysseus1. Ajax, stricken with frenzy, made the onslaught on the flocks and herds of the Greeks: and afterwards slew himself2. Agamemnon, probably by the counsel of the seer Calchas, decreed that the body of Ajax should not receive the customary form of funeral— i.e., should not be burned, but should be placed in a coffin, and interred3. Here, then, we have two traits which are distinctive of the story as handled by Sophocles, the onslaught of the mad Ajax on the cattle, and the idea that, after his death, his body was liable to be treated with some degree of penal dishonour. Both these traits, so far as can now be judged, were peculiar to the Little Iliad. In the other version—that indicated in the Odyssey and by Pindar, and probably given by Arctînus—Ajax died guiltless of offence against the Greeks, and received, like Achilles, the spontaneous and uncontested tribute of public mourning.

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hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (2):
    • Aristophanes, Knights, 1056
    • Homer, Iliad, 2.557
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