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The first question
Dramatic unity of the play.
which this play suggests is one which must be considered before any criticism of detail can be profitably attempted—before, indeed, even the character of the hero himself, as drawn by Sophocles, can be properly appreciated. How did the poet conceive the subject of his drama as a whole? What was the nature of the unity which he intended his work to possess? Ajax dies at verse 865: more than a third of the play follows his death, and is concerned with the question as to whether he is, or is not, to be buried. A reader is apt to feel that, with the suicide of Ajax, the principal interest has disappeared. Modern criticism has suggested various apologies for the latter part of the play; the supreme importance which the ancient Greeks attached to funeral rites, as affecting the condition of the departed spirit; the advantage incidental to the controversy between Teucer and the Atreidae, that the merits of Ajax are triumphantly asserted; the edifying victory of prudence and magnanimity in the person of Odysseus. All such considerations, however, tend only to show, first, that this part of the play would have been interesting, on general grounds, to a Greek audience; and secondly, that it is not irrelevant to the subject of the earlier portion. But more than this is required, if the sequel to the hero's death is to be justified as a matter of dramatic art. It has to be explained how the action of the play, from beginning to end, can be regarded as an organic whole. The idea which pervades it, giving it unity and coherence, must be such that the death of Ajax can be viewed, not as a catastrophe after which everything else becomes tame, but rather as a tragic event necessarily leading to the events which follow it, so that the true climax is reached only in that decision which rescues the corpse of Ajax from dishonour. We must endeavour to trace this idea; or, in other words, to find the point of view from which Sophocles may be supposed to have regarded his own work.

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