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Aeschylus handled the story of Ajax in a trilogy. The
The trilogy of Aeschylus. (i) “Ὅπλων κρίσις”.
first play was called “Ὅπλων κρίσις”, the Award of the Arms. Aristotle includes this title (without naming Aeschylus) in a list of ten tragedies of which the subjects were taken from the Little Iliad1. It would be unsafe to found too much upon this notice. Aristotle may have meant, not a particular tragedy entitled “Ὅπλων κρίσις”, but, more generally, that episode, as a tragic subject; thus the contest for the arms was certainly included in the Ajax of Theodectes, to which Aristotle more than once alludes in the Rhetoric (see below, § 19). We cannot assume, then, that the version given in the Little Iliad was that which Aeschylus followed. Welcker2 thinks that Aeschylus, following the Aethiopis of Arctînus, made the Trojan captives the judges, and omitted the onslaught of Ajax on the cattle. As to the judges, it is obvious that tragedy could not use the almost playful romance of the Little Iliad, and represent the question as decided by the conversation between the Trojan maidens. One of Welcker's chief reasons for thinking that the captives formed the tribunal is that the “Ὅπλων κρίσις” had a second title, namely, “Φρύγες”,—these ‘Phrygians’ being the Trojan captives who acted as judges: but this hypothesis as to the second title has no good foundation3. On this point, then, we must be content to remark that the Trojans appear as the judges not only in the Odyssey, but also in the Heroica of Philostratus, in Quintus Smyrnaeus, and in the Posthomerica of Tzetzes4. Now, after the age of Attic tragedy, the Aethiopis of Arctînus, like other Cyclic epics, fell into comparative obscurity, so much of the material having been worked up in the more attractive form of drama. The earliest writer, of known date5, who names Arctînus, is Dionysius of Halicarnassus (circ. 25 B.C.)6. It would seem that neither Strabo nor Pausanias knew the Aethiopis7. When, therefore, Philostratus (circ. 235 A.D. ), or Quintus Smyrnaeus (circ. 450 A.D. ), represents the Trojan captives as the judges, it is much less probable that he derived that version from Arctînus than that he found it in some old writer of wider popularity, such as Aeschylus. It is, of course, a bare possibility that these late writers relied solely on the verse in the Odyssey; but it is very unlikely. I think, therefore, that Welcker's view on this point has much in its favour, although the ground on which he chiefly rests it (the supposed second title of the play) is untenable. With regard to the general treatment of the subject by Aeschylus, one important fact is certain. Ajax and Odysseus argued their respective claims in speeches8—as they do in Ovid and Quintus Smyrnaeus, and as we know that they did in Theodectes. It may perhaps jar somewhat on our conception of Aeschylus—whose style, as we know it, is so remote from rhetoric of the kind which afterwards became popular at Athens —to imagine him pitting his two heroes against each other in controversial speeches; but there is the trial-scene in the Eumenides to remind us how he could treat a subject of the forensic type without loss of tragic and heroic elevation. The pleading of his Ajax and his Odysseus had probably more resemblance to a controversy in the Iliad than to such an encounter of wits as Euripides would have provided on a similar occasion.

1 Poet.c. 23 ad fin.

2 Ueber den Aias des Sophokles, in Rhein. Mus. for 1829, part 3, p. 53.

3 No such second title appears in any one of the five ancient citations of the “Οπλων κρίσις” (Nauck, Trag. Frag., pp. 57 f.).

4 Heroic. 11. 3: Quint. Smyrn. 5. 157: Tzetzes Posthom. 485.

5 The scholia which name or indicate Arctînus, such as those on Il. 11. 515 and Pind. Isthm. 4.(3.) 58, may, of course, be older, or represent older sources.

6 Ant. Rom. 1. 68.

7 As to Strabo, see Mr Monro in Journ. Hellen. Stud. IV. p. 16, n. 1; as to Pausanias, ib. p. 31, n. 1.

8 This is proved by a fragment of the “Ὅπλων κρίσις” ( Aesch. frag. 175, ed. Nauck), manifestly from a speech of Ajax, who taunts Odysseus with being the son of Sisyphus: “ἀλλ᾽ Ἀντικλείας ἆσσον ἦλθε Σίσυφος, τῆς σῆς λέγω τοι μητρὸς σ᾽ ἐγείνατο”.

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hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (2):
    • Homer, Iliad, 11.515
    • Pindar, Isthmean, 4
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