Author: Thomas Fleming

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Ajax 430-595  End of First Episode

In this passage, dialogue between Ajax and Tecmessa, Ajax and the Chorus, Ajax and Eurysaces, the embittered hero sticks to his decision to kill himself, despite the appeals of his “wife”—she may as well be—son, and followers, all of whom depend on him.  It is a bit like the Book of Job, except these are Greeks, for whom friendship—which includes kinship—is a primary moral quality.

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Ajax: The Parodos and First Episode

Athena’s parting words are to remind Odysseus and the audience that “The Gods love the sophrones and hate the kakoi.  These are two key words for Greek morality and are rather more opposed than the English words “prudent” and “bad.”  The man who is sophron, is he whose thinking abilities (the phrenes) are sound, who can judge the future by the past, who keeps his strong feelings under control.  Sophrosyne, the great Aristotelian virtue, is a distillation of the Greek folk wisdom exemplified in the Delphic proverbs, “Nothing in excess,” “Measure is best,” and “know thyself,” which is to say, “always...

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Anterus and Proclus, Part II

This line of thinking was so tediously familiar to me that I had given up following the news through any medium, and, as I fell into walking down these mental pathways,  my own musings began to bore me so much I could not control my yawning.  I had obviously awakened too early.  I closed my eyes, and, as I drifted off, I saw myself or someone who looked an awful lot like Anterus Smith, dressed in the simple white tunic philosophers in the schools affected.  He was speaking in Greek with an older and more distinguished man, who was having...

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Sophocles Ajax: The Prologue

The prologue is rather more dramatic than in many plays, where a god or mortal steps forth (as in Euripides so often) and gives us a brief sketch of the situation and hints at development.  In this scene, Athena surprises Ajax in the act of trailing Ajax to discover if he is the author of the insane night-attack on the animals.  She gives him more knowledge than he bargained for, and, depending on our view of the play and its characters, the ethical point of  the play may be anticipated in this first scene.

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Sophocles’ Ajax, Introduction Part II: Principal Characters and the Form

Characters Aias (Ajax) is a prominent character in the Iliad.  He is the cousin of Achilles and half-brother of Teucer.  He is most conspicuous for his athletic strength and unremitting valor in defense.  Sometimes thought of by readers as a bit of a dumb ox, he is praised for his prudence by Hector and is among the small group chosen to take part in the embassy to persuade Achilles to return to the battle.  On that occasion, he displays both good sense and outspoken candor, when he tells his fellows–Odysseus and Phoenix–that there is no dealing with Achilles.  Other men...

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Sophocles’ Ajax I: Preliminary

I hardly ever read introductions to classic works of English or American fiction; however, the farther removed we are a literary tradition, the more we may feel the need of a little preliminary exposition.  The Athenian poet Sophocles was born a few years after 500 B.C. and would have been about thirteen years old when Xerxes led the Persian army into Greece and burned the temples on the Athenian acropolis.  

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Announcement: Sophocles Lives!

I’ve just started rereading Sophocles’ Ajax.  I’m not sure why, apart from the need to keep reading Greek, but there is something that has always attracted me in the portrait of the staunch reactionary who goes mad, after being dishonored, and of his glib enemy, Odysseus, who learns humanity.  (I have a strong hunch that in his depictions of Odysseus–as in his Oedipus–Sophocles is dealing with the Athenian mentality of his own day, and that scholars who see the poet’s friend Cimon in Ajax are on the right track.) If five people promise to start reading it, I’ll start a...