Karakantza, Efimia. 2023. “Sophocles’ Ajax as the Iliadic Achilles in the Extreme.” In “Γέρα: Studies in honor of Professor Menelaos Christopoulos,” ed. Athina Papachrysostomou, Andreas P. Antonopoulos, Alexandros-Fotios Mitsis, Fay Papadimitriou, and Panagiota Taktikou, special issue, Classics@ 25. https://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HLNC.ESSAY:103900183.
Part 1. An Excessive Pursuit of the Heroic timê: The Dishonored and Raging Hero
It is all about heroic timê—some theoretical remarks
In this sense, “<the code of honour> integrates self-regarding and other-regarding, competitive and co-operative standards into a remarkably unified whole.”  This last idea is put forward by Herman in another wording:
This is exactly what the Iliad conveys to its audience/readers. I subscribe to the view that the code of honor observes individual and collective interests, and that the overvaluation of personal interests at the expense of the common wellbeing is what I term “excessive.” Achilles in the Iliad and Ajax in Sophocles pursue their timê while encroaching on the honor of others, as will be argued in detail in the course of the present paper.
οἴκαδ᾽ ἴμεν σὺν νηυσὶ κορωνίσιν, οὐδέ σ’ ὀΐω
ἐνθάδ’ ἄτιμος ἐὼν ἄφενος καὶ πλοῦτον ἀφύξειν
to head home with my curved ships than stay here,
Unhonored myself and piling up a fortune for you. 
Similarly, Thetis, when she travels to Olympus to elicit the promise that the Achaeans will suffer defeat until they entreat her son to return to the fight, presents Achilles’ cause as a case of a slighted timê that seeks to be restored by the highest authority, that of Zeus (1.505–507):
ἔπλετ’· ἀτάρ μιν νῦν γε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων
ἠτίμησεν· ἑλὼν γὰρ ἔχει γέρας αὐτὸς ἀπούρας.
Honor my son, doomed to die young,
And yet dishonored by King Agamemnon,
Who stole his prize, a personal affront.
As it happens, in this narrative the promise that Zeus gives to Thetis, with its subsequent modifications,  is actually the plot of the Homeric version of the Iliadic war, our Iliad.
Ἀτρεΐδης ὡς εἴ τιν’ ἀτίμητον μετανάστην
[…] The son of Atreus treated me like dirt,
In public, as if I were some worthless tramp
Those very words (ἀτίμητον μετανάστην, repeated again to Patroclus in 16.59) are the strongest possible formulation of how unbearable it is to be deprived of one’s timê, with the social degradation it entails. This conviction is so much embedded in Homeric ethics that it resonates in the speech of sympathy that Achilles addresses to Priam in book 24. When Achilles advises him to endure the misfortunes of life, he resorts to the metaphor of the two jars at the doorstep of Zeus, and he concludes that a man that receiving only evil (i.e. in consequence of which, without material resources) is ἀτίμητος by gods and men alike, and hunger drives him over the earth (24.532–533):
φοιτᾷ δ᾽ οὔτε θεοῖσι τετιμημένος οὔτε βροτοῖσιν.
You become a pariah, and hunger drives you
Over the bright earth, dishonored by gods and men.
He is the lowest social outcast and this is how Achilles sees his own dishonoring.
Excessive pursuit of heroic timê by Achilles: The raging hero
πάντων μὲν κρατέειν ἐθέλει͵ πάντεσσι δ΄ ἀνάσσειν͵
πᾶσι δὲ σημαίνειν͵ ἅ τιν’ οὐ πείσεσθαι ὀΐω·
εἰ δέ μιν αἰχμητὴν ἔθεσαν θεοὶ αἰὲν ἐόντες
τοὔνεκά οἱ προθέουσιν ὀνείδεα μυθήσασθαι;
But this man wants to be ahead of everyone else,
He wants to rule everyone, give orders to everyone,
Lord it over everyone, and he’s not going to get away with it.
If the gods eternal made him a spearman, does that mean,
They gave him permission to be insolent as well?
Of course, this statement is Agamemnon’s angry (and biased) description of Achilles’ behavior in book 1 of the Iliad. Nevertheless, we are led to the realization of Achilles’ stubbornness when he dismisses Nestor’s advice to yield to Agamemnon, since, according to the social and political order, Agamemnon’s kingly timê is superior, as his fame and honor (kûdos) are allotted to him directly by Zeus (1.277–279): 
ἀντιβίην͵ ἐπεὶ οὔ που’ ὁμοίης ἔμμορε τιμῆς
σκηπτοῦχος βασιλεύς͵ ᾧ τε Ζεὺς κῦδος ἔδωκεν.
Nor should you, son of Peleus, want to lock horns with a king.
A scepter-holding king has honor beyond the rest of men,
Power and glory given by Zeus himself.
In this line of argument, Achilles may be physically strong (σὺ καρτερός ἐσσι, 1.280) but Agamemnon is more powerful (ὅ γε φέρτερός ἐστιν, 1.281), since he reigns over more. Nevertheless, Agamemnon, contrary to Nestor’s advice redistributes the spoils of war, taking Briseis away from Achilles. The latter, contrary again to Nestor’s advice, abuses Agamemnon  and challenges his authority (ἄλλοισιν δὴ ταῦτ᾽ ἐπιτέλλεο, μὴ γὰρ ἐμοί γε / σήμαιν<ε>, try that on somebody else, but not on me, 1.295–296); if he yielded to him, he would have been thought of as coward and next to nothing.
Excessive pursuit of heroic timê by Ajax: The raging hero
τὰ δὲ πλευροκοπῶν δίχ’ ἀνερρήγνυ·
δύο δ’ ἀργίποδας κριοὺς ἀνελών͵
τοῦ μὲν κεφαλὴν καὶ γλῶσσαν ἄκραν
ῥιπτεῖ θερίσας͵ […]
Some of them he slaughtered indoors, on the ground,
and the rest he tore apart, hacking at their sides.
Taking two white-footed rams he slashed off
and hurled away the head of one
and the tip of its tongue […] 
Thus, we see Ajax mutilating the bodies of the rams he thinks are the Atreidae and capturing other animals binding them to the poles of his tent before defiling them (καὶ νῦν κατ’ οἴκους συνδέτους αἰκίζεται, 65; and also, τοὺς δὲ δεσμίους ᾐκίζεθ’ ὥστε φῶτας ἐν ποίμναις πίτνων, 299–300). One animal that is taken to be Odysseus is tied to a pole to be flogged to death ([…] τὸν δ’ ὀρθὸν ἄνω / κίονι δήσας͵ / μέγαν ἱπποδέτην ῥυτῆρα λαβὼν / παίει λιγυρᾷ μάστιγι διπλῇ͵ 239–242; cf. also μάστιγι πρῶτον νῶτα φοινιχθεὶς θάνῃ, 110). Athena, in her ironic address to Ajax asks him not to torture (αἰκίζειν) Odysseus (μὴ δῆτα τὸν δύστηνον ὧδέ γ’ αἰκίσῃ, 111). We should be reminded, at this point, that it was strictly prohibited to flog to death or torture in any way a free man in classical Athens, so that the picture of Odysseus dying, lashed to a pole, like a common slave or criminal would have provoked terror in the audience, since it entailed a further dishonoring of the captured enemy. It comes as no surprise the widespread use of the various verbal forms of αἰκίζειν in the relevant Sophoclean passages, which highlight the defilement of the dead Hector by the raging Achilles. In Ajax, though, in a poignant reversal, so typical in dramatic plays, it is Ajax who is actually defiled and tortured, and not his enemies. The fallen hero, when he comes to his senses and sees clearly the heap of the dead animals around him, realizes that it is Athena who has tortured him all along (401–402):
But the daughter of Zeus,
the mighty goddess,
tortures me to death.
Having been through the picture of the raging Ajax in the eponymous tragedy some questions loom large in our understanding of this particular Sophoclean hero. Is there any indication in the Iliadic Ajax that would prepare the audience for such behavior? How is Ajax in the Iliad? Does he connect with Achilles and in what way? And, finally, is Ajax worthy of Achilles’ arms?
Ajax in the Iliad: The second best of the Achaeans
πάντοθεν ἐκ μελέων πολὺς ἔρρεεν͵ οὐδέ πῃ εἶχεν
ἀμπνεῦσαι· πάντῃ δὲ κακὸν κακῷ ἐστήρικτο
Again and again
he fought for breath, gasping, bathed in sweat
rivering down his body, his limbs soaked and sleek…
where could he find some breathing room in battle?
Wherever he looked, pains heaped on pains. 
At this moment, Ajax represents the whole of the Achaean army that succumbs to the raging Trojans and in fulfillment of Zeus’ promise to Thetis (15.598–599). The moment is so critical that Homer interrupts his narrative and addresses the Muse again (16.112) asking her to take over and narrate how Hector comes at the exhausted hero, shatters his spear, forcing him to retreat, then sets the ships on fire. This triggers the events that will culminate in the death of Patroclus, the quelling of the wrath of Achilles, the death of Hector and the end of the Iliad that concludes with the ransom of Hector and his burial.
Then let me die now. I was not help
to him when he was killed out there
Achilles did not prevent Patroclus’ death, but Ajax prevented the mutilation of the dead Patroclus since, from all the ἄριστοι Ἀχαιῶν, it was he who protected and retrieved the dead body as if he were Achilles. The rescue of the body of Patroclus is very significant in the Homeric narrative; it also becomes the prototype upon which the rescue of the body of Achilles proper is based later in Aethiopis by Arctinus (to which we shall return later). In book 17, Menelaus who is near the body cannot withstand the force of the waves of Trojan soldiers, retreats and abandons the body, seeking Ajax while the corpse is stripped of its illustrious armor. Ajax comes bearing his huge tower like shield (Αἴας δ’ ἐγγύθεν ἦλθε φέρων σάκος ἠΰτε πύργον, 17.128) and uses it to cover the prone body of Patroclus (Αἴας δ’ ἀμφὶ Μενοιτιάδῃ σάκος εὐρὺ καλύψας, 17.132). This action is so protective that the Homeric narrative passes into a simile describing a lion that shepherding his cubs and leading them through woods when harried by hunters, while exulting in his power (17.133–135). 
οὔτέ τιν’ ἐξοπίσω νεκροῦ χάζεσθαι ἀνώγει
οὔτέ τινα προμάχεσθαι Ἀχαιῶν ἔξοχον ἄλλων͵
ἀλλὰ μάλ’ ἀμφ’ αὐτῷ βεβάμεν͵ σχεδόθεν δὲ μάχεσθαι.
Ajax was everywhere among them, seeing to it,
That not a man took one step backward
From the body, or went out in front to show off,
But that all stood together and fought close in.
The struggle over the body is strangely situated in the middle of the battlefield amidst a generalized battle, where there is no relief from accumulated fatigue and raining blows, and where dense mist covers the combatants (…τοὶ δ’ ἐν μέσῳ ἄλγε’ ἔπασχον / ἠέρι καὶ πολέμῳ͵ τείροντο δὲ νηλέϊ χαλκῷ / ὅσσοι ἄριστοι ἔσαν·…, 17.375–377). It lasts a whole day (τοῖς δὲ πανημερίοις ἔριδος μέγα νεῖκος ὀρώρει / ἀργαλέης·…, 17.384–385) (in narratological terms it takes up a whole book) and it would seem to have no end if it were not for Ajax who in indignation asks Zeus to lift the mist so that, at least, they can see while fighting (17.645–647). He also initiates the removal of the body from the field by Meriones and Menelaus, while he fights a rearguard action (17.717–721). It is obvious that this book and the rescue of, and struggle for the possession of Patroclus’ body is Ajax’s personal aristeia,  although the struggle continues well into book 18. Here, again, Hector encounters the two Ajaxes trying to drag the body by its ankle (18.155–156), until, finally, Achilles himself arrives on the battlefield and frightens Hector and the Trojans with his stupendous war cry (18.203–229). In terms of semiological analysis of this episode, the “naked” Achilles (now that his divinely manufactured armor covers the body of Hector) needs the outsized shield of Ajax to dress, the only other panoply worthy of Achilles (18.192–195):
εἰ μὴ Αἴαντός γε σάκος Τελαμωνιάδαο.
ἀλλὰ καὶ αὐτὸς ὅ γ΄ ἔλπομ’ ἐνὶ πρώτοισιν ὁμιλεῖ
ἔγχεϊ δηϊόων περὶ Πατρόκλοιο θανόντος.
I don’t know any other armor that would fit,
unless maybe the shield of Telamonian Ajax.
But he is out there in the front ranks, I hope,
fighting with his spear over Patroclus dead.
Taking these Iliadic instances into account, we can reestablish a point made earlier in the present argument: if we take the Iliad at face value, Ajax is indeed the second best after Achilles, far outstripping the other heroes in bravery, stature, effectiveness, physical strength, determination, and staunchness. It comes as a complete injustice, then, for him to be denied the arms of Achilles in favor of Odysseus, arms that should rightly be allotted to him as a token of heroic excellence. Additionally, it is even more interesting to consider the way that later (or contemporary)  to the Iliad literary sources treated the Judgment of Arms, so that this allotment comes out less unjust.
Dishonoring Ajax: The Judgment of Arms
κράτος κατακτήσαιτ᾽· ἐγὼ δὲ καὶ δίχα
κείνων πέποιθα τοῦτ᾽ ἐπισπάσειν κλέος
Father, together with the gods,
even one who amounts to nothing may win victory;
but I am confident that I can grasp this glory even without them.
This is clearly a very insolent attitude of a warrior that cannot be found even in the most insolent moments of Homeric warfare;  even Achilles, whose attitude in the Iliad lacks often enough any consideration for the code of behavior among the ranks of other warriors, is very careful to respect and obey any advise or command sent by the gods. Achilles stops short of killing Agamemnon as soon as Athena advises him accordingly; “it is better to obey the gods,” says Achilles, “because they listen when you pray” (ὅς τε θεοῖσ᾽ ἐπιπείθηται, μάλα τ᾽ ἔκλυον αὐτοῦ, 1.218); and he immediately agrees to release the body of Hector when divine word arrives from Olympus.
ἵστω, καθ᾽ ἡμᾶς δ᾽ οὔποτ᾽ ἐκρήξει μάχη.
Queen, stand by the other Argives;
where I am, the enemy shall never break through.
Is this spoken insolence Ajax’s hybris? Of course, defining the hero’s hubris is a complex matter. Fisher in his classic book Hybris interprets these particular remarks as a form of hybris, but “as mild a form as could easily be entertained,” and that they “are better seen as a sign of the pervasive and foolish blindness to the general limits of human endeavours that is itself a consequence of his single-minded and unyielding pursuit of aretê and timê.”  It is obvious that Fisher tries to undermine the importance of these boasting replies of Ajax because he challenges the widespread belief that an offense against the gods may arouse divine jealousy or anger and result in the punishment of the human agent; he terms this belief a “traditional view” of hybris which should be dismissed as a common fallacy.  I strongly disagree with the “mild” notion of Fisher, since such an arrogant rejection of divine aid expressed by Ajax is hard to find in extant archaic and classical literary sources and it is openly interpreted as the cause of Ajax’s downfall in the play. The herald to the assembly of the Greeks twice remarks that these boastful words characterize somebody who does “not think according to his human nature” (οὐ κατ᾽ ἄνθρωπον φρονῶν, 761, 777), and this way of thinking invite divinely sent calamities (758–761). After listening to the herald’s message, it makes better sense in retrospect, of what Athena said in the prologue to Odysseus when pointing out at Ajax’s humiliation (127–130):
μηδέν ποτ᾽ εἴπῃς αὐτὸς ἐς θεοὺς ἔπος,
μηδ᾽ ὄγκον ἄρῃ μηδέν᾽, εἴ τινος πλέον,
ἣ χερὶ βρίθεις ἣ μακροῦ πλούτου βάθει.
Look, then, at such things, and never yourself utter
an arrogant word against the gods,
nor assume conceit because you outweigh another in strength
or in profusion of great wealth.
This whole nexus of insolent thoughts and behavior is clearly an invention of Sophocles. A reader of Homer would have great trouble finding a single fault in Ajax’s behavior.  A reader of the cyclic epics could perhaps glean some clues to justify the arrogance and disrespect shown by the hero in the Sophoclean drama; but this is mere speculation, since we lack sufficient evidence to support this view. However, the reader of Sophocles definitely understands how the outspoken arrogance of Ajax stirs up the anger of Athena and precipitates his own downfall; it is Ajax’s over boasting that dooms him that particular day that amounts to the dramatic time of Ajax. 
In lieu of an epilogue: Harming friends and helping enemies
ὅ τ΄ ἐχθρὸς ἡμῖν ἐς τοσόνδ’ ἐχθαρτέος͵
ὡς καὶ φιλήσων αὖθις͵ ἔς τε τὸν φίλον
τοσαῦθ’ ὑπουργῶν ὠφελεῖν βουλήσομαι͵
ὡς αἰὲν οὐ μενοῦντα· τοῖς πολλοῖσι γὰρ
βροτῶν ἄπιστός ἐσθ’ ἑταιρείας λιμήν. 
The “harming friends / helping enemies” module that connects the two heroes will be treated extensively in another essay. As a closing remark for the purpose of this paper, it suffices to say that Ajax “adopts” every single trait of his first cousin Achilles, and that he behaves as the best of the Achaeans—the only difference being that he is more extreme than his famous relative.
ἕδρῃ τε κρέασίν τε ἰδὲ πλείοις δεπάεσσιν
ἐν Λυκίῃ͵ πάντες δὲ θεοὺς ὣς εἰσορόωσι͵
καὶ τέμενος νεμόμεσθα μέγα Ξάνθοιο παρ΄ ὄχθας
καλὸν φυταλιῆς καὶ ἀρούρης πυροφόροιο;
τὼ νῦν χρὴ Λυκίοισι μέτα πρώτοισιν ἐόντας
ἑστάμεν ἠδὲ μάχης καυστείρης ἀντιβολῆσαι͵
ὄφρά τις ὧδ΄ εἴπῃ Λυκίων πύκα θωρηκτάων·
οὐ μὰν ἀκλεέες Λυκίην κάτα κοιρανέουσιν
ἡμέτεροι βασιλῆες͵ ἔδουσί τε πίονα μῆλα
οἶνόν τ’ ἔξαιτον μελιηδέα· ἀλλ΄ ἄρα καὶ ἲς
ἐσθλή͵ ἐπεὶ Λυκίοισι μέτα πρώτοισι μάχονται.
Glaukus, you know how you and I / have the best of everything in Lycia— / seats, cuts of meat, full cups, everybody / looking at us as if we were gods? / Not to mention our estates on the Xanthus, / fine orchards and riverside wheat fields. / Well, now we have to take our stand at the front, / where all the best fight, and face the heat of battle, / so that many armored Lycian will say, / “So they’re not inglorious after all, / our Lycian lords who eat fat sheep / and drink the sweetest wine. No, / they’re strong, and fight with our best.”
ᾧ ῥά τε νήπι’ ἄγοντι συναντήσωνται ἐν ὕλῃ
ἄνδρες ἐπακτῆρες· ὃ δέ τε σθένεϊ βλεμεαίνει.