The son of Oileus, king of the Locrians, who is also called the Lesser Ajax.1 His mother's name was Eriopis. According to Strabo2 his birthplace was Naryx in Locris, whence Ovid3 calls him Narycius heros. According to the Iliad4 he led his Locrians in forty ships5 against Troy. He is described as one of the great heroes among the Greeks, and acts frequently in conjunction with the Telamonian Ajax. He is small of stature and wears a linen cuirass (λινοθώρηξ), but is brave and intrepid, especially skilled in throwing the spear, and, next to Achilles, the most swift-footed among all the Greeks.6 His principal exploits during the siege of Troy are mentioned in several passages.7
In the funeral games at the pyre of Patroclus he contended with Odysseus and Antilochus for the prize in the footrace; but Athena, who was hostile towards him and favored Odysseus, made him stumble and fall, so that he gained only the second prize.8 On his return from Troy his vessel was wrecked on the Whirling Rocks (Γυραὶ πέτραι), but he himself escaped upon a rock through the assistance of Poseidon, and would have been saved in spite of Athena, but he used presumptuous words, and said that he would escape the dangers of the sea in defiance of the immortals. Hereupon Poseidon split the rock with his trident, and Ajax was swallowed up by the sea.9
In later traditions this Ajax is called a son of Oileus and the nymph Rhene, and is also mentioned among the suitors of Helen.10 According to a tradition in Philostratus,11 Ajax had a tame dragon, five cubits in length, which followed him everywhere like a dog. After the taking of Troy, it is said, he rushed into the temple of Athena, where Cassandra had taken refuge, and was embracing the statue of the goddess as a suppliant. Ajax dragged her away with violence and led her to the other captives.12 According to some statements he even violated Cassandra in the temple of the goddess;13 Odysseus at least accused him of this crime, and Ajax was to be stoned to death, but saved himself by establishing his innocence by an oath.14 The whole charge, is on the other hand, said to have been an invention of Agamemnon, who wanted to have Cassandra for himself. But whether true or not, Athena had sufficient reason for being indignant, as Ajax had dragged a suppliant from her temple.
When on his voyage homeward he came to the Capharean rocks on the coast of Euboea, his ship was wrecked in a storm, he himself was killed by Athena with a flash of lightning, and his body was washed upon the rocks, which henceforth were called the rocks of Ajax.15 For a different account of his death see Philostratus,16 and the Scholiast on Lycophron. After his death his spirit dwelled in the island of Leuce.17
The Opuntian Locrians worshiped Ajax as their national hero, and so great was their faith in him, that when they drew up their army in battle array, they always left one place open for him, believing that, although invisible to them, he was fighting for and among them.18
The story of Ajax was frequently made use of by ancient poets and artists, and the hero who appears on some Locrian coins with the helmet, shield, and sword, is probably Ajax the son of Oileus.19
- Homer. Iliad ii, 527.
- ix, 425.
- Metamorphoses xiv, 468.
- ii, 527 ff.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 97, says twenty.
- Iliad xiv, 520 ff.; xxiii, 789 ff.
- ibid. xiii, 700 ff.; xiv, 520 ff.; xvi, 350; xvii, 256, 732 ff.
- ibid. xxiii, 754 ff.
- Odyssey iv, 499 ff.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 81, 97; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 10.8.
- Heroicus iii, 1.
- Virgil. Aeneid ii, 403; Euripides. Trojan Women, 70 ff.; Dictys Cretensis, v, 12; Hyginus. Fabulae, 116.
- Tryphiodorus, 635; Quintus Smyrnaeus, xiii, 422; Lycophron, 360, with the Scholiast.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece x, 26.1, 31.1.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 116; comp. Virgil. Aeneid i, 40 ff.; xii, 260.
- Heroicus viii, 3.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece iii, 19.11.
- Pausanias, l.c.; Conon. Narratives, 18.
- Mionnet, No. 570 ff.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.