Son of Telamon, king of Salamis. He brought twelve ships from Salamis to Troy. In the Iliad he is enormous, head and shoulders above the rest, and the greatest Greek warrior after Achilles. His stock epithet is ‘bulwark of the Achaeans’, and his characteristic weapon a huge shield of seven‐fold ox‐hide. He clearly has the better of Hector in a duel, after which the heroes exchange gifts, Aias giving Hector a sword‐belt in return for a sword; and he is at his memorable best when with unshakeable courage he defends the Greek wall and then the ships. He is also a member of the Embassy to Achilles, when he gives a brief but effective appeal to Achilles on friendship's grounds. At Patroclus' funeral games he draws a wrestling match with Odysseus, strength against cunning.
The Aethiopis (see epic cycle) told how after Achilles' death Aias carried his body off the field of battle while Odysseus held back the Trojans. The Little Iliad told how the arms of Achilles were then adjudged to Odysseus instead of Aias, who went mad with anger, killed the herds of the Greeks, believing them to be the Greek leaders, and then killed himself. Sophocles dramatizes these later events in his Ajax, but at the end of the play Aias is taken to an honourable burial, in marked contrast to his treatment in the Little Iliad where he is denied the customary burial honours. In the Odyssey, when Odysseus is in Hades, he meets the shade of Aias who, in anger at his loss of Achilles' arms, refuses to speak and stalks away in magnificent Silence.
Scenes from Aias' life popular in art, some from the 7th cent. bc, are combats with Hector and others, dicing with Achilles, lifting Achilles' body, the argument and voting about Achilles' arms, and (an especial favourite) his suicide.
Subjects: Classical studies