Ajax (mythology)

   Ajax, in Greek legend, a hero of the Trojan War. He was a cousin of Achilles. At his birth Hercules wrapped him in a lion's skin, making him invulner­able to the arrows of his enemies, except in the armpit. He is represented in Ho­mer's Iliad as of colossal strength, "as un­moved by the shafts of his enemies as is an ass in a cornfield by the pelting of boys." Although noted for his size, strength, and courage, he was dull of intellect and slow of speech. During the siege of Troy he was a constant terror to the Trojans. Time and again he encountered Hector in single combat and came off vic­torious. He was accounted second only to the great Achilles. When Achilles was slain, his mother, Thetis, directed that his armor be given to him who was most de­serving. Ulysses, and Ajax were the two claimants for the prize. Ulyssses received it. In his despair Ajax lost his reason. He slew the sheep of the Greeks, believ­ing them to be men and enemies. Realiz­ing what he had done, shame drove him to suicide. Where his blood sank into the earth, there sprang up a flower which bore on its leaves the first two letters of Ajax's name, AI, which is also a Greek exclama­tion signifying "woe." This flower was the hyacinth. A similar story was told of a youth, Hyacinthus.

   Many stories are told in the Iliad of the exploits of Ajax, of his strength and prowess. Perhaps the best known is the incident of his struggle to protect the dead body of Patroclus from Hector, because it is at this time that Ajax utters his fa­mous prayer for light. Zeus has envel­oped the scene of battle with clouds and darkness, and Ajax exclaims:

   Lord of earth and air! Oh, king! oh, father! hear my humble prayer! Dispel this cloud, the light of heaven restore; Give me to see and Ajax asks no more; If Greece must perish we thy will obey, But let us perish in the face of day.

   This prayer is often quoted and alluded to in literature. In Longfellow's poem, The Goblet of Life, occurs the line, The prayer of Ajax was for light.