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Reference: Elton Thomas Edward Barker, (2004). The fall-out from dissent: hero and audience in Sophocles' Ajax. Greece & Rome, 51 (1), 1-20.Citable link to this page:


The fall-out from dissent: hero and audience in Sophocles' Ajax

Abstract: Sophocles’ Ajax has long confounded critics. As a study of the great hero figure it has been found wanting, on the basis that Ajax kills himself half-way through the play. On the other hand, the characters left in his wake have been criticised for destroying the tragic gravity by engaging in petty quarrelling over his body. This paper makes sense of the character of Ajax and the structure of the play by pointing to the strong Iliadic resonances at the beginning of the drama, as Ajax plays the role of Achilles going for his sword in anger at Agamemnon in an extreme manifestation of dissent from authority. In Ajax’s case, however, Athena does not stay his hand, but rather deflects it so that he experiences the shame of killing cattle and herdsmen. Moreover, the focus even in this opening scene rests with a spectator – Odysseus stands by looking on – rather than with the hero himself as in the Homeric scene. Indeed, the rest of the play examines the fall-out from dissent from the perspective of those dependent on him – his wife, half-brother (Teucer) and men (the Chorus). In this way the double agon, in which Teucer defends the right to bury Ajax in defiance of the authorities, is fundamental to implicating the audience in the process of reassessing Ajax’s standing and putting a value on dissent. The shift in focalisation from hero to spectator and the investigation into the problems with, and importance of, dissent suggest one way in which this play performs within the cultural context of Athenian democracy.

Publication status:PublishedPeer Review status:Peer reviewedVersion:Publisher's versionNotes:Citation: Barker, E. (2004). 'The fall-out from dissent: hero and audience in Sophocles' Ajax', Greece & Rome, 51(1), 1-20. [Available at].

Bibliographic Details

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Publisher Website:

Host: Greece & Romesee more from them

Publication Website:

Issue Date: 2004-April

Copyright Date: 2004-04-1



Issn: 0017-3835

Eissn: 1477-4550

Urn: uuid:c626cee0-3a08-4e96-8428-270c393ee996 Item Description

Type: Article: post-print;

Language: en

Version: Publisher's versionKeywords: Ajax Sophocles dissent hero audience tragedy democracySubjects: Hellenic (Classical Greek) literature Tiny URL: ora:1486


Autor: Dr Elton Thomas Edward Barker - institutionUniversity of Oxford facultyHumanities Division - Classics Faculty oxfordCollegeChrist



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