White Rose University Consortium logo
University of Leeds logo University of Sheffield logo York University logo

Sophocles’ Ajax: expect the unexpected

Heath, M. and Okell, E. (2007) Sophocles’ Ajax: expect the unexpected. Classical Quarterly, 57 (2). pp. 363-380. ISSN 1471-6844

Text (author's version)
Available under licence : See the attached licence file.

Download (156Kb)
Text (as published)
Available under licence : See the attached licence file.

Download (168Kb)


This paper examines the staging of Sophocles’ Ajax, and some aspects of its treatment of the traditional story. Starting from Scullion’s argument against the standard assumption that there is a change of location after the exit of the chorus at 814, we work out the consequences of the single location for the play as a whole. In tracing the unfolding sequence of events on stage it becomes clear that Sophocles has organised this sequence in a way consistently calculated to surprise the audience. We argue that he was seeking the same effect in his adaptation of the traditional story. First, there is reason to believe that Sophocles has made a surprising innovation with respect to the antecedents of the play’s action that makes Ajax a more radically problematic figure. Secondly, we suggest that Sophocles may have placed Odysseus’ resolution of the confrontation between Teucer and the Atreids in a new and surprising light by integrating the action of this play with subsequent events more closely than is generally recognised. The dramatic strategy we identify is thematically appropriate in a play in which the leading character enunciates the principle that ‘nothing is beyond expectation’ (648), and which closes with the reflection that we need to see to understand (1418-20).

Item Type: Article
Copyright, Publisher and Additional Information: This article has been accepted for publication in Classical Quarterly. The present version incorporates authors’ revisions following peer review, but not changes resulting from editorial input by Cambridge University Press. Copyright is held by the Classical Association.
Institution: The University of Leeds
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts (Leeds) > School of Humanities (Leeds) > Classics (Leeds)
Depositing User: Repository Officer
Date Deposited: 17 Jan 2008 15:53
Last Modified: 28 Jul 2016 07:05
Published Version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0009838807000456
Status: Published
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Refereed: Yes
Identification Number: 10.1017/S0009838807000456
Related URLs:
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/3584

Actions (repository staff only: login required)