With his new translation, Dennis Daly brings Sophcles' Ajax to a modern audience. Sophocles was arguably the greatest of the ancient Athenian dramatists, and his version of Ajax has all the markings of a great Greek tragedy.
Ajax was a great warrior for the Greeks against Troy, second only to Achilles. When Achilles is killed in battle, Ajax expects that the armor and weaponry used by Achilles would naturally be rewarded to him. Devious Odysseus, however, connives to receive the reward himself, with the help of Athena. Ajax is outraged.
Sophocles picks this moment to begin his tragedy. Ajax goes mad--or is driven mad by Athena--and hacks up scores of livestock but believes they are his enemies, Odysseus, Menalaus and Agammemnon. When he returns to his right mind, he finds himself a laughingstock and is humiliated. He can see only way out of his disgrace, and he takes his own life. His brother, Teucer, returns to camp too late to prevent the tragedy, but he does prevail in giving Ajax a proper burial.
Even this brief summary gives a hint of the power and quick moving nature of the play. It's theme is summed up by the chorus in the closing lines:
The matter of life a man may see
And from it learn a wisdom.
But who has sight enough
To envision the future
Or perceive his own fate?
Daly's translation is vigorouse and straightforward. He conveys the important issues of the play clearly, and the language never veers into archaisms or false formality. The book does not contain scene divisions, line number, or annotations, so it is probably not a good choice for classroom use. However, as a very readable version of a great play, it is a welcome addition to the list of translations of Sophocles' works.