Our first session was primarily dedicated to introducing the participants and Ajax. The participants this week included Phil, our Warrior Chorus facilitator, Dan, Laura, Vic and Joseph. Phil is a Vietnam veteran who served with military intelligence. Vic is a former Army paratrooper and veteran of Iraq that is now a disability lawyer representing veterans. Joe, a former Marine and veteran of Iraq works in finance and is a visual artist interested the parallels between the Greek tragedies and his own experiences in war, combat and of returning home.
After reading the opening 130-or so lines together as a group, we discussed the separate perspectives immediately apparent at the opening. Odysseus clearly understands Ajax now as his enemy but is nonetheless disturbed to see him in this state. Conversely, Athena is amused and encourages to Odysseus to laugh at him. And of course, we gather the obstinacy of Ajax, who is incapable of yielding his own will to that of the collective to the point of madness. One wonders whether Sophocles sought to portray Ajax as repudiating the democratic tradition among men-at- arms, portraying him essentially as an ego maniac selfishly rejecting the decision of the army to give Odysseus the arms of Achilles.
Certainly, Athena’s portrayal to no-more glorified. For the next session, after the group has read the whole play in its entirety, hopefully we can discuss whether and how these ambivalences manifest in and among modern military settings. If they do persist, are the stakes as dire? Are the consequences as lasting? How might the modern military realistically deal with Ajax’s crime? Would its being handled within the unit or by the larger institution be more effective? More justified?