The tragedy of Ajax

October 1, 2010

Some months ago, a friend had raised an interesting question that was derived from Sophocles’ tragedy “Aias” (Ajax).
Ajax was a Greek warrior in the Trojan War and a friend of Achilles. Actually, he was the one who carried Achilles’ dead body away from the battle field and for this he claimed to take his armor, which had a symbolic value. However, the council of the Greek leaders voted that the armor should be given to Ulysses, the other contender. Ajax thought that he was injured by this kind of choice-behavior, so he vowed to kill them. But before enacting his revenge, Athena (the goddess of Wisdom) put him under illusion and guided him to slaughter sheep and cattle instead. After realizing what he had done, Ajax felt disgraced and killed himself by using his sword.

My friend couldn’t understand why Ajax was not given the armor of his friend, to whom he was so alike. Actually, she could not accept that “the brave one was not awarded and the trickster prevailed”; it seemed too unfair. She was also wondering why Athena-Wisdom had put Ajax in such a fatal adventure and if this could be a “lesson to be learned” against meritocracy.

After thinking for some days, I came back with the following interpretation. The “armor” was not Achilles’ property (so it could be given to the “closer relative”) but a collective one (for it was the council that had to decide on it). It was a quality that was thought by the Greeks as being enough to win the war; Achilles was the personification of this belief and practice. However, no “armor” can lead to victories, unless it gets evolved. Troy fell due to a ploy (the Trojan horse invented later by Ulysses) and not due to Achilles’ strength.

On the other hand, Ajax failed to see the collective need for a new perspective and a different (path)way. He was stuck to his own “armor” and he ended up killed by his own sword. Athena’s intervention (to blur his view) was perhaps the inevitable compensation for his stubborn insufficiency.

I think a complexity practitioner should always be aware of the need to let go his/her armor in order to evolve it.

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