The Heroes of the Iliad as Indo-European Gods: A Mythological Rosetta Stone: Part 3 of 9

The Heroes of the Iliad as Indo-European Gods: A Mythological Rosetta Stone: Part 3 of 9


Ajax – Vayu (The Lord of Wind)

Telamonian Ajax, as has been discussed elsewhere, seems the obvious match for the powerful Lord of Wind, Vayu, and his incarnation, Bhima. The most immediate connection is the size and strength of both Ajax and Bhima. Ajax is known as the tallest of the Achaean warriors. He is so large that he can be identified by the Trojans from their ramparts. His frame is also said to be colossal and he is the strongest of the Achaeans, called “the bulwark of the Achaeans” (Iliad, Book VI, line 5). Bhima likewise is both the strongest and largest of the Pandavas. Ajax's name meaning “he who laments” may relate to the sound of the wind, poetically compared to lamentation; or we may consider the alternate meaning “eagle” as a possible symbol of the airborne strength of the wind god.

Beyond this, the main evidence is Ajax as primary one-on-one opponent of Hector, paralleling the battles between Bhima and Duryodhana. Ajax is known to be so powerful and courageous that when it comes time to draw lots to face Hector in single combat, Ajax steps forward and all the Achaeans pray that he will be chosen, and only Diomedes or Agamemnon may suffice if it is not him. He is chosen and greets the news with joy, and thus we get the formalized bout between the two bafflingly powerful heroes in which Ajax fights Hector to a draw and they exchange gifts. Later they fight again when Hector charges the ships and burns one. In one of their four different face-offs Ajax nearly kills Hector by smashing him with a large rock, knocking him unconscious. Hector has to be revived by Apollo, and ultimately Ajax saves the ships (except the one) and saves the Greeks from losing the war then and there.

These one-on-one battles mirror those between Bhima and Duryodhana in the Mahabharata. Duryodhana is the primary warrior of the Kauravas and childhood sparring partner of Bhima. In the war they famously face off about four different times as Ajax and Hector had. In their final confrontation, a formalized bout, Bhima smashes Duryodhana's thigh with a mace, and there is no god who comes to revive him to fight on. He dies from the blow. If we take these two formalized bouts to be identical, then it seems Hector may have been revived in the Greek version so that this climactic kill could be given to Achilles.

A couple of other interesting connections require speculation. At one point, Ajax is struck by Poseidon in order to renew his strength. This is reminiscent of the scene where Bhima is dropped down, unconscious, into the underwater kingdom of the Nagas and is given his superhuman strength by the king who reigns there. In each case the Lord of Wind is given strength by a divine underwater king. Ajax dies after the war from dishonor from killing a herd of sheep (that he thought were his comrades); Bhima dies after the war from the sin of gluttony; the Dagda is mocked for eating a giant pit-full of sheep and porridge. Can there be a connection here, of the Lord of Wind dying from gluttonous dishonor/sin over eating a massive amount of sheep?

Finally, just as Agamemnon and Menelaus are paired as brothers and just as the two heroes of the third function are paired, Ajax also is paired closely with the other hero of his function. Ajax and his contrasting hero of the second function, Achilles, are said both to be trained together by the centaur Chiron. This connection is reinforced as they are also said to be cousins. Ajax is also strongly marked by an his association with Heracles, another god of the Bhima type and a strong symbol of the warrior function in general.

Lord of Wind: Vayu (Ajax, Bhima, the Dagda, Bran)

-Is the largest and strongest warrior

-scene involving many sheep over which he is mocked or incurs shame

-Fights a closely matched formalized bout with the Demon of the Dark Age, as well as several other one-on-one battles with him. Is the nemesis and primary opponent of the Demon throughout the war.

-Smashes the Demon of the Dark Age with a blunt object, killing him or requiring a god to revive him
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