Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Ovid, Metamorphoses



*Ajax vs. Ulysses*:

Ovid’s roundabout way of covering the salient points of the Trojan War is to provide at length the debate between Ajax and Ulysses over rightful inheritance of Achilles’ armor. Traditionally reduced to a clash between brain and brawn — warrior vs. intellectual, or jock vs. scholar — the debate bears a closer look. Aided by recollections of Homer’s Iliad, evaluate the merits of the respective arguments.


1. Ulysses ran away when Hector was on a rampage to torch the Greek ships.
2. Ajax saved the Greek ships from Hector’s torches.
3. Ajax is Achilles’ cousin and greatgrandson of Jove.
4. Telamon, Ajax’s father, took the walls of Troy with Hercules; therefore, Ajax’s line was in on this war from the beginning.
5. Ulysses arrived on the scene of the war later than the other soldiers.
6. Ajax claims Ulysses deserted Philoctetes and Nestor.
7. Ajax saved Ulysses in battle.
8. Ajax threw the boulder at Hector.
9. Ajax acts alone, while Ulysses needs Diomedes as a sidekick.
10. Achilles’ shield is too heavy for Ulysses to carry.
11. Ajax’s shield is full of holes from all his battling, whereas Ulysses’ has no holes; therefore Ajax needs a shield.

Ajax proposes the arms be laid down and both men fight for them.



Thesis: “Troy was conquered because I made it possible.”

1. Ulysses brought Achilles out of hiding on Scyros to join the Greek force; therefore, Ulysses indirectly slew Hector.
2. Ulysses is also a greatgrandson of Jove; as a bonus, neither his grandfather nor his father were banished or exiled, as Ajax’s were. Ulysses’ maternal line is from Mercury. And if kinship should determine the new owner of Achilles’ armor, then one of his sons is next in line.
3. Blood claims are insignificant anyway: merit alone deserves reward.
4. Ulysses convinced Agamemnon to make the human sacrifice (Iphigenia) in order to arrive safely in Troy.
5. Ulysses was the Ambassador to Troy. He persuaded Priam and Antenor to return Helen, but Paris and his brothers opposed a peaceful settlement.
6. During the first nine years of the war, Ajax “did nothing,” according to Ulysses, while he set up ambuscades, constructed moats, encouraged the allies, counseled patience, built morale, and secured food and arms.
7. Ulysses convinced Agamemnon not to give up the fight in the last year. Ajax was ready to leave Troy. Since Ulysses forced Ajax back to the fight, he deserves credit for Ajax’s accomplishments in the final year of the war.
8. Diomedes as Ulysses’ sidekick simply means that of the thousands of Greek warriors, Ulysses was his pick.
9. Ulysses killed Dolon the Trojan spy, then slew sleeping men in their tents.
10. Ulysses has wounds; Ajax has none.
11. Ulysses carried Achilles from the field; obviously he is strong enough to carry his armor.
12. Ajax is too stupid to appreciate Hephaestus’ fine handwork in the shield.
13. Arriving late to the Trojan war cannot disqualify him from receiving the armor; Achilles himself arrived late and fought last.
14. Ulysses stole Athena’s statue from the Trojan shrine.
15. Ulysses promises to bring Philoctetes back to the scene, to help set the prophesied conditions for the fall of Troy.
16. Ajax is “strong and brainless,” a “dolt”; wits are key to leadership.

Ulysses closes by saying that his role as guardian of this war should be honored with Achilles’ armor.

Both Ajax and Ulysses are well spoken. Ajax focuses on his deeds and his abilities as a warrior. In fact he even says at one point that not only does he deserve the arms but the arms deserve a great warrior. The great warrior is not Ulysses who Ajax calls a coward and brings up examples of Ulysses trying to avoid war by pretending to be insane. Ajax verbally attacks Ulysses, saying that he doesn’t deserve the armor because he doesn’t know what to do with it. Ulysses relies on tricks. And besides, Ajax is Jove’s grandson.

Ulysses counters Ajax’s words by drawing connections between himself and Achilles saying, “I brought him to you,” and at one point Ulysses mentions that Achilles tried to avoid fighting, thus justifying Ulysses’ nonviolent actions and again trying to draw a connection to Achilles. Ulysses takes the stand that it is deeds, not heritage, that count. His other obvious stand is that brains are more important that brawn with his ship’s captain and rower analogy. Then Ulysses reminds everyone that they need him to convince Philoctetes to return with Heracles’ bow. It is obvious that Ulysses is more fluent in the art of rhetoric than Ajax. But what do you think Ovid is saying?

The armor goes to Ulysses, and Ajax goes bonkers and kills himself. [Once Neoptolemus, Achilles’ son, joined the war, Ulysses shared the armor with him. Neoptolemus hid inside the Trojan Horse. He was responsible for carrying out the sacrifice of Polyxena at Achilles’ tomb.]

The Fall of Troy:

Ovid quickly wraps up the fall of Troy. Astyanax is flung from the tower. Hecuba grieves. Priam had sent one son, Polydorus, with treasure, to Polymestor, in order to keep one son out of the war. When news of Troy’s fall spreads, Polymestor murders Polydorus and flings his corpse into the sea.


The ghost of Achilles demands that the Greeks sacrifice Polyxena to him. She gives a noble speech, which brings her slayers to tears before they butcher her. So after everyone thought that Achilles’ vengeance had ended with his death, even Achilles’ ashes rage.

*Hecuba’s Revenge*:

Hecuba discovers the corpse of her last son, Polydorus, and is silent. She is granted an audience with Polymestor and promises treasure. Brought before him, she “grabbed him, / Dug fingers into his lying eyes, dug out / The eyeballs from their sockets, and kept digging, / In manic fury, with bloody fingers, scooping / The hollows where the eyes had been” (324; cf. 312). When Thracians come to help Polymestor, she merely barks at them.


Aurora’s son Memnon had been slain by Achilles. She asked for him to be granted some glory, even though she was a very minor god. Jove turned his funeral pyre into a bird war. In any case, Aurora’s tears are the dew (313).

Aeneas and Anius:

Despite the importance of Aeneas in classical mythology, Ovid uses reference to him first merely to make a transition to Anius, priest of Apollo, who tells Aeneas’ father Anchises; of his own daughters, kidnapped by Agamemnon and eventually turned into doves, the birds of Venus.

Aeneas’ voyage is summarized until mention of the nautical dangers of Scylla and Charybdis bring about the next story.

Acis, Galatea, and Polyphemus:

Galatea loves Acis, but the Cyclops, Polyphemus, loves Galatea: she has “caught his eye.” His gargantuan goofiness is recounted, including the use of a rake for a comb. Polyphemus renders a lengthy love song. He throws a mountain at Acis, which buries him (321). Acis turns into a stream from the rocks.

Scylla and Glaucus:

Sea-god Glaucus falls for Scylla. He tells her he was changed into a sea-god through the powers of magical grass. Scylla flees, and the story is continued in the next book.

Metamorphoses Book XIV
Ovid Index
Orpheus: Roman Mythology