Sophocle's Ajax is a mighty Greek warrior in the time of the Trojan war, second only to Achilles in "perfect prowess" (Sophocles, Ajax 1415). His wife is "spear-won", and his entire presence on stage is marked by Hector's bloody sword, a room-full of "sword-slain cattle", or his "self-dealt wound". After Achilles' death, a competition is set up between him and Odysseus over who will inherit Achilles' armor, symbolizing the inheritance of the latter's prized status. When the Atreidae decide that Odysseus should get the armor, instead of humbly accepting the judges' decision, Ajax's pride over his power and valor spurs him in revenge against Agamemnon and Menelaus, a wild act that is only thwarted by the duplicitous intervention of Athena, the patron goddess of Odysseus. She drives Ajax mad and instead of massacring the Atreidae, he slaughters cattle instead. The double humiliation and the rancor that he has stirred up in the Greek camp against him drive him to commit suicide.
Ajax's actions-both the madness-inducing revenge, and his suicide-show not only a lack of wisdom but selfish pride in his lust for power. Despite his wife's pleas not to do anything rash and so cause her and his son to become slaves and to be mistreated by the Greeks, he only responds by insulting her - "Woman, silence graces women" (Ajax 292) - and deceiving her and his friends (Chorus) about his suicidal intentions: "I feel the keen edge of my temper softened by yon woman's words; and I feel the pity of leaving her a widow with my foes, and the boy and orphan" (652). His brother Teucer bemoans the taunts and the revilement that he will receive both at home and abroad because of Ajax's selfish act (1020-2), and the Chorus the future lack of protection that "bold Ajax" provided for him (1214).
Ajax's pride in his might is such that he is unable to weigh the effect of his actions on others, and sees everyone else as less than himself (even king Odysseus). Furthermore, we see that it is selfish pride and arrogance that instigates Athena against him, as he spoke arrogantly against her, which is not befitting of his place as a mortal. The messenger reveals that "Ajax, even at his first going forth from home, was found foolish" (760), and when his father encouraged him with the wisdom of his years, "haughtily and foolishly he answered: 'I, even without [the gods'] aid, trust to bring glory within my grasp'" (770). More foolhardily, he spurned the help of the goddess Athena, thinking that he is mighty enough to win any battle as, "where Ajax stands, battle will never break our line" (776). The messenger rightly concludes that Ajax's "thoughts were too great for man" (788). Ajax's downfall or hubris then is that he is nothing more than an empty-headed muscle man, a dangerous combination of force and lack of intelligence.
Throughout the play, Ajax's use of force is misplaced: against the "poor sheep", in his language to Tecmessa, and against himself. Regaining his right mind, he bemoans: "Seest thou the bold, the strong of heart, the dauntless in battles with the foe,-seest thou how I have shown my prowess on creatures that feared no harm" (364-6). While we can say that the first instance of misused force is as a result of Athena's intervention, his brutish manner to his wife and his suicide are done when he is in full