The name Ajax (Greek Aias) is said to arise from the appearance of an eagle (Greek aietos) sent by Zeus in response to the prayers of Hercules to give Telamon, King of Salamis, a brave son.
Ajax was a legendary hero of ancient Greece and the most famous hero, after Achilles, of the Trojan War. He was a man of giant stature. He engaged Hector in single combat. Their fight was ended by the heralds. The two heroes exchanged gifts: Hector received a belt from Ajax and Hector gave Ajax a sword. It was with the belt of Ajax that Achilles dragged Hector. Ajax also, with the aid of Athene, rescued the body of Achilles, killed by Paris, from the hands of the Trojans.
Agamemnon awarded Achilles’ armour to Odysseus. Enraged by this decision, Ajax planned an assault on the Greek troops. However, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, drove Ajax temporarily insane and he attacked a flock of sheep instead. After recovering his senses he was so ashamed that he killed himself with the sword Hector had given him. From his blood sprung a red hyacinth with the first two letters of his Greek name, AI, on the petals. Even in his afterlife in the Underworld, Ajax was still angry and refused to speak with Odysseus.
Ajax was a tutelary hero of the island of Salamis where he had a temple and an image, and where the festival of Aianteia was celebrated in his honour.
The ships’ ‘Ajax’ refers to ‘Ajax the Great’ to distinguish him from another Ajax known as Oilean Ajax or Ajax the Lesser.