Act 2, scene 3
Thersites enters, alone. He is furious about Ajax beating him. He also dislikes Achilles, and says that if it were solely up to Ajax and Achilles, Troy would never be taken. He appeals to the gods to take away what little sense the Greeks have and after that take vengeance on them by giving them all venereal disease, which would be appropriate given that they are warring over a woman.
Patroclus and then Achilles enter.Thersites enters into some verbal banter with them in which he tries to demonstrate that Patroclus, Achilles, andAgamemnon, are all fools, and he, Thersites is one, too.
Agamemnon, Ulysses, Nestor, Diomede, and Ajax enter. Achilles says he is not going to talk to anyone, and he and Thersites exit. After Agamemnon’s inquiry, Patroclus says Achilles is sick in his tent, but he will let him know that Agamemnon wishes to speak to him. Neither Ulysses nor Ajax believe that Achilles is sick. Patroclus returns with a message from Achilles that he does not intend to speak to them. But Agamemnon insists, and lectures Patroclus about Achilles’ evasiveness and scorn. Agamemnon again tells Patroclus to go to Achilles and tell him again that they want to speak to him and that he is too prideful. If he insists on behaving in this way, they will abandon him completely, Agamemnon says. He sends Ulysses to Achilles’ tent.
Ajax insists that he hates men who are full of pride and arrogance, and Nestor says in an aside that that is strange, since Ajax is full of self-love.
Ulysses returns with the news that Achilles will not take part in the battle tomorrow, but will give no reason why. He thinks it is just because Achilles has too much pride. He thinks he is worth more than he is. Agamemnon wantd to send Ajax to see if he can reason with Achilles, but Ulysses advises against it. A visit from Ajax would make Achilles even more convinced of his own worth to the Greeks. Ulysses praises Ajax, and Ajax, encouraged, wants to go to Achillesand beat him up. While the others make asides disparaging Ajax for his stupidity, Ulysses continues to praise him, going to ludicrous lengths to build Ajax up. The others chip in, too, with insincere praise. Ulysses’ aim is to get Ajax in a mood where he is willing to take on Achilles in the upcoming single-combat public tournament. Ulysses names him as their man of choice at the end of the scene.
This scene presents more evidence that the Greeks are not an admirable bunch. Thersites, who is not part of the Greek leadership, acts rather like the detached observer of other people’s follies, although he is hardly an admirable character himself. But he well represents the rather cynical attitude to the war that is being presented in the play as a whole. He has a low opinion of everyone who is involved in it. As for Achilles, he tends to come across in this scene as petulant and even childish in refusing to talk to Agamemnon. Ulysses once more reveals his cunning and his willingness to manipulate others, and Ajax is not clever enough to realize that he is being set up. This is not really a picture of great warriors engaging in an epic struggle.