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View Full Version : Who Is This Ajax Guy, and What Does He Have to Do With Toilets?


Jim B.
12-08-2015, 08:00 PM
I don't know much about ancient Greek mythology, except the most obvious and well-known aspects, of course. But I know how one character from this genre is usually used.

Ajax. He is usually associated with the toilet, otherwise known as the bathroom. I know John Harington, Elizabeth I's "godson", wrote a book about her new flushing toilet, he called A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax. And then there is Ajax, a commercial cleaner meant for the toilet. I think it is clear, the name Ajax, is associated with this indelicate subject, and has been for some time.

But who was Ajax? And more specifically, what does he have to do with the toilet and commode? Oh, I am sure he was war hero, or something like that. But why the association with the bathroom? That is what has perplexed me for some time now.

I patiently await your replies:)

F.Pu-du-he-pa-as
12-08-2015, 08:04 PM
I have a Ph.D. in Ancient Greek (and other dead languages), and this is not something they taught us. Unfortunately.

MY DEGREE IS USELESS!

Backwater Under_Duck
12-08-2015, 08:13 PM
"Ajax, the foaming cleanser, ba da do do do do do, cleans dirt, right down the drain." No cite, but that's gotta be it.

Walken After Midnight
12-08-2015, 08:16 PM
In Homer's Iliad, Ajax was the strongest of the Greek warriors fighting the Trojans.

The original slogan for Ajax powder (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajax_(cleaning_product)#Advertising) was "Stronger than dirt!". Furthermore:

Some Ajax dish soaps now feature the trademarked slogan "Stronger than grease!" which may be a pun on "Greece." (This would imply that the hero Ajax was an adversary of Greece. He actually fought for the Greek army against the Trojans, though it could also simply imply that Ajax the hero, renowned for his strength, was stronger than the rest of Greece)

So it looks as though the makers chose a name associated with great strength to underline their product's strength at fighting germs.

Saintly Loser
12-08-2015, 08:18 PM
In Homer's Iliad, Ajax was a heroic warrior on the Greek side during the Trojan war, and fought a duel at least once (twice? Can't remember) with Hector, the Trojan hero.

Edit: Walken After Midnight beat me to it.

Greg Charles
12-08-2015, 08:32 PM
In Homer's Iliad, Ajax was a heroic warrior on the Greek side during the Trojan war ...

Two of them really, since both Ajax (the Great) and Ajax the Lesser fought in the Trojan War. I think I would have just changed my name rather than accepting the "lesser" epithet.

So Ajax is associated with toilets? Is that better or worse than what Trojans are associated with? If you dump a Trojan down the toilet, you'd better send some Ajax in too to renew their ancient battle.

Chronos
12-08-2015, 08:33 PM
Weren't there actually two characters named Ajax in the Iliad?

bibliophage
12-08-2015, 09:10 PM
I think Harington was attempting a pun on "a jakes" (an outhouse or privy).

bibliophage
12-08-2015, 09:23 PM
The OED backs me up, except that Harington did not invent the pun as I assumed. Shakespeare had used it 12 years earlier in Love's Labour's Lost. ajax Obs. Jocularly for a jakes
O, sir, you have overthrown
Alisander the conqueror! You will be scraped out of
the painted cloth for this: your lion, that holds
his poll-axe sitting on a close-stool, will be given
to Ajax

the_diego
12-09-2015, 01:24 AM
The name was adopted for a particularly strong laundry soap brand. The significance is obviously lost when applied to toilets.

Resolved: toilet cleaners must have a different name. How about "Home Throne," or "Best Seat in the House?"

Kimstu
12-09-2015, 02:12 AM
So Ajax is associated with toilets?

Well, as Walken said, Ajax is associated with strength. Pretty much everywhere he's named in classical Greek literature, he's referred to as "the mighty Ajax".

In fact, his very name became a shorthand reference for size, strength and martial valor, somewhat like "Hercules".

1911 article mentioning an "Ajax of a man" (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9402E5DF163CE633A25755C0A96E9C946096D6CF)

1819 biography of Revolutionary War leader Nathanial Greene (https://books.google.co.nz/books?id=s7YEAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA242):

Having learnt [...] that his adversary was an Ulysses in wisdom, [Cornwallis] now perceived, that he was an Ajax in strength.


A fifteenth-century abbot calls the earl of Shrewsbury "a very Hector in strength, an Ajax in bravery and an Achilles in ferocity" (https://books.google.co.nz/books?id=Cx0f2oVZI64C&pg=PA378).

So naming a household cleanser "Ajax" isn't about toilets, it's about creating an image of power and, well, grit.

Jim B.
12-09-2015, 06:11 AM
So naming a household cleanser "Ajax" isn't about toilets, it's about creating an image of power and, well, grit.

But what about John Harington? I mean, why the reference to Ajax? Yeah, I know, he jokingly was referring to "A Jakes" (already explained in a previous post). But why did he make a reference to Ajax at all?

You see my confusion.

CalMeacham
12-09-2015, 07:03 AM
But what about John Harington? I mean, why the reference to Ajax? Yeah, I know, he jokingly was referring to "A Jakes" (already explained in a previous post). But why did he make a reference to Ajax at all?

You see my confusion.

I came in to explain this, but see that the relevant points have already been hit. The answer to your question is above.

In Shakespeare's time, a toilet/privy was jokingly called a Jakes, as already observed. It's the Elizabethan equivalent of calling a toiler a John (because every man uses one, and John or Jakes -- they're different forms of the same name -- has to use it).

So he was writing about a toliet, "A Jakes", and, to those classically educated Elizabethans, the transformation of "A Jakes" to "Ajax" is irresistible. Heck, the equivalent is irresistible today. That's why we have a chain of portable toilets called "Johnny on the Spot".


Whether the classical equivalence of "A Jakes" = "Ajax" had anything to do with the naming of the cleanser I do not know. I doubt it. I suspect that they were just looking for a striking name, and the association with Greek mythology added class, the association with a hero suggested strength, and a short name with the juxtaposition of the rare letters "J" and "X" made it memorable.


Of course, it also ruined things for readers of the Iliad. I can't read "Ajax" without thinking of the scouring cleanser. Cartoonist J.B. Handelsman even drew a cartoon about the Iliad in which he shows a cylindrical can of cleanser, sword in hand, fighting on the side of the Greeks.

I was impressed when translator Robert Fitzgerald rendered all the names of the characters in his translations of the Iliad and Odyssey in their original Greek forms, rather than the more familiar Latin equivalents. Not ony does this make it Odysseos rather than Ulysses, it turns Ajax into the baggage-less form Aias.

RealityChuck
12-09-2015, 07:29 AM
While the connection with "a jakes" is a fortuitous one, the Ajax brand was originally used by Colgate-Palmolive for their powdered cleaning product in the late 40s, and was not a toilet bowl cleaner at first. The first use was for a floor cleaner; other products were added to the brand over time.. Add to that the "stronger that dirt" slogan and jingle (Performed by the Doors ;)), it's clear the name was chosen to imply it was strong, like the Greek hero.

furryman
12-09-2015, 01:14 PM
;)Cloaca cleanser sounds disgusting.

Colibri
12-09-2015, 05:13 PM
Of course, it also ruined things for readers of the Iliad. I can't read "Ajax" without thinking of the scouring cleanser.

Seems like the "Trojan War" would have more problematical associations than that.

Ned Flanders: [as King of Troy] Now throughout history when people get wood, they'll think of Trojans.

Kimstu
12-09-2015, 05:55 PM
I suspect that they were just looking for a striking name, and the association with Greek mythology added class, the association with a hero suggested strength, and a short name with the juxtaposition of the rare letters "J" and "X" made it memorable.

Consider also that the somewhat similar-sounding borax had long been popularly used as a cleanser for, e.g., laundry, and was even used as a brand name (http://oldandinteresting.com/history-of-washing-clothes.aspx) in that context at one point. (I still remember "Boraxo" brand handwashing powder from the mid-20th century, advertised as an effective cleanser for seriously dirty hands from working in the garden, with machinery, etc.).

The sound of the traditional cleanser carbolic soap was similarly echoed in brand names such as "Germbolic" and "Nubolic". (http://gracesguide.co.uk/Special:Search?search=cleanser&fulltext=)

(Ajax cleanser history timeline. (http://gracesguide.co.uk/Ajax_(Cleanser)))

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