Palamedes and Letters: A Hero and Martyr in the Trojan War

  Létoublon, Françoise. 2023. “Palamedes and Letters: A Hero and Martyr in the Trojan War.” In “Γέρα: Studies in honor of Professor Menelaos Christopoulos,” ed. Athina Papachrysostomou, Andreas P. Antonopoulos, Alexandros-Fotios Mitsis, Fay Papadimitriou, and Panagiota Taktikou, special issue, Classics@ 25.

In earlier essays on the Epic Cycle, I studied the strange case of a significant object in the Trojan War, the Palladion, which was considered a key to the victory but was not mentioned by Homer. [1] In the present chapter I would like to examine the comparable case of a character, Palamedes: mentioned once in the Cypria (fr. 19 = Pausanias 10.31.2), Palamedes is elevated to the rank of a hero in Philostratus’ Heroikos and Dictys’ Ephemeris. His—rather intriguing—absence from the Iliad is explained by Philostratus as resulting from Odysseus’ conspiracy.

1. Palamedes in the Cypria

Never mentioned in Homer, Palamedes’ character is known from two scanty passages of Proclus’ summary of the Cypria: [2]

[5] ἔπειτα τοὺς ἡγεμόνας ἀθροίζουσιν ἐπελθόντες τὴν Ἑλλάδα. καὶ μαίνεσθαι προσποιησάμενον Ὀδυσσέα ἐπὶ τῷ μὴ θέλειν συστρατεύεσθαι ἐφώρασαν, Παλαμήδους ὑποθεμένου τὸν ὑιὸν Τηλέμαχον ἐπὶ κόλασιν ἐξαρπάσαντες. καὶ μετά ταῦτα συνελθόντες εἰς Αὐλίδα θύουσι. … [12] ἔπειτά ἐστι Παλαμήδους θάνατος.

It may seem difficult to build a hero from those short mentions, but as they are complemented with several details found throughout Greek literature, they help us draw a more precise story.

In particular, the fact that all three great playwrights of tragedies wrote a Palamedes [3] implies he was well-known in the Classical period. It is a misfortune that only few fragments from these tragic plays survive.
Proclus’ summary is substantiated by various texts: [Apollodorus’] Bibliotheca (Epitome) 7 discusses Odysseus’ feigned folly and the manner Palamedes thwarts it:

ὄντων δὲ πολλῶν προθύμων στρατεύεσθαι, παραγίνονται καὶ πρὸς ᾽Οδυσσέα εἰς Ἰθάκην. Ὁ δὲ οὐ βουλόμενος στρατεύεσθαι προσποιεῖται μανίαν. Παλαμήδης δὲ ὁ Ναυπλίου ἤλεγξε τὴν μανίαν ψευδῆ, καὶ προσποιησαμένῳ μεμηνέναι παρηκολούθει· ἁρπάσας δὲ Τηλέμαχον ἐκ τοῦ κόλπου τῆς Πηνελόπης ὡς κτενῶν ἐξιφούλκει. Ὀδυσσεὺς δὲ περὶ τοῦ παιδὸς εὐλαβηθεὶς ὡμολόγησε τὴν προποίητον μανίαν καὶ στρατεύεται. [4]
And while many were eager to join in the expedition, some repaired also to Ulysses in Ithaca. But he, not wishing to go to the war, feigned madness. However, Palamedes, son of Nauplius, proved his madness to be fictitious; and when Ulysses pretended to rave, Palamedes followed him, and snatching Telemachus from Penelope’s bosom, drew his sword as if he would kill him. And in his fear for the child Ulysses confessed that his madness was pretended, and he went to the war.
[Apollodorus] Bibliotheca (Epitome) 6–7 [5]

Hyginus provides even more details on Odysseus’ device: he put on a cap, pretending madness, and yoked a horse and an ox to the plow. [6]

2. Palamedes’ death: A thrilling blockbuster

2.1. “Illiterate” versions

Various texts from Greek (and Latin) literature attest to Odysseus taking revenge through Palamedes’ death, building a kind of antique thriller; several versions of the story refer to the conspiracy that leads to Palamedes’ death, which is always violent.
For Pausanias, who explicitly relies on the Cypria, Palamedes was drowned by Odysseus and Diomedes thanks to a common fishing party:

Παλαμήδην δὲ ἀποπνιγῆναι προελθόντα ἐπὶ ἰχθύων θήραν, Διομήδην δὲ τὸν ἀποκτείναντα εἶναι καὶ Ὀδυσσέα ἐπιλεξάμενος ἐν ἔπεσιν οἶδα τοῖς Κυπρίοις.
Palamedes, as I know from reading the epic poem Cypria, was drowned when he put out to catch fish, and his murderers were Diomedes and Odysseus.
Pausanias 10.31.2–3 [7]

This death by fishing might have been the subject of a vase black-figure painting of the sixth century which has been interpreted as representing Palamedes’ ghost seeking vengeance. [8] This version is arguably an early one, especially since Pausanias explicitly says that he drew it from the Cypria.

Philostratus provides a more detailed narrative of this “illiterate” conspiracy in his Heroikos:

Ὁ δὲ Ὀδυσσεὺς ἐν Τροίᾳ ξυνετίθει λόγους πρὸς τὸν Ἀγαμέμνονα, ψευδεῖς μέν, πιθανοὺς δὲ πρὸς τὸν εὐήθως ἀκούοντα, ὡς ἐρῴη μὲν ὁ Ἀχιλλεὺς τῆς τῶν Ἑλλήνων ἀρχῆς, μαστροπῷ δὲ τῷ Παλαμήδει χρῷτο … [26] καὶ διεξῆλθεν, ὡς ἠτοίμασται αὐτῷ τὰ περὶ τὸν Φρύγα καὶ τὸ χρυσίον τὸ ληφθὲν ὑπὸ τῷ Φρυγί. σοφῶς δὲ τούτων ἐπινενοῆσθαι δοκούντων καὶ ξυνθεμένου τῇ ἐπιβουλῇ τοῦ Ἀγαμέμνονος … [31] ἀλλ᾽ ἔφθησαν αὐτὸν αἱ Ὀδυσσέως μηχαναὶ σοφῶς ξυντεθεῖσαι, καὶ χρυσοῦ μὲν ἥττων ἔδοξε προδότης τε εἶναι κατεψεύσθη, περιαχθεὶς δὲ τὼ χεῖρε κατελιθώθη, βαλλόντων αὐτὸν Πελοποννησίων τε καὶ Ἰθακησίων· ἡ δὲ ἄλλη Ἑλλὰς οὐδὲ ἑώρα ταῦτα ἀλλὰ καὶ δοκοῦντα ἀδικεῖν ἠγάπα.
At Troy, meanwhile, Odysseus was telling Agamemnon stories that were false, but persuasive to a foolish listener: that Achilles lusted after the Greek command, and was using Palamedes as his pimp to have it. … He then explained to him how everything concerning the Phrygian and the gold captured by the Phrygian had been arranged. This seemed to have been cleverly devised, and Agamemnon agreed to the plan … But the machinery of Odysseus’ plot had been ingeniously constructed before he realized it, and Palamedes was framed for accepting bribes and falsely accused of treason. His hands were tied behind his back and he was stoned to death by the Peloponnesians and Ithacans; the rest of the Greeks did not witness the trial, but went along with his presumed guilt.
Philostratus Heroikos 33.24–31 [9]

So does Dictys’ Ephemeris of the Trojan War, a novelistic pseudo-diary allegedly composed day-by-day [10] :

Per idem tempus Diomedes et Ulixes consilium de interficiendo Palamede ineunt, more ingenii humani, quod inbecillum adversum dolores animi et invidiae plenum anteiri se a meliore haud facile patitur. Igitur simulato quod thesaurum repertum in puteo cum eo partiri vellent, remotis procul omnibus persuadent, uti ipse potius descenderet eumque nihil insidiosum metuentem adminiculo funis usum deponunt ac propere arreptis saxis, quae circum errant, desuper obruunt. Ita vir optimus acceptusque in exercitu, cuius neque consilium umquam neque virtus frustra fuit, circumventus a quibus minime decuerat indigno modo interiit. Sed fuere, qui eius consilii haud expertem Agamemnonem dicerent ob amorem ducis in exercitum et quia pars maxima regi ab eo cupiens tradendum ei imperium palam loquebantur. Igitur a cunctis Graecis veluti publicum funus eius crematum igni, aureo vasculo sepultum est.
During the same time Diomedes and Ulysses devised a plot to kill Palamedes. (It is characteristic of human nature to yield to resentments and envy; one does not easily allow oneself to be surpassed by a better.) Accordingly, these two, pretending to have found gold in a well, persuaded Palamedes—they wanted, they said, to share the treasure with him—to be the one to descend. He suspected nothing; and so, when no one else was nearby, they let him down by means of a rope, and then, picking up stones which were lying on around, they quickly stoned him to death. Thus Palamedes, the best of men and the army’s favourite, one whose counsel and courage had never failed, died in a way he ill deserved, treacherously slain by the most unworthy men. There were those who suspected Agamemnon of having shared in this plot, for Palamedes was very popular with the soldiers, most of whom wanted him as their king and openly said that he should be made commander-in-chief. After burning the body, a ceremony which was attended, like a public funeral, by all the Greeks, the ashes were placed in a golden urn.
Dictys Ephemeris 2.15 [11]

2.2. A (fake) letter

Other sources give different and more complex versions, mostly implying a fake letter, with Phoenician or Phrygian characters sometimes playing a significant role. [12]
The main source, a scholion to Euripides’ Orestes, contains in less than twenty lines an actual biography of Palamedes, as well as the revenge by Palamedes’ father, Nauplius (the latter was told in at least two classical tragedies by Sophocles): [13]

Οἴαξ τὸ Τροίας μῖσος: Ναυπλίου καὶ Κλυμένης τῆς Κατρέως ἐγένοντο Οἴαξ καὶ Παλαμήδης. ὁ δὲ Παλαμήδης ἀπελθὼν εἰς Τροίαν τὰ μέγιστα ὤνησε τὸν Ἑλληνικὸν λαόν. λιμωσσόντων γὰρ ἐν Αὐλίδι καὶ περὶ τὴν διανομὴν τοῦ σίτου δυσχεραινόντων τε καὶ στασιαζόντων, πρῶτον μὲν τὰ Φοινίκια διδάξας γράμματα αὐτοὺς ἴσην καὶ ἀνεπίληπτον τὴν διανομὴν ἐν τούτοις ἐπραγματεύσατο. ἔπειτα καὶ περὶ κύβους ἔτρεψεν αὐτῶν τὴν ὀλιγωρίαν καὶ μέτρα ἐξεῦρε καὶ ψῆφον ὥστε μέγα σχεῖν ὄνομα παρὰ τοῖς Ἕλλησιν. ἐπὶ τούτῳ δὲ φθονήσαντες οἱ περὶ Ἀγαμέμνονα καὶ ᾽Οδυσσέα καὶ Διομήδην τοιόνδε τι σκευωροῦσι κατ᾽αὐτοῦ. λαβόντες γὰρ Φρύγα αἰχμάλωτον χρυσίον κομίζοντα Σαρπηδόνι ἠνάγκασαν γράψαι Φρυγίοις γράμμασιν περὶ προδοσίας ὡς παρὰ Πριάμου πρὸς Παλαμήδην. καὶ τοῦτον μὲν φονεύουσι, θεράποντα δὲ Παλαμήδους πείθουσι χρήμασιν ἅμα τοῖς Τρωϊκοῖς χρήμασι καὶ τὸ γραφὲν πινάκιον ὑπὸ τὴν κλίνην θέσθαι Παλαμήδους. αὐτοὶ δὲ παρελθόντες προδοσίαν κατήγγελλον τοῦ ἥρωος καὶ φωραθῆναι τὴν σκηνὴν ἐκέλευον. εὑρεθέντος δὲ τοῦ πινακίου καὶ τῶν χρημάτων ὑπὸ τὴν κλίνην λίθοις φονεύεται Παλαμήδης. Ναύπλιος δὲ ἀκούσας ἧκεν εἰς Ἴλιον δικάσαι τὸν φόνον τοῦ παιδός. τῶν δὲ Ἑλλήνων κατολιγωρούντων αὐτοῦ πρὸς τὸ κεχαρισμένον τοῖς βασιλεῦσιν ἀποπλεύσας εἰς τὴν πατρίδα καὶ πυθόμενος ἀποπλεῖν τοὺς Ἕλληνας ἧκεν εἰς Εὔβοιαν καὶ χειμῶνα φυλάξας φρυκτωρίας ἧψε περὶ τὰς ἄκρας τῆς Εὐβοίας. οἱ δὲ εὐεπίβατον νομίσαντες τὸν τόπον προσορμίζονται καὶ ἐν ταῖς πέτραις ἀπόλλυνται.
Σ Euripides Orestes 432

Let us note in this text the enumeration of Palamedes’ deeds for the Greeks (ὤνησε τὸν Ἑλληνικὸν λαόν): he cured the famine at Aulis through a seamless (ἀνεπίληπτον) distribution of food, the teaching—rather than the invention—of Phoenician letters (τὰ Φοινίκια διδάξας γράμματα), the discovery of measures and pebbles (used for reckoning). Palamedes’ reputation made Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Diomedes jealous, which explains the plot against him; i.e. a Phrygian captive was forced to write a letter in the Phrygian alphabet, [14] “as if it was from Priam to Palamedes,” and then he was put to death, while an attendant of Palamedes placed the tablet with the Trojan gold under Palamedes’ cot. Palamedes was accused of treason and his tent was searched; once the tablet and the gold were found, Palamedes was killed by stoning. His father, Nauplius, took revenge (as probably narrated in the Nostoi of the Epic Cycle).

This is roughly the same version told by [Apollodorus] in the Epitome of the Library:

Ὅτι Ὀδυσσεὺς λαβὼν αἰχμάλωτον Φρύγα ἠνάγκασε γράψαι περὶ προδοσίας ὡς παρὰ Πριάμου πρὸς Παλαμήδην· καὶ χώσας ἐν ταῖς σκηναῖς αὐτοῦ χρυσὸν τὴν δέλτον ἔρριψεν ἐν τῷ στρατοπέδῳ. Ἀγαμέμνων δὲ ἀναγνοὺς καὶ εὑρὼν τὸν χρυσόν, τοῖς συμμάχοις αὐτὸν ὡς προδότην παρέδωκε καταλεῦσαι.
Having taken a Phrygian prisoner, Ulysses compelled him to write a letter of treasonable purport ostensibly sent by Priam to Palamedes; and having buried gold in the quarters of Palamedes, he dropped the letter in the camp. Agamemnon read the letter, found the gold, and delivered up Palamedes to the allies to be stoned as a traitor.
Apollodorus Epitome 3.8 [15]

In a note to his translation, Frazer speaks of a “Machiavellian device”; [16] Gantz remarks that Apollodorus’ version, “too brief to add much to this,” has Odysseus act alone, like Hyginus. [17] This is what Hyginus says in his Fabulae: [18]

Ulixes quod Palamedis Nauplii dolo erat deceptus, in dies machinabatur quomodo eum interficeret. Tandem inito consilio ad Agamemnonem militem suum misit qui diceret ei in quiete vidisse ut castra uno die moverentur. Id Agamemnon verum existimans castra uno die imperat moveri; Ulixes autem clam noctu solus magnum pondus auri, ubi tabernaculum Palamedis fuerat, obruit, item epistulam conscriptam Phrygi captivo ad Priamum dat perferendam, militemque suum priorem mittit qui eum non longe a castris interficerent. Postero die cum exercitus in castra rediret, quidam miles epistulam quam Ulixes scripserat super cadaver Phrygis positam ad Agamemnonem attulit, in qua scriptum fuit “Palamedi a Priamo missa”; tantumque ei auri pollicetur quantum Ulixes in tabernaculum obruerat, si castra Agamemnonis ut ei convenerat proderet. Itaque Palamedes cum ad regem esset productus et factum negaret, in tabernaculum eius ierunt et aurum effoderunt, quod Agamemnon ut vidit, vere factum esse credidit. Quo facto Palamedes dolo Ulixes deceptus ab exercitu universo innocens occisus est.
Ulysses, because he had been tricked by Palamedes, son of Nauplius, kept plotting day by day how to kill him. At length, having formed a plan, he sent a soldier of his to Agamemnon to say that in a dream he had been warned that the camp should be moved for one day. Agamemnon, believing the warning true, gave orders that the camp be moved for one day. Ulysses, then, secretly by night hid a great quantity of gold in the place where the tent of Palamedes had been. He also gave to a Phrygian captive a letter to be carried to Priam, and sent a soldier of his ahead to kill him not far from the camp. On the next day when the army came back to the camp, a soldier found on the body of the Phrygian, the letter which Ulysses had written, and brought it to Agamemnon. Written on it were the words: “Sent to Palamedes from Priam,” and it promised him as much gold as Ulysses had hidden in the tent, if he would betray the camp of Agamemnon according to agreement. And so when Palamedes was brought before the king, and so denied the deed, they went to his tent and dug up the gold. Agamemnon believed the charge was true when he saw the gold. In this way Palamedes was tricked by the scheme of Ulysses, and though innocent, was put to death by the entire army.
Hyginus Fabulae 105 [19]

Although different authors give different accounts of Palamedes’ death and of the devices used to kill him (using a fake letter or not), they all incriminate Odysseus’ jealousy and hatred against Palamedes, [20] be Diomedes implied in the plot or not. Another striking feature is the presence of a trial, giving Palamedes a voice and a possibility to defend himself (or not [21] ); in the case of a trial, he was condemned to die by lapidation.

Hence, we are reasonably led to wonder why Odysseus—and possibly Diomedes—desperately needed to get rid of Palamedes. The first reason seems clear from the very text of the Cypria quoted above: Odysseus had his fake madness discovered, [22] so he felt a deep hatred against the person responsible, i.e. Palamedes. Yet, in this case, how could Palamedes accept to go out with him some time later, as the text suggests? In addition, it seems that Palamedes’ intelligence, multiple successes, and maybe his popularity during the preparation for the war provoked Odysseus’ lasting jealousy; whatever the case, these were some of the main arguments featuring in Palamedes’ defense (regardless of their historicity). [23]

3. Palamedes’ apology

3.1. Palamedes in the early period of the war

Let us now try to reconstruct how Palamedes’ defense proceeded, be it in his own words in the cases where he is allowed to defend himself in the “mytho-forensic” genre, [24] or through his brother Oiax’ or his father Nauplius’ voice, as several fragments of tragic poets or later texts imply—always emphasizing the important role Palamedes played during the period of preparation and at beginning of the Trojan War—as narrated in the Cypria in the form of a “prequel” to the Iliad. As known, the text itself of the Cypria is now lost, surviving only partially through a summary by Proclus, which in turn is preserved in a testimony of the Byzantine scholar Photius. [25]
According to Dictys, Palamedes even took part with his brother Oiax in the Cretan assembly that convened to divide Atreus’ wealth. They are both mentioned in the first paragraph of the Ephemeris, after Idomeneus and Merion and before Menelaus and Agamemnon; later Palamedes parleys with Priam. [26]
Palamedes must have held important responsibilities in the early stages of the Trojan War, recruiting warriors [27] (cf. the case of Odysseus), but also taking part in embassies to Troy, [28] being a military commander on several occasions, [29] and ensuring food supplies at the Aulis encampment; according to some sources, it was he who fetched the Oinotropoi from Delos (Scholia by Tzetzes to Lykophron Alexandra 581 μετεπέμψατο τὰς Οἰνοτρόπους διὰ τοῦ Παλαμήδους). [30]

3.2. Palamedes as πρῶτος εὑρετής

Apart from those scanty allusions to Palamedes as a benefactor of the Greek army, [31] most of the references to him deal with his numerous inventions, especially of writing, but none appears before Stesichorus. [32]
A scholion to Aeschylus’ Prometheus refers to three of its lines (459–461) as belonging to the Palamedes instead:

καὶ μὴν ἀριθμὸν ἔξοχον σοφισμάτων
ἐξηῦρον αὐτοῖς γραμμάτων τε συνθέσεις,
μνήμην ἁπάντων, μουσομήτορ᾽ ἐργάνην.

Thus, numbers and letters—precious for memory, and hence for the Mousai—would appear to be Palamedes’ invention rather than Prometheus’.

A fragment by Aeschylus’ Palamedes (fr. 182) mentions military invention (ταξιάρχας καὶ στρατάρχας καὶ ἑκατοντάρχας) and the distribution of food (σῖτον δ᾽ εἰδέναι διώρισα). Another allusion to sharing food could explain the allegation featuring in a Sophocles’ fragment to Palamedes’ success in stopping the famine (fr. 479.1 οὐ λιμὸν οὗτος τῶνδ᾿ ἀπῶσε).
Fr. 432 from Sophocles’ Nauplios features a catalogue of Palamedes’ inventions mainly in the fields of military and nautical expertise, astronomy, keeping time, etc., probably in the context of the hero’s defense (after his death):

          οὗτος δ᾽ ἐφηῦρε τεῖχος Ἀργείων στρατῷ,
          σταθμῶν, ἀριθμῶν καὶ μέτρων εὑρήματα
          τάξεις τε ταύτας οὐράνιά τε σήματα.
          κἀκεῖν᾽ ἔτευξε πρῶτος, ἐξ ἑνὸς δέκα
5        κἀκ τῶν δέκ᾽ αὖθις ηὗρε πεντηκοντάδας
          καὶ χιλιοστῦς, καὶ στρατοῦ φρυκτωρίαν
          ἔδειξε κάνέφηνεν οὐ δεδειγμένα.
          ἐφηῦρε δ᾽ ἄστρων μέτρα καὶ περιστροφάς,
          ὕπνου φύλαξι πιστὰ σημαντήρια
10      νεῶν τε ποιμαντῆρσιν ἐνθαλασσίοις
          ἄρκτου στροφάς τε καὶ κυνὸς ψυχρὰν δύσιν.

And it was he who devised the wall for the army of the Argives;
his was the invention of weights, numbers and measures;
he taught them to marshal armies thus and how to know the heavenly signs.
He was the first, too, who showed how to count from one to ten and so to fifty
and to a thousand; he showed the army how to use beacons,
and revealed things that earlier were hidden.
He discovered how to measure terms and periods of the stars,
trustworthy signs for those who watched while others slept,
and for the shepherds of ships at sea he found out
the turnings of the Bear and the chilly setting of the Dogstar.

Sophocles Nauplios fr. 432 [33]

As far letters are concerned, it is sometimes questioned whether he had invented or rather adapted them, [34] and in the latter case, if the model was the Phoenician characters: if so, Palamedes would have invented the Greek alphabet out of syllabic writing. Phillips aptly remarks [35] that the various uses of the letters mythically attributed to Palamedes in Euripides’ fragment 578, [36] are historically known for Mycenaean writing, leading him to conclude: “Thus there seem to be grounds to supposing that Palamedes is a figure that represents, in some sense, many characteristic achievements of the Minoan civilization as inherited and developed by the Mycenaean Greeks.” [37]

Anyhow, writing is often related to numbers and measures amounting to huge benefits for mankind, as demonstrated in the aforementioned texts. While waiting in Aulis or later at Troy, Palamedes is also credited with having invented the dice game and possibly other games too, as a means for passing time. According to Pausanias, Palamedes was depicted as the inventor of dice in a painting by Polygnotos in Delphi, [38] where it is specified that this was meant as a game (παιδιᾷ):

εἰ δὲ ἀπίδοις πάλιν ἐς τὸ ἄνω τῆς γραφῆς, ἔστιν ἐφεξῆς τῷ Ἀκταίωνι Αἴας ὁ ἐκ Σαλαμῖνος, καὶ Παλαμήδης τε καὶ Θερσίτης κύβοις χρώμενοι παιδιᾷ, τοῦ Παλαμήδους τῷ εὑρήματι· Αἴας δὲ ὁ ἕτερος ἐς αὐτοὺς ὁρᾷ παίζοντας.
If you turn your gaze again to the upper part of the painting, you see, next to Actaeon, Ajax of Salamis, and also Palamedes and Thersites playing with dice, the invention of Palamedes; the other Ajax is looking at them as they play.
Pausanias 10.31.1–5 [39]

We do not know of any visual representation of this very scene, but a beautiful black-figure painting signed by Exekias shows Achilles and Ajax playing a board game. [40] Both images, by Exekias and by Polygnotos, might recall that Palamedes’ invention of such games aimed at entertaining the warriors during the dead time between fighting, according to Sophocles fr. 479. [41]

3.3. From the alphabet to letters and fakes or Palamedes tragicus

Though Euripides fr. 578 ends in an optimistic way, saying that writing forbids lying (8–9 ἃ δ᾽εἰς ἔριν πίπτουσιν ἀνθρώποις κακά, / δέλτος διαιρεῖ, κοὐκ ἐᾷ ψευδῆ λέγειν), writing, once invented, allows misuse. Several versions of Palamedes’ story actually show that, once he invented grammata whose uses were intended to benefit humanity, grammata could also be used for less commendable purposes, and even ironically turned against their inventor. [42] That seems to have been the main argument of the Palamedes tragedies, proving the success of this general line of plot in the Classical period. Vasunia (2001:148–149) calls this “the slippery nature of the written word.”
This unexpected twist of Palamedes’ invention alludes to the contrast between the characters: the good and right Palamedes versus the bad and crooked Odysseus; the good and right use of written means versus the bad and crooked use of fake letter for murdering the inventor. [43]
Be that as it may, Palamedes was very popular among Greek army; his popularity made the other leaders jealous, particularly Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Diomedes. [44]

3.4. Palamedes as sophist?

We barely mentioned until now an important defender of Palamedes, the sophist Gorgias who wrote a Defense of Palamedes (Ὑπὲρ Παλαμήδους ἀπολογία), [45] with well-substantiated rhetorical arguments, to the point that some scholars have compared it with Plato’s mention of Palamedes in his Apology of Socrates, [46] and others to the debate on writing in the Phaedrus. [47] It may be the case that the success of the Palamedes tragedies made this character very popular at Athens in the second half of the fifth century. As the tragedies probably put on stage an agon between Odysseus and Palamedes, the latter’s popularity led the sophists to visualize him as a rhetorical model, hence Gorgias’ Defense of Palamedes; there is also a later speech titled Against the Treachery of Palamedes by an anonymous sophist (sometimes identified with Alcidamas). [48]
As an example of the sophistic feature Gorgias lends to Palamedes, see the end of his discourse, showing a rarely seen in such length accumulation of rhetorical figures:

οὐ γὰρ μόνον εἰς ἐμὲ καὶ τοκέας τοὺς ἐμοὺς ἁμαρτήσεσθε δικάσαντες ἀδίκως, ἀλλ᾽ ὑμῖν αὐτοῖς δεινὸν ἄθεον ἄδικον ἄνομον ἔργον συνεπιστήσεσθε πεποιηκότες, ἀπεκτονότες ἄνδρα σύμμαχον, χρήσιμον ὑμῖν, εὐεργέτην τῆς Ἑλλάδος, Ἕλληνες Ἕλληνα, φανερὸν οὐδεμίαν ἀδικίαν οὐδὲ πιστὴν αἰτίαν ἀποδείξαντες.
For if you judge unjustly, not only will you make a mistake against me and my parents, but you yourselves will know that you have committed a dreadful, godless, unjust, unlawful deed by killing a man who is your ally, useful for you, a benefactor of Greece—Greeks killing a Greek—although you had proven no manifest injustice nor a trustworthy accusation.
Gorgias Defense of Palamedes 36 [49]

So much so that Palamedes, clashing with a liar, plotter, and betrayer Odysseus, appears himself one of the sophists. At least, both of them may be equally considered as such, taking the risk of being condemned by philosophers.

Be that as it may, Palamedes had such an impact on the sophistic movement, that he reemerged later in the period of the Second Sophistic with Philostratus, who mentions him in passing in the Vita Apollonii, [50] and makes him a central hero in Protesilaos’ discourse in the Heroikos. [51] Corresponding to the passage by Gorgias quoted above on Palamedes’ alleged eloquence, the passage below by Philostratus portrays Palamedes’ brilliant rhetoric abilities and sharp thinking:

ὁ δὲ Ὀδυσσεὺς ἐς τὸν Παλαμήδη βλέψας “αἱ γέρανοι” ἔφη “μαρτύρονται τοὺς Ἀχαιοὺς ὅτι αὐταὶ γράμματα εὗρον, οὐχὶ σύ”. καὶ ὁ Παλαμήδης “ἐγὼ γράμματα οὐχ εὗρον” εἶπεν, “ἀλλ᾽ ὑπ᾽ αὐτῶν εὑρέθην· πάλαι γὰρ ταῦτα ἐν Μουσῶν οἴκῳ κείμενα ἐδεῖτο ἀνδρὸς τοιούτου, θεοὶ δὲ τὰ τοιαῦτα δι᾽ ἀνδρῶν σοφῶν ἀναφαίνουσι.”
And Odysseus looked at Palamedes and said, “The cranes call the Greeks to witness that it was they who discovered writing, not you.” Palamedes answered, “I did not discover writing—I was discovered by writing, since it had long been stored in the house of the muses waiting for the right man; the gods customarily make known such things through wise men.
Philostratus Heroikos 38.10–11 [52]

4. The erasure of Palamedes from the Iliadic tradition? [53]

Palamedes is often mentioned among the protoi heuretai, and sometimes said to have invented the letters of the alphabet, or to have adapted them for the Greek alphabet. As such, he is a hero of Hellenism and culture. [54] He died early during the war, which might explain why he is not mentioned in the Iliad. His death is caused by Diomedes and Odysseus, as states Dictys though without any details; there are several narratives and explanations of his death, among them a letter—and in fact a fake one incriminating him, fabricated by Odysseus.
If the absence of the Palladion from the Iliadic tradition might be due to a pro-Achaean tradition, couldn’t we suppose a comparable explanation for Palamedes’ absence as well? Such an explanation would account not so much for the reasons why Palamedes dies so early during the war, but for the reasons why no memory of him remains in the narrative.
In the version that Philostratus presents via Protesilaos in the Heroikos, Odysseus’ malevolence and hatred towards Palamedes extended far beyond the latter’s death: Odysseus is presented meeting with Homer [55] himself and securing from the poet a total silence upon and oblivion of his rival:

ἀπιόντος δὲ ἤδη τοῦ Ὁμήρου, βοήσας ὁ Ὀδυσσεὺς “Παλαμήδης με” ἔφη “δίκας ἀπαιτεῖ τοῦ ἑαυτοῦ φόνου καὶ οἶδα ἀδικῶν καὶ πάντως μὲν πείσομαί τι· οἱ γὰρ θεμιστεύοντας ἐνταῦθα δεινοί, Ὅμηρε, καὶ τὰ ἐκ Ποινῶν ἐγγύς. εἰ δὲ τοῖς ἄνω ἀνθρώποις μὴ δόξω εἴργασθαι τὸν Παλαμήδη ταῦτα, ἧττόν με ἀπολεῖ τὰ ἐνταῦθα· μὴ δὴ ἄγε τὸν Παλαμήδη ἐς Ἴλιον, μηδὲ στρατιώτῃ χρῶ, μηδὲ ὅτι σοφὸς ἦν εἴπῃς. ἐροῦσι μὲν γὰρ ἕτεροι ποιηταί, πιθανὰ δὲ οὐ δόξει μὴ σοὶ εἰρημένα.” αὕτη, ξένε, ἡ Ὀδυσσέως τε καὶ Ὁμήρου ξυνουσία, καὶ οὕτως Ὅμηρος τὰ ἀληθῆ μὲν ἔμαθε, μετεκόσμησε δὲ πολλὰ ἐς τὸ συμφέρον τοῦ λόγου ὃν ὑπέθετο.
As Homer was going away, Odysseus shouted, “Palamedes is demanding justice for his murder; I know I am guilty, and that I will assuredly suffer for it. The judges here are terrifying, and the work of the Punishments is at hand. But if the men in the upper world do not think that I did this to Palamedes, my doom will be less harsh. Therefore you must not say that Palamedes went to Troy, nor speak of his fighting or his wisdom. Other poets will tell of this—but they will not be believed if you have not said it.” This, stranger, is what happened between Homer and Odysseus; thus it came about that Homer knew the truth, but changed much of it to benefit the subject he had chosen.
Philostratus Heroikos 43.15–16 [56]

According to Protesilaos, who tells the story to a vine-dresser, Palamedes could vie with Achilles for the title of the “Best of the Achaeans”; yet Odysseus, having treacherously killed Palamedes, negotiates with Homer himself the entire annihilation of his achievements and even his name: that is why he never appears in the Iliad.

The tradition followed by Philostratus even visualized Palamedes having the status of a poet, hence playing the role of a contender, not only of Odysseus, but also of the author of the Iliad and Odyssey; thus, his erasure becomes a strong necessity for Homer himself, which is confirmed by the Suda Lexicon, at the entry Palamedes:

τὰ δὲ ποιήματα αὐτοῦ ἠφανίσθη ὑπὸ τῶν Ἀγαμέμνονος ἀπογόνων διὰ βασκανίαν ὑπολαμβάνω δὲ καὶ τὸν ποιητὴν Ὅμηρον αὐτὸ τοῦτο πεπονθέναι καὶ μηδεμίαν τοῦ ἀνδρὸς τούτου μνήμην ποιήσασθαι.

One could argue however that, since Palamedes died before the beginning of the tenth year of the war, when the Iliad begins, it is normal not to meet him in the poem’s timespan. Nevertheless, the Iliad mentions a fair number of characters who died before the plague sent by Apollo to the Achaeans (as a punishment for Chryseis detained by Agamemnon), as well as many deeds accomplished before that episode. Palamedes’ story is somehow a taboo, maybe not as explicitly as the Palladion was. [57] Of course, it was not Odysseus’ will that occasioned Palamedes’ erasure, as the abovementioned ancient authors state—no matter how appealing the anecdote about Odysseus negotiating this disappearance with Homer may appear—but it seems clear that the Iliad is already pro-Odyssean, whereas Dictys and Philostratus are anti-Odyssean, following Oiax’ and Nauplius’ arguments, and thus charging Odysseus perhaps with more crimes than he committed. Palamedes’ story perhaps reveals that literature, far from being politically neutral, testifies to political leanings as early as the Homeric epic. Of course, this phenomenon is quite explicit and most common in the classical and postclassical periods (think of Plato, Demosthenes, and Aeschines, for instance), but it is somewhat surprising when this occurs in the epic; yet here there is an obvious contrast between the Iliad and the Epic Cycle tradition. Just like some references to the Antenorids may refer to a conflict inside the Trojan camp, [58] several strifes and conspiracies may have also swirled the Achaean camp, apart from Achilles’ wrath, conducing to the fundamentally political nature of the Iliad, as shown by Hammer (2002).

Above all, the study of Palamedes’ traces in Greek literature is arguably a sign of the multiformity of the tradition in the archaic period: [59] apart from his possible erasure in the Iliad and Odyssey, Palamedes has occasioned a lot of different stories in the Cycle tradition, from the manner he discovered Odysseus’ fake madness to his capacity as a prolific inventor, and particularly to the numerous versions of the conspiracy leading to his death. [60] Doesn’t this multiformity attest to a living tradition of the Epic Cycle, be it in oral or written form? Of course, several accounts of Palamedes’ death from the Classical period or later have probably been “invented” or at least embellished by their authors, as the fake letter anecdote, probably originating from the legend of the invention of writing. Since the means used by Odysseus (with or without Diomedes) [61] to lead to Palamedes’ death differs so much among our sources, it is conceivable that the various writers had read in the Cypria or elsewhere a brief reference without any details, upon which they may have embroidered such and such point.
On the issue of Odysseus’ and Palamedes’ last confrontation, it seems to me that one can conclude from the tragic and sophistic fragments that in such a trial none of the parties can prove either their own innocence or the adversary’s culpability. Although history and/or legend seem to point to Palamedes’ innocence and rhetorical skills, Odysseus’ cunning paid off and evil prevailed, leading to huge philosophical problems.


Allen, T. W. 1910. “Dictys of Crete and Homer.” Journal of Philology 31:207–233.
———. 1924. Homer: The Origins and the Transmission. Oxford.
Bassino, P. 2021. “Palamedes, The Sophistic Hero.” In Bassino and Benzi 2021:41–64.
Bassino, P., and N. Benzi, eds. 2021. Sophistic Views of the Epic Past from the Classical to the Imperial Age. London.
Beazley, J. D. 1951. The Development of Attic Black-Figure. Berkeley.
Bernabé, A. 1996. Poetae Epici Graeci. Testimonia et Fragmenta. Pars I. Stuttgart.
Biesecker-Mast, G. J. 1994. “Forensic rhetoric and the constitution of the subject: innocence, truth, and wisdom in Gorgias’ Palamedes and Plato’s Apology.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 24:148–166.
Billings, J. 2021. The Philosophical Stage: Drama and Dialectic in Classical Athens. Princeton.
Bradley, D. R. 1991. “Troy Revisited.” Hermes 119:232–246.
Burgess, J. S. 1996. “The Non-Homeric Cypria.” Transactions of the American Philological Association 125:77–99.
———. 2002. “Kyprias, the ᾽Kypria᾽, and Multiformity.” Phoenix 56:234–245.
Cantrell, P. A. 2011. Palamedes. PhD diss., Georgia State University.
Ceccarelli, P. 2013. Ancient Greek Letter Writing. A Cultural History (600 BC–150 BC). Oxford.
Christopoulos, M. 2011. “Casus belli: Causes of the Trojan War in the Epic Cycle.” In “Reflecting on the Greek Epic Cycle,” ed. E. D. Karakantza, special issue, Classics@ 6.
Coulter, J. A. 1964. “The Relation of the Apology of Socrates to Gorgias’ Defense of Palamedes and Plato’s Critique of Gorgianic Rhetoric.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 68:269–303.
Cousin, C. 2012. Le Monde des morts. Espaces et paysages de l’Au-delà dans l’imaginaire grec d’Homère à la fin du Ve siècle avant J.-C. Paris.
Davies, M. 1988. Epicorum Graecorum Fragmenta. Göttingen.
———. 1989. The Greek Epic Cycle. London.
Debiasi, A. 2004. “Antehomerica.” Hesperìa 20:109–122.
———. 2006. “Commento storico a Licofrone (Alex. 373–386; 1090–1098).” Hesperìa 21:121–134.
Decloquement, V. 2019. Commenter, critiquer et réécrire Homère dans l’Heroikos de Philostrate. PhD diss., Universités de Lille et Gand.
———. 2021. “A Rhetorical Trojan War: Philostratus’ Heroicus, the Power of Language and the Construction of the Truth.” In Bassino and Benzi 2021:187–209.
Detienne, M. 2002. The Writing of Orpheus: Greek Myth in Cultural Context. Baltimore.
Diels, H., and W. Kranz. 1934–1937. Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. 3 vols. 5th ed. Berlin.
Favreau-Linder, A. M. 2015. “Palamède martyr de la sophia? Ambiguïté et faillite du savoir.” In Figures tragiques du savoir. Les dangers de la connaissance dans les tragédies grecques et leur postérité, ed. H. Vial and A. de Crémoux, 33–48. Lille.
Finkelberg, M. 2000. “The Cypria, the Iliad, and the Problem of Multiformity in Oral and Written Tradition.” Classical Philology 95:1–11.
Fowler, R. L. 2013. Early Greek Mythography. Vol. 2, Commentary. Oxford.
Frazer, J. G. 1921. Apollodorus. The Library. Vol. 2, Book 3.10–end. Epitome. Loeb Classical Library 122. Cambridge, MA.
Gainsford, P. 2012. “Diktys of Crete.” The Cambridge Classical Journal 58:58–87.
Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth. A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore.
Gourmelen, L. 2015. “Les traditions relatives aux filles d’Anios. Peut-on reconstituer un mythe fragmentaire?” Gaia 18:489–505.
Griffin, J. 1977. “The Epic Cycle and the Uniqueness of Homer.” Journal for Hellenic Studies 97:39–53.
Hammer, D. 2002. The Iliad as Politics. The Performance of Political Thought. Norman.
Hodkinson, O. 2011. Authority and Tradition in Philostratus’ Heroikos. Satura 8. Lecce.
Holmberg, I. 1998. “The Creation of the Ancient Greek Epic Cycle.” Oral Tradition 13:456–478.
Hopkinson, N. 2018. Quintus Smyrnaeus. Posthomerica. Loeb Classical Library 19. Cambridge, MA.
Jenkins, T. E. 2005. “Palamedes’ ‘Writing Lesson’: On Writing, Narrative, and Erasure.” Classical and Modern Literature 25:29–53.
———. 2006. Intercepted Letters: Epistolarity and Narrative in Greek and Roman Literature. Lanham, MD.
Jones, W. H. S. 1935. Pausanias. Description of Greece. Vol. 4, Books 8.22–10 (Arcadia, Boeotia, Phocis and Ozolian Locri). Loeb Classical Library 297. Cambridge, MA.
Jouan, F. 1966. Euripide et les légendes des Chants cypriens. Paris.
Kaczko, S. 2022. “Rewriting Homer: Dictys, Septimius and the (Re-)shaping of the Trojan War Material.” In Faidimos Ektor: studi in onore di Willy Cingano per il suo 70 compleanno, ed. E. E. Prodi and S. Vecchiato, 427–442. Venice.
Kim, L. 2022. “Homer in the Second Sophistic.” In Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Homer from the Hellenistic Age to Late Antiquity, ed. C. P. Manolea, 164–188. Leiden.
Kleingünther, A. 1933. Πρῶτος Εὑρετής. Untersuchungen zur Geschichte einer Fragestellung. Philologus Supplement 26.1. Leipzig.
Knudsen, R. A. 2012. “Poetic Speakers, Sophistic Words.” The American Journal of Philology 133:31–60.
Laks, A., and G. W. Most. 2016. Early Greek Philosophy. Vol. 8, Sophists, Part 1. Loeb Classical Library 531. Cambridge, MA.
Lampe, K. 2020. “The Logos of Ethics in Gorgias’ Palamedes, On What is Not, and Helen.” In Early Greek Ethics, ed. D. C. Wolfsdorf, 110–132. Oxford.
Lang, A. 1913. “Dictys Cretensis and Homer.” The Journal of Philology 32:1–18.
Létoublon, F. 2009. “Athéna et son double.” In Kaina pragmata. Mélanges offerts à Jean-Claude Carrière, ed. M. Bastin-Hammou and C. Orfanos, 179–190. Toulouse.
———. 2014a. “Athena and Pallas, Image, Copies, Fakes and Doubles.” In Fakes and Forgers of Classical Literature. Ergo decipiatur!, ed. J. Martínez, 143–161. Leiden.
———. 2014b. “Le Palladion dans la Guerre de Troie: un talisman du Cycle épique, un tabou de l’Iliade.” In Studies on the Greek Epic Cycle I, ed. G. Scafoglio, 61–84. Pisa.
———. 2024. “Anténor et Théano, un complot dans la guerre de Troie?” In Suites d’Homère de l’Antiquité à la Renaissance, ed. D. Cuny and A. Perrot. Turnhout.
Lloyd-Jones, H. 1996. Sophocles. Fragments. Loeb Classical Library 483. Cambridge, MA.
Marks, J. 2002. “The Junction between the Kypria and the Iliad.” Phoenix 56:1–24.
Muir, J. V. 2001. Alcidamas. The Works and Fragments. London.
Nagy, G. 1996. Poetry as Performance. Cambridge.
———. 2001. “Homeric Poetry and Problems of Multiformity: ‘The Panathenaic Bottleneck’.” Classical Philology 96:109–119.
Nightingale, A. W. 1995. Genres in Dialogue: Plato and the Construct of Philosophy. Cambridge.
Ní Mheallaigh, K. 2008. “Pseudo-Documentarism and the Limits of Ancient Fiction.” The American Journal of Philology 129:403–431.
———. 2013. “Lost in Translation. The Phoenician Journal of Dictys of Crete.” In The Romance Between Greece and the East, ed. T. Whitmarsh and S. Thomson, 196–210. Cambridge.
Phillips, E. D. 1957. “A Suggestion about Palamedes.” The American Journal of Philology 78:267–278.
Porter, A. 2022. Homer and the Epic Cycle. Recovering the Oral Tradition Relationship. Leiden.
Ross, S. A. 2005. “Barbarophonos: Language and Panhellenism in the Iliad.” Classical Philology 100:299–316.
Rusten, J., and J. König, eds. 2014. Philostratus. Heroicus. Gymnasticus. Discourses 1 and 2. Loeb Classical Library 521. Cambridge, MA.
Rutherford, I. Forthcoming. “Simonides, Anius and Athens. A Note on PMG 537 (Kateukhai).” In Simonides Lyricus, ed. P. Agocs and L. Prausello.
Sammons, B. 2019. “The Space of the Epigone in Early Greek Epic.” Yearbook of Ancient Greek Epic Online 3:48–66.
Scafoglio, G. 2004. “Proclo e il ciclo epico.” Göttinger Forum der Altertumswissenschaft 7:39–57.
Severyns, A. 1928. Le cycle épique dans l’école d’Aristarque. Paris.
———. 1963. Recherches sur la Chrestomathie de Proclos. IV La Vita Homeri et les sommaires du Cycle. Paris.
Stanford, W. B. 1949. “Studies in the Characterization of Ulysses. I. The Denigration of Odysseus.” Hermathena 73:33–51.
Torrance, I. C. 2013. Metapoetry in Euripides. Oxford.
Vasunia, P. 2001. The Gift of the Nile: Hellenizing Egypt from Aeschylus to Alexander. Berkeley.
Weintritt, J. L. A. 2019. Troy Story: The Greek Epic Cycle in Latin Epic. Yale.
Werner, D. S. 2012. Myth and Philosophy in Plato’s Phaedrus. Cambridge.
West, M. L. 2013. The Epic Cycle: A Commentary on the Lost Troy Epics. Oxford.
Woodford, S. 2013. “Palamedes seeks Revenge.” Journal for Hellenic Studies 114:164–169.
Zeitlin, F. I. 2001. “Visions and Revisions of Homer.” In Being Greek under Rome: Cultural Identity, the Second Sophistic and the Development of Empire, ed. S. Goldhill, 195–266. Cambridge.


[ back ] 1. Létoublon 2009, 2014a, 2014b.
[ back ] 2. Davies 1988:27–44, Davies 1989:32–50, Bernabé 1996:36–64, Debiasi 2004:111–122, West 2013:102, 123–125.
[ back ] 3. Apart from Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, we know of a fourth tragedy by the same title, composed by Astydamas.
[ back ] 4. As we will see later, [Apollodorus] immediately thereafter narrates Odysseus’ revenge and Palamedes’ death, while it must have taken some time in the Cypria, as Proclus’ text itself suggests.
[ back ] 5. Translation by Frazer 1921. After Apollodorus, other texts give more details on this fake madness and on Palamedes’ outsmarting Odysseus; see Frazer’s note ad loc. with further references.
[ back ] 6. Hyginus Fabulae 95: Agamemnon et Menelaus Atrei filii cum ad Troiam oppugnandam coniuratos duces ducerent, in insulam Ithacam ad Ulixem Laertis filium venerunt, cui erat responsum, si ad Troiam isset, post vicesimum annum solum sociis perditis egentem domum rediturum. Itaque cum sciret ad se oratores venturos, insaniam simulans pileum sumpsit et equum cum bove iunxit ad aratrum. Quem Palamedes ut vidit, sensit simulare atque Telemachum filium eius cunis sublatum aratro ei subiecit et ait “Simulatione deposita inter coniuratos veni.” Tunc Ulixes fidem dedit se venturum; ex eo Palamedi infestus fuit. See also Philostratus Heroikos 10.2.
[ back ] 7. Translation by Jones 1935.
[ back ] 8. Woodford 2013:64: “An Attic black-figure neck amphora in the British Museum (PLATE VI d) depicts a winged warrior rushing to the right to overtake a ship that is sailing in the same direction. To the left a bird perches on a craggy rock. The winged warrior in this enigmatic scene should, I believe, be identified as the ghost of Palamedes, whose urgency in outracing the ship is dictated by his thirst for revenge.” See also LIMC, s.v. Palamedes.
[ back ] 9. Translation by Rusten and König 2014.
[ back ] 10. See Ní Mheallaigh 2008, speaking of “Pseudo-Documentarism.”
[ back ] 12. Ceccarelli 2013:72–88.
[ back ] 13. Ceccarelli 2013:77: “Our main source for the ‘tragic’ Palamedes is a scholion to Euripides’ Orestes 432. According to the scholiast, Palamedes’ first intervention in favour of the Achaeans took place during their involuntary stay at Aulis: he solved the difficulties caused by the rationing of food by showing them the use of Phoenician characters, presumably for numbering the rations (πρῶτον μὲν τὰ Φοινίκια διδάξας γράμματα αὐτοὺς ἴσην τε καὶ ἀνεπίληπτον τὴν διανομὴν ἐν τούτοις ἐπραγματεύσατο). Here the idea of a Phoenician origin of writing is combined with a Greek hero, Palamedes, and with distributive numbering. Rather than seeing in this a memory of the ‘real’ origin of writing and of its initial purpose, I would argue that this is a result of fifth century and later amalgamation of the various traditions concerning the origin of writing. On the same occasion Palamedes was also said to have invented measures, as well as games of dice and draughts, thereby offering the troops distraction from hunger and inaction (κύβους … καὶ μέτρα ἐξεῦρε καὶ ψῆφον). This provoked the jealousy of Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Diomedes, however, who decided to destroy him. They forced a Trojan prisoner to write a letter in Phrygian characters as if sent by Priam to Palamedes, revealing the latter as a traitor (ἠνάγκασαν γράψαι Φρυγίοις γράμμασι περὶ προδοσίας ὡς παρὰ Πριάμου πρὸς Παλαμήδην). Next, having persuaded a servant of Palamedes to hide the letter and the ‘Trojan’ gold under Palamedes’ bed, they accused the hero of betrayal and ordered a search of his tent. The letter and the gold were found, and the Achaeans stoned Palamedes to death. The scholion continues with the arrival at Troy of Nauplius, who has heard of the events, and with his request for justice. […] in this version of the story Palamedes does not really ‘invent’ writing, but simply transposes Phoenician characters […] Moreover, the purpose of his invention is clearly stated, namely to help with the rationing and distribution of food. […] This has the further implication that Palamedes is convicted by a piece of evidence that the Greeks cannot decipher, for otherwise they would not have needed a Trojan prisoner to write it.”
[ back ] 14. This precision is surprising, since Trojans and Phrygians were allies, but spoke different languages, see Ceccarelli above n.13, and Ross 2005:313: “The transcendence of human linguistic barriers is what makes the scene from the Hymn to Delian Apollo worthy of mention, while the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite mirrors the patterns of linguistic division between Trojan and ἐπίκουροι in the Iliad: Aphrodite, disguised as a Phrygian, can only communicate with Anchises, a Trojan, because she once had a Trojan nurse who taught her his language.”
[ back ] 15. Translation by Frazer 1921.
[ back ] 16. Frazer 1921:179n1.
For Jouan 1966:343–344, Apollodorus, Hyginus, and the scholia to Euripides’ Orestes represent the three main versions of this plot, each of them corresponding to one of the tragic versions: [Apollodorus] to Aeschylus, Hyginus to Sophocles, and the scholia to Orestes to Euripides’ Palamedes.
[ back ] 17. Gantz 1993:605.
[ back ] 18. Ceccarelli 2013:78: “Hyginus’ Fabula 105 preserves a slightly different version. Odysseus, determined to ruin Palamedes, convinces Agamemnon of the necessity to move the camp for one day, and then during the night hides gold where that tent of Palamedes had been. He then gives a letter for Priam (presumably written by himself: the foreign aspect of the writing is not stressed in this account) to a Phrygian slave, whom he dispatches to Priam, having previously arranged for him to be killed while on his journey. On the following day, when the army comes back to the camp, the body is found, and with it the letter. It turns out that it contains a message sent by Priam to Palamedes, promising him as much gold as Odysseus has hidden in the tent if he will betray the Greeks according to the proposed agreement. An agon followed in which Palamedes defended himself; to prove his innocence, he asked for his tent to be inspected, but at this point the gold was found and Palamedes put to death.”
[ back ] 19. Translation:
[ back ] 20. Dictys mentions an earlier fake letter written by Odysseus as if from Agamemnon to Clytemnestra, asking her to send their eldest daughter to Aulis: profectus namque Mycenas nullo consilii participe falsas litteras tamquam ab Agamemnone ad Clytemestram perfert, quarum sententia haec erat: Iphigeniam, nam ea maior natu erat, desponsam Achilli … (Ephemeris 1.20), which throws on him a dark shadow.
[ back ] 21. Knudsen 2012, Bassino 2021.
[ back ] 22. After his madness was revealed as fake, Odysseus even took part in the recruitment of other warriors, as shows the episode of discovering Achilles disguised among Lycomedes’ daughters.
[ back ] 23. Gorgias’ Defense of Palamedes is the most detailed extant version of it.
[ back ] 24. Knudsen 2012.
[ back ] 25. References given in n.2.
[ back ] 26. Dictys Ephemeris 1.1: Convenere autem Clymenae et Naupli Palamedes et Oeax. Item Menelaus, Aeropa et Plisthene genitus. Dictys Ephemeris 1.6: Interim apud Troiam legatorum Palamedes, cuius maxime ea tempestate domi belloque consilium valuit, ad Priamum adit conductoque consilio primum de Alexandri iniuria conqueritur. While Achilles, Ajax and Phoenix obtain command of the fleet, Palamedes receives with Diomedes and Odysseus command of the army (1.16), and after Agamemnon’s deposition he becomes commander in chief with Diomedes, Ajax, and Idomeneus (1.19). During the first campaign, Palamedes obeys an oracle of Apollo Smintheus by making a common sacrifice: Eadem tempestate oraculum Pythii Graecis perfertur: concedendum ob omnibus, uti per Palamedem Apollini Zminthio sacrificium exhiberetur. Quae res multis grata ob industriam et amorem viri, quem circa omnem exercitum exhibebat, nonnullis ducum dolori fuerat (2.14). Note that the conspiracy for Palamedes’ murder succeeds immediately in 2.15.
[ back ] 27. Palamedes was sent on a recruiting embassy to Chios and Cyprus before the war, according to Alcidamas (Odysseus 20), who probably drew on the Cypria; see further Fowler 2013:530. Yet Muir maintains that (2001:79) “the story of the recruiting expedition has been modified by Alcidamas to give Palamedes a prominent and treacherous role. … Treachery and cheating are useful ingredients for a character assassination.”
[ back ] 28. Dictys Ephemeris 1.4.
[ back ] 29. Dictys Ephemeris 1.16 and 1.19.
[ back ] 30. Lykophron (Alexandra 570–585) evokes the three daughters of Anios, Oino, Spermo, and Elaïs, who provided abundant food, summoned by Palamedes according to the scholiast to 581, or by Menelaus and Odysseus according to Simonides (Fr. 537 PMG, see Rutherford forthcoming); Odysseus’ mention to Nausicaa of a travel to Delos could confirm this version of the myth (Odyssey 6.164 and Σ.). See also Apollodorus Epitome 3.10, Ovid Metamorphoses 13.623–674, Dictys Ephemeris 1.23. See Gantz 1993:577; Debiasi 2004:119–120; Gourmelen 2015 who adds Eustathius, Commentarii ad Homeri Iliadem X 20.
[ back ] 31. The term πρῶτος εὑρετής is due to Kleingünther 1933.
[ back ] 32. Ceccarelli 2013:74: “It is unclear how far back in time the tradition reaches that assigns to him the invention of letters: a fleeting reference in the scholia to Dionysius Thrax informs us that Stesichorus in his Oresteia (fr. 213 PMG) attributed to Palamedes the invention of στοιχεῖα (letters, or possibly numbers); unfortunately, the context in which the discovery was made is not given, nor its purpose. Palamedes can only have been incidentally relevant to the Oresteia: he might have been mentioned as the reason of the hatred of Oeax, Palamedes’ brother, for Orestes, attested in Euripides’ Orestes (Euripides Orestes 432). At any rate, from this the inference has been made that Stesichorus was alluding to a story already known;” and Ceccarelli 2013:75: “Stesichorus might have recounted the story of Palamedes at greater length in his Nostoi, where the vengeance of Nauplius would have been pertinent.”
[ back ] 33. Translation by Lloyd-Jones 1996.
[ back ] 34. On διδάξας commented by Ceccarelli, see above n.13.
[ back ] 35. Phillips 1957:268: “This is no doubt due to the traditional connection of Palamedes with the use of the Phoenician alphabet among the Greeks, which will be discussed later. My purpose in this article is to suggest that the civilized character of Palamedes is not necessarily a mere addition made in later ages of Greek history to the rough memories of the heroic age but may represent a genuine piece of ancient tradition;” and Phillips 1957:272: “Stesichorus, Gorgias, Alcidamas, the scholiast on Euripides, Dio Chrysostom, Philostratus, and Tzetzes make him the inventor of letters. Elsewhere Cadmus, repeatedly said to have come from Phoenicia, is made the carrier of the Phoenician letters to Greece, and Palamedes is credited only with additions and improvements to the alphabet. Now if Palamedes or any other figure of the legendary period, which we now call late Minoan and Mycenaean, originated or spread any form of writing among the Greeks, this could not have been the Phoenician alphabet. It must have been some form of the Minoan linear script, known from Cnossos, Mycenae, and Pylos, and belonging to the Aegean and not to Western Asia, which after the end of the Mycenaean age was lost […]”
[ back ] 36. Euripides fr. 578:

τὰ τῆς γε λήθης φάρμακ᾽ ὀρθώσας μόνος,
ἄφωνα και φωνοῦντα, συλλαβὰς τιθείς,
ἐξηῦρον ἀνθρώποισι γράμματ᾽ εἰδέναι,
ὤστ᾽ οὐ παρόντα ποντίας ὑπὲρ πλακὸς
τἀκεῖ κατ᾽οἴκους πάντ᾽ ἐπίστασθαι καλῶς,
παισίν τε τὸν θνῄσκοντα χρημάτων μέτρον
γράψαντα λείπειν, τὸν λαβόντα δ᾽ εἰδέναι.
ἃ δ᾽ εἰς ἔριν πίπτουσιν ἀνθρώποις κακά,
δέλτος διαιρεῖ, κοὐκ ἐᾷ ψευδῆ λέγειν.

[ back ] 37. Phillips 1957:278. Although many scholars dealt recently with Palamedes and writing (see particularly Ceccarelli 2013 and Jenkins 2005, 2006), I was not able to detect any remark on the possible relation between Palamedes and Mycenaean writing anywhere else other than Phillips 1957.
[ back ] 38. On the Nekyia painted by Polygnotos in the Lesche of Delphi, see Cousin 2012:268–269.
[ back ] 39. Translation by Jones 1935.
[ back ] 40. Musei Vaticani: 540–530 BCE:, see Beazley 1951:65.
[ back ] 41. οὐ λιμὸν οὗτος τῶνδ᾿ ἀπῶσε, σὺν θεῷ
εἰπεῖν, χρόνου τε διατριβὰς σοφωτάτας
ἐφηῦρε φλοίσβου μετὰ κόπον καθημένοις,
πεσσοὺς κύβους τε, τερπνὸν ἀργίας ἄκος;
[ back ] 42. Apollodorus Epitome 3.8, Hyginus Fabulae 105 (quoted above). Ceccarelli 2013:72 calls Palamedes “an ill-fated Greek hero.”
[ back ] 43. According to Dictys, Odysseus had already used the technique of a fake letter, when the oracle forbode that for the army to sail to Troy, Artemis needed be appeased with the killer of her favorite deer sacrificing his eldest daughter. As the epidemic was spreading, Odysseus went to Mycenae and gave Clytemnestra a fake letter telling her to send Iphigenia as soon as possible in order to be wed (Dictys Ephemeris 1.20 quoted above).
[ back ] 44. Dictys Ephemeris 1.6 quoted above; Philostratus, Heroikos 154.10 “φιλῶ σε, ὦ Παλάμηδες” εἶπεν, “ὅτι μοι δοκεῖς φρονιμώτατος ἀνθρώπων γεγονέναι καὶ δικαιότατος ἀθλητὴς τῶν κατὰ σοφίαν πραγμάτων, πεπονθέναι τε ὑπὸ τῶν Ἀχαιῶν ἐλεεινὰ διὰ τὰς ᾽Οδυσσέως ἐπὶ σοὶ τέχνας”. Anyhow, Odysseus’ hatred lasted long after the Trojan War, since Quintus of Smyrna assigns to Ajax, after Achilleus’ death, a long tirade on Odysseus’ torts (Posthomerica 5.181–236) beginning with Ὦ ᾽Οδυσεῦ φρένας αἰνέ, recalling the shameful episode of the feigned madness (190–194), and blaming him for Palamedes’ murder (198–200):

ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀντιθέῳ Παλαμήδεϊ θῆκας ὄλεθρον
ὅς σέο φέρτερος ἔσκε βίῃ καὶ ἐύφρονι βουλῇ.
“You also managed to get godlike Palamedes killed,
a man superior to you in both strength and wise counsel.” (transl. Hopkinson 2018)

On the “denigration” of Odysseus, see Stanford 1949.

[ back ] 45. Diels-Kranz 1934–1937: II.82,11a.
[ back ] 46. See Coulter 1964, Biesecker-Mast 1994.
[ back ] 47. Zeitlin 2001, Hodkinson 2011:63, Knudsen 2012:37, Werner 2012:188, Favreau-Linder 2015, Decloquement 2019, Billings 2021:25–26. Bassino 2021:45 quotes Plato’s Apology of Socrates 41b and comments: “The mention of Palamedes among the people Socrates would like to meet in the underworld is particularly relevant: not only were the two charged, tried and put to death unjustly—but being accused of using speech deceptively, they themselves fell victims of deceptive speakers.”
[ back ] 48. Hodkinson 2011:85: “the figure of Palamedes came to be proverbial for cleverness and invention in later literature; hence the adjectives Παλαμήδειος Παλαμηδικός.” On the “mytho-forensic” genre, see Knudsen 2012, Lampe 2020, Bassino 2021.
[ back ] 49. Translation by Laks and Most 2016.
[ back ] 50. VA 6.21.4, see Hodkinson 2011:87.
[ back ] 51. The Heroikos is composed in interlocking pieces, on the Platonic model, see Hodkinson 2011, especially 59–79 on Protesilaos’ logoi.
[ back ] 52. Translation by Rusten and König 2014.
[ back ] 53. I borrow the term erasure from Jenkins 2005 (though without his brilliant Derridian analysis).
[ back ] 54. On Palamedes as a culture hero, see Billings 2021.
[ back ] 55. On Homer in the Second Sophistic, see Kim 2022.
[ back ] 56. Translation by Rusten and König 2014.
[ back ] 57. See the texts quoted in the articles mentioned above.
[ back ] 58. I explored this issue in a Homeric online conference in Tours; see Létoublon 2024.
[ back ] 59. Nagy 1996, 2001; Burgess 1996, 2002; Finkelberg 2000; and more recently Porter 2022.
[ back ] 60. Burgess 1996:85: “Note that in its summary the Cypria does not end with the capture of Briseis and Chryseis. It continues on with the death of Palamedes and a catalogue of Trojan allies. Allen suggested that the Cypria is narrating a variant account of the wrath of Achilles, pre-Homeric in origin, in which the murder of Palamedes is the cause of Achilles’ withdrawal. The unfortunately concise summary by Proclus does not provide us with enough information to disprove this theory, but it seems unlikely. In fact, I do not think that the narration of the death of Palamedes in the Cypria has much bearing on our investigation. It does separate the capture of Chryseis and Briseis from its apparent conclusion, the quarrel of Book 1 in the Iliad, but this quarrel does not have to follow immediately after their capture. If the poet of the Cypria was indeed preparing for the Iliad, he could have simply included additional material at this point. Allen (1924:72–73), citing a few ancient sources which follow this version. Allen otherwise portrays the Cypria as an introduction to the Iliad, so it is difficult to understand why he does not think it would correspond to the Iliad on this matter.”
[ back ] 61. During the discussion that followed my paper at the International Conference in Honour of Menelaos Christopoulos at Patras, Olga Levaniouk opportunely said she understood the relation between Palamedes and Odysseus, but not entirely the one between Palamedes with Diomedes, who is a “good guy.” I have indeed no response, but it may be remarked that we meet the same association of Diomedes with Odysseus in two episodes of the war; I mentioned orally the theft of the Palladion, present only in the Epic cycle (cf. Létoublon 2009, 2014a, 2014b), and there is also the spy expedition during the night as told in Iliad 10 (which I forgot to mention in the discussion). Both episodes, like Palamedes’ story, show Diomedes sometimes sharing Odysseus’ dark side. May we suppose that an episode narrated in the Cycle, but not preserved in the summary, gave the answer?