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Palamedes

by Dr Alena Trckova-Flamee, Ph.D.
Palamedes, who was the son of the Euboian king Nauplius (2) and queen Clymene (4) and who was also the grandson of Poseidon and Amymone (one of the fifty Danaus' daughters) was the personification of time-honoured wisdom. But he was also a tragical hero in the Greek myths, because he was the first example of an error of justice.

Palamedes' invention get into all spheres of life. It was he who discovered counting and coinage, weights and measures (which are atributted to Hermes too) and military ranks and the game of pessoi (a forerunner of chess). And a certain method of mixing wine in proportions of 2 to 5 belonged to his ideas. Even the four (sometimes the eleven) supplementary letters of the Greek alphabet are connected to his inventions, therefore according to some myths, also other persons participated in this field.

The story about life and death of Palamedes was kept in the Greek tradition. According to this narration the Mycenaean king Agamemnon sent Palamedes to Ithaca to take Odysseus, when the Trojan War was imminent. King Odysseus did not want to follow the Achaians to war, so he simulated that he mad, and began cultivating a field with salt. Palamedes, who understood this fake, used this trick - he put Odysseus' small son Telemachos in front of the yoke of the king, who stopped immediately working and at once revealed himself.

But Odysseus never forgave to Palamedes what he did to him. During the Trojan War, when Palamedes advised them to return to home, he accused him from collaboration with the Trojans and prepared a false report and a fake witness against him. Palamedes was therefore condemned and was stoned to death.

Homer did not know this story, which came out probably from the Kypria epos and from the tragedies of Aischylos, Sofokles and Euripides, which unfortunately got lost. But even so, the ancient authors mentioned often Palamedes' wisdom, Apollodoros referred to us about his parents and Pausanias is giving informations about Palamedes' death. He knew from reading the Kypria, "that it was Diomedes and Odysseus, who killed him." He learnt about Palamedes also from the picture of Polygnotos from the 5th century BCE, on which the scene with Palamedes and Thersites playing the game of dice, (which Palamedes invented) was drown. Also a few Greek vases were decorated with the figure of Palamedes. Finally the high peak Palamidi (261 m. a.s.l.) with a well-preserved fortress above the lovely town Nauplion in Argolis, was named, after the unlucky hero Palamedes.

Virgil II, 82; Ovid XIII, 56.


Article details:

  • Pronunciation:
    pal-uh-meed'-eez

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