Palamedes, by Euripides, Actors of Dionysus, May 2013Posted on 29 May 2013
Euripides’ play The Trojan Women is the final part of a trilogy, whose first two parts are largely lost. Yet we know their main themes, and David Stuttard’s recreation of the second part follows that of the first part, given six months ago by AOD at the same venue, Europe House, London.
The first part, Paris Alexandros deals with the rediscovery of a Trojan prince, abandoned in infancy because it was foretold he would cause the downfall of Troy. When he returns as a shepherd and defeats his brothers and everyone else at the Trojan games, his mother Hekuba welcomes him back, thinking the prophecy had been fulfilled. Not so of course. His abduction of Helen caused the Trojan War, and Palamedes illustrates a brief story from that war, showing what a thoroughly nasty fellow Odysseus can be.
The back-story is that Palamedes was a cleverer man than Odysseus and saw through his ruse to avoid the Trojan adventure. Odysseus never forgave him, was jealous of his reputation, and eventually contrived a plot to have him executed.
Such is the action of this play, performed in darkness with the characters lit by torches they carry. It all starts with a disturbed Odysseus hearing voices, one of which appears to him in the person of Athene. She too dislikes Palamedes and encourages Odysseus to use the man’s accomplishments against him.
Opportunity presents itself when Palamedes’ men capture some poor fellow during a night watch. Odysseus takes him for interrogation, and under secret questioning the prisoner reveals that in Palamedes’ tent is to be found gold and a letter from the Trojans. He is killed, allegedly trying to escape, so no one can verify his testimony, but charges of treason are laid against Palamedes.
Condemned by Odysseus, with Agamemnon in the background, he defends his honour, but his fate is sealed. A public execution of this popular general could cause a riot, so it is to be done quietly, and the herald Talthibius arrives to report to Palamedes’ men. They are ready for insurrection, but he says he is not sent by Agamemnon. It was Palamedes himself who secretly sent the herald to say he is proud of them, commanding them to serve under his father Nauplius, after which he calmly took his own life.
Odysseus reappears, the voices start again, and this time it is not Athene but Nauplius. The father’s veiled comments to Odysseus, and later to the soldiers, should give pause to those who think themselves safe, and we all know the trials of Odysseus and the fate of Agamemnon.
Well produced by Lianna Valenti with Daniel Beale as an arrogantly emollient Odysseus and Joseph Wickes as the honest Palamedes, and I gather AOD will perform the third part, Trojan Women on August 31. In that play, Hekuba is given to Odysseus, and you can see she has every reason to dread the prospect.