Euripides, Rhesus



There is some debate over whether the play Rhesus was written by Euripides. In any case, it dramatizes events surrounding the night marauding narrated in Book X of Homer’s Iliad.

Here, the Trojans are faring well in the war. They have pushed the Greeks nearly back to their ships, and Hector wonders if they are resting for the night, maybe even planning an ambush, or packing their ship to go, in which case the Trojans should get in some last licks. Aeneas remarks, “If only you were a man whose judgement matched his deeds in battle!” (237). Instead of a night attack when the men are already exhausted, which would precipitate the return of Achilles to battle, let’s send out a spy to reconnoiter.

Dolon volunteers to go, asking “only” for Achilles horses as his reward, horses Hector also has his eye on. Dolon disguises himself in a wolf pelt and promises to bring back the head of Odysseus, or maybe Diomedes (240).

The testy Hector hears from a shepherd about Rhesus, ruler of Thrace, arriving to join the Trojans. Hector thinks this guy has been a slacker, but Rhesus says that as he was coming to help (ten years ago) he got involved with his own war with the Scythians. Hector rants about Odysseus, who has already here stolen the Palladium (247) in this account (though entirely after the events of the Iliad). Hector and Rhesus grumble about underhanded tricks.

Before having killed Dolon, Odysseus and Diomedes have gotten info from him, such as the password “Phoebus”; and Diomedes wants to sneak into the Trojan camp and behead Aeneas or Paris. Odysseus points out the impracticality of that intended butchery. Athena recommends ambushing the Thracians instead. Diomedes appoints himself the murderer and Odysseus the horse-thief (251). They succeed, and with the help of the password and the ensuing chaos, they escape. A wounded Charioteer and the Chorus-Leader bemoan the slaughter of Rhesus and the Thracians. Accusations fly that Hector and the Trojans are responsible for marauding this faction. But Hector declares, “I pray that I may never be so enamored of horses as to kill friends” (257). Nevertheless, the Charioteer rushes at Hector to kill him, but faints from his wounds. Hector commands that he be cared for.

A Muse, the mother of Rhesus, appears with the body of her slain son, and sorts out the dismal truth, laying blame squarely where it is due. The Trojans vaguely hope for victory tomorrow nevertheless.

Works Cited

Euripides. Rhesus. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. Euripides IV. Ed. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958. 1-49.

Euripides. Rhesus. Trans. John Davie. In The Bacchae and Other Plays. NY: Penguin, 2005. 225-261, 327-335.

Powell, Barry. Classical Myth. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2001.


Orpheus: Greek Plays