In Greek mythology, Palamedes (Ancient Greek: Παλαμήδης) was the son of Nauplius and Clymene.

He joined the Greeks in the expedition against Troy. Pausanias in his Description of Greece (2.20.3) says that in Corinth there is a Temple of Fortune to which Palamedes dedicated the dice that he had invented.

Plato in The Republic (Book 7) (through the mouthpiece of Socrates) remarks that Palamedes claimed to have invented numbers.

Palamedes, inventor of the dice and of several letters of the alphabet, outwitted Odysseus, making him join the expedition against Troy. But Odysseus became hostile to him, and Palamedes' cleverness proved fatal to himself.

"Palamedes found his bitterest enemies in Odysseus and Homer; for the one laid an ambush against him of people by whom he was stoned to death, while the other denied him any place in his Epic."

(Flavius Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 3.22).


Palamedes is commonly said to be the son of Nauplius, son of Poseidon; although some question how Nauplius could have lived over 200 years, until the time of Trojan War, and suggest that Palamedes was instead a son of Nauplius, who was a descendant of the first Nauplius.

The mother of Nauplius was named as Clymene, daughter of Catreus, king of Crete; Catreus having given Clymene to Nauplius to avoid a prophecy about his own death. Palamedes was said to have had brothers named Oeax and Nausimedon.

As Atreus, father of Agamemnon and Menelaus, married Aerope, another daughter of Catreus, there was a family bond between Palamades and the two Greek kings.

Palamedes and knowledge

The contributions of Palamedes to knowledge were of such a nature that they have been named together with those made by the Egyptians and the Phoenicians. For the Egyptians, they say, were the first to represent thought by symbols and pictures of animals.

These symbols are among the most ancient, and having being impressed upon stone, they are still visible today. And some have believed that the Phoenicians took the idea of the alphabet from the Egyptians and then imported it into Hellas, being as they were predominant at sea.

For it was Cadmus, they say, who taught the art of writing to the uncivilised Greeks, having arrived with a Phoenician fleet.

Many letters invented by Palamedes

King Cecrops of Athens has been also counted among those who promoted civilization. But during the time of the Trojan War, Palamedes of Argos was one of the most brilliant, having invented eleven letters of the alphabet or, as others say, sixteen.

Moreover, Hyginus (Fabulae, 277) revives an old account that Palamedes created eleven letters of the Greek alphabet:

The three Fates created the first five vowels of the alphabet and the letters B and T. It is said that Palamedes, son of Nauplius invented the remaining eleven consonants. Then Hermes reduced these sounds to characters, showing wedge shapes because cranes fly in wedge formation and then carried the system from Greece to Egypt.

This was the Pelasgian alphabet, which Cadmus had later brought to Boeotia, then Evander of Arcadia, a Pelasgian, introduced into Italy, where his mother, Carmenta, formed the familiar fifteen characters of the Latin alphabet. Other consonants have since been added to the Greek alphabet. Alpha was the first of eighteen letters, because alphe means honor, and alphainein is to invent.

What this knowledge lacks

Now, it has been remarked, that this kind of knowledge, which is good in the sense that it provides various skills, is not enough in order to learn what may be of real advantage for each person and for the community. For lawful, just, and harmonious life in social and political relations has never been learned, and instead wronging and plotting against one another has often prevailed with terrible results even for men of knowledge.

Knowledge did not save Palamedes

And in the same way as power and wealth did not save Agamemnon from being murdered, or Oedipus from falling into utter ruin, knowledge and the invention of the letters could not save Palamedes from being stoned by the same men whom he had instructed. For the Achaeans did not even know how to count the host, and when they had learned this from Palamedes and had themselves become clever and proficient, then they slew him.

The Oath of Tyndareus

Because of The Oath of Tyndareus, it was the duty of many rulers in Hellas to join the coalition that was being formed for the purpose of sailing to Troy and obtain, either by words or by force, the restoration of Helen and the Spartan property that had been stolen by the seducer Paris.

Odysseus' reasons to avoid the war

When the envoys Palamedes, Menelaus, and Nestor, arrived to Ithaca in order to remind Odysseus of the oath he had sworn, and exhort him to join the expedition, they met difficulties, for Odysseus had been warned by an oracle that if he went to Troy he would return home alone and in need, with his comrades lost, after twenty years.

Palamedes is not tricked by Odysseus

That is why Odysseus, not wishing to go to war, feigned madness. But Palamedes, seeing through the deception, snatched little Telemachus, Odysseus' son, from Penelope's bosom, and drew his sword, pretending that he would kill him. So Odysseus, fearing for his son's life, confessed that his madness was fictitious, and accepted to go to war.

But others say that when Odysseus learned that spokesmen would come to him, he put on a cap and, pretending madness, yoked a horse and an ox to the plow. Palamedes, they say, noticing that Odysseus was performing a farce, took his son Telemachus from the cradle and put him in front of the plow, exhorting Odysseus to give up his pretence. Then Odysseus promised to join the allies, but from that time he was hostile to Palamedes, though The Oath of Tyndareus that bound him had been Odysseus' invention as well.

Odysseus plots against Palamedes

Having come to the front at Troy, Odysseus, never forgetting that he had been outwitted by Palamedes, kept plotting night and day against him. It is told that Odysseus compelled a Trojan prisoner to write a letter of treasonable purport, which seemed to be sent by King Priam of Troy to Palamedes, and that he dropped the letter in the camp to be found and at the same time buried gold in the quarters of Palamedes.

Others have said that Odysseus, referring to a warning in a dream, convinced Agamemnon to move the Achaean camp for one day, and hid by night a great quantity of gold in the place where Palamedes' tent had been. Odysseus also gave to a Trojan prisoner a letter to be carried to King Priam, and sent a soldier of his ahead to kill him not far away from the camp. So when the army returned the next day to the camp, a soldier found the letter on the body of the dead Trojan prisoner. And on it it was written:

"Sent to Palamedes from Priam" (Hyginus, Fabulae 105).

… promising him as much gold as Odysseus had hidden if he would betray the camp according to agreement.

Palamedes found guilty of treason

This is how Palamedes lost his life through an unjust judgement. For the next day, when Palamedes was brought before Agamemnon, he denied having betrayed the army, but he was not able to convince either the king or anyone else of his innocence, after soldiers went to his tent and dug up the gold that sly Odysseus had hidden.

Palamedes' death

And so Palamedes was stoned to death by the entire army. But others affirm that there was not such a plot, and that Palamedes was drowned by Odysseus and Diomedes when he put out to catch fish.

Ajax recalls the incident in Ithaca

After Achilles' death, when Ajax and Odysseus competed for his arms, the former recalled the circumstances that forced Odysseus to come to Troy to show the judges that he was a better man and deserved the arms of Achilles: "Shall Odysseus appear the better man who came last to arms and by feigned madness shirked the war, till one more shrewd than he … the son of Nauplius, uncovered this timid fellow's trick and dragged him forth to the arms that he shunned ? Shall he take the best because he wanted to take none ? And shall I go unhonoured … just because I was the first to front the danger ?"

(Ajax. Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.34).

Palamedes' father claims satisfaction

When Palamedes' father Nauplius learned that calumny and a miscarriage of justice had killed his son, he sailed to the Troad, and meeting the leaders of the Achaean army, claimed satisfaction. But all of them favored Agamemnon, who protected Odysseus, and so Nauplius returned unsuccessful.


Then Nauplius, avenging himself for the outrage he had suffered, traveled through the whole of Hellas and contrived that the wives of the Achaean Leaders should take lovers. And that is why, they say, Clytaemnestra slept with Aegisthus, Aegialia, wife of Diomedes, with Cometes, and Meda, wife of King Idomeneus of Crete, with Leucus.

Because of this, Agamemnon was murdered when he returned from Troy, and Diomedes and Idomeneus had to go into exile. Besides, Nauplius awaited the return of the Achaean fleet, and with the help of false beacon lights which he kindled in Mount Caphareus in the island of Euboea, he led many vessels against the rocks where they were wrecked and many men perished.

For when Ajax was wrecked by Athena for what he had done to Cassandra, the other Achaeans implored at night the aid of the gods. On hearing their prayers, Nauplius brought a torch to the place where the rocks were most sharp and the coast most dangerous. Then the Achaeans, believing that this was a sign of the mercy of the gods, steered their vessels to the place signalled by Nauplius.

In that way many ships were dashed on the rocks, and many of the troops and their leaders perished. Those who, in spite of the storm and the shipwreck could swim to the shore were killed by Nauplius (see also map: The Returns).

Agamemnon did not perish at cape Caphareus, for the wind bore him to his own shores. But Oeax, in order to avenge the wrong done to his brother Palamedes, let Agamemnon's wife Clytaemnestra know that Cassandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy, was being brought as a concubine to her house. And on his arrival, Agamemnon was murdered by his wife and her lover Aegisthus.

End of Nauplius

It is also told that Nauplius, on account of the disasters he caused to the Achaeans, was pursued by them, but was protected as a suppliant by the Chalcidians in Euboea, who did not surrender him. Instead he died on another occasion, according to his own law, lured by a beacon light.


L Schmitz. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, Volume 3. J. Murray, 1873. Retrieved 2015-04-13.

Apollodorus, Epitome, Apollod. Epit. E.3.7

Hyginus, Fabulae, 105

Pausanias 10.31.2, citing the epic Cypria.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. pp. 13.34–60, 308–312.

Virgil. Aeneid. pp. 2.81–85.

Plato. Apology, 41b.

Phaedrus, 261b

Hyginus. Fabulae, 277.

Pausanias, Description of Greece (2.20.3)

Homer, Iliad

Homer, Odyssey

Plato, The Republic (Book 7)

Flavius Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 3.22

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