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Rhesus ( , Rhēsos) is a Athenianmarker tragedy that belongs to the transmitted plays of Euripides. There has been debate about its authorship. It was understood to be by Euripides in the Hellenistic, Imperial, and Byzantine periods. In the 17th century, however, the play's authenticity was challenged, first by Joseph Scaliger and subsequently by others, largely on stylistic grounds. Modern scholarship agrees with the classical authorities and ascribes the play to Euripides.

Rhesus takes place during the Trojan War, on the night when Odysseus and Diomedes sneak into the Trojan camp. The same event is depicted in book 10 of Homer's epic poem Iliad.

Plot synopsis

In the middle of the night Trojan guards on the lookout for suspicious enemy activity sight bright fires in the Greek camp. They promptly inform Hector, who almost issues a general call to arms before Aeneas makes him see how ill-advised this would be. Their best bet, Aeneas argues, would be to send someone to spy on the Greek camp and see what the enemy is up to. Dolon volunteers to spy on the Greeks in exchange for Achilles's horses when the war is won. Hector accepts the deal and sends him out. Dolon leaves wearing the skin of a wolf, and plans on deceiving the Greeks by walking on all fours. Rhesus, the neighboring king of Thrace, arrives to assist the Trojans soon after Dolon sets out. Hector berates him for coming so many years late, but decides better late than never. Rhesus says he intended on coming in the beginning, but was sidetracked defending his own land from an attack by Scythians.

Meanwhile, on their way into the Trojan encampment, Odysseus and Diomedes run into Dolon and kill him. When they reach the encampment with the intention of killing Hector, Athena guides them to Rhesus' sleeping quarters instead, pointing out that they are not destined to kill Hector. Diomedes slays Rhesus and others while Odysseus takes his prized horses before making their escape. Rumors spread from Rhesus' men that it was an inside job, and that Hector was responsible. Hector arrives to cast blame on the sentinels for, due to the sly tactics, the guilty party could only be Odysseus. The mother of Rhesus, one of the nine muses, then arrives and lays blame on all those responsible: Odysseus, Diomedes, and Athena.

This short play is most notable in comparison with the Iliad. The part with Dolon is pushed to the background, and much more is revealed about Rhesus and the reactions to his murder by the Trojans.


According to Gilbert Murray in his introduction to the play, passages from Rhesus were quoted by early Alexandrian writers. However, there was some doubt shed on the authenticity of the work by ancient introductions. The first to fully dispute that Rhesus was a play by Euripides was L. C. Valckenaer in his Phoenissae (1755) and Diatribe in Euripidis deperditorum dramatum reliquias (1767). Stylistic differences are one of the main arguments of the controversy. Murray argued that the differences in style could be attributed to a younger, less-developed Euripides. Or the differences could be attributed to it being a reproduction by Euripides' son or other contemporary playwright.

Its authenticity was defended in a book-length study by William Ritchie (1964). His conclusions were opposed by Eduard Fraenkel.

Modern scholarship agrees with the classical authorities and ascribes the play to Euripides.



  1. Walton (1997, viii, xix).
  2. See his introduction to Rhesus.
  3. See Ancient History Sourcebook.


  • Walton, J. Michael. 1997. Introduction. In Plays VI. By Euripides. Methuen Classical Greek Dramatists ser. London: Methuen. vii-xxii. ISBN 0413716503.

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