Aeschylus Meets the Mummy: 2,500-Year-Old, Lost Greek Trilogy Found Under Wraps

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17 Nov 2003

Theatre historians should be grateful the Egyptians were both big readers and fervent recyclers.



A 2,500-year-old trilogy written by Greek dramatist Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.), which was thought lost to time, was discovered among the stuffing inside an Egyptian mummy. The plays will be performed next summer by THOC, the national theatre of Cyprus. The production will then travel to Greece.

The trilogy, titled Achilles, concerns the title warrior's adventures in the Trojan War. The story covers Achilles' slaying of Hector, the son of Trojan kin Priam, and Achilles subsequent death—by poison arrow to the heel—at the hands of Paris.

Scholars knew of the drama from references made by Aristophanes and other writers, but believed it burned up in 48 B.C. with the famous Library of Alexandria. But archaeologists found sections of the text inside a mummy, which Egyptians often filled out with papyrus.

Elias Malandris, a Greek writer, labored over the text for 10 years. The resulting play employs the found pages, as well as excerpts from Homer's "Iliad" and references to Achilles found in other Greek plays.

Aeschylus was the first of the great Greek tragedians. Of the 90 plays he is suspected of having written, the titles of 70 are known and, until now, only seven were thought to have survived: Suppliants, Persians, Seven Against Thebes, Prometheus Bound and the "Oresteia" trilogy of Agamemmnon, The Libation Bearers and Eumenides.