Trojan War FAQs > Odysseus' Madness
"A classmate mentioned a story about Odysseus pushing a plow in such a frenzy, when the Achaians (meaning Menelaus and Agamemnon) came to tell him that the time for war had come, that his family had to put the baby in the furrow to determine if Odysseus was crazy. I didn't ask her at the time, and I have never found the story in any literature. I re-read the book itself a week ago, and the story wasn't there. Have you ever heard of such a story?"
Answer: The story is told by Hyginus and is alluded to elsewhere.
Odysseus had heard that if he were to go to Troy, it would be 20 years before he would be able to return home, and then, only after all his allies had perished. Odysseus was not anxious to go. He wanted to stay home in Ithaca with his beloved Penelope and his newborn son Telemachus. So when he learned that Agamemnon and Menelaus were coming to take him away, he pretended to be mad by yoking together to a single plough, an ox and a horse. With this lop-sided pair, he madly ploughed up the land, until Palamedes deduced what he was doing. If Odysseus were truly insane, Palamedes realized, he wouldn't recognize his son were the baby placed on Odysseus' path. So Palamedes put Telemachus in front of Odysseus, and Odysseus swerved, as predicted -- showing he was not mad. Odysseus held this betrayal against Palamedes and may have subsequently killed him.
Ulixes, by Hyginus
Agamemnon et Menelaus Atrei filii cum ad Troiam oppugnandam coniuratos duces ducerent, in insulam Ithacam ad Ulixem Laertis filium venerunt, cui erat responsum, si ad Troiam isset, post vicesimum annum solum sociis perditis egentem domum rediturum. Itaque cum sciret ad se oratores venturos, insaniam simulans pileum sumpsit et equum cum bove iunxit ad aratrum. Quem Palamedes ut vidit, sensit simulare atque Telemachum filium eius cunis sublatum aratro ei subiecit et ait "Simulatione deposita inter coniuratos veni." Tunc Ulixes fidem dedit se venturum; ex eo Palamedi infestus fuit.