NICOSIA (Reuters) – A ancient play is to be staged for the first time in more than 2,050 years after fragments of the text were found stuffed in an Egyptian mummy.
Cyprus’s national theater company, Thoc, plans a modern-day world premiere of Aeschylus’s Trojan War story Achilles in Cyprus next summer. The play will then be performed in Cyprus and Greece.
Scholars had believed the trilogy to be lost forever when the Library of Alexandria burned to ashes in 48 BC.
“But in the last decades archaeologists found mummies in Egypt which were stuffed with papyrus, containing excerpts of the original plays of Aeschylus,” Thoc director Andy Bargilly told Reuters.
Drawing on references to the trilogy by other ancient playwrights and the recently discovered papyrus texts, Thoc and researchers believe they have the closest possible adaptation of Aeschylus’s masterpiece.
“This is a new production, based on a very ancient text,” Bargilly said.
The play revolves around Achilles, the supposedly invincible Greek warrior who was killed by Paris with a poisoned arrow at his only vulnerable spot, the heel.
Achilles recounts the warrior’s many brushes with death and the slaying of Hector, son of Priam, the King of Troy.
“People working on ancient texts knew that the trilogy existed because it was mentioned in Aristophanes and other writers of ancient Greece,” Bargilly said.
A Greek author, Elias Malandris, worked on the project for a decade, using the ancient texts, excerpts of Homer’s Iliad and references to Achilles found in other Greek plays.
“We do think it is a faithful adaptation to a large extent, but nobody can say 100 percent,” Bargilly said.
Stuffing mummies with papyrus scrolls, or creating a papier mache mixture to encase a corpse was a common practice in ancient Egypt dating from at least the third century BC.
“Papyrus was a good material for stuffing mummies, fortunately for us,” said Bargilly.
Described as the Father of Tragedy, Aeschylus is said to have written some 90 plays but only a handful survive.