Chapter 2. Prize

[37] The Iliad, as its first word makes clear, is about wrath. This wrath is no ordinary wrath, but mênis, a cosmic wrath that causes human loss and suffering. [1Achilles’ mênis causes the deaths of countless Achaeans, and fuels the killing spree that results in the deaths of countless Trojans, most notably Hektor’s. The cause of Achilles’ mênis is the taking of Briseis by Agamemnon in Iliad 1. We find a singularly perceptive appreciation of this central theme in the wording of Athenaeus:

Οὐδένα δὲ ὑμῶν ἀγνοεῖν οἴομαι, ἄνδρες φίλοι, ὅτι καὶ οἱ μέγιστοι πόλεμοι διὰ γυναῖκας ἐγένοντο. ὁ Ἰλιακὸς δι' Ἑλένην, ὁ λοιμὸς διὰ Χρυσηίδα, Ἀχιλλέως μῆνις διὰ Βρισείδα.

I don’t think that any of you recognize, friends, that the greatest wars occurred because of women: the Trojan War because of Helen, the plague because of Chryseis, the mênis of Achilles because of Briseis.

(Athenaeus Deipnosophistae 13.560)

As we will see, an exploration of Briseis uncovers essential themes and structures built into not just the plot of the Iliad but the entire narrative cycle of the Trojan War as well.

When we first encounter Briseis in Iliad 1, she is not referred to by name. She is simply a prize. Two chieftains are fighting over a prize of honor, a spoil of war. That prize happens to be a girl, but, at least initially, she may as well be a tripod or a herd of cattle. The point is status, and the man who gets her has more status. Agamemnon, whose claim to honor (timê) is that he is leader of the expedition and commands the combined Greek forces, insists that he have a prize to compensate for the loss of his own. He threatens, moreover, to seize another man’s prize if he is not given one:

[38]εἰ δέ κε μὴ δώωσιν ἐγὼ δέ κεν αὐτὸς ἕλωμαι 
ἢ τεὸν ἢ Αἴαντος ἰὼν γέρας, ἢ Ὀδυσῆος 
ἄξω ἑλών· ὃ δέ κεν κεχολώσεται ὅν κεν ἵκωμαι.

But if they don’t give me [a prize] I myself will take one, 
your prize, or the one of Ajax or Odysseus 
I’ll go and take; and the one whom I visit will be angered.

(Iliad 1.137-139)

Later Agamemnon makes the threat more explicit. He is going to take Briseis, Achilles’ prize:

ἐγὼ δέ κ' ἄγω Βρισηΐδα καλλιπάρῃον 
αὐτὸς ἰὼν κλισίηνδε τὸ σὸν γέρας ὄφρ' ἐῢ εἰδῇς 
ὅσσον φέρτερός εἰμι σέθεν.

And I myself will go to the hut and take the fair-cheeked Briseis, 
your prize, in order that you know well 
how much greater I am than you.

(Iliad 1.184-186)

The more explicit threat humanizes Briseis by giving her a name, but the motivation that Agamemnon gives for his threat seems to reveal her true worth in this opening scene. Agamemnon will take Briseis in order to prove that he can, and that he does in fact outrank Achilles and everyone else.

It is appropriate therefore that we continue the investigation of Briseis with an exploration of her role as a prize in Iliad 1. It is a role that is misunderstood even by characters in the epic itself. When Achilles refuses the compensation offered by Agamemnon in Iliad 9, Ajax exclaims in exasperation:

σοὶ δ' ἄλληκτόν τε κακόν τε 
θυμὸν ἐνὶ στήθεσσι θεοὶ θέσαν εἵνεκα κούρης 
οἴης· νῦν δέ τοι ἑπτὰ παρίσχομεν ἔξοχ' ἀρίστας, 
ἄλλά τε πόλλ' ἐπὶ τῇσι·

The gods made the heart in your breast 
both implacable and mean—for the sake of a 
single girl. But now we’re offering you seven outstanding girls, 
and many more things on top of these.

(Iliad 9.636-639)

Ajax doesn’t get it: for him Briseis is a prize that can be exchanged for another of equal or greater value. But Briseis is much more than a “mere girl.” [2Just as Achilles’ wrath is more cosmic and awful than the wrath of any other mortal in the Iliad, so the cause of it is much larger than might appear at first glance. [3]

[39]Achilles gives us an indication of the greater significance of the taking of Briseis earlier in Book 9, when he replies to the speech of Odysseus:

τί δὲ δεῖ πολεμιζέμεναι Τρώεσσιν 
Ἀργείους; τί δὲ λαὸν ἀνήγαγεν ἐνθάδ' ἀγείρας 
Ἀτρεΐδης; ἦ οὐχ Ἑλένης ἕνεκ' ἠϋκόμοιο; 
ἦ μοῦνοι φιλέουσ' ἀλόχους μερόπων ἀνθρώπων 
Ἀτρεΐδαι; ἐπεὶ ὅς τις ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς καὶ ἐχέφρων 
τὴν αὐτοῦ φιλέει καὶ κήδεται, ὡς καὶ ἐγὼ τὴν 
ἐκ θυμοῦ φίλεον δουρικτητήν περ ἐοῦσαν.

Why should the Argives fight the Trojans? 
Why did the son of Atreus gather the army and lead them here? 
Was it not for the sake of fair-haired Helen? 
Are the sons of Atreus the only mortal men who love their wives? 
Just as any man who is good and sensible loves and cherishes his wife, 
so I loved her, even though she was won by the spear.

(Iliad 9.337-343)

As Achilles points out, the Achaeans have gone to war against Troy over the taking of a woman. Achilles makes it clear that not only are the situations the same, but Briseis is the equivalent of Helen for him. Even though she is a captive of war, he loves her as a man loves his wife. [4]

Achilles’ equating of Briseis with Helen on an emotional level allows us to see the formal connections between the two narratives. The dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon in Iliad 1 reenacts the taking of Helen from Menelaus by Paris. Mihoko Suzuki has written of Briseis as a “second Helen” in connection with the dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon in Iliad 1. [5As Suzuki writes: “the dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon reenacts the Trojan War in miniature.” [6Briseis substitutes for Helen in this compressed reenactment, and the wrath of Achilles is thereby equated with the cause of the entire Trojan War.

The mechanics of compression at work in this story within a story are a traditional way of incorporating chronologically earlier parts of the Trojan saga into the narrative frame of the Iliad. It has been a long admired feature of the Iliad that temporally earlier events are enfolded into the tenth-year setting in order to present an almost complete narrative of the Trojan War. As Taplin has noted:

The Iliad is much too good to begin at the beginning (or to end at the end). . . . [the past] is conveyed by a wide variety of narrative techniques, ranging from [40]direct narration, to symbolic reenactment, to passing allusions fitting the “jig-saw” as it had been pieced together so far. [7]

Among such episodes are the so-called teichoscopia, the duel between Menelaus and Paris in Iliad 3, and the catalog of ships in Iliad 2. The Iliad can also foreshadow events as monumental as the death of Achilles and the fall of Troy. One of the ways that the Iliad foreshadows events is through a process of substitution, a concept that I will go on to explore in detail in the coming chapters. The most salient example of this substitution is Patroklos, who literally goes into battle in place of Achilles, wearing Achilles’ armor, and dies in place of Achilles. This substitution is similar to the way that Briseis can substitute for Helen in order to recall chronologically prior events.

As I explore the way in which these substitutions convey meaning, I find it useful to analyze the narrative structure of the Iliad in terms of “micro-” and “macronarratives.” If we think of the entire Trojan saga as an all-encompassing macronarrative, Achilles’ wrath and his withdrawal from battle in the tenth year of the war may be termed a micronarrative, or a story within that story. The Iliaditself likewise contains further micronarratives, which will have a relationship to the Iliad that is similar to the Iliad ’s relationship to the overall Trojan saga. As we have already begun to see, the figures in any compressed (micro-) narrative can be substitutes for those of the expanded (macro-) narrative.

It is typical of micronarratives that Briseis be a “substitute” for Helen in the dispute of Iliad 1. [8Helen was herself a prize, awarded by Aphrodite in the judgment of Paris. [9By reenacting the central conflict of the Trojan war between Menelaus and Paris, the dispute of Iliad 1 alludes to and incorporates this important chain of events within its own narrative sequence. [10Menelaus recounts a compressed version of the story when he boasts over the corpse of the Trojan Peisander:

[41]ὃ δὲ λὰξ ἐν στήθεσι βαίνων 
τεύχεά τ' ἐξενάριξε καὶ εὐχόμενος ἔπος ηὔδα· 
λείψετέ θην οὕτω γε νέας Δαναῶν ταχυπώλων 
Τρῶες ὑπερφίαλοι δεινῆς ἀκόρητοι ἀϋτῆς, 
ἄλλης μὲν λώβης τε καὶ αἴσχεος οὐκ ἐπιδευεῖς 
ἣν ἐμὲ λωβήσασθε κακαὶ κύνες, οὐδέ τι θυμᾠ 
Ζηνὸς ἐριβρεμέτεω χαλεπὴν ἐδείσατε μῆνιν 
Ξεινίου, ὅς τέ ποτ' ὔμμι διαφθέρσει πόλιν αἰπήν· 
οἵ μευ κουριδίην ἄλοχον καὶ κτήματα πολλὰ 
μὰψ οἴχεσθ' ἀνάγοντες, ἐπεὶ φιλέεσθε παρ' αὐτῇ·

And he, digging his heel into his chest, 
stripped his arms and boasting spoke a word: 
“In this way at least you will leave the ships of the Danaans with swift horses, 
arrogant Trojans insatiate of the terrible war cry, 
in no need of further outrage and disgrace, 
which you outraged me with, you evil dogs. Nor did you in any way 
fear the grievous wrath of Zeus the thunderer, 
protector of guests and hosts, who will some day destroy your lofty city. 
You went away leading back with you in vain my 
wedded wife and her many possessions, when you were treated kindly by her.”

(Iliad 13.618-627)

In the Iliad, in fact, Helen continues to be a prize. In the duel of Iliad 3 “Helen and all her possessions” (Ἑλένη καὶ κτήμασι πᾶσι 3.70, 91) are to go to the winner. [11More fundamentally, in the struggle between Greeks and Trojans, the person who gets Helen gets Troy and all of its wealth.

Briseis’ substitution for Helen takes on an even greater significance when we consider traditions about Achilles (for the most part censored in our Iliad) that center around his immortalization on the so-called “White Island,” the island of Leuke, on the Black Sea. [12A hero cult to Achilles existed on this island as early as the sixth century B.C. [13One aspect of this cult, referred to in [42]several late sources, seems to have involved the worship of Helen, who was imagined to live on the island as Achilles’ wife. [14More work must be done, however, before we can determine to what extent Helen played a role in archaic literary and cult traditions about the afterlife of Achilles.

Micro- and macronarratives are made possible by the traditional nature of Homeric poetry. Briseis can bring the abduction of Helen to life because both characters are part of a system of traditional songs. [15Every epithet, verse, and theme brings with it the associations of countless past performances. [16These associations create levels of meaning that are extremely rich, and each verse requires investigation from many different angles if we are to recover its full complexity. In Iliad 1 Briseis evokes Helen. But parallels between Briseis and Agamemnon’s prize Chryseis should not be overlooked.

In the foregoing discussion we have already begun to see the way in which both Briseis’ and Helen’s value fluctuates in Iliad 1 between prize and wife. As one critic has written: “the poet presents two contrasting but overlapping ways in which men ascribe value to women—as wife and as geras, signifier of prestige.” [17When Briseis is a prize, we may compare her to Helen (and all her possessions) as the prize or reward of Paris. When she is a wife, we may compare her to Helen as wife of Menelaus (and later Paris). Achilles himself sets up this relationship in Iliad 9, when he asks if only the sons of Atreus love their wives, thereby making Briseis his “wife.” Agamemnon, however, is the first to collapse the two categories when he protests the return of his own prize Chryseis to her father: καὶ γάρ ῥα Κλυταιμνήστρης προβέβουλα // κουριδίης ἀλόχου “For I prefer her to Clytemnestra, my wedded wife” (1.113-114).

As we shall see in the next chapter, the two star prizes Briseis and Chryseis are bound together in significant and interesting ways. Agamemnon professes to prefer Chryseis to his kouridiê alokhosClytemnestra. In Iliad 19 Briseis laments that Patroklos promised to make her Achilles’ kouridiê alokhos. [18It is clear that each of these two girls represents something more than a prize. Already in Iliad 1 important connections between the two women are apparent. Agamemnon, despite his protestations, readily exchanges one for the other. Their names, both patronymic in form, are derived from their (presumed) towns of origin, Brisa/Brêsa and Chryse. [19The metrical similarities in the names of Chryseis and [43]Briseis allow them to share epithets as well: both are kourê(girl) and kalliparêios (beautiful cheeked). [20]

Emmet Robbins has argued that parallels between Briseis and Chryseis are part of a larger connection between Achilles and Chryses in Iliad 1. [21That Achilles’ actions mirror Chryses’ can be seen most clearly in Achilles’ own narration of the events to his mother Thetis:

χωόμενος δ' ὁ γέρων πάλιν ᾤχετο· τοῖο δ' Ἀπόλλων 
εὐξαμένου ἤκουσεν, ἐπεὶ μάλα οἱ φίλος ἦεν, 
ἧκε δ' ἐπ' ᾿αργείοισι κακὸν βέλος·

The old man was angered and went back. But Apollo 
heard his prayer, [22since he was dear to him, 
and launched an evil arrow upon the Argives.

(Iliad 1.380-382)

Chryses becomes angry, retreats, and prays to Apollo, who brings destruction upon the Greeks. There are some significant differences. Chryses becomes angry (χωόμενος 380), but it is Apollo who conceives mênis (1.75). [23Achilles, moreover, prays to Zeus through an intermediary, his mother. Nevertheless, Robbins argues, Achilles perceives their situations to be the same, and this perception in part justifies his actions. The juxtaposition of Briseis and Chryseis in Iliad 1, in Robbins’ words, “intensifies his sense that his own situation is like Chryses’.” [24]

What is the significance of the relationships between Briseis and Helen and Briseis and Chryseis? Suzuki speaks of the “universality of Briseis’ fate as woman’s fate in the Iliad.” She argues: “Briseis thus functions as a typical female in the poem, related to all other young female figures.” [25de Jong makes a similar observation about Briseis’ lament in Iliad 19: “Thus Briseis, for once given a part as a speaking character, has become the mouthpiece of a whole group of characters.” [26In this way Briseis is a paradigmatic figure. Her life [44]experiences evoke emotions and associations that apply to each of the mortal women to whom she is related in the Iliad. [27]

But the formulation of Suzuki, I would argue, is incomplete. [28To what extent is Briseis her own person, with her own story? If the force of her character is only paradigmatic in that she substitutes for the other mortal women of the Iliad, why does her abduction set in motion the mênis of Achilles and its terrifying consequences? This question will be the focus of the next chapter. For now, however, let me make a start by suggesting that even the paradigmatic aspects of Briseis’ character may be more powerful than might appear on the surface level of the narrative.

For Briseis, to go back to Ajax’ complaint, is no mere girl. Within the Iliad she is equated with Helen, the ostensible cause of the Trojan War. Even on her own terms she plays a fundamental role in the plot of the Iliad. As I noted above, the taking of Briseis sets in motion the wrath of Achilles, the organizing force on which all other events of the Iliad depend. But by Iliad 9, Achilles’ decision about whether or not to go back to battle has taken on a much greater significance. It is no longer a question of compensation for loss, but compensation for life:

μήτηρ γάρ τέ μέ φησι θεὰ Θέτις ἀργυρόπεζα 
διχθαδίας κῆρας φερέμεν θανάτοιο τέλος δέ. 
εἰ μέν κ' αὖθι μένων Τρώων πόλιν ἀμφιμάχωμαι, 
λετο μέν μοι νόστος, ἀτὰρ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται· 
εἰ δέ κεν οἴκαδ' ἵκωμι φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν, 
λετό μοι κλέος ἐσθλόν, ἐπὶ δηρὸν δέ μοι αἰὼν 
ἔσσεται, οὐδέ κέ μ' ὦκα τέλος θανάτοιο κιχείη.

For my mother the silver-footed goddess Thetis claims 
that a two-fold destiny brings me to the fulfillment of death. 
On the one hand if I stay here and fight around the city of the Trojans 
my homecoming is lost, but my kleos will be unwilting. 
But if I return home to my dear fatherland, 
my noble kleos is lost, and my life will be long-lasting, 
nor will the fulfillment of death come swiftly to me.

(Iliad 9.410-416)

[45]A return to battle means swift but glorious death for Achilles. In Iliad 9, the prospect of a long but unremarkable life is appealing to Achilles.

I would argue that from the standpoint of the song culture in which the Iliad was composed and performed, the dispute over Briseis between Agamemnon and Achilles in Iliad 1 is already about life or death. And even more important, it is about immortality, after death, through cult. Achilles’ choice as he formulates it in Iliad 9 is between a homecoming with a long life and kleos—that is, immortality through poetry and cult. [29The poetic and religious significance of Achilles’ choice is in fact first articulated in connection with Briseis. For in her role as prize, Briseis—along with Helen and Chryseis—is equated in Iliad 1 with timê. [30Timê, generally translated as “honor,” means (in religious contexts) specifically cult honor. [31If we are to understand the full significance of Briseis’ role in Iliad 1, we must consider this religious aspect of the word in context.

When Achilles gives his own reasons for fighting at Troy, timê is his chief concern:

οὐ γὰρ ἐγὼ Τρώων ἕνεκ' ἤλυθον αἰχμητάων 
δεῦρο μαχησόμενος, ἐπεὶ οὔ τί μοι αἴτιοί εἰσιν· 
οὐ γὰρ πώποτ' ἐμὰς βοῦς ἤλασαν οὐδὲ μὲν ἵππους, 
οὐδέ ποτ' ἐν Φθίῃ ἐριβώλακι βωτιανείρῃ 
καρπὸν ἐδηλήσαντ', ἐπεὶ ἦ μάλα πολλὰ μεταξὺ 
οὔρεά τε σκιόεντα θάλασσά τε ἠχήεσσα· 
ἀλλὰ σοὶ ὦ μέγ' ἀναιδὲς ἅμ' ἑσπόμεθ' ὄφρα σὺ χαίρῃς, 
τιμὴν ἀρνύμενοι Μενελάῳ σοί τε κυνῶπα 
πρὸς Τρώων· τῶν οὔ τι μετατρέπῃ οὐδ' ἀλεγίζεις· 
καὶ δή μοι γέρας αὐτὸς ἀφαιρήσεσθαι ἀπειλεῖς, 
ᾧ ἔπι πολλὰ μόγησα, δόσαν δέ μοι υἷες Ἀχαιῶν. 
οὐ μὲν σοί ποτε ἶσον ἔχω γέρας ὁππότ' Ἀχαιοὶ 
Τρώων ἐκπέρσωσ' εὖ ναιόμενον πτολίεθρον· 
ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν πλεῖον πολυάϊκος πολέμοιο 
χεῖρες ἐμαὶ διέπουσ'· ἀτὰρ ἤν ποτε δασμὸς ἵκηται, 
σοὶ τὸ γέρας πολὺ μεῖζον, ἐγὼ δ' ὀλίγον τε φίλον τε 
ἔρχομ' ἔχων ἐπὶ νῆας, ἐπεί κε κάμω πολεμίζων. 
νῦν δ' εἶμι Φθίην δ', ἐπεὶ ἦ πολὺ φέρτερόν ἐστιν 
οἴκαδ' ἴμεν σὺν νηυσὶ κορωνίσιν, οὐδέ σ' ὀΐω 
ἐνθάδ' ἄτιμος ἐὼν ἄφενος καὶ πλοῦτον ἀφύξειν.

For I did not come here to fight on account of the Trojan spearmen 
since to me they aren’t responsible in any way. 
For they never drove away my cattle or my horses, 
nor did they ever in fertile man-nourishing Phthia 
destroy my crop, since indeed there are 
[46]many shadowy mountains and the roaring sea in between us. 
Rather, o great shameless one, we followed you so that you might be happy, 
while we won honor for Menelaus and for you, you with the looks of a dog, 
at the expense of the Trojans. To these things you don’t pay any attention nor do you care. 
And look how you threaten to deprive me of my prize [geras] yourself, 
for which I toiled much, and which the sons of the Achaeans gave to me. 
Not ever do I have a prize equal to yours whenever the Achaeans 
sack a well-inhabited citadel of the Trojans. 
But the greater part of the grief-filled fighting 
my hands accomplish. Yet whenever the division occurs, 
your prize is much greater, and I with something small but dear 
go to my ships, when I am weary from fighting. 
But now I will go to Phthia, since it is indeed much better 
to go home with my curved ships, nor do I think that 
I will accumulate wealth and riches for you while I am without honor.

(Iliad 1.154-171)

On one level Achilles the warrior seems to be saying that he fights solely for the material possessions that are awarded to him. But a closer look reveals that the acquisition of a prize is closely associated with timê. When Agamemnon takes away Achilles’ prize, his geras, Achilles becomes without timê (ἄτιμος 1.171). The loss of material honor in the narrative of the Iliad threatens Achilles’ status as a recipient of cult honors in Greek religious practice.

When the Achaeans fight at Troy for the restoration of Helen they are winning timê for Menelaus (1.159). Likewise when Achilles refers to his geras—the loss of which causes him to be withouttimê—he means Briseis. Briseis and Helen and Chryseis are prizes on the level of narrative, but on the level of poetry and cult, nothing less than immortality is at stake. In Iliad 1, an argument over a woman who is a prize becomes a struggle between two epic figures for timê. Agamemnon responds to Achilles’ threat to return home by saying that others, including Zeus, will honor him, even if Achilles leaves (τιμήσουσι 1.174). Achilles then asks for his mother’s help in securing punishment for Agamemnon, because he did not show him any timê (ὅ τ' ἄριστον Ἀχαιῶν οὐδὲν ἔτισεν 1.412). Thetis supplicates Zeus at Achilles’ request, and asks repeatedly for timê:

Ζεῦ πάτερ εἴ ποτε δή σε μετ' ἀθανάτοισιν ὄνησα 
ἢ ἔπει ἢ ἔργῳ, τόδε μοι κρήηνον ἐέλδωρ· 
τίμησόν μοι υἱὸν ὃς ὠκυμορώτατος ἄλλων 
ἔπλετ'· ἀτάρ μιν νῦν γε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων 
ἠτίμησεν· ἑλὼν γὰρ ἔχει γέρας αὐτὸς ἀπούρας. 
ἀλλὰ σύ πέρ μιν τῖσον Ὀλύμπιε μητίετα Ζεῦ· 
τόφρα δ' ἐπὶ Τρώεσσι τίθει κράτος ὄφρ' ἂν Ἀχαιοὶ 
υἱὸν ἐμὸν τίσωσιν ὀφέλλωσίν τέτιμῇ.

Father Zeus, if ever I helped you among the immortals, 
either in word or deed, fulfill for me this wish: 
Honor [timê] my son, who is the most short-lived of all others. 
[47]Since as it now stands the lord of men Agamemnon 
has dishonored him. For he took his prize and keeps her, he himself 
having taken her away. 
But do you honor him, wise Olympian Zeus. 
Give power to the Trojans until the Achaeans 
honor my son and strengthen him with honor.

(Iliad 1.503-510)

When Agamemnon insists on taking Briseis, he attempts to take timê away from Achilles and secure it for himself. But Thetis’ entreaty makes it clear that neither character can win timê without Zeus. Here the religious dimension of the word becomes most apparent. At the same time, Thetis makes the connection between timê and Briseis as geras (prize) explicit. Agamemnon has dishonored Achilles by taking his prize and keeping it.

As Nagy has shown, the loss and restoration of timê are fundamentally connected with the grief (akhos) and cosmic mênis of Achilles. We may compare the wrath of Achilles with the pattern of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter:

The ákhos of Demeter is instantaneous with the abduction of the Kore (H.Dem. 40, 90-91). Her resulting mênis (H.Dem. 350) causes devastation in the form of cosmic infertility (351 ff.). Thetimaí “honors” of the Olympians are this threatened (353-354), and it is only with the restoration of Kore that Demeter’s mênis ceases (410), as her ákhos abates (‘ἀχέων’: 436). Demeter thereupon gets her appropriate timaí (461), and her anger (468) is replaced with fertility (469, 471 ff.). [32]

Achilles, like Demeter, conceives instantaneous akhos when Agamemnon threatens to take Briseis (1.188). But for Achilles, as Nagy goes on to show, the restoration of timê and the cessation ofmênis in connection with the abduction and return of Briseis do not bring an end to akhos; the intervening death of Patroklos brings about permanent akhos.

The abduction of a woman as demonstrated by Helen and then Briseis seems to be a theme with deep poetic and religious significance. The superficial consequences of the loss of a prize within the poetic narrative are primarily material and social, but the consequences on the level of cult are acknowledged and even emphasized by various characters. It is therefore too simplistic to accept the formulation of Achilles himself, who articulates the importance of Briseis in purely emotional terms. Briseis as “prize” unites three cosmic themes that are crucial to the plot of the Iliad and the character of Achilles: mênistimê, and akhos.


[ back ] 1. See especially Nagy 1976 and 1979, 72-83, Watkins 1977, O’Brien 1993, 78-80, and Muellner 1996. See also Schadewaldt 1938, Kakridis 1949, 47-49, Adkins 1960, Considine 1966, and Nagler 1974, 131ff.    

[ back ] 2. On Ajax’ comment see especially Muellner 1976, 106 and Nagy 1997, 204-5. See also Taplin 1986, 16-17. Taplin notes the preponderance of women in the restitution offered to Achilles by Agamemnon, who misunderstands Achilles’ anger.     

[ back ] 3. Mênis is linked closely with Zeus. The only mortal besides Achilles who possesses mênis is Aeneas. Nagy 1979, 73, note 2, suggests that the wrath of Aeneas must have been the central theme of another epic tradition (see also Nagy 1979, 265-66 and 1990b, 24-28). Apollo’s wrath at the treatment of Calchas and the subsequent destruction that he brings against the Achaeans is called mênis at Iliad 1.75.    

[ back ] 4. I pass over the question of Briseis’ actual or possible status as a legitimate wife of Achilles, partly because of the difficulty of analyzing social institutions in a poem that cannot be pinned down to any one time or place of composition.    

[ back ] 5. Cf. Suzuki 1989, 21-29 and Lang 1995.    

[ back ] 6. Suzuki 1989, 22.    

[ back ] 7. Taplin 1992, 83. See also Lang 1995 and Ebbott 1999.    

[ back ] 8. Suzuki 1989, 25 also uses the term substitute for Briseis in connection with Chryseis.    

[ back ] 9. Helen was a prize even before that in the competition for her marriage. The wooing of Helen is nowhere explicitly mentioned in the Iliad, Odyssey, or the Cypria (as far as we can tell), but there may be some allusion to this tradition in the formula of Iliad 3: “Helen and all her possessions” (3.70, 91). There is a partially preserved account of the wooing in the Hesiodic corpus (fragments 196-204 MW), in which all of the suitors send gifts (with the exception of Odysseus). Stesichorus also recounted the wooing in the (now lost) Helen. See Gantz 1993, 564-67 for more on these and later sources.     

[ back ] 10. Doubt as to whether the Iliad assumes or alludes to the judgment of Paris has been expressed since ancient times. The only place where it is explicitly mentioned is at 24.23-30. According to the bT scholia, Aristonicus and Aristarchus athetized some or all of this passage on a wide variety of grounds. Many scholars have since defended them. For a detailed summary of all arguments see Richardson 1993 ad loc. In any case the Cypria narrated the judgment (summarized by Proclus; see also Davies 1988 fr. 1), and it was the subject of vase-paintings from at least 640 B.C. on. See especially Gantz 1993, 567-71.    

[ back ] 11. Cf. κτήμαθ' ἑλὼν εὖ πάντα γυναῖκά τε οἴκαδ' ἀγέσθω· (3.72, 93); αὐτὸς ἔπειθ' Ἑλένην ἐχέτω καὶ κτήματα πάντα (3.282); and Τρῶας ἔπειθ' Ἑλένην καὶ κτήματα πάντ' ἀποδοῦναι (3.285).    

[ back ] 12. There are many references to the White Island in literature. At the end of the Aithiopis (according to the summary of Proclus), Thetis snatches the body of Achilles from the funeral pyre and brings him to the island: καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐκ τῆς πυρᾶς ἡ Θέτις ἀναρπάσασα τὸν παῖδα εἰς τὴν Λευκὴν νῆσον διακομίζει. In Euripides’ Andromache (1259-1262) there is also reference to Achilles dwelling on the island of Leuke. Other references to the White Island may be found in Pindar, Nemean 4.49, and Euripides, Iphigineia in Tauris 435-438. Timothy Gantz (1993, 135) suggests that a lost play of Aeschylus treating the death of Achilles (quoted by Plato = Aeschylus fr. 350) may have depicted his afterlife. The Iliad with its focus on the immortality of Achilles genenerally avoids any reference to his immortality. For an important exception see Dué 2001a, and discussion below, p. 79.     

[ back ] 13. On the hero cult of Achilles in the area of the Black Sea, see Hedreen 1991.    

[ back ] 14. See, e.g., Pausanias 3.19.11. Philostratus’ Heroikos (54-55) also contains a detailed account of Achilles and Helen on the White Island.     

[ back ] 15. On parallel representations of the abduction of Briseis and Helen in vase-paintings see chapter 1.    

[ back ] 16. Cf. the formulation of Lord 2000, 65 (quoted above, p. 1).    

[ back ] 17. Suzuki 1989, 24. She focuses on the way that Helen and Briseis each become “scapegoats”: Helen for the Trojan War as a whole, Briseis for the destruction caused by the wrath of Achilles.    

[ back ] 18. Helen is referred to as the kouridiê alokhos of Menelaus three times (Iliad 7.392, 7.696, 13.626).    

[ back ] 19. See above, p. 3, note 10.    

[ back ] 20. For Briseis as κούρη see above, p. 4 note 13, and chapter 3. She is καλλιπάρῃος at 1.184, 1.323, 1.346, 19.246. Chryseis is κούρη at 1.111; καλλιπάρῃος at 1.143.     

[ back ] 21. Robbins 1990. For further discussion of Robbins’ arguments, see also below, p. 55.    

[ back ] 22. ‘ἤκουσεν’ in this context has the added sacral sense of “granted” or “heeded.” See Muellner 1976, 31-43.    

[ back ] 23. On the relationship between the mênis of Achilles and Apollo see also Nagy 1979, 74: “Just as Apollo chronologically has mênis over the abduction of Chryseis (I 75) before Achilles has mênisover the abduction of Briseis, so also the Achaeans have álgea from Apollo before they get álgea from Achilles.”    

[ back ] 24. Robbins 1990, 10.    

[ back ] 25. Suzuki 1989, 29.    

[ back ] 26. de Jong 1987b, 113.    

[ back ] 27. Segal 1971, 55 makes a similar observation about Andromache: “She is the bearer of the suffering of all the women in the war, and perhaps all women in all war.” Briseis’ representation of women’s suffering, however, is more complete than Andromache’s; the capture and slavery or concubine status that is always foreshadowed for Andromache is realized in the figure of Briseis.    

[ back ] 28. Suzuki concludes that Homer has introduced Briseis in order to question the heroic code and call attention to its “inhumaneness” (1989, 29). Suzuki argues: “he subtly criticizes Achilles’ and Agamemnon’s objectification of Briseis as scapegoat by endowing her with subjectivity and a voice” (1989, 27-28). Although I do not agree with this line of argumentation, I do think that the emotions evoked by the figure of Briseis have a power that is not incompatible with Suzuki’s interpretation. For my objections to the focus on the intention of “Homer,” see above, pp. 17-19. On Briseis as the invention of “Homer” see the conclusion.    

[ back ] 29. For what follows I rely throughout on the arguments and methodology of Nagy 1979.    

[ back ] 30. On the connection between timê and mênis in epic and in cult see Nagy 1979, 72-83 and discussion below.    

[ back ] 31. See especially the summary in Nagy 1979, 118 and bibliography ad loc.    

[ back ] 32. Nagy 1979, 80.