Introduction: Variations on Briseis

[1]In his 1960 book The Singer of Tales, Albert Lord argues that Homeric poetry is defined by its traditionality: any given audience on any given occasion of performance knew the story and the characters already. There would have been nothing about the story, the language, the rhythm of the song, or the characters that was new. The poet of any given performance might be particularly skilled at telling the tale. But, as Lord points out, what is good about Homeric poetry is not newness:

The singer’s mode of composition is dictated by the demands of performance at high speed, and he depends upon inculcated habit and association of sounds, words, phrases, and lines. He does not shrink from the habitual; nor does he either require the fixed for memorization or seek the unusual for its own sake. His oft-used phrases and lines lose something in sharpness, yet many of them must resound with overtones from the dim past whence they came. Were we to train our ears to catch these echoes, we might cease to apply the clichés of another criticism to oral poetry, and thereby become aware of its own riches.[1]

The Singer of Tales demonstrates the process by which a poet in a traditional song culture can compose poetry in performance using techniques, plots, characters, and language that he has inherited from many previous generations of singers. [2] The material and techniques are traditional, but each performance is a [2]new composition—a recomposition, in and for performance. [3] In this book I argue that the very fact that the Iliad is “oral traditional” often allows even deeper and more complex levels of meaning than may be found in poetry that is composed in a literate, text-based culture. [4]

The traditionality of Homeric poetry allows the phrases, in the words of Lord, to “resound with overtones from the dim past whence they came.” In other words, the traditional themes and phraseology carry with them powerful associations for a traditional audience, the “echoes” of many past performances. [5] Words can resonate within their context, recalling by association countless other song traditions. [6] Laura Slatkin’s The Power of Thetis, for [3]example, explores the superficially minor role of Thetis in the Iliad and shows how

allusions, both abbreviated and extended in lengthy digressions, are highly charged and repay scrutiny for the myths whose resonance or “reverberation” they carry into the narrative as a whole, signaling a constellation of themes that establish bearings for the poem as it unfolds and linking it continually to other traditions and paradigms and to a wider mythological terrain. [7]

Slatkin uncovers alternative traditions about the power of Thetis to which the Iliad alludes within its own narrative, and shows how an awareness of those myths brings a far greater understanding of Thetis’ place in the thematic structure of the Iliad. [8]

In this book I explore the character of Briseis in a similar way. Like Slatkin, I hope to show that a better understanding of Briseis enhances our appreciation of central themes, and that by exploring key passages in connection with Briseis we can recover other potentially meaningful traditions to which the Iliad refers.

The basic premise on which I base my arguments is that Briseis’ role in the Iliad is enormously compressed from the standpoint of both the Iliad as a whole and the entire tradition of the Epic Cycle. [9] In the Iliad she does not even have a name—she is simply the “daughter of Brises.” [10] Yet elsewhere there are hints [4]that her name was Hippodameia, and that she was part of another story—or other stories. [11] The Iliad is a narrative about the anger of Achilles in the tenth year of the Trojan War. Much earlier as well as much later events are woven into a story that takes place in only a few days’ time. Even though at over 15,000 verses it might take as many as three days to perform, I will argue that the Iliad is nevertheless a compression of the potentially full extent of epic poetry about Troy—what we might call the ultimate expansion of the Iliad. [12] I suggest that one result of this compression is that the Iliad only gives us a glimpse of the figure of Briseis, whose role in the larger epic tradition must have been much greater.

Readers who are interested in Briseis will find such compression to be frustrating, but I hope to show that in fact there is more information about Briseis than meets the eye, and that this compression can be strikingly evocative. In the Iliad, Briseis can be a captive, a prize, a girl, a daughter, or a wife. [13] The few words she speaks link her to both Helen and Andromache (the cause and victim of war), and the epithet that introduces her as she begins her lament for Patroklos in Iliad 19 connects her with Penelope. [14] In at least one tradition she is very much a young (or at least unmarried) girl, the daughter of King Brises of Pedasos, whom Achilles receives as a prize along with Diomedeia, the daughter of King Phorbas of Lesbos. [15]

[5]My reading of the role of Briseis as an example of epic compression requires us to look at this Iliadic figure from two perspectives. The first is paradigmatic. That is, I will show how traditional reverberations or resonances unite Briseis with other characters in meaningful narrative relationships that transcend their immediate contexts and evoke universal patterns. The focus of this part of my analysis is Iliad 19.282–300, in which Briseis performs a lament over the body of Patroklos. The lament’s compressed retelling of her life story both alludes to other parts of the Iliad and refers to events that take place outside the confines of the poem. A close reading of Briseis’ words reveals a complex web of meaning through substitution as the poetry connects the figure of Briseis with Chryseis, Helen, Hecuba, and Andromache. [16]

Briseis, Helen, Andromache, and Hecuba are marked in the Iliad as both objects of love and singers of lament. The special combination of love song and lament that they perform is a sort of proto-elegy, incorporated into epic. I emphasize performance because these four women are the only women who speak in the Iliad and because lament is a form of song. [17] Briseis, Helen, Andromache, and Hecuba are linked by their past and future life experiences. Each has survived or will survive the loss of a husband in battle; each has been, is, or will be a captive woman. [18] Briseis becomes structurally linked with each of them throughout the course of the narrative. By examining her connections to these four women the Iliad reveals to us Briseis’ life history, just as Briseis in turn reveals the life history of Andromache, Helen, and Hecuba.

These associations are made possible by the traditional and constantly self-referential system within which the Iliad was composed. The lines that introduce the lament can serve as a brief case study for my approach:

[6]Βρισηῒς δ' ἄρ' ἔπειτ' ἰκέλη χρυσέῃ Ἀφροδίτῃ
ὡς ἴδε Πάτροκλον δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκᾠ,
ἀμφ' αὐτᾠ χυμένη λίγ' ἐκώκυε, χερσὶ δ' ἄμυσσε
στήθεά τ' ἠδ' ἁπαλὴν δειρὴν ἰδὲ καλὰ πρόσωπα.
εἶπε δ' ἄρα κλαίουσα γυνὴ ἐϊκυῖα θεῇσι·

Then Briseis like golden Aphrodite,
when she saw Patroklos torn by the sharp bronze,
wailed with piercing cries, falling around him. And with her hands she struck
her breast and tender neck and beautiful face.
And then lamenting she spoke, a woman like the goddesses.

(Iliad 19.282–286)

As Irene J. F. de Jong and Mark W. Edwards have noted, Briseis’ lament for Patroklos activates multiple strains of both past and future grief. [19] The act of throwing herself down upon the body of a fallen warrior is one that she has already experienced when Achilles killed her husband (19.295–296), and she will go through it again when Achilles dies soon after the killing of Hektor. [20] Both of these events take place outside the confines of the Iliad, but by means of the lament in Iliad 19 they are brought before our eyes in a masterstroke of enargeia. [21] Moreover, through Briseis, the fate of every Trojan wife is vividly enacted. From the standpoint of the Iliad as a totality, it is appropriate that the words she sings both recall and point ahead to Andromache.

Achilles himself predicted that these would be the actions of Andromache when he decided to return to battle in Iliad 18:

νῦν δὲ κλέος ἐσθλὸν ἀροίμην,
καί τινα Τρωϊάδων καὶ Δαρδανίδων βαθυκόλπων
ἀμφοτέρῃσιν χερσὶ παρειάων ἁπαλάων
δάκρυ' ὀμορξαμένην ἁδινὸν στοναχῆσαι ἐφείην,
γνοῖεν δ' ὡς δὴ δηρὸν ἐγὼ πολέμοιο πέπαυμαι·

[7]But now may I win good kleos,
and may I cause some one of the deep-girdled Trojan and Dardanian women
to wipe the tears from their delicate cheeks with both hands
and lament unceasingly.
And they may know that too long I have held back from battle.

(Iliad 18.121–125)

The substitution of Briseis for the lamenting widow of Achilles’ prediction just one book later is full of irony. The woman who caused Achilles’ withdrawal and the death of Patroklos (and ultimately the death of Achilles) takes the place of the wife of Patroklos’ killer and Achilles’ greatest enemy in the Iliad. The substitution intensifies our awareness of the connections and substitutions between Patroklos, Achilles, and Hektor that are built into the structure of the poem. [22]

I argue that this kind of substitution is ironic, and that it reflects the poetics of the highly traditional song culture in which the Iliad and Odyssey were composed. Expansion and compression on the performance level in the form of allusion, similes, and even epithets create narratives whose power extends far beyond their immediate contexts—even to other epic traditions. Just as Briseis when lamenting Patroklos in the Iliad can become Andromache, so too can Odysseus in the court of the Phaeacians in Odyssey 8:

ταῦτ' ἄρ' ἀοιδὸς ἄειδε περικλυτός· αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσεὺς
τήκετο, δάκρυ δ' ἔδευεν ὑπὸ βλεφάροισι παρειάς.
ὡς δὲ γυνὴ κλαίῃσι φίλον πόσιν ἀμφιπεσοῦσα,
ὅς τε ἑῆς πρόσθεν πόλιος λαῶν τε πέσῃσιν,
ἄστεϊ καὶ τεκέεσσιν ἀμύνων νηλεὲς ἦμαρ·
ἡ μὲν τὸν θνῄσκοντα καὶ ἀσπαίροντα ἰδοῦσα
ἀμφ' αὐτᾠ χυμένη λίγα κωκύει· οἱ δέ τ' ὄπισθε
κόπτοντες δούρεσσι μετάφρενον ἠδὲ καὶ  μους
εἴρερον εἰσανάγουσι, πόνον τ' ἐχέμεν καὶ ὀϊζύν·
τῆς δ' ἐλεεινοτάτῳ ἄχεϊ φθινύθουσι παρειαί·
ὣς Ὀδυσεὺς ἐλεεινὸν ὑπ' ὀφρύσι δάκρυον εἶβεν.

The renowned singer sang these things. But Odysseus
melted, and wet the cheeks below his eyelids with a tear.
As when a woman laments, falling over the body of her dear husband
who fell before his city and people,
attempting to ward of the pitiless day for his city and children,
and she, seeing him dying and gasping,
falling around him wails with piercing cries, but men from behind
beating her back and shoulders with their spears
force her to be a slave and have toil and misery,
[8]and with the most pitiful grief her cheeks waste away,
So Odysseus shed a pitiful tear beneath his brows.

(Odyssey 8.521–531)

Upon hearing his own kleos, Odysseus’ weeping becomes a lamentation. Lamentation links him with a grieving woman who, from the standpoint of the simile, is soon to be a captive, but who, from the point of view of the Odyssey, is already one of Odysseus’ own victims. [23] This kind of referentiality across levels of narrative and across tradition is at the heart of the power of Briseis’ song.

In order to understand the paradigmatic power of Briseis, however, it will also be necessary to reconstruct a more syntagmatic view of her character by examining the compressed references to her life story within the Iliad and in other sources. [24] Again we must return to the concept of compression, and the idea that the Iliad is itself an example of compression. The ability to expand or compress complex narratives in performance is a fundamental technique of the epic poet, who has at his disposal a vast continuum of traditional stories from which to draw his song. It will be my thesis throughout this book that compression and expansion can be witnessed throughout the Iliad in the form of micro- and macronarratives. A single line, such as that found at Iliad 11.227 (“but as soon as he had married, he went away from the bride chamber, looking for glory [kleos] from the Achaeans”), could be potentially expanded to an epic of 15,000-odd lines like that of the Iliad. Such a line is a reference to another story, another potential epic. For a traditional audience, those references are meaningful. [25]

We may compare the story of Achilles as it is told in the catalog of ships:

νῦν αὖ τοὺς ὅσσοι τὸ Πελασγικὸν Ἄργος ἔναιον,
οἵ τ' Ἄλον οἵ τ' Ἀλόπην οἵ τε Τρηχῖνα νέμοντο,
οἵ τ' εἶχον Φθίην ἠδ' Ἑλλάδα καλλιγύναικα,
Μυρμιδόνες δὲ καλεῦντο καὶ Ἕλληνες καὶ Ἀχαιοί,
τῶν αὖ πεντήκοντα νεῶν ἦν ἀρχὸς Ἀχιλλεύς.
ἀλλ' οἵ γ' οὐ πολέμοιο δυσηχέος ἐμνώοντο·
οὐ γὰρ ἔην ὅς τίς σφιν ἐπὶ στίχας ἡγήσαιτο·
κεῖτο γὰρ ἐν νήεσσι ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεὺς
[9]κούρης χωόμενος Βρισηΐδος ἠϋκόμοιο,
τὴν ἐκ Λυρνησσοῦ ἐξείλετο πολλὰ μογήσας
Λυρνησσὸν διαπορθήσας καὶ τείχεα Θήβης,
κὰδ δὲ Μύνητ' ἔβαλεν καὶ Ἐπίστροφον ἐγχεσιμώρους,
υἱέας Εὐηνοῖο Σεληπιάδαο ἄνακτος·
τῆς ὅ γε κεῖτ' ἀχέων, τάχα δ' ἀνστήσεσθαι ἔμελλεν.

Now however many inhabited Pelasgian Argos,
and dwelled in Alos and Alope and Trachis,
and those who inhabited Phthia and Hellas of the beautiful women,
and were called Myrmidons and Hellenes and Achaeans,
of these Achilles was the leader of fifty ships.
But they did not think of grievous war.
For there was no one to lead the troops.
For swift-footed brilliant Achilles lay among his ships
angered over the fair-haired girl Briseis
whom he took from Lyrnessos with great toil,
when he sacked Lyrnessos and the walls of Thebe
and he slew the spear-fighters Mynes and Epistrophus,
the sons of the ruler Euenus, who was the son of Selepius.
He lay grieving because of her, and he was not soon to rise up.

(Iliad 2.683–694)

If the Iliad did not survive and these lines were found in another epic about another warrior at Troy, today’s readers would find the references to Achilles’ anger and the capture of Briseis at Lyrnessos obscure. But for a traditional audience, the mênis of Achilles would be called before their eyes, and that compressed narrative would resonate within its context.

Such micronarratives are potentially much more than just signals to the audience of other epic tales in the singer's repertoire. Consider the shield of Achilles in Iliad 18. This remarkable piece of armor holds within its design a micronarrative about a dispute, which in turn carries with it all kinds of messages for the larger narrative about the anger of Achilles. Close analysis shows us that the anonymous characters on the micronarrative of the shield have their counterparts in the macronarrative. A successful decoding of the shield simultaneously decodes the entire Iliad. [26] Slatkin’s work builds on similar arguments in her analysis of compressed references to the power of Thetis. [27]

If we look more closely at the words of Briseis herself we find many examples of long-distance interconnections across epic tradition that can aid us in [10]both paradigmatic and syntagmatic perspectives on Briseis. [28] I quote the passage in full: [29]

Βρισηῒς δ' ἄρ' ἔπειτ' ἰκέλη χρυσέῃ Ἀφροδίτῃ
ὡς ἴδε Πάτροκλον δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκᾠ,
ἀμφ' αὐτᾠ χυμένη λίγ' ἐκώκυε, χερσὶ δ' ἄμυσσε
στήθεά τ' ἠδ' ἁπαλὴν δειρὴν ἰδὲ καλὰ πρόσωπα.
εἶπε δ' ἄρα κλαίουσα γυνὴ ἐϊκυῖα θεῇσι·
Πάτροκλέ μοι δειλῇ πλεῖστον κεχαρισμένε θυμᾠ
ζωὸν μέν σε ἔλειπον ἐγὼ κλισίηθεν ἰοῦσα,
νῦν δέ σε τεθνηῶτα κιχάνομαι ὄρχαμε λαῶν
ἂψ ἀνιοῦσ'·
ὥς μοι δέχεται κακὸν ἐκ κακοῦ αἰεί.
ἄνδρα μὲν ᾧ ἔδοσάν με πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ
εἶδον πρὸ πτόλιος δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκᾠ,
τρεῖς τε κασιγνήτους, τούς μοι μία γείνατο μήτηρ,
κηδείους, οἳ πάντες ὀλέθριον ἦμαρ ἐπέσπον.
οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδέ μ' ἔασκες, ὅτ' ἄνδρ' ἐμὸν ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεὺς
ἔκτεινεν, πέρσεν δὲ πόλιν θείοιο Μύνητος,
κλαίειν, ἀλλά μ' ἔφασκες Ἀχιλλῆος θείοιο
κουριδίην ἄλοχον θήσειν, ἄξειν τ' ἐνὶ νηυσὶν
ἐς Φθίην, δαίσειν δὲ γάμον μετὰ Μυρμιδόνεσσι.
τώ σ' ἄμοτον κλαίω τεθνηότα μείλιχον αἰεί.
ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ', ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες
Πάτροκλον πρόφασιν, σφῶν δ' αὐτῶν κήδε' ἑκάστη.

Then Briseis like golden Aphrodite,
when she saw Patroklos torn by the sharp bronze,
wailed with piercing cries, falling around him. And with her hands she struck
her breast and tender neck and beautiful face.
And then lamenting she spoke, a woman like the goddesses:
“Patroklos, most pleasing to my wretched heart,
I left you alive when I went from the hut.
But now returning home I find you dead, O leader of the people.
So evil begets evil for me forever.
The husband to whom my father and mistress mother gave me
I saw torn by the sharp bronze before the city,
and my three brothers, whom one mother bore together with me,
beloved ones, all of whom met their day of destruction.
Nor did you allow me, when swift Achilles killed my husband,
and sacked the city of god-like Mynes,
to weep, but you claimed that you would make me the
[11]wedded wife of god-like Achilles and that you would bring me in the ships
to Phthia, and give me a wedding feast among the Myrmidons.
Therefore I weep for you now that you are dead ceaselessly, you who were kind always.”
So she spoke lamenting, and the women wailed in response,
with Patroklos as their pretext, but each woman for her own cares.

(Iliad 19.282–302)

Briseis’ lament alludes to many of her life experiences, most of which are not narrated by the Iliad except in her own voice in this one passage. As I noted already, we see her fall down weeping over the body of Patroklos, in the same way that the unnamed widow of Odyssey 8 falls down over the dead body of her warrior husband (19.284 ἀμφ' αὐτᾠ χυμένη λίγ' ἐκώκυε ~ Odyssey 8.527). The generic widow of Odyssey 8 is led off as a captive into slavery before our eyes even as she weeps. The death of Patroklos does not bring about slavery for Briseis, who is already a captive. But when she sees the body of Patroklos “torn by the sharp bronze” (δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκᾠ 19.283), she recalls her own husband, who died in just this same way (δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκᾠ 19.292). Briseis’ lament for Patroklos reenacts the lament that she must have performed for her husband upon learning of his death, perhaps, just before Briseis herself was led off into slavery, just as the woman in the simile of Odyssey 8. Achilles killed her husband in the sack of Lyrnessos, a raid that takes place outside of the confines of the poem but to which the poem frequently alludes. Thus in just two lines (19.283–284), traditional resonances that are contained in the phrases themselves evoke a whole range of experiences and events.

The lines that follow are likewise extremely rich in traditional cross-references. In line 19.288 Briseis mentions her departure from the tent of Achilles, an event narrated at 1.345–348. It was Patroklos who led her from the tent. Patroklos, Briseis laments, was always kind to her (19.300). The kindness of Patroklos is important, as lines 19.291–294 go on to explain. Briseis is a captive woman in a foreign camp; she is the concubine of the man who killed her husband. Her brothers are also dead:

ἄνδρα μὲν ᾧ ἔδοσάν με πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ
εἶδον πρὸ πτόλιος δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκᾠ,
τρεῖς τε κασιγνήτους, τούς μοι μία γείνατο μήτηρ,
κηδείους, οἳ πάντες ὀλέθριον ἦμαρ ἐπέσπον.

The husband to whom my father and mistress mother gave me
I saw torn by the sharp bronze before the city,
and my three brothers, whom one mother bore together with me,
beloved ones, all of whom met their day of destruction.

(Iliad 19.291–294)

[12]Patroklos proves to be an ally for a vulnerable woman who no longer has the protection of her father, husband, or brothers. [30]

These lines not only refer us to epic traditions outside of the Iliad and to a raid that we see narrated in the Cypria, but they also make a meaningful connection to another part of the Iliad itself. [31] Lines 19.291–294 evoke Andromache’s words to Hektor in Iliad 6, in which she laments the death of her brothers:

οἳ δέ μοι ἑπτὰ κασίγνητοι ἔσαν ἐν μεγάροισιν
οἳ μὲν πάντες ἰᾠ κίον ἤματι Ἄϊδος εἴσω·
πάντας γὰρ κατέπεφνε ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεὺς

I had seven brothers in the palace
all of whom went to Hades in one day.
For the swift-footed Achilles slew all of them.

(Iliad 6.421–423)

In terms of the Iliad the sacks of Lyrnessos (the city in which Briseis was captured) and Thebe (in which the brothers of Andromache were killed) took place on a single campaign. [32] In this same sack of Thebe Chryseis was taken and given as a prize to Agamemnon. [33] Andromache was already living in Troy as Hektor’s wife at the time of the raid. She thus escapes capture, but only temporarily: through Chryseis and Briseis we are reminded that Andromache (and all of the Trojan women) will soon be captives. [34] From the standpoint of Homeric narrative, the past and future are joined and brought to life in Briseis’ lament. From the standpoint of our own perspective on the Homeric tradition, these lines hint at other tales in which the given events traditionally took place, like the Cypria or the Aethiopis. [35]

[13]In lines 19.295–299 we can see once again how Homeric poetry connects its own tale to other epic traditions:

οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδέ μ' ἔασκες, ὅτ' ἄνδρ' ἐμὸν ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεὺς
ἔκτεινεν, πέρσεν δὲ πόλιν θείοιο Μύνητος,
κλαίειν, ἀλλά μ' ἔφασκες Ἀχιλλῆος θείοιο
κουριδίην ἄλοχον θήσειν, ἄξειν τ' ἐνὶ νηυσὶν
ἐς Φθίην, δαίσειν δὲ γάμον μετὰ Μυρμιδόνεσσι.
κουριδίην ἄλοχον

Nor did you allow me, when swift Achilles killed my husband,
and sacked the city of god-like Mynes,
to weep, but you claimed that you would make me the
wedded wife of god-like Achilles, and that you would bring me in the ships
to Phthia, and give me a wedding feast among the Myrmidons.

(Iliad 19.295–299)

The allusion to Mynes raises the interesting possibility that Briseis was the queen of Lyrnessos, and that her husband was Mynes. [36] If this interpretation is right, with this one detail the story of Briseis comes together and we can piece together her life as it is represented in the Iliad. She was born in Brisa on Lesbos, and married to King Mynes of Lyrnessos. [37] When Achilles went on his series of raids in and around Lesbos, he sacked not only Briseis’ hometown, where presumably her brothers were killed, [38] but also Lyrnessos. Achilles killed Mynes and enslaved the women of the town, winning Briseis as his prize.

It is important to note here that references in an epic song to named figures with which we modern readers are not familiar would not be opaque for a member of the song culture in which that epic poetry is composed and performed[14]. [39] For an audience comprised of such members, the name Mynes means something and conjures up other traditional tales associated with that figure. Similarly, Patroklos is first introduced in the Iliad by way of his father, in the form of the patronymic Menoitiadês. [40] The first-time modern reader of the Iliad may find this reference confusing and must be told who the son of Menoitios is. But for a traditional audience, names like Mynes or a patronymic like Menoitiadês are signals. For us too they can be signals, but they are difficult and sometimes impossible for us as outsiders to interpret. Because of the signals inherent in traditional poetry, in these few lines Briseis can allude elliptically to her entire life history up to the present moment.

Moreover in these same lines we hear the hopes of Briseis for the future. Briseis says that Patroklos always promised she would be Achilles’ wife, his kouridiê alokhos, [41] and that he would give a wedding feast for them in Phthia after the war. But a traditional audience knows that Achilles will never go back to Phthia. The death of Patroklos means the death of Hektor, which in turn, as Achilles learns from his mother Thetis in 18.96, means the death of Achilles. Briseis will become a widow once again and the captive of some other man. Briseis’ vain hopes for the future recall Achilles’ own speculation on a marriage back in Phthia: ἢν γὰρ δή με σαῶσι θεοὶ καὶ οἴκαδ' ἵκωμαι, // Πηλεύς θήν μοι ἔπειτα γυναῖκά γε μάσσεται αὐτός ‘For if the gods save me and I return home, then Peleus will get me a wife himself’ (9.393–394). When Achilles makes that statement in Iliad 9, return is still a possibility from the standpoint of the narrative. In Iliad 19, however, we know that Achilles will never marry.

We have seen how Briseis’ lament alludes backwards from the point of view of the narrative to the lament of Andromache in Iliad 6 as well as outside the poem to events that take place chronologically prior to the narrative of the Iliad. Briseis reenacts the lament of Andromache and in doing so assimilates the figures of Hektor and Patroklos. When Patroklos becomes substituted for Hektor in the lament of Iliad 19, the chain of events that lead to Achilles’ death is clarified. In Iliad 6 Hektor is not yet dead; in Iliad 19, because of the death of Patroklos, Hektor is all but dead. Briseis the captive then echoes the words of Andromache, but also previews the lament that will be sung for Hektor by the soon-to-be captive Andromache in Iliad 24.

Iliad 19.300, the last line of the lament, likewise points ahead to the funeral of Hektor and to the moments marked by some of the last lines of the poem:

τώ σ' ἄμοτον κλαίω τεθνηότα μείλιχον αἰεί.

[15]Therefore I weep for you now that you are dead ceaselessly, you who were kind always.


Compare these to the words of Helen at the conclusion of the Iliad:

ἀλλ' εἴ τίς με καὶ ἄλλος ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ἐνίπτοι… ,
ἀλλὰ σὺ τὸν ἐπέεσσι παραιφάμενος κατέρυκες
σῇ τ' ἀγανοφροσύνῃ καὶ σοῖς ἀγανοῖς ἐπέεσσι.
τὼ σέ θ' ἅμα κλαίω καὶ ἔμ' ἄμμορον ἀχνυμένη κῆρ·
οὐ γάρ τίς μοι ἔτ' ἄλλος ἐνὶ Τροίῃ εὐρείῃ
ἤπιος οὐδὲ φίλος, πάντες δέ με πεφρίκασιν.

But if anyone ever reproached me in the palace,
you checked them with your words speaking gently
with your kindly spirit and kind words.
Therefore I lament for you and for my unhappy self, grieving in my heart.

(Iliad 24.771–775)

Like Briseis, Helen is a woman in a land of strangers. [42] Without the protection of Hektor, she is now vulnerable to the kind of reproach and insult that in the past Hektor always warded off. Briseis’ own vulnerability to such reproach is made very clear earlier in Book 19, when Achilles exclaims that Artemis should have killed her on the day that he sacked Lyrnessos (19.59–60). The similarity in the laments of these two women reveals an important structural relationship between Briseis and Helen that I will go on to explore in subsequent chapters. Helen’s words give us a unique insight into her situation in Troy. They convey the loneliness and defenselessness of an outsider. When we hear in her words an echo of Briseis, we understand not just Briseis as a second Helen, [43] but Helen as a second Briseis.

The words of Briseis therefore bring together a monumental sequence of events in one highly compressed and expressive song. This sequence of events could not be narrated in full on any one occasion, but, as I have argued, the traditional mechanics of expansion and compression can incorporate—by way of allusion, reference, and even resonance—complex narratological relationships that span a vast continuum of poetic and artistic traditions. In this brief sketch, we have seen how any one performance of an Iliad for example can assume and refer to events of the traditions of the Cypria or Aethiopis. A traditional system such as the one described here, moreover, contains a built-in poetic structure of stories within stories. As the narrative proceeds, these stories within stories are incorporated in more or less expanded form. The least expanded narrative—that is, the most compressed—could be as small as an [16]epithet or a patronymic. [44] An example of a more expanded story-within-a-story is the story of Meleager in Iliad 9. The Iliad itself is an extreme example of expansion, but, as I have been arguing, it is not the ultimate expansion. We might think of the entire Epic Cycle, if it survived as fixed and complete poems, as an ultimate expansion of poetry about Troy—or, better, as a variation on such an ultimate expansion.

The system of stories within stories that are built into Homeric poetry creates structural relationships between events and characters. The traditional laments sung by Andromache, Briseis, Hecuba, and Helen connect them in a way that is both artistic and traditional. Their words are both universal and personal, timeless and occasional. As I noted above, Briseis can become Andromache when lamenting Patroklos, much as Odysseus becomes one of his own victims in Odyssey 8. The substitutions and connections create meaning. In this book, I analyze both the timeless (or paradigmatic) substitutions as well as the personal (or syntagmatic) associations in the figure of Briseis, in order to illustrate the dynamic workings of a traditional poetic system.

The connections between Briseis’ lament and those of Andromache and Helen in Iliad 6 and 24 have been noted. Some have interpreted these connections as intentional allusions by a master poet. Others have argued that the lament of Briseis is built upon or derived from the laments of Andromache and Helen (and is therefore inferior poetry). [45] I do not interpret the powerful emotions that Briseis’ lament induces in her listeners (or the overall artistry of the scene) as simply the result of universal truths or the intertextual designs of a master poet. Rather I will argue that the traditional artistry involved in the mechanics of expansion and compression allows a multiplicity of associations that evoke powerful emotions both for the characters within the narrative as well as for the audience of the epic.

The questions that scholars have asked about Briseis deal primarily with perceived inconsistencies within the Iliad. These inconsistencies have been approached from a number of different angles, but nowhere are they addressed systematically. Most of the recent scholarship, moreover, approaches the perceived problems connected with Briseis from a primarily text-centered point of view. Allusions to the raids on Lyrnessos and Pedasos and Thebe, for example, have been read as meaningful for the narrative and part of a master poet’s highly complex plan for the poem. But the possibility that these allusions [17]refer to other epic traditions is overlooked or even denied by many scholars. [46] In this book I offer a new way of understanding the many conflicting traditions about Briseis. I will also try to show how powerful connections can made between Briseis and other characters. I will analyze allusions to other traditions and the resonant effect that such allusions have within the Iliad. My analysis will address both the perceived “problems” as well as the perceived artistry from the point of view of oral poetics, informed throughout by the research of Milman Parry and Albert Lord, which has demonstrated how a traditional song culture works. [47] The work of Parry and Lord has not yet permeated many “literary” analyses of the poem. I offer my analysis of Briseis as just one example of how literary analysis and appreciation of an oral traditional work can be done. [48]

Much of the work on Homeric poetry that attempts to appreciate the Iliad and Odyssey as oral poetry has not broken free of our literate culture’s understanding of authorship and poetic craft. The intention, craft, or skill of “Homer” [18]or “the poet” are still discussed in the context of the beauty and power of various scenes. Such discussions make no distinction between the artistry of an individual poet and the poetics of an oral traditional song culture. In this book I analyze the power of various scenes not in absolute terms but rather from the standpoint of the song culture within which they were composed.

Oliver Taplin’s insightful book Homeric Soundings is a recent attempt to account for the Iliad as oral poetry and to appreciate the poem through both form and content. [49] Yet Taplin’s approach, despite his intention to interpret the Iliad as a work meant to be heard, is fundamentally text-centered in its essentially literate focus on the intention of the single author:

There might seem to be an inhibition, even a prohibition, against finding all this complex and large-scale correlation in the Iliad of all poems. Homer was, after all, archaic, pre-classical; and even if he could laboriously write (which for myself I think highly unlikely) he surely created his poems to be heard. Does this not make all this intricacy, the fruit of many rereadings, inapposite? The more I have dwelt on this problem, the more I have come to believe the contrary: the kind of artistry which I have uncovered, especially the long-distance interconnections, would be more rather than less accessible when perceived aurally. Extended sessions of performance can induce a kind of spellbound attentiveness, such as cannot be sustained in the disjointed process of reading. Furthermore, if the form and timing of the long sessions are arranged by the performer, then this opens up further opportunities for shapings that would be far more apparent when heard in real time. [50]

Taplin’s analysis presupposes a master poet who, although illiterate, is capable of creating “complex and large-scale correlation in the Iliad” and “long-distance interconnections.” Taplin’s Homer is in fact something like an illiterate Virgil, whose work we may interpret no differently than any other poet. Taplin offers his Homeric Soundings as a new way of reading the complexities of the Iliad, but despite many beautiful interpretations, I disagree with his methodology, which focuses too often on the intention of the master poet, and too little on the meaningful connections made possible by tradition. [51]

[19]My reading examines this system of complex and large-scale correlations and long-distance interconnections as the cornerstone of a long and rich tradition of oral epic poetry composed in and for performance. This long and rich tradition includes the conventions and allusive power of a number of other song traditions. [52] One of the most important of these for our understanding of the Iliad is the traditional lament for the dead. [53] Briseis’ lament must be interpreted within the context of long-standing lament traditions. I argue that an appreciation of the traditional artistry of lament does not limit interpretation of Briseis’ words to mere formulas, but rather enhances our understanding of Briseis and the other women in the poem.

In the following chapters I will examine the stages of Briseis’ life, to which the poem alludes by means of epithets, casual and indirect references, and Briseis’ own words. Each of the chapters relates Briseis to important themes, characters, and tensions in the Iliad, in order to show how a paradigmatic reading of Briseis brings a great deal of meaning to our understanding of the structure of the entire poem.

But in order to explore these relationships it will first be necessary to understand that Briseis can evoke more than one paradigm in the Iliad. Briseis has her own macronarrative that is only hinted at in the Iliad. This macronarrative is primarily consistent, but it has, secondarily, its own multiformity. I argue that there was not only one possible expanded tradition about the capture of Lesbos and neighboring cities and the taking of Briseis, [54] but many possible narratives. I assume that traditions about Briseis necessarily varied from locale to locale and in different time periods. Nevertheless, it is my contention that some or all of these traditions would have been familiar to what I have been calling “traditional audiences” of the Iliad.

In order to reconstruct the expanded or alternative traditions about Briseis I must rely on a variety of sources, including internal evidence, the scholia to the Iliad, the extant fragments of the Epic Cycle and the summaries of Proclus, later [20]fictional accounts of the Trojan War, and representations on vases. [55] These sources are potentially very useful in any reconstruction of competing epic traditions, but each must be approached carefully and in its own way. Throughout my discussion, moreover, I use the figure of Briseis as an example of the empirical reality of the system demonstrated by Milman Parry and Albert Lord in their studies of Homer as traditional oral poetry. In other words, Briseis will not be used to prove a theory about oral poetry, but instead to illustrate the system of poetics that the work of Parry and Lord has uncovered. [56]


[ back ] 1. Lord 1960 (= 2000), 65. Cf. Parry 1932, 12–14 (= Parry 1971, 334–35): “One oral poet is better than another not because he has by himself found a more striking way of expressing his own thought but because he has been better able to make use of the tradition… The fame of a singer comes not from quitting the tradition but from putting it to the best use.” For a recent application of this principle see Martin 1993. For a concise bibliography of scholarship, since Parry, that seeks to appreciate the creativity of a poet working within a traditional medium, see Martin 1989, 151, note 16.

[ back ] 2. For more on the concept of song culture see Herington 1985.

[ back ] 3. See especially Lord 1960, 4–5 and 13: “every performance is a separate song; for every performance is unique… The singer of tales is at once the tradition and an individual creator” (4); “Singer, performer, composer, and poet are under different aspects but at the same time. Singing, performing, composing are facets of the same act” (13).

[ back ] 4. Cf. Martin 1993, 228: “Thanks to its traditionality and flexibility—the two aspects seen by Parry in the formulaic system—Homeric epic can accomplish characterizing effects that prose fiction cannot bring about.”

[ back ] 5. A traditional audience is composed of members of the song culture within which the song is composed and performed. This traditional audience is not a precisely definable entity if we think of each performance as a new composition, and, depending on the time, place, and occasion of performance, the definition of “tradition” changes. What is “tradition” in Lesbos in, say, 600 B.C. might be unfamiliar if not obscure in Chios in 550 B.C.. As I discuss elsewhere in this book, references to local and therefore potentially unrecognizable traditions became screened out in the panhellenizing process in which the Iliad and Odyssey took shape. See Nagy 1979, 7, 115–21; 1990, 52–81, with references ad loc.; and 1996b, 38–43. On the traditional audience see also Lord 1960, 148–57 and Martin 1993, 227–28 and 238. On the importance of the connection between composition and reception see Foley 1999, 18 and passim.

[ back ] 6. G. Nagy was the first to explore, in terms of oral poetics, the possibility of cross-references between epic traditions. Scholars had previously proposed that the Iliad never referred to the Odyssey and vice versa. Nagy shows that while such cross-references are indeed possible, the references are not to texts but to traditions:

Even if we were to accept for the moment the dubious notion that parts of the Homeric Cycle are drawn from some text that predates our Iliad and Odyssey, the fundamental objection remains the same: when we are dealing with traditional poetry of the Homeric (and Hesiodic) compositions, it is not justifiable to claim that a passage in any text can refer to another passage in another text… I will confine myself, then, to examining whether a poem that is composed in a given tradition may refer to other traditions of composition. Thus, for example, our Odyssey may theoretically refer to traditional themes that are central to the stories of the Cypria—or even to the stories of the Iliad, for that matter. But even in that case, such traditional themes would have varied from composition to composition. There may theoretically be as many variations on a theme as there are compositions. Any theme is but a multiform [that is, a variant], and not one of the multiforms may be considered a functional “Urform” (Nagy 1979, 42–43 [= 1992, 317–18]).

On cross-referencing between the Iliad and Odyssey traditions see also Nagy 1990a, 53–54, note 8 and 1998; for a textual perspective, see Pucci 1987, 240-42. On the concept of traditional referentiality see also Foley 1999, 13ff and bibliography at 278, note 2.

[ back ] 7. Slatkin 1991, 108. On cross-referencing in myth see Leach 1982, 5 and Lang 1983. The term “reverberation” is that of Lang 1983. On the idea of resonance see also Foley 1999, 20: “the extra layer of meaning is not the singular creation of a particular event or context, but a traditional harmonic that adds resonance to each of its occurrences.”

[ back ] 8. For another study of the powerful effects of seemingly casual or superficial allusions see G. A. Privitera’s 1970 work on Dionysus in Homer. See also Foley 1999, 18 on the effect of name and epithet combinations: “‘Grey-eyed Athena’ and ‘wise Penelope’ are thus neither brilliant attributions in unrelated situations nor mindless metrical fillers of last resort. Rather they index the characters they name, in all their complexity, not merely in one given situation or even poem but against an enormously larger traditional backdrop.”

[ back ] 9. On the terms compression and expansion see Lord 1960, 25–27, 68–98, 99–123.

[ back ] 10. I do not mean to imply that Briseis was never understood to be a name. But like Patroklos, who is referred to in his first appearance in the Iliad as simply “the son of Menoitios,” Briseis is introduced into the poem referentially by way of her father. A similar phenomenon occurs with Chryseis, whose connection with her father in Iliad 1 makes a patronymic reference seem logical at first glance. Neither girl, however, receives another name in the Iliad, unlike other women who have both a name and a patronymic. (See Higbie 1995, 113 and 136.) We may even question to what extent Briseis and Chryseis are actually patronymics. For the name of each girl has meaning for the narrative: Briseis, the prize of Achilles, is related to a word for martial strength (cf. Iliad 12.346, 17.52 [LSJ &sup9; 9, s.v. βρίθω]), whereas Chryseis, the prize of Agamemnon, is related to a word for gold (χρυσός). Scholars have also connected Briseis and Chryseis to the towns Brisa and Chryse. (Cf. Hyginus Genealogiae 106: Agamemnon Briseidam Brisae sacerdotis filiam ex Moesia captivam propter formae dignitatem, quam Achilles ceperat, ab Achille abduxit.) Murray 1960, 204 translates κούρη Βρισηΐς as “maiden of Brisa.” On Briseis’ possible relationship with the town of Brisa on Lesbos see also Wilamowitz 1884, 409, Reinhardt 1961, 50-57, and chapter 3. On the applicability of both meanings over time see below, p. 50.

[ back ] 11. She is named Hippodameia by the A scholia at 1.392 and in Dictys of Crete. According to Iliad 2.688–694, 19.295–296, and elsewhere she was captured by Achilles in the sack of Lyrnessos. In her lament for Patroklos (Iliad 19.282–302) Briseis says that she was married, and that Achilles killed her husband, who may have been King Mynes. Other sources, including the Cypria, say that she was captured not in Lyrnessos but in Pedasos (Cypria frag. 27 Bernabé 1987 = 21 Davies 1988). See also the scholia at 16.57.

[ back ] 12. For the length of performance, see Taplin 1992, 21 note 20; Heiden 1996, 1997, and 1998; Nagy 1999a; and the debate among a variety of scholars in Symbolae Osloenses 74 (1999).

[ back ] 13. γέρας (1.185, 356, 507; 2.240; 16.54, 56; 18.444); κούρης (1.298, 336; 2.377; 9.637; 19.58), κούρην (1.275; 1.337; 16.56, 85; 18.444; 19.272); “daughter of Brises”: Βρισηΐς (19.282), Βρισηΐδα (1.184, 323, 346), κούρης Βρισηΐδος (2.689; Βρισηΐδος κούρης 1.336), κούρη Βρισῆος (9.132), κούρῃ Βρισηΐδι (19.261), κούρην Βρισῆος (1.392); γυνή (1.348), cf. 9.340-343 and 19.298; δουρικτήτην (9.343).

[ back ] 14. 19.282 Βρισηῒς δ' ἄρ' ἔπειτ' ἰκέλη χρυσέῃ Ἀφροδίτῃ ~ Πηνελόπεια, Ἀρτέμιδι ἰκέλη ἠὲ χρυσέῃ Ἀφροδίτῃ (Odyssey 17.36–37; 19.53–54); so also Cassandra ἰκέλη χρυσῇ Ἀφροδίτῃ (Iliad 24. 699).

[ back ] 15. See Dictys of Crete 2.16–19. Such a tradition may be reflected in the words that are used throughout the Iliad to denote Briseis, especially κούρης as at 1.298, 1.337, 16.56, 16.85 etc., as well as κουριδίην ἄλοχον at 19.288. (For a different view see Taplin 1992, 85, note 5.) For Diomedeia, cf. Iliad 9.663–665. Dictys of Crete survives only in a Latin translation of the fourth century A.D., though internal evidence and a papyrus fragment of the Greek text date Dictys considerably earlier to between 66 and roughly 200 A.D. To what extent we may use the Latin text of Dictys to reconstruct earlier traditions is a difficult but potentially productive question. In chapter 3, I show that although Dictys’ fictional retelling of the Trojan war makes substantial departures from the Homeric account, he is sometimes in agreement with very old sources against the Iliad. For a survey of the relationship between the text of the Iliad and that of Dictys see Venini 1981.

[ back ] 16. Although their approaches are very different from my own, Suzuki 1989, 21–29 and Taplin 1992, 84–86 and 212–18 also find several meaningful connections between these characters. For another use of the terms paradigmatic and syntagmatic for the analysis of Homeric poetry see Pucci 1993, who applies the terms to formulaic units of Homeric verse.

[ back ] 17. On lament and love song, see Alexiou 1974 and 2002. On the various genres that are incorporated into epic by the Iliad see especially Martin 1989, 43–88; Nagy 1990a; Carlisle-Levaniouk 1999; Davidson 2000, 98–144. On the relationship between quoted speech/song and the song of the poet/narrator see Martin 1989, 89–146.

[ back ] 18. I argue that the relationship between Briseis and Helen in the Iliad allows the reader to view Helen as a prize of war and a captive woman in a foreign land, even though she came, by many accounts, willingly. On the parallels between Briseis and Helen, see also Suzuki 1989, 21–29 and Lang 1995.

[ back ] 19. de Jong 1987, 113; Edwards 1991, ad loc. See also Pucci 1993, who builds on the work of de Jong.

[ back ] 20. For the death of Achilles, cf. Iliad 18.96 (Thetis is speaking): αὐτίκα γάρ τοι ἔπειτα μεθ' Ἕκτορα πότμος ἑτοῖμος ‘your own death awaits you straightaway after that of Hektor’. The sack of Briseis’ town was related in the Cypria, according to the summary of Proclus. No surviving epic source narrates a lament performed by Briseis on the occasion of either her husband’s death or her subsequent captivity. In her lament for Patroklos in Iliad 19 Briseis suggests that she was not allowed to lament for her husband (19.295–297). I submit, however, that Briseis’ words in these lines refer to Patroklos’ actions in the Achaean camp, not to the moment of her husband’s death or to the time when she was taken captive, at which point, in some traditions at least, she must have performed a captive woman’s traditional lament. Propertius (2.9) and Quintus of Smyrna (3.551–576) present us with a lamenting Briseis, fallen over the body of Achilles, but once again no surving archaic epic source contains such a lament. For the passages in Propertius and Quintus of Smyrna, see my afterword and appendix.

[ back ] 21. On the concept of enargeia in Homeric narrative, see Bakker 1989, 77–79.

[ back ] 22. On the interrelationships between Hektor, Patroklos, and Achilles see especially Nagy 1979 and 1997, as well as Whitman 1958 and Sinos 1980. Cf. Sappho fragment 44, in which Achilles’ Iliadic epithet theoeikelois ‘like the gods’ (Iliad 1.131, 19.155) is applied to Hektor and Andromache.

[ back ] 23. On the internalized lamentation of Odysseus and the identification of the lamenting woman see Nagy 1979, 100-101. On Odysseus as one of his own victims see also Foley 1978, 7.

[ back ] 24. As I noted above, the paradigmatic aspects of the figure of Briseis are connected to the experiences (particularly those that are brought before our eyes in songs of lament) that unite her with the other women of the Iliad and Odyssey (and women in general). The syntagmatic aspect of her character is the extent to which she has her own narrative that is independent of other women and the way they are portrayed in epic. The terms paradigmatic and syntagmatic derive ultimately from linguistics, and are pictured as operating on respectively vertical and horizontal axes of selection and combination. To put it another way (following Jakobson) the term syntagmatic is used of metonymic relationships (that is relationships where meaning is determined by connection), whereas the term paradigmatic refers to metaphorical relationships (where meaning is determined by substitution). For an introduction to these concepts (including the work of Jakobson) see Ducrot-Todorov 1979, 106–11.

[ back ] 25. On the hermeneutics of what I mean by traditional audience, see above, note 5.

[ back ] 26. On the shield of Achilles, see especially Nagy 1997. See also Taplin 1980, Hubbard 1992, Stanley 1993, Becker 1995, Stansbury-O’Donnell 1995, and Snodgrass, 1998, 40-44.

[ back ] 27. Slatkin 1991. See discussion above, p. 3.

[ back ] 28. For the phrase “long-distance interconnections” see Taplin 1992, vii. For a very different approach to long-distance references see Reichel 1994. See also above, note 6.

[ back ] 29. For the division of Briseis’ lament into three parts, see below, p. 68.

[ back ] 30. On the traditional features of lament in this passage see the discussion below, pp. 71–72.

[ back ] 31. The Cypria (as summarized by Proclus) narrated the raids on Thebe, Lyrnessos and Pedasos. As I argue in chapter 1, the Cypria and the poems of the Epic Cycle in general are traditional epic narratives that are as old or older than the Iliad, but that crystallized later. For more on crystallization as a model of text fixation, see below, pp. 25–26.

[ back ] 32. Iliad 2.690-691.

[ back ] 33. On the connection between Chryseis and Andromache and her mother in this passage see Taplin 1986, Robbins 1990, and the discussion below, p. 43.

[ back ] 34. In his study of allusions to the raid on Thebe in the Iliad, J. W. Zarker notes: “The fate of both Hector and Andromache is the same, as is that of Thebe and Troy. What happened at Thebe and the other cities of the Troad will happen to Troy. What happened to Chryseis, Briseis, and other captive women will happen to Andromache… Achilles’ taking of Thebe is the dramatic foreshadowing of the fall of Troy” (Zarker 1965–66, 114). Zarker’s analysis of the effect of allusions to other traditions about Eëtion and the sack of Thebe has much in common with my own interpretation.

[ back ] 35. We must be careful to distinguish the texts of the Cypria and Aethiopis as we now have them from the traditional material from which they took shape. The Cyclic traditions, like those of the Iliad and Odyssey, have a very long history, but the texts seem to have become fixed at a later date than the Iliad and Odyssey. (See Burgess 1996.) We must also realize that the Cypria and Aethiopis come down to us only in the summaries of Proclus, which convey merely the bare minimum of what the texts contained. In the form in which we now have it, for example, there is no episode in the Aethiopis in which Briseis laments Achilles as she does Patroklos here, but in this tradition (or one related to it) I submit that she likely did so. Both Propertius (2.9) and Quintus of Smyrna (3.551) contain a scene in which Briseis laments Achilles. (See note 20, above.) On the relationship between the Iliad and the Epic Cycle see chapter 1.

[ back ] 36. I suggest that the syntax of 19.295–296 expresses paratactically what in English prose would be subordinated: that Achilles killed Briseis’ husband Mynes, who was the ruler of the city (Lyrnessos). This is the interpretation of the bT scholia. It is also quite possible, however, that her husband was a man of Lyrnessos other than Mynes. See also Leaf 1912, 246; Edwards 1991, ad loc.; and Pucci 1993, 102–3.

[ back ] 37. Others have offered similar reconstructions. On the detail that Briseis (and likewise Chryseis) must have been in Lyrnessos because of marriage see Taplin 1992, 84–86 and arguments (with bibliography) ad loc. For Chryseis, see also below, p. 51, note 10.

[ back ] 38. So also Taplin 1986, 18, note 6. Others have suggested that her brothers were fighting as allies for Lyrnessos. See, e.g., Leaf 1912, 246. On this raid in general see Reinhardt 1961, 50-57.

[ back ] 39. Lang 1995, 149 notes that of all the heroes in the Iliad only Calchas and Nestor are formally introduced.

[ back ] 40. See also above, note 10.

[ back ] 41. The phrase kouridiê alokhos is difficult to translate into English. A kouridiê alokhos is a wife to whom one was betrothed in youth or young adulthood. See Nagy 1970, 104–5, note 9, and below, p. 55.

[ back ] 42. Cf. Murnaghan 1999, 209: “[Helen] like Briseis, represents a complicated variant on the wife who has lost her husband and is herself lost without him.”

[ back ] 43. On Briseis as a second Helen see chapter 2.

[ back ] 44. For epithets as micronarratives cf. Nagy 1990b, 23 on πολύτλας Odysseus: “Odysseus is πολύτλας ‘much-suffering’ throughout the Iliad because he is already a figure in an epic tradition about adventures that he will have after Troy.”

[ back ] 45. Inter alios, Reinhardt 1961, Lohmann 1970 and 1988, 13–32, Erbse 1983, Edwards 1991, ad loc., and Taplin 1992, 84–86 and 212–18. Schadewaldt 1959 shows how Achilles is already very present in the meeting between Hektor and Andromache in Iliad 6, just as Hektor and Andromache are very much called before our eyes by the laments of Achilles and Briseis in Iliad 19.

[ back ] 46. Instead, they argue that the consistency of the details points to the genius of the master poet. See, for example, Robbins 1990, 10, note 28: “What is consistent within the poem, even if that consistency is perceived only as details accumulate, does not have to point outside the poem.” Cf. Taplin 1992, 222, note 30: “The consistency of detail … should not necessarily lead to neo-analytic theories of pre-existing sagas (thus most fully Kullmann, 284ff.). The details might just as well have been worked up over many years to give substance to this important scene.” Both Leaf 1912 and Wade-Gery (1952, 85, note 114) posited a pre-Homeric poem about these raids. See also Kullmann 1960, 281ff. It is helpful here to consider the formulation of Leach on cross-referencing in myth: The various stories [i.e., the myths of a given society] form a corpus. They lock in together to form a single theological-cosmological-[juridical] whole. Stories from one part of the corpus presuppose a knowledge of stories from all other parts. There is implicit cross-reference from one part to another. It is an unavoidable feature of storytelling that events are made to happen one after another, but in cross-reference, such sequence is ignored. It is as if the whole corpus referred to a single instant of time, namely, the present moment (Leach 1982, 5, as cited by Nagy 1992, 316). I would apply this formulation (as does Nagy) not only to the narratives about gods in the Iliad but to all heroic narrative.

[ back ] 47. Cf. Nagy 1979, 4–5: “The positing of a unitary Iliad and a unitary Odyssey has been for me not an end in itself, one that is continually threatened by contextual inconsistencies in this Homeric passage or that. Rather, it has been a means for solving the problems presented by these inconsistencies. Whatever Homeric passages seem at first to be inconsistent in the short range may in the long range be the key to various central themes of the overall Iliad or Odyssey-central messages that are hidden away from those of us, such as we are, who have not been raised by Hellenic society as the appreciative audience of Epos.”

[ back ] 48. Pucci is likewise concerned with the issue of “literary” interpretation of formulaic diction in his 1993 article on the antiphonal laments of Achilles and Briseis in Iliad 19. Pucci seeks in particular to understand the significance of repetition and verbal echo in the two laments: “this way of making sense of the Homeric repetitions has to be proposed and tried in order to assess fully the force and creativity of this poetic means” (Pucci 1993, 109).

[ back ] 49. 1992, vii.

[ back ] 50. 1992, vii-viii.

[ back ] 51. In a 1970 essay that was reprinted in 1992 (the same year that Taplin’s Homeric Soundings was published), J. B. Hainsworth examines the question of whether or not a new kind of criticism is required to analyze Homeric poetry. He opens his essay by noting the criticisms that have been launched against Homer by various generations of scholars mired in their own poetic conventions, some of which are “no more than the stock responses of their age to epic poetry.” Hainsworth concludes in the end that conventional literary criticism is in fact suited to Homeric poetry. Hainsworth’s distrust of the comparative fieldwork of Parry and Lord is apparent in his first paragraph: “It may even be the case that the despised anachronistic ‘singer’, that unwashed, mendicant figure lurking in the coffee houses of the Balkans, has something to say. But whatever he says, it will be applicable to Homer only by analogy, and will require verification” (Hainsworth 1970 = 1992, 65). Although I do not share Hainsworth’s hesitation to accept the analogy of the South Slavic epic tradition, there is much with which I agree in his essay. I note especially p. 74: “Every use of a formula evokes its other uses (Lord, 1960, 148), and it is up to the good poet to grasp and make use of these associations.” Hainsworth, like Taplin, believes the Iliad to be the record of a single performance of a master singer (1992, 66).

[ back ] 52. See especially Martin 1989, 225.

[ back ] 53. On the importance of understanding the lament traditions that form the backbone of the Iliad see Nagy 1979, 94–117, as well as Foley 1999, 170. On Greek lament (both ancient and modern) see especially Alexiou 1974, as well as Vermeule 1979, Danforth 1982, Caraveli 1986, Seremetakis 1990 and 1991, Holst-Warhaft 1992, Herzfeld 1993, Sultan 1993 and 1999, and McClure 1999. For a reading of a woman’s lament in Persian epic see Davidson 2000, 123–44.

[ back ] 54. Leaf 1912, for example, posited a great epic poem that he called “The Great Foray” as a major source for the Iliad, and others have since followed him. See above, note 46, and below, p. 62.

[ back ] 55. For ancient literary sources for Briseis see the appendix.

[ back ] 56. On the term “oral theory” and the empirical reality of the system in which the Iliad and Odyssey were composed see Nagy 1996b, 19–20. The bibliography on each of these issues is enormous, but throughout I rely primarily on the findings of Parry and Lord themselves, as published in Parry 1971 and Lord 1960, 1991, and 1995.