Homeric Variations on a Lament by Briseis

Chapter 1. Briseis and the Multiformity of the Iliad

[21] In an oral traditional song culture such as that in which the Iliad and Odyssey were composed, each new performance is a new composition. In such a system, as Albert Lord demonstrated, there can technically be no original from which all others are copies. [1] In fact it is misleading to think of versions that differ from the Iliad as we know it as “variants.” If, for lack of a better word, we use the term variant, we must acknowledge that the Iliad is itself a variation on any number of ways to tell a story about Troy, and that within the Iliad itself there are references to other variants. [2] In the Iliad Briseis is named Briseis and she was captured by Achilles in the sack of Lyrnessos. In another or other versions of the story of Briseis, she is named Hippodameia and was taken from Pedasos. [3]

The Iliad is not only a variant in its own right, it is also a compression. [4] Although, as I have already noted, in its current lengthy form the Iliad would take several days to perform, [5] the poem is nevertheless a compression in that the events of the entire Trojan saga from the judgment of Paris to the sack of Troy are enfolded into a narrative that spans a few weeks in the tenth year of the war. In performance an epic singer expands or compresses his narrative at will. A single word, such as aekousa, used to describe Briseis at Iliad 1.348, signals the possibility of much more. In Iliad 19 we learn the kinds of things Briseis might [22]have said, had she been given a voice in that scene of departure from the tent of Achilles in Book 1. But in her lament of Book 19 we also learn about events that take place chronologically prior to the beginning of the Iliad. In the ultimate expansion of poetry about Troy, the prehistory of the war and all of the raids and battles and sacks of cities to which the Iliad refers would be incorporated, as would the death of Achilles, the sack of Troy, and all of the events of the Epic Cycle. We might think of the Epic Cycle itself, if it had survived as one single fixed and complete poem, as yet another variation on this ultimate expansion.

In the following chapters I will examine the paradigmatic aspects of Briseis—that is, the things that unite her with all other mortal women of the Iliad. I argue that the traditional nature of Homeric poetry allows this figure of Briseis to evoke such other figures as Helen and Andromache, thereby bringing additional richness to the scenes in which she appears. I further argue that Briseis actually evokes multiple paradigms—prize, girl, wife, widow, and captive—because of a multiformity of traditions associated with her. In some Aeolic/Lesbian traditions, I will argue, Briseis is an unmarried beauty queen, the quintessential local princess who falls in love with her father’s enemy. [6] No doubt if we had access to the local epic traditions of towns in and around the Troad we would find that Achilles took one such girl from every town. [7] The Iliad contains traces of such a tradition, but primarily asserts another version, in which Briseis is the wife of a local king whom Achilles kills in one of his raids around Troy. [8]

It is my contention that the variations on the story of Briseis are fundamentally connected with local as opposed to Panhellenic epic traditions. As Gregory Nagy has shown, archaic Greek poetry refers to Panhellenic myth and poetry as “truth” while local versions of stories about gods and heroes are pseudea or “lies.” [9] Such a conception of truth and fiction is at work in the opening lines to the Homeric Hymn to Dionysus: [10]

[23] οἳ μὲν γὰρ Δρακάνῳ σ’, οἳ δ’ Ἰκάρῳ ἠνεμοέσσῃ φάσ’, οἳ δ’ ἐν Νάξῳ, δῖον γένος,
εἰραφιῶτα, οἳ δέ σ’ ἐπ’ Ἀλφειᾠ ποταμᾠ βαθυδινήεντι κυσαμένην Σεμέλην
τεκέειν Διὶ τερπικεραύνῳ· ἄλλοι δ’ ἐν Θήβῃσιν, ἄναξ, σε λέγουσι γενέσθαι,
ψευδόμενοι· σὲ δ’ ἔτικτε πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε πολλὸν ἀπ’ ἀνθρώπων,
κρύπτων λευκώλενον Ἥρην.

For some say that you were born at Dracanum; others say on windy Icarus;
some say you were born in Naxos, divinely born, snatched from the thigh,
and others say that at the Alpheus river with deep eddies
Semele conceived and bore you to Zeus who delights in thunder.
Still others say, Lord, that you were born in Thebes,
But they lie. The father of gods and men bore you
far from men, hiding you from white-armed Hera.

(Iliad 24.771–775)

As Nagy argues: “various legitimate local traditions are here being discounted as false in order to legitimize the one tradition that is acceptable to the poet’s audience.” [11]

The Iliad must likewise assert a version of the Achilles story that supersedes competing local variants. It does this in two ways. First, it leaves out or leaves obscure many local details about a romance between Achilles and the various girls from the many towns he captures. In the Iliad Briseis and Diomedeia are included, but marginalized. Second, the Iliad will include within its own narrative allusions to other versions, thereby asserting the primacy of its own narrative at the expense of competing variants. [12]

An example of this competition between different versions again concerns Briseis directly. In the Cypria, according to the scholia, Briseis was captured in a sack of Pedasos, not Lyrnessos, where we are told she was captured in the Iliad. [13] In the Iliad, neither Achilles himself nor the other Achaeans ever refer to a sack of Pedasos, which, like Lyrnessos, is a town near Mt. Ida in the Troad. [14] Instead, in the catalog of ships, the town of Thebe, another town near Mt. Ida [24](where Chryseis as well as Andromache’s mother were captured), is closely associated with the sack of Lyrnessos: [15]

κεῖτο γὰρ ἐν νήεσσι ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεὺς
κούρης χωόμενος Βρισηΐδος
ἠϋκόμοιο, τὴν ἐκ Λυρνησσοῦ ἐξείλετο πολλὰ μογήσας Λυρνησσὸν διαπορθήσας
καὶ τείχεα Θήβης

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

(Iliad 2.688–691)

In fact the only person who mentions a sack of Pedasos in the Iliad is Aeneas, who describes an encounter with Achilles while he was tending cattle:

οὐ μὲν γὰρ νῦν πρῶτα ποδώκεος ἄντ’ Ἀχιλῆος στήσομαι, ἀλλ’ ἤδη με καὶ ἄλλοτε
δουρὶ φόβησεν ἐξ Ἴδης, ὅτε βουσὶν ἐπήλυθεν ἡμετέρῃσι, πέρσε δὲ Λυρνησσὸν
καὶ Πήδασον· αὐτὰρ ἐμὲ Ζεὺς εἰρύσαθ’

For this is not the first time that I
will stand against swift-footed Achilles, but already another time he put me
to flight with the spear from Ida, when he made an attack on our
cattle, and he sacked Lyrnessos and Pedasos. But Zeus protected

(Iliad 20.89–93)

Later, when Achilles and Aeneas meet in battle at Troy, Achilles taunts Aeneas with their former encounter:

ἤδη μὲν σέ γέ φημι καὶ ἄλλοτε δουρὶ φοβῆσαι.
ἦ οὐ μέμνῃ ὅτε πέρ σε βοῶν ἄπο
μοῦνον ἐόντα
σεῦα κατ’ Ἰδαίων ὀρέων ταχέεσσι πόδεσσι
καρπαλίμως; τότε δ’
οὔ τι μετατροπαλίζεο φεύγων.
ἔνθεν δ’ ἐς Λυρνησσὸν ὑπέκφυγες· αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ
πέρσα μεθορμηθεὶς σὺν Ἀθήνῃ καὶ Διὶ πατρί,
ληϊάδας δὲ γυναῖκας
ἐλεύθερον ἦμαρ ἀπούρας
ἦγον· ἀτὰρ σὲ Ζεὺς ἐρρύσατο καὶ θεοὶ ἄλλοι.

For I assert that already another time I put you to flight with the spear. Or do you
not remember the time you were alone and apart from your cattle and I chased
you quickly down from Mt. Ida with swift feet? That time you did not turn back
as you ran away. From there you escaped to Lyrnessos. But then I sacked
it after I made an attack with the help of Athena and father Zeus, and taking
their day of freedom from the women I led them off as captives. But Zeus and
the rest of the gods protected you.

(Iliad 20.187–194)

In most respects the two accounts are the same. But Achilles mentions only Lyrnessos, whereas Aeneas says that Achilles took Lyrnessos and Pedasos. I suggest that Aeneas’ inclusion of Pedasos is an allusion to another version of this raid in which Pedasos takes the place of Lyrnessos. The Iliad, by virtue of being Panhellenic, includes both. And it is especially appropriate that it is Aeneas who speaks the variant. Aeneas was the subject of his own epic traditions in the Troad. [

The Iliad and Odyssey are multiforms in the sense that our fixed texts are the product of a performance tradition that was at one time a multiform. [17] Variants allow us to recover some of the multiformity that was lost in the process of text fixation. This process was coextensive with the process of Panhellenization, as Nagy has shown in his discussions of what he calls the [26]“Panathenaic bottleneck.” [18] Nagy argues that the text fixation of Iliad and Odyssey occurred not through writing but in the context of increasingly limited performance tradition at the Panhellenic festival of the Panathenaia. As the poems passed through this “bottleneck” the degree of variability became increasingly limited.

Nagy has shown that the Iliad and Odyssey, as Panhellenic poetry that must appeal to all Greeks, screens out distinctly local features—particularly elements of romance and fantasy. [19] Because the Panhellenic phase of Greek epic necessarily occurred later rather than earlier in the system of Homeric composition, we must acknowledge that local details that are “screened out” of the Iliad and Odyssey are potentially older than the Panhellenic Iliad and Odyssey. But our sources for these more local elements are, paradoxically, chronologically later than the crystallization of the two Panhellenic epics.

The earliest source for these kinds of narratives, if it survived, would be the relatively less Panhellenic poetry of the Epic Cycle. These poems, attributed to various authors such as Lesches of Mytilene, announce themselves as being more locally oriented than the Iliad or Odyssey. [20] The poems of the Cycle survive only in fragments and in the summaries of Proclus; our knowledge of their contents is therefore limited. The summaries of Proclus, moreover, are not an entirely accurate reflection of the poems in their earliest stages. [21] Nevertheless, the surviving summaries and fragments give us an indication of the traditional content of epic poetry that was composed and performed within the same tradition as the Iliad and Odyssey. These poems are more local in orientation and therefore include relatively more romance, fantasy, folktale, and local color. [22]

[27]Jonathan Burgess has argued against an interpretation of the Epic Cycle which views the poems as late compositions that are wholly derivative of the Iliad and Odyssey. [23] Burgess contends that the poems of the Cycle were originally longer than the surviving summaries would indicate and were in many cases overlapping compositions. [24] In the process of the formation of a true cycle the poems were made to fit around the Iliad and Odyssey and many existing books were cut out of the Cycle tradition. [25] Proclus’ summaries of the Epic Cycle reflect this truncated textual tradition, rather than the more fluid and expanded (oral) archaic tradition.

The references to the sack of Lyrnessos and Pedasos within the Iliad make it clear, I maintain, that a tradition like that of the Cypria flourished contemporaneously with that of the Iliad. [26] Still, as we have seen, the two traditions do not agree in every detail, and the Cypria may have told a version of the Briseis story that was quite different from the one asserted by our Iliad. Burgess in fact uses the differences discussed above in details about the sack of Lyrnessos and Pedasos and the taking of Briseis to show that the Cypria is independent of the Iliad, though part of the same tradition: “A better explanation of such general similarity with minor differences is that the Iliad and the Cypria independently belonged to the same tradition.” [27] The variations on the Briseis story alone show us that we cannot assume that the Cypria and the other poetry of the Epic Cycle are late stories based on Homer. In fact, as more local, independent narratives, their content may well predate the Iliad and Odyssey as we know them.

Another very old corpus of heroic narratives about Troy are the representations on archaic vases. These too are a window into the fluidity—that it is to say [28]the multiformity—of the epic tradition in archaic Greece. The relationship between text and image is not a simple one, but, as I will now argue, visual and verbal artistic traditions should not be separated in an investigation of archaic epic traditions.

Current scholarship about Briseis deals with perceived narrative inconsistencies within the Iliad and therefore relates directly to the concept of multiformity. One of the most discussed of these perceived problems has to do with the seizing of Briseis from the tent of Achilles. In Iliad 1, Agamemnon threatens to come himself to take Briseis away:

εἰ δέ κε μὴ δώωσιν ἐγὼ δέ κεν αὐτὸς ἕλωμαι ἢ τεὸν ἢ Αἴαντος ἰὼν γέρας, ἢ
Ὀδυσῆος ἄξω ἑλών·

But if [the Achaeans] do not give me [a prize] I myself
will take one, your prize, or the one of Ajax or Odysseus I’ll go and

(Iliad 1.137–139)

In actuality (as our text presents it) Agamemnon sends two heralds to take Briseis (1.318–325). Yet elsewhere characters refer to the incident as if Agamemnon had come in person (1.356; 1.507; 2.240; 9.107; 19.89). It seems as if two versions have become conflated in the received textual tradition.

Agamemnon himself suggests the possibility of an alternative version of these events when he first orders the two heralds to take Briseis:

οὐδ’ Ἀγαμέμνων λῆγ’ ἔριδος τὴν πρῶτον ἐπηπείλησ’ Ἀχιλῆϊ, ἀλλ’ ὅ γε
Ταλθύβιόν τε καὶ Εὐρυβάτην προσέειπε, τώ οἱ ἔσαν κήρυκε καὶ ὀτρηρὼ
θεράποντε· ἔρχεσθον κλισίην Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος· χειρὸς ἑλόντ’ ἀγέμεν
Βρισηΐδα καλλιπάρῃον· εἰ δέ κε μὴ δώῃσιν ἐγὼ δέ κεν αὐτὸς ἕλωμαι ἐλθὼν σὺν
πλεόνεσσι· τό οἱ καὶ ῥίγιον ἔσται.

Nor did Agamemnon let drop the contention with which he first threatened Achilles,
but he addressed Talthybius and Eurybates who were his two heralds and quick
attendants: “Go to the tent of Achilles the son of Peleus and taking
beautiful cheeked Briseis by the hand bring her [to me]. But if he won’t give
her I myself will take her, coming with many men. And it will be a very
chilling encounter.”

(Iliad 1.318–325)

[29]The Iliad, through the voice of Agamemnon, directly alludes to an alternative sequence of events that was current, I suggest, in the song culture when these verses were composed.

Geoffrey Kirk has proposed that the discrepancies between the two versions that appear in our text of the Iliad might be explained psychologically: the poet and characters, he argues, start to believe Agamemnon’s threats. As an alternative solution he cites “oral inconsistency and imprecision.” [28] Teffeteller has argued that the grammatical construction used by Agamemnon and others (αὐτὸς ἰὼν 1.185; αὐτὸς ἀπούρας 1.356) does not in fact imply personal agency. [29] But as Steven Lowenstam has demonstrated in his review of this problem, the iconographic tradition is similarly divided. [30]

The taking of Briseis from Achilles is thought to be represented on several vases. [31] One of these is certainly identified; it is a red-figure skyphos painted by Makron, on which Agamemnon, who leads Briseis away by the wrist, is explicitly labeled. [32] Another vase, a red-figure cup by the Briseis painter (named for this same cup), is not labeled but thought to be an equally certain representation of the same scene. [33] There is an important difference between the two representations: whereas Makron depicts Agamemnon leading Briseis away himself, in the painting of the Briseis painter two heralds lead Briseis away, and on the other side these same heralds lead her to Agamemnon.

The pull of the traditional iconography of abduction might well be an explanation for Makron’s depiction of the story. Traditional representations of Paris abducting Helen, including several by Makron himself, show Paris leading Helen away by the wrist. [34] The parallels may even reflect a comment by the painter on the similarities between the two events. In Chapter 2 I submit that the dispute over Briseis reenacts for traditional audiences the dispute over Helen. Here Makron shows us visually an analogous substitution of Briseis for Helen. [30]A similar kind of commentary is made—this time by direct juxtaposition—on a Boston vase by Makron that depicts Paris leading Helen away on one side by the wrist, and on the other Menelaus leading Helen back in the opposite direction. [35]

I do not believe that Makron has invented his own version of the taking of Briseis in order to bring out parallels between Briseis and Helen. These parallels were already traditional long before Makron painted his vase and long before the Iliad came to be in the form that we know. Just as the paintings support an apparent divergence of traditions in the text of the Iliad, so the text supports a divergence of traditions in painting. I am therefore in agreement with Lowenstam that two separate traditions regarding the agency of Agamemnon seem to be involved.

Makron’s creativity, therefore, involves selecting between competing variant traditions in order to create a meaningful artistic narrative. In connection with Makron’s depiction of Briseis, Lowenstam has argued that where representations of scenes known to us from the Homeric poems differ from the Iliad and Odyssey as we have them, variant poetic traditions are likely to be the source. [36] In so doing Lowenstam addresses an important question: to what extent do the archaic vase-painters invent aspects of the scenes they paint? If differences between Homeric and painted scenes are attributed to innovation, we should not look to vases for alternative epic traditions.

Following Ahlberg-Cornell, Lowenstam points out that archaic vase-painters would not have wanted to paint scenes that their audience and potential customers could not recognize. [37] But neither Ahlberg-Cornell nor Lowenstam denies creativity to the painters:

This same formulation could be applied to an epic poet. [39] The attribution of “invention” to an epic poet working within a traditional system or a vase-painter representing traditional narratives is a very problematic concept. [40] For just as the poet in his awareness of competing versions of myth calls upon the Muses to relate to him the “truth,” so the painters are working within the traditional framework of myth. Myth, anthropologically speaking, is the conveyor of a society’s truth values. [41]

It is on this point that my understanding of the relationship between art, myth, and epic text differs slightly from that of Lowenstam. The focus of his 1997 study of the relationship between archaic vase-painting and Homeric epic is his argument that vase-painters relied heavily and perhaps primarily on non-Homeric poetry (including lyric and tragedy). While careful to point out that archaic vase-painters did not think of themselves as illustrators of poetic texts, Lowenstam nonetheless emphasizes throughout his article the relationship between art and poetry. [42] It is my understanding, on the other hand, that archaic vase-painters, just like epic poets, illustrate myth, not poetry or text.

[32]This is an obvious point in some ways. Walter Burkert can write, for example, in passing: “As soon as Greek art begins to illustrate myth.” [43] But recent scholarship on artistic narrative has focused very narrowly on the question of whether or not the archaic vase-painters knew Homer—that is to say, the poetic texts of the Iliad and Odyssey as we now have them. [44] Anthony Snodgrass’ 1998 book, Homer and the Artists, is devoted entirely to this question. But as Sarah Morris objects in her review of this book, the diachronic development of the Iliad and Odyssey within a traditional system over many centuries and possibly millennia does not allow for even the question, much less an answer:

In Homer and the Artists Snodgrass attempts to combat a simplistic understanding of the relationship between vase-paintings and texts in which art serves merely to illustrate texts. Nevertheless, when he concludes that archaic vase-painters did not know Homer, he focuses too sharply on the Iliad and Odyssey as fixed texts rather than as evolving, verbal representations of myth.

Epic poets represent myth through verbal narrative. Artists, drawing from the same storehouse of tradition, represent myth visually. Each medium has its own rules and conventions. Lowenstam has noted that the pressure of traditional iconography for a painter might be somewhat analogous to the pressure of the traditional theme for a poet. [46] We may compare the formulation of Albert Lord:

I would argue that the relationship between myth, poetry, and art should be imagined as a triangle rather than a series of arrows all headed in one direction.

[33]This model of the triangle helps us to understand at least in part why vase-painters rarely if ever seem to represent Hesiodic or lyric poetry. [48] The conventional subject of Homeric and Cyclic epic poetry and archaic vase-painting is mythic/heroic traditional narratives. Hesiodic and lyric poetry incorporate heroic narratives to some degree to be sure, but each does so within an entirely separate set of rules and conventions. If more vases and more Hesiodic and lyric poetry survived, we would no doubt find more points of convergence between the three. But the fact remains that Homeric, Cyclic, and visual representations of myth had far more affinity for one another than for Hesiodic or lyric poetry. [49]

If the myths about Briseis are multiform, then we may expect both visual and verbal representations of those myths to be multiform. All Greek myth is inherently multiform, due to the local nature of Greek religion and culture. The variations on the taking of Briseis, as evidenced in both visual and verbal narratives, is one such example of the multiformity. I now propose to look briefly at other visual representations of Briseis, in order to explore more deeply the degree of multiformity inherent in what we know as the story of Briseis.

The following categories of representations of Briseis are detailed in LIMC: the taking of Briseis, Achilles and Briseis together in uncertain scenes, Briseis in the tent of Agamemnon and the return of Briseis to Achilles, Briseis lamenting Patroklos, Briseis with Achilles at the ransom of Hektor, and Briseis and Phoinix in the tent of Achilles. [50] There are also several representations of Briseis (without Achilles) in unidentified locations. Kossatz-Deissmann, the author of the LIMC entry for Briseis, argues that Briseis has no role outside of Aethiopis scenes. Friis Johansen argues similarly: “When we meet her in art, the source is undoubtedly Homer.” [51]

It is true that Briseis appears primarily in Aethiopis scenes on vases. One late archaic amphora by Oltos, however, represents Achilles in armor on one side and Briseis holding a flower on the other; both are labeled. [52] A similar combination of warrior and flower-holding maiden occurs on another late archaic amphora. [53] This kind of scene is reminiscent of narratives about local girls falling in love with Achilles when he comes to sack their town, a kind of scene [34]that falls outside of the confines of the Iliad. [54] That the flower here is an erotic symbol is confirmed by its frequent appearance in courtship scenes. [55]

We may compare the Achilles and Briseis vase by Oltos to a red-figure cup, which is thought to be the earliest red-figure depiction of Theseus. [56] Jenifer Neils, following A. S. Murray, interprets the scene on the tondo, in which a maiden holding a flower faces a youth, as Ariadne and Theseus. [57] Here we have an archaic love story in which a young woman falls in love with a foreign enemy. [58] Neils interprets the scene in the context of other scenes on the outside of the cup depicting the deeds of Theseus, including at least one (and probably two) other romantic encounters. The obverse of the cup shows Theseus’ abduction of Antiope. The reverse, which is fragmentary, shows a male facing a girl holding a flower. Neils proposes that this girl is in fact Helen, whom Theseus abducted from Sparta. [59]

These paintings suggest that there was an iconographic tradition in which Achilles and Briseis meet and fall in love. As I have argued above and will explore further in subsequent chapters, this kind of encounter would be unlikely to be related in the Panhellenized Iliad, but might be a prominent episode in local Aeolic poetic traditions. [60] Other vases that contain unidentifiable scenes depicting Achilles and Briseis together may be associated with these more local, perhaps Cyclic, traditions. [61]

The “Iliadic” scenes in which Briseis appears, moreover, likewise often call attention to scenes that are not featured in our Iliad. On the Ilioupersis cup by the Brygos painter, Briseis and Phoinix are depicted together within the tent of Achilles, whose shield hangs on the wall. [62] Briseis pours wine while Phoinix sits in a chair. Both figures are labeled, and Briseis may hold a flower in her left hand, much as in the scenes discussed above. [63] Another painting by the Brygos painter is likely to be this same scene, but without labels. [64] There is no such scene in the Iliad in which Briseis and Phoinix are featured alone together. But it [35]seems clear that the Brygos painting is depicting a narrative of some kind. [65] The painter even went so far as to label the characters. Again I suggest that this is a traditional scene that finds expression in painting, and may at one time have been represented verbally in epic poetry.

One of the most frequent representations of Briseis depicts her with Achilles at the ransom of Hektor. [66] Although her presence may be assumed in the Iliadic scene, she is not mentioned by name until Achilles retreats to bed (Iliad 24.676). Several commentators have interpreted the effect of this last mention of Briseis in the Iliad as providing a kind of closure. [67] Her presence in visual representations of the ransom of Hektor also has a powerful effect: the taking of Briseis had set in motion the chain of events that leads to Hektor’s death and ultimately Achilles’. Likewise the return of Briseis to Achilles presupposes his return to battle, which in turn guarantees the death of Hektor.

All of these scenes suggest a certain degree of multiformity to the Briseis story that is not generally recognized in current scholarship on Briseis, [68] which sees her as an invented character or at best a minor figure. [69] The narratives about Briseis on vases that I have explored may have been a part of verbal epic at one time. Many studies have shown that archaic vase-painters often represented scenes that are not found in our Iliad and Odyssey but that are nonetheless traditional scenes from heroic tales. [70] I argue that Briseis and Phoinix in the tent of Achilles and the pairing of Achilles and Briseis in as yet unidentified, possibly romantic, scenes are traditional narratives that are not featured in our Iliad, but that found expression in vase-painting and perhaps in other epic poetry that no longer survives. [71]

Archaic vase-painting then can help us appreciate the multiformity of the heroic narratives of the Greek epic tradition, and make it possible for us to reconstruct variant traditions to which the Iliad alludes. It is important, however, to make a distinction between the Iliad—the fixed text as we now know it—and Iliadic or Cyclic traditional narratives. I contend that no study of the relationship between the Homeric epics and vase-paintings can succeed without appreciating [36]this distinction. In our Iliad Agamemnon sends two heralds to take Briseis, but, according to another way of telling the story, Agamemnon comes in person. The archaic artists knew both variants of the tale, and “told the story” both ways, choosing between them like an epic poet in performance.

As I explore the paradigmatic power of the figure of Briseis in the following three chapters, I also necessarily explore the multiformity of the epic tradition as it is evidenced by Briseis’ story. Because of the nature of what survives, we have only a narrow window into the larger tradition from which painters and poets composed their narratives. Reconstruction of the larger tradition can be difficult and often impossible, but, as an examination of the remaining sources will show, the ancient Greek artistic and epic traditions were at one time very fluid. We will see that we cannot think in terms of a single “singer of tales,” but rather singers and tales. The Iliad is one way of telling the tale of Troy, but it is by no means the only way.


[ back ] 1. See Lord 1960, 101.   

[ back ] 2. Cf. Edmunds 1996, 440: “Homer’s epics as wholes can be shown to constitute particular variants of myths. Because of their monumentality and millennial predominance, their versions now seem authoritative, which is the same as saying that they no longer seem to be versions.” Albert Lord preferred the term multiform to variant, and many subsequent scholars have begun to follow his usage. (See Lord 1960, 120, Nagy 1996a, 107 and passim, Dué 2001, and Vidan, forthcoming.) At Lord 1995, 23, the difference is explained this way: “the word multiform is more accurate than ‘variant,’ because it does not give preference or precedence to any one word or set of words to express an idea; instead it acknowledges that the idea may exist in several forms.”   

[ back ] 3. See chapter 3.    

[ back ] 4. For the term compression see again Lord 1960, 25–27, 68–98, 99–123.   

[ back ] 5. For the length of performance see above, p. 4, note 12.   

[ back ] 6. This story pattern is also connected with so-called Ktisis-Sagen (foundation sagas), in which the conqueror falls in love with a local girl. See Nagy 1979, 140-41, elaborating on Schmid 1947.   

[ back ] 7. For the stories of such girls as Pedasa, Peisidike, Briseis/Hippodameia, Diomedeia, etc., see chapter 3.   

[ back ] 8. Iliad 2.688–692, 19.60, 19.295–296. See chapter 3.   

[ back ] 9. Nagy 1990a, 60: “the alêtheia of Greek poetry tends to contrast with the divergence of local poetic versions in the overarching process of achieving a convergent version acceptable to all Hellenes.” On pseudea as variant versions and not necessarily “lies”—that is, deliberate falsehoods—see Carlisle 1999.    

[ back ] 10. These lines come from the fragmentary hymn to Dionysus (Hymn 1 in the Oxford Classical Text [ed. Allen 1912]). Because of its first position in the manuscript M (where a leaf is missing), the hymn is thought to belong to the group of earlier and longer hymns. For discussion of the dating see Allen-Halliday-Sikes 1936, 97 and Càssola 1975, 14–16. See also Janko 1982, 187. For examples of similar distinctions between truth (ἀλήθεια) and lies (ψεύδεα) in archaic Greek poetry, see Nagy 1990a, 62–66 and 1990b, 43–46.   

[ back ] 11. Nagy 1990b, 43.   

[ back ] 12. A well-known example of this way of incorporating variation occurs at Iliad 5.634–647. In this battle exchange Tlepolemos taunts Sarpedon and claims that those who say that he is the son of Zeus are “liars”—pseudomenoi. As Miriam Carlisle has pointed out, in the Iliad Sarpedon is certainly the son of Zeus, but elsewhere there are traces of a competing versions of Sarpedon’s lineage, particularly on his mother’s side. Tlepolemos’ use of pseudomenoi here is a way of referring to competing (and mutually exclusive) traditions, not objectively false tales. See Carlisle 1999, 62–64 as well as Pratt 1993, 29–30 (with note 29).    

[ back ] 13. From the T scholia at Iliad 16.57: τὴν Πήδασον οἱ τῶν Κυπρίων ποιηταί, αὐτὸς δὲ Λυρνησ<σ>όν. See also chapter 3.    

[ back ] 14. Apollodorus, who lists by name the towns that Achilles captured, gives Lyrnessos but does not mention Pedasos (Epitome 3.32–3.33). (The list does, however, mention the taking of Aeneas’ cattle and concludes by referring to “other cities” [καὶ ἄλλας πολλάς].)   

[ back ] 15. Lyrnessos, Pedasos, and Thebe are thought to be located very close to one another near Mt. Ida, not far from the gulf of Adramyttion. In later stages of my argument it will become important that all of these cities are located near the coast opposite Lesbos, historically within the political sphere of Mytiline. Lyrnessos and Thebe in particular are closely related in the ancient sources. Aeschylus’ Phrygians (as cited in the scholia to Euripides’ Andromache) refers to Lyrnessos as the birthplace of Andromache, even though everwhere else in Greek literature she is said to come from Thebe: ἔνιοι δὲ καὶ τὴν Χρύσην καὶ τὴν Λυρνησσὸν ἐν τᾠ τῆς Θήβης πεδίῳ τάσσουσιν, ὡς Αἰσχύλος Λυρνησσίδα προσαγορεύσας τὴν Ἀνδρομάχην ἐν τοῖς Φρυξίν, ἔνθα καὶ ξένως ἱστορεῖ Ἀνδραίμονος αὐτὴν λέγων [fr. 267]: Ανδραίμονος γένεθλον <ὦ> Λυρνησσίου, // ὅθεν περ Ἕκτωρ ἄλοχον ἤγαγεν φίλην. For a complete compendium of all ancient testimonia regarding the location of Lyrnessos, Pedasos, and Thebe, see Stauber 1996, 91–175.   

[ back ] 16. The quarrel between Aeneas and Priam (referred to in Iliad 13.459–461) is a vestige of one of these traditions. See below, p. 38, note 3.   

[ back ] 17. On the multiformity of the performance traditions of the Iliad and Odyssey see Dué 2001a and Nagy 2001. The medieval transmission of the Iliad and Odyssey reflects a text that has become relatively fixed. Nevertheless, in the Classical period, although variability was limited, significant performance variants are attested that are signals of alternative traditions that once flourished. (For example, see my discussion of Aeschines’ quotation of Iliad 23.77–91 at Against Timarchus 149 [Dué 2001a].) The variants attested in the Classical period and beyond, even though in most cases they do not survive in the medieval manuscripts, are important. In at least one version of the Odyssey, to cite just one example, Telemachus goes not to Sparta, but to Crete. (See the scholia at Odyssey 3.313.) In a forthcoming work I discuss the manifold local Cretan epic traditions that are still present in our Iliad and Odyssey. Matters of geography are the most likely to be at variance with each other in competing local epic traditions. Towns that have competed historically for the same territory have corresponding epic traditions that legitimize their claims. (See Aloni 1986, Nagy 1990a, 75, note 114, and Higbie 1997.) In the Panhellenizing process, points of geography become increasingly vague so that local color becomes screened out. Cf., for example, Odyssey 3.295–296: ἔνθα Νότος μέγα κῦμα ποτὶ σκαιὸν ῥίον ὠθεῖ, // ἐς Φαιστόν, μικρὸς δὲ λίθος μέγα κῦμ’ ἀποέργει (“There the South Wind pushes a great wave toward a headland to the West at Phaistos, and a small rock keeps back the big wave”). The scholia point out that Zenodotus knew of a reading Μαλέου δὲ λίθος (“the rock of Malea”) for μικρὸς δὲ λίθος.   

[ back ] 18. On the “Panathenaic bottleneck” see especially Nagy 1999b, 67 and Nagy 1999a. For even earlier formulations of the role of the Panathenaia in shaping the Iliad and Odyssey see Nagy 1990a, 23; 1996b, 43; and 1996a, 77. The term “cystallization,” used in the present discussion and elsewhere in this book, is Nagy’s.   

[ back ] 19. See especially Nagy 1990a, 70-73 and note 99. Cf. Snodgrass 1987, 164: “The legends will have included a substantial body of primarily local traditions, of the kind that often surfaces in later Classical literature, sometimes to the embarrassment of the writers who retell it, because of its predictable inconsistency with the (by then) more widely accepted versions.” Olga Levaniouk (2000) has explored the local features that do remain in our texts of the Odyssey, and shows how they can be reinterpreted and reshaped in a Panhellenic context. On the general avoidance of fantasy and elements of folk tale in the Iliad and Odyssey (in contrast with the Epic Cycle) see Griffin 1977 and Davies 1989, 9–10.   

[ back ] 20. The Iliad and the Odyssey, on the other hand, were never understood to belong to any one city. Many cities laid claim to being the birthplace of “Homer.” See Allen 1924, 11–41. On the local, that is, relatively less Panhellenic nature of the poems of the Cycle see Nagy 1990a, 70-79, as well as Burgess 1996.   

[ back ] 21. On the earliest recoverable scope and content of the poems of the Epic Cycle, see especially Davies 1989, Scaife 1995, and Burgess 1996.    

[ back ] 22. See Griffin 1977 and Davies 1989, 9–10 (who view these elements as signs of inferior poetry), Nagy 1990a, 60-61 and 70-71, Burgess 1996, 79 note 12 and 95.   

[ back ] 23. Burgess 1996. For the view of the Cycle against which Burgess makes his arguments, see, for example, Davies, who has called the Cypria “a hold-all for the complete story of the Trojan War up to the events of the Iliad” (Davies 1989, 4). Davies acknowledges that many of the narratives related in the Cycle were traditional, but argues that these narratives should not be attributed to Cyclic poems that predate the Iliad: “Provided we do not envisage Homer ‘drawing on’ specific texts of the Aethiopis or the Little Iliad (least of all those texts from which our fragments with their post-Homeric linguistic forms derive) all will be well: Homer will have been acquainted with the stories of the deaths of Antilochus and Ajax when he composed the relevant parts of the Iliad” (Davies 1989, 5). Davies, unlike many scholars, is willing to entertain the idea that epic poetry contemporaneous with the Iliad and Odyssey narrated the events later contained in the Cypria and the Aethiopis (see Davies 1989, 5), but nevertheless views the poems of the Epic Cycle as “attempts to fill in the gaps left by Homer’s poems” (Davies 1989, 4). For the opposite view, see Dowden 1996, who argues that when the Iliad refers to Cyclic traditions it is referring to fixed poetic compositions.   

[ back ] 24. Burgess 1996, 90-91.   

[ back ] 25. Burgess 1996, 87.   

[ back ] 26. Many recent interpreters of Homer actually deny that the Iliad alludes to an independent tradition about the raids and prefer to see the cumulative effect of the allusions as the work of a master poet. See discussion above, p. 16.   

[ back ] 27. Burgess 1996, 83.   

[ back ] 28. Kirk 1985, 72. See also Lowenstam 1997 for recent arguments and bibliography.   

[ back ] 29. Teffeteller 1990.   

[ back ] 30. Lowenstam 1997.    

[ back ] 31. These include Louvre G 146 by Makron (ARV ² 2 458.2); London E 69, Brygos Painter (ARV &sup2 ; 2 369.2); London E 76, Briseis Painter (ARV ² 2 406.1); see also ARV ² 2 405.1 and ARV ² 2 588.80. See LIMC s.v. Briseis, and Lowenstam 1997, 39–44. There is also a wall painting from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii. For representations of Briseis in other scenes, see below, pp. 33–35.   

[ back ] 32. Louvre G 146 by Makron (ARV ² 2 458.2; Paralipomena 377; Addenda 119). See also Friis Johansen 1967, 157 and 161. The other vases have no labels, but show a man leading a woman away by the wrist.   

[ back ] 33. London E 76, Briseis Painter (ARV ² 2 406.1; Paralipomena 371, Addenda 114). See also Friis Johansen 1967, 156–57.   

[ back ] 34. See especially Boston 13.186 (ARV &sup2 ; 2 458.1), also by Makron (and signed by him) and Berlin F 2291 (ARV ² 2 459.4, 1654; Paralipomena 377, Addenda 244), attributed to Makron. The leading of Helen back by Menelaus is also depicted this way. See again Boston 13.186 as well as Munich 1392 (ABV 281.16). For the iconography of Helen’s abduction and return see in general Ghali-Kahil 1955.    

[ back ] 35. Boston 13.186 (see references above). On this vase see also Caskey-Beazley 1963, 32–37 and Robinson 1995. The two scenes are also a way of representing the passage of time, as well as the beginning and end of the Helen story.   

[ back ] 36. Lowenstam 1997. See also Lowenstam 1992. My own view is slightly different, for which see further below.    

[ back ] 37. Lowenstam 1997, 26 and 50. He cites Ahlberg-Cornell 1992, 10: “a basic pre-requisite of a discussion of epic/mythic representations in early Greek art—and this [is] true of Greek art as a whole—is that the artists always wished to represent motifs which could be understood by the contemporary spectator.” Cf. Lowenstam 1997, 50: “painters displayed their creativity in how they told their stories, not in recasting mythic narratives into completely new scenes that would not be understood by the viewers.” In this respect Lowenstam’s thinking seems to have changed slightly from his earlier study of vase-painters. Lowenstam’s 1992 article emphasizes the inventiveness of the archaic painters. See 1992, 174: “painters … might produce variations of the myth to present their own conception of the depicted story; 1992, 189: “Kleitias … filled in the details as he imagined them; 1992, 190: “as Malcolm Willcock says, ‘We must credit [Homer] with a pervasive technique of instant invention’ (= Willcock 1977, 53).” (Emphases are mine.) Lowenstam’s 1997 article by contrast emphasizes the poets’ creativity in selecting between competing but nevertheless traditional variants.   

[ back ] 38. Lowenstam 1997, 66.   

[ back ] 39. Cf. the phrase of Lowenstam 1992, 189: “traditional stories shared by both poets and painters” and Lowenstam 1997, 27: “the mythic tradition was the common inheritance of poets and painters.”    

[ back ] 40. For more on this point, see the conclusion.   

[ back ] 41. See especially Nagy 1992 and 1996b, 113–46. For a person on the inside of a traditional society myth is truth. Someone looking in on that society from the outside, however, can see that there are many different versions of the same myth which are mutually inconsistent. Greeks became aware through contacts between different communities that their various local versions of myths were mutually contradictory. An Athenian version might be very different from a Lesbian version that might in turn be very different from a Spartan version. (Consider the celebrated statement of Hecataeus (FGrHist 1 F 1): “the tales (logoi) of the Greeks are many [i.e., contradictory] and absurd.”) Awareness of variant traditionsand selection between themis not the same thing as invention. [On the statement of Hecataeus see Fornara 1983, 5 and note 10.]   

[ back ] 42. At 1997, 43, for example, Lowenstam speaks of Makron’s dependence on Aeschylus’ Myrmidons. See also 1997, 24 and 28, as well as 57 (“The conclusion that lost epic, and probably lyric poetry, influenced vase-painters in the Archaic period”) and 58 (“the hypothesis that painters were influenced by poems that no longer exist”).   

[ back ] 43. Burkert 1987, 46.   

[ back ] 44. Cf. Lowenstam 1997, 21: “The essential question in investigating the relationship between the Homeric poems and the epic stories painted on Archaic Greek vases is whether the painters were depicting, with characteristic artistic license, the Iliad and Odyssey in the form in which we have inherited them.” See also Ahlberg-Cornell 1992. For earlier studies of the relationship see Friis Johansen 1967 and Fittschen 1969. On the relationship between epic and artistic narratives in general see also Snodgrass 1979, 1980, 1982, 1987, 132–69, and 1998, Stewart 1987, and Stansbury-O’Donnell 1999.   

[ back ] 45. Morris 1999.   

[ back ] 46. Lowenstam 1992, 171.   

[ back ] 47. Lord 1960, 94–97.   

[ back ] 48. See Lowenstam 1992, 181 for Luckenbach’s formulation that Homer and tragedy are the only “literary” sources for archaic vase-painters.   

[ back ] 49. I do not mean to deny that Hesiodic and lyric poetry ever influenced archaic vase-painters, nor do I claim that vase-painters never had poetry in mind when they painted. Poetry is sometimes painted or inscribed on vases. See Ferrari 1987 and 1994–1995 for examples and bibliography. It is interesting to note that the examples cited involve a performance of some kind or words written in scrolls. In other words, the poetry does not label the scene but is part of the scene. Ferrari 1994–1995 discusses a possible exception to this formulation. For a survey of vase-paintings on which lyric poetry is inscribed see Lissarrague 1990, 123–39.   

[ back ] 50. Kossatz-Deissmann 1986.   

[ back ] 51. Friis Johansen 1967, 153.   

[ back ] 52. London E 258, from Vulci (ARV ² 2 54.4; Addenda 79).   

[ back ] 53. In Basel, Antikenmuseum, Kä 424 (ARV ² 2 183.8).   

[ back ] 54. See chapter 3.    

[ back ] 55. Gloria Ferrari suggests to me that the flower in such scenes is a symbol of loveliness and erotic attraction. (See also Irwin 1994.) On the iconography of courtship scenes, see Dover 1989, 91–100 (and particularly 92–93 for girls holding flowers). On flowers as a love gift see Koch-Harnack 1989.   

[ back ] 56. London E 41 (ARV ² 2 58.51, 1622; Addenda 80). See Neils 1981.   

[ back ] 57. See Neils 1981, 178.    

[ back ] 58. Cf. the tales of Peisidike and Pedasa (discussed in chapter 3) as well as such well-known figures as Medea.   

[ back ] 59. Neils 1981, 179.   

[ back ] 60. For Achilles and Polyxena in archaic vase-painting and in the Cypria see Scaife 1995, 189–90.    

[ back ] 61. For the unidentifiable scenes see Kossatz-Deissmann 1986, 165.   

[ back ] 62. Louvre G 152 (ARV ² 2 369.1; Paralipomena 365; Addenda 111).   

[ back ] 63. See Friis Johansen 1967, 154.   

[ back ] 64. Tarquinia RC 6846 (ARV ² 2 369.4; Addenda 111). See also Friis Johansen 1967, 154.   

[ back ] 65. The scene is no doubt to some degree sympotic. The shape of the vase (a drinking cup) is similar to the one that Phoinix holds, into which Briseis pours wine. But I do not think we should exclude the possibility that a traditional scene from a no longer surviving narrative is depicted here, and of course sympotic singing does not exclude narrative.   

[ back ] 66. There are six black-figure, and three red-figure vases. See Kossatz-Deissmann 1986 (LIMC nos. 24–29).   

[ back ] 67. See, e.g., Macleod 1982, ad 24.673–676 and Edwards 1987, 58.

[ back ] 68. Lowenstam 1997 is a notable exception, although he discusses only the scenes depicting the taking of Briseis.

[ back ] 69. On Briseis as an invented character see the conclusion.

[ back ] 70. Many of these scenes are thought to have been narrated in the Cyclic epics, which may or may not have reached their final form prior to the archaic representations on vases. See Snodgrass 1998, 140-42 (with his review of earlier studies).

[ back ] 71. Cf. Lowenstam 1992, 165: “Archaic paintings … can even preserve some very early epic scenes that have not survived in written versions.”