Homeric Variations on a Lament by Briseis

Chapter 3. Girl

[49] In the account of the Trojan War by Dictys of Crete, Briseis 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. [1] In this chapter I explore to what extent, if at all, the Iliad conceives of Briseis’ girlhood. Briseis is referred to as simply kourê (girl) in at least eleven places in the Iliad. Yet we know from Briseis’ lament in Iliad 19 that she was married. Might there be in the appellation kourê a reflection of an alternative tradition in which Briseis is an unmarried girl? If so, what would such a story be like? I believe there are passages in the Iliad that reflect to some extent such an alternative tradition. It is my aim in this chapter to try to reconstruct some possible variations on the Briseis story. I pay close attention to traditional, formulaic phrases in order to uncover a history behind Briseis’ brief appearances in the Iliad. I also explore the story patterns preserved in other, primarily later, sources as I attempt to reconstruct Briseis’ role as a “girl” in an Aeolic epic tradition.

In the previous chapter I explored the way that Briseis and Chryseis function as prizes in Iliad 1. For Agamemnon at least the two prizes are interchangeable. This interchangeability has an interesting corollary in the formulas associated with their metrically equivalent names. Both are patronymic in form and seem to be derived from their (presumed) towns of origin, Brisa (Brêsa) and Chryse. [2] If this derivation is correct, it could mean one of two things. Either the father of each woman is traditionally associated with a particular town, and that the name of each daughter has been formed as a patronymic, [3] or (at least in the case of Chryseis) the woman herself is associated with a particular town, and the name of the father has been formed based directly or indirectly on the daughter’s[50]. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the names Chryseis and Briseis seem to have added significance. Chryseis seems to be related to the word for gold (χρυσός), Briseis to words for martial strength. [4] These two concepts define the men to whom they are attached. Throughout the history of the poem the names were no doubt interpreted in different ways. I would argue that the multiple meanings were appreciated to some degree simultaneously at various stages of the evolution of the poem. The complication is actually an aspect of the sophistication of this tradition.

It is a mistake, I think, to discount the importance of the father of each woman (as some scholars have done) by assuming that they are invented characters whose names derive from their (likewise invented) daughters. [5] I argue this because formulaically Briseis and Chryseis are more often than not defined by their girlhood, and they are consistently referred to as the daughters of their fathers. Briseis is defined patronymically or in relation to her father in the following ways:

‘Βρισηΐς’ (19.282), ‘Βρισηΐδα’ (1.184, 323, 346)

‘κούρης’‘ … ’‘Βρισηΐδος’ (2.689), ‘Βρισηΐδος’ … ‘κούρης’ (1.336), ‘κούρῃ’ ‘Βρισηΐδι’ (19.261)

‘κούρη’‘ ’‘Βρισῆος’ (9.132), ‘κούρην’‘ ’‘Βρισῆος’ (1.392)

And as I mentioned above Briseis is simply kourê in at least eleven places in the Iliad. [
6] Likewise Chryseis is kourê at 1.98 and 1.111.

Carolyn Higbie has shown that the naming of Briseis and Chryseis conforms to the way that other women in the Iliad are named, although it is unclear to what extent the patronymic has replaced an actual name. [7] Women in the Iliad can be named by means of several combinations, including their own personal name, patronymic (with or without their personal name), husband’s name, and homeland. [8] Even married women are often referred to by patronymic (with or without their husband’s name). The prize of Nestor, Hekamede, is identified by personal name, her father’s name, and land: [9]

τοῖσι δὲ τεῦχε κυκειῶ ἐϋπλόκαμος Ἑκαμήδη,
τὴν ἄρετ’ ἐκ Τενέδοιο γέρων, ὅτε πέρσεν Ἀχιλλεύς,
θυγατέρ’ Ἀρσινόου μεγαλήτορος, ἥν οἱ Ἀχαιοὶ
ἔξελον οὕνεκα βουλῇ ἀριστεύεσκεν ἁπάντων.

[51]And Hekamede with beautiful tresses made for them an elixir,
she whom the old man took from Tenedos, when Achilles sacked it,
the daughter of great-hearted Arsinoos, whom the Achaeans
chose for Nestor since he excelled all in counsel.

(Iliad 11.624–627)

We are not told whether or not Hekamede was married, or whether or not Achilles killed her husband, in the pattern of Briseis and later Andromache. Scholars generally assume that Chryseis too, like Briseis and Andromache, was married and in her husband’s city when she was captured. [
10] The stories of these four captive women—Hekamede, Chryseis, Briseis, and Andromache—would then be nearly identical.

According to most interpretations of the relevant passages, Briseis and Chryseis were born in Brisa and Chryse, but then moved to Lyrnessos and Thebe when they married. [11] Achilles captured them when he sacked these towns in a series of raids that took place just before our Iliad begins. We may compare the following passages:

ῷχόμεθ’ ἐς Θήβην ἱερὴν πόλιν Ἠετίωνος,
τὴν δὲ διεπράθομέν τε καὶ ἤγομεν ἐνθάδε πάντα·
καὶ τὰ μὲν εὖ δάσσαντο μετὰ σφίσιν υἷες Ἀχαιῶν,
ἐκ δ’ ἕλον Ἀτρεΐδῃ Χρυσηΐδα καλλιπάρῃον.

We went to Thebe the holy city of Eëtion,
and we sacked it and brought everything here.
And the sons of the Achaeans divided up everything well among themselves,
and they chose beautiful-cheeked Chryseis for the son of Atreus.

(Iliad 1.366–369)

κεῖτο γὰρ ἐν νήεσσι ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεὺς
κούρης χωόμενος Βρισηΐδος ἠϋκόμοιο,
τὴν ἐκ Λυρνησσοῦ ἐξείλετο πολλὰ μογήσας
Λυρνησσὸν διαπορθήσας καὶ τείχεα Θήβης,
κὰδ δὲ Μύνητ’ ἔβαλεν καὶ Ἐπίστροφον ἐγχεσιμώρους

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 spearfighters Mynes and Epistrophus.

(Iliad 2.688–693)

[52]In the first passage Achilles narrates his own deeds (and those of his comrades) in the sack of Thebe. The Achaeans chose Chryseis out of the spoils of the town as a prize for Agamemnon. In the second passage, the master narrator recounts Achilles’ sack of Lyrnessos, after which he chose Briseis as his prize. The close relationship between the sacks of the two cities is reflected above all in line 2.692, in which the narrator includes both towns as part of a single expedition, even though the subject of this particular micronarrative is Lyrnessos.

If Chryseis was married, as with Hekamede we never learn the name of her husband. Instead Chryseis and Hekamede (and likewise Briseis) are associated with their fathers and referred to as kourê or alternatively as thugatêr (daughter; 11.626). War prizes, in fact, seem to be eternal kourai, whether married or not. In the Iliad and Odyssey, women whose husbands have been killed revert to their father’s household: once widowed, they become girls again.

This sequence of events in a woman’s life can be illustrated quite clearly in the case of Penelope in the Odyssey. As Higbie points out, the suitors never refer to her except as “the kourê of Icarius, wise Penelope” (Odyssey 16.435; 18.245, 285; 21.321):

Higbie cautions against taking this argument too far, since elsewhere married women are identified by their father’s name. But the parallels in the Iliad support Higbie’s thesis. If Odysseus is in fact dead—and the suitors assume this to be the case—Penelope is a war widow, and thus reverts to “girlhood” under her father’s control.

It is helpful here to examine more closely the force of the word kourê as it is used in the Iliad. In addition to applications of the word to Chryseis and Briseis, there are three major categories into which the uses fall. The first category includes the divine daughters of Zeus. These are Athena (5.733, 875; 6.305, 312; 8.384; 10.296; 24.26), Artemis (21.505), and Aphrodite (20.105), as well as the Muses (2.598), the Nymphs (6.420), and the Prayers, or Λιταί (9.502, 9.513). Helen is also kourê of aegis-bearing Zeus (κούρη Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο 3.426), and elsewhere she is thugatêr of Zeus (Διὸς θυγάτηρ Odyssey 4.227) and the one born from Zeus (Διὸς ἐκγεγαυῖα Iliad 3.199; Odyssey 4.184 and 23.218). The second category, perhaps not to be distinguished from the first, is comprised of the daughters of mortal men. Cleopatra, the wife of Meleager and daughter of Marpessa and Idas (9.557), and the daughters of Priam (6.247, 13.173), of Phoinix (14.321), of Agamemnon (9.388), and of the rest of the Achaeans (9.396) are all kourai.

[53]The third category of uses of kourê involves comparisons of warriors to girls. The first occurs at Iliad 2.870-875, in the catalog of Trojan allies:

τῶν μὲν ἄρ’ Ἀμφίμαχος καὶ Νάστης ἡγησάσθην,
Νάστης Ἀμφίμαχός τε Νομίονος ἀγλαὰ τέκνα,
ὃς καὶ χρυσὸν ἔχων πόλεμον δ’ ἴεν ἠΰτε κούρη
νήπιος, οὐδέ τί οἱ τό γ’ ἐπήρκεσε λυγρὸν ὄλεθρον,
ἀλλ’ ἐδάμη ὑπὸ χερσὶ ποδώκεος Αἰακίδαο
ἐν ποταμᾠ, χρυσὸν δ’ Ἀχιλεὺς ἐκόμισσε δαΐφρων.

(Iliad 2.870-875)

In this passage a Trojan warrior is compared to a girl on the basis of the gold that he wears, possibly in his hair like Euphorbus at 17.51–52. [
14] The adjective nêpios (which I have translated as “the unwitting one”) at first glance may not be connected with what precedes (the wearing of gold in one’s hair). We may compare a similar construction at 20.296: νήπιος, οὐδέ τί οἱ χραισμήσει λυγρὸν ὄλεθρον “nêpios, nor will Apollo ward off mournful death for him.”

Susan Edmunds has shown, however, that nêpios is used of adults who because of “mental disconnection” put their trust in the wrong things, and hence lack awareness of their impending death. [15] Edmunds in an exhaustive study of the word defines nêpios as the state of being mentally and socially disconnected in a way that is characteristic of children. Nêpios is in fact a negative expression of a root of which êpios is a positive. [16] Épios is to be “like a father” while nêpios is to be “like a child.” [17] Nêpios in this passage therefore applies both to what precedes (the state of being a kourê) and to what follows (Amphimachus’ trust in his gold). The implication is that to be a kourê in this passage is to be a child and a daughter—that is, a young girl who still lives in her father’s house.

In the second of the two passages in the Iliad in which warriors are compared to girls, a similar collocation is made. Achilles describes Patroklos, who laments the deaths of the Greeks:

Τίπτε δεδάκρυσαι Πατρόκλεες, ἠΰτε κούρη
νηπίη, ἥ θ’ ἅμα μητρὶ θέουσ’ ἀνελέσθαι ἀνώγει
[54]εἱανοῦ ἁπτομένη, καὶ τ’ ἐσσυμένην κατερύκει,
δακρυόεσσα δέ μιν ποτιδέρκεται, ὄφρ’ ἀνέληται

Why ever do you cry, Patroklos? (You are) like a
‘νήπιος’ girl, who running along with her mother begs to be picked up,
grabbing onto her robe, and she hinders her as she is trying to go,
and tearfully she looks at her, in order that she be picked up.

(Iliad 16.7–10)

Here, as in the preceding passage, a form of nêpios is coupled with kourê in order to convey a mental state that is characteristic of children (and not fathers). The application of kourê nêpiê to a child running after her mother brings out even further the association with daughters that is conveyed by both words.

When we now consider the application of the term kourê to prize women like Chryseis and Briseis, it seems clear that in the Iliad kourê refers above all to the state of being a daughter, particularly a daughter who is under the control of her father. Only twice in the Iliad are married women who are not widows called kourai of their fathers. As my last two examples show, the term kourê contains connotations of gender and age class but is very much connected with the father/child relationship. The basic meaning of the word as we understand it outside of the Iliad is “maiden”—that is, a young female who has not yet been married but is eligible to become married or on the verge of marriage. [18] Gloria Ferrari has recently shown that the state of being a numphê is one that a woman can experience multiple times. [19] Similarly Giulia Sissa has argued that Greek virginity (partheneia), once given up, is not forever lost but is actually recoverable. [20] If a woman is returned to her father’s house, she becomes a “maiden” again, and eligible for marriage.

This is precisely what would have happened to Penelope, had she ever accepted the common belief in Odysseus’ death, and what does happen to her on the level of Homeric diction. Likewise Briseis and Chryseis become “girls” after the deaths of their husbands. It is Chryseis’ father who comes to ransom her; she has no other male protector who can do so. After her ransom she is returned not to Thebe but to her father’s household in Chryse. We may compare the fate of Andromache’s mother, who was, like Chryseis, a married woman living in Thebe, married to King Eëtion: [21]

μητέρα δ’, ἣ βασίλευεν ὑπὸ Πλάκῳ ὑληέσσῃ,
τὴν ἐπεὶ ἂρ δεῦρ’ ἤγαγ’ ἅμ’ ἄλλοισι κτεάτεσσιν,
ἂψ ὅ γε τὴν ἀπέλυσε λαβὼν ἀπερείσι’ ἄποινα,
[55]πατρὸς δ’ ἐν μεγάροισι βάλ’ Ἄρτεμις ἰοχέαιρα.

And my mother, who was queen under wooded Plakos,
her he led here together with the rest of the possessions,
but he released her after taking countless ransom,
and Artemis who showers down arrows slew her in the halls of her father.

(Iliad 6.425–428)

Like Penelope, Andromache’s mother is a woman who has been married and has grown children, and yet returns to her father’s household once widowed.

The state of being a kourê implies marriageability. Girls are kourai insofar as they have a male—usually their father—who can give them in marriage. The designation of Chryseis and Briseis as kourai may help to explain the use of the phrase kouridiê alokhos in connection with the two women. Agamemnon prefers Chryseis to his own kouridiê alokhos; Briseis says that Patroklos had promised to make her Achilles’ kouridiê alokhos. Earlier commentators have been troubled by the application of the phrase to Briseis not only because of her concubine status but because she was married before. But Briseis and Chryseis, who are repeatedly referred to as the kourai of their fathers, are on the level of Homeric diction explicitly marriageable.

The purpose of this examination of the term kourê has been to determine to what extent Chryseis and Briseis are the quintessential girls and daughters of the Iliad. The Iliad after all begins with a man coming to ransom his daughter. As I noted above, the ransoming of a daughter is a theme that functions on the levels of the macronarrative (Chryses and Chryseis) and a micronarrative (Achilles and Andromache’s mother) in the Iliad. Emmet Robbins has argued that the two stories should be read together and serve an important purpose in characterizing the behavior of Agamemnon (and later Achilles). [22] Agamemnon’s harsh treatment of Chryses and initial refusal to give up Chryseis contrasts with Achilles’ more reasonable (and respectful) treatment of Andromache’s mother and grandfather. The ransom of Hektor by Achilles in Iliad 24 then takes on even further significance in light of these two contrasting treatments.

The father-daughter relationships set up by the word kourê are therefore very important for our understanding of two crucial and framing episodes of the Iliad, namely the ransoming of Chryseis and the ransoming of Hektor’s body. But to what extent may we view Chryseis and Briseis in that other aspect of kourê—that is, as girls? As we have seen, the word kourê, though it refers to an age class, may be applied even to middle-aged women. Thus the term “girl,” which is the title of this chapter, may be an inappropriate one, even when kourê is used of Chryseis and Briseis without further specification.

In Dictys of Crete, however, Briseis does seem to be a young girl under the protection of her father. In Dictys she lives and is captured in Pedasos, not [56]Lyrnessos, and she’s young enough that the Achaeans give Achilles both Briseis–who is named Hippodameia in the Dictys narrative—and a girl named Diomedeia [23] as prizes, because the Achaeans thought that it would be cruel to separate girls of their age:

ipse etiam Achilles praeter Brisi filiam Hippodamiam Diomedeam sibi retinuit, quod eiusdem aetatis atque alimonii non sine magno dolore divelli poterant et ob id iam antea genibus Achillis obvolutae, ne separarentur, magnis precibus oraverant. (2.19)

Achilles himself in addition to Hippodameia the daughter of Brises kept Diomedeia for himself, because they [= Hippodameia and Diomedeia] could not be separated without much grief since they were of the same age and rank, and because of this they had already before beseeched Achilles having fallen at his knees that they not be separated.

The version reflected in the Dictys narrative suggests to me the possibility at least that Briseis is a young (unmarried) girl in some traditions.

In such a tradition Briseis’ father might play a role, perhaps as king of the city of Brisa (or Pedasos as here) and as the father of Briseis’ brothers whom Achilles kills (Iliad 19.293–294). The sack of Pedasos is narrated in Dictys of Crete as follows:

Ceterum Achilles haud contentus eorum, quae gesserat, Cilicas adgreditur, ibique Lyrnesum paucis diebus pugnando cepit. interfecto deinde Eetione, qui his locis imperitabat, magnis opibus naves replet, ducens Astynomen, Chrysi filiam, quae eo tempore regi denupta erat. propere inde Pedasum expugnare occepit, Lelegum urbem, sed eorum rex Brises ubi animadvertit in obsidendo saevire nostros, ratus nulla vi prohiberi hostes aut suos satis defendi posse, desperatione effugi salutisque attentis ceteris adversum hostes domum regressus laqueo interiit. neque multo post capta civitas atque interfecti multi mortales et abducta filia regis Hippodamia. (2.17)

But Achilles, not at all content with what he had done, attacked the Cilicians, and there took Lyrnessos by assault within a few days. Then after Eëtion, who ruled over this area, had been killed, he filled his ships with great wealth, taking Astynome, the daughter of Chryses, who at that time was married to the king. From there he began in haste to besiege Pedasos, the city of the Leleges, but when Brises their king understood that we were relentless in our siege, thinking that the enemy could be warded off or his family sufficiently defended by no amount of force, in despair of flight and safety and with the rest of the people focused against the enemy returned home and hanged himself. Not much later the city was captured and many people were killed and the daughter of the king, Hippodameia, was abducted.

[57]I note the variations from the Iliadic references to Briseis as follows: Here she is the daughter of Brises, but she has a personal name Hippodameia, which is nowhere to be found in the Iliad. She is not married, but lives in Pedasos and is the daughter of the king. It is possible that the narrative of Dictys of Crete incorporates into this retelling of the Trojan War a variant tradition in which Briseis is an unmarried princess. If this narrative is in fact stems from an epic tradition or a fuller treatment elsewhere, it would seem that in such a treatment the king Brises played a very important role involving the defense of his family, his failure, and then his suicide.

If we were to postulate that in a tradition not featured in our Iliad Briseis plays an important role as the daughter of a local king, just as Chryseis figures prominently in Iliad 1 as the daughter of the priest Chryses, we would have to rely on a construct that is mostly conjectural, due to the nature of our sources about Briseis and archaic epic traditions outside of the Iliad and Odyssey. Nevertheless, these sources present us with at least three possible local connections for Briseis, each associated with very old traditions. It is my contention that these different locales also have different story patterns associated with Briseis.

In several places in the Iliad we learn that Briseis was taken from Lyrnessos (2.690, 19.59–60). But in the Cypria, as we are told by the scholia to the Iliad, Briseis comes not from Lyrnessos, but from Pedasos. [24] One scholion also notes that “other [58]ancient [poets]” (ἄλλοι ἀρχαῖοι) name Briseis Hippodameia:

It is likely that the poet forms the names [of Briseis and Chryseis] patronymically. For as other ancient [poets] relate, Chryseis was called Astynome, and Briseis was called Hippodameia.

Note that here Chryseis is named Astynome, as in Dictys. [
26] The term arkhaioi in the scholia refers to Homer and earlier poets in contrast with more recent poets (hoi neôteroi), who include Hesiod, the archaic poets, the tragedians, and Alexandrian poets like Callimachus. [27] In these two significant respects Dictys of Crete is in agreement with very old traditions that differ from the Iliad. The association of Briseis with Pedasos and the name Hippodameia should perhaps indicate that the narrative of Dictys derives at least in part from the “other ancient [poets]” cited by the scholia, and that in some archaic traditions Briseis in fact was captured in Pedasos. [28]

In the Iliad there are suggestions that Briseis has still a third possible origin. In Iliad 9 and 19 Briseis is associated with seven other women who have been taken from Lesbos and are particularly famed for their beauty and handiwork: [29]

δώσω δ’ ἑπτὰ γυναῖκας ἀμύμονα ἔργα ἰδυίας
Λεσβίδας, ἃς ὅτε Λέσβον ἐϋκτιμένην ἕλεν αὐτὸς
ἐξελόμην, αἳ κάλλει ἐνίκων φῦλα γυναικῶν.
τὰς μέν οἱ δώσω, μετὰ δ’ ἔσσεται ἣν τότ’ ἀπηύρων
κούρη Βρισῆος

I will give him seven women of Lesbos, skilled in faultless handiwork,
whom I myself chose when he sacked well-fortified Lesbos,
who surpass the tribes of women in beauty.
I will give him these, and with them the one whom I took away,
the daughter of Brises.

(Iliad 9.128–132)

The passage from Iliad 9 does not specify whether Briseis is meant to be included in the group of seven women from Lesbos. In the following passage from Iliad 19, she is clearly an addition to the group of seven:

ἐκ δ’ ἄγον αἶψα γυναῖκας ἀμύμονα ἔργα ἰδυίας
ἕπτ’, ἀτὰρ ὀγδοάτην Βρισηΐδα καλλιπάρῃον.

[59]They led out quickly the seven women skilled in faultless handicrafts
and eighth was the beautiful-cheeked Briseis.

(Iliad 19.245–246)

This formulation does not exclude the possibility that Briseis is here imagined to be a captive from Lesbos as well.

At the end of Book 9, moreover, Achilles goes to sleep with Diomedeia, the daughter of King Phorbas of Lesbos, who substitutes for the absent Briseis, [30] and with whom Briseis is paired in Dictys of Crete. [31] The substitution gives further support to Briseis’ connection with Lesbos, although the Iliad as we have it does not make explicit what that connection is. As I noted above, it has been thought that Briseis should be connected with the town of Brisa (or Brêsa) on Lesbos. A town of Chryse has also been located on the island of Lesbos. [32]

A Lesbian origin for Briseis accords well with linguistic analysis of Homeric diction that shows that the Iliad passed through an Aeolic phase of transmission before reaching its final Ionian phase in which we now have it. [33] This Aeolic phase has been further identified as specifically connected with Lesbos. [34] The linguistic evidence has led several scholars to postulate a flourishing tradition of Lesbian epic poetry, to which Sappho 44, The Wedding of Hektor and Andromache, may be related. Gregory Nagy has demonstrated the way that the final lines, Πάον’ ὀνκαλέοντες ἐκάβολον εὐλύραν // ὔμνην δ’ Ἔκτορα κἈνδρομάχαν θεοεικέλο[ις (“Calling upon Paon the far-darter with the beautiful lyre, to sing of Hektor and Andromache the godlike”), interact with Iliadic epic traditions about Apollo, Hektor, and Achilles. [35] In this poem, moreover, Priam’s name is given as Πέραμος (44.16). August Fick, followed by Martin West, has pointed out that this Aeolic form, like Πέρραμος at Alcaeus 42.2, shows that the Aeolians had an independent tradition about Priam and the Trojans. [36]

Richard Janko and Antonio Aloni have each discussed the historical circumstances that underlie competing Aeolic and Ionic epic traditions in the [60]Troad. [37] Whereas Janko has discussed generally the Aeolic dialectical layer and the geographic implications, Aloni takes a more historicist approach in his analysis of conflicts between Mytilene, the preeminent city of Lesbos, and Athens in the era of the Peisistratids. [38] Aloni argues that the political conflicts between the Mytilenaeans and the Athenians had their counterparts in competing epic traditions involving Athenian and Mytilenaean activities in the Troad.

I propose to build on the work of these scholars by placing Briseis within an Aeolic epic tradition. Her patronymic name is in fact characteristic of the Aeolic dialect. [39] What would an Aeolic epic narrative about Briseis and Achilles be like? As I noted above, the three different localities associated with Briseis—Lyrnessos, Pedasos, and Lesbos—are each connected with details that suggest different stories. In the Lyrnessos pattern, Briseis is married and Achilles kills her husband, who is the king of the city. This is the pattern most represented in the Iliad. [40] Chryseis, Andromache, and perhaps Hekamede are part of such a pattern.

In a Lesbian tradition, Briseis might be associated with an epic tale about Achilles’ sack of the island and the “beauty queens” that he captures from each of the towns of Lesbos, as I will now go on to explore. [41] The A scholia at Iliad 9.129 note in reference to the seven women of Lesbos famed for their beauty that there was a beauty contest held in the precinct of Hera on Lesbos called the kallisteia (παρὰ Λεσβίοις ἀγὼν ἄγεται κάλλους γυναικῶν ἐν τᾠ τῆς Ἥρας τεμένει λεγόμενος καλλιστεῖα). [42] Agamemnon, moreover, refers to Achilles’ capture of the island of Lesbos and the seven beautiful Lesbian women [61]when he offers them as compensation. [43] Achilles might also be interpreted as referring to this conquest when he boasts of the twenty-three cities that he has captured by land and sea:

δώδεκα δὴ σὺν νηυσὶ πόλεις ἀλάπαξ’ ἀνθρώπων,
πεζὸς δ’ ἕνδεκά φημι κατὰ Τροίην ἐρίβωλον·

I sacked twelve cities of men with my ships,
and on land I claim that I sacked eleven below fertile Troy.

(Iliad 19.328–329)

Could beautiful-cheeked Briseis be one of those beauty queens in a Lesbian epic tradition? The Iliad may evoke such a tradition, imbedded as it is in both the traditional order of the catalog of Agamemnon’s gifts (“and eighth was the beautiful-cheeked Briseis”), and the verse that describes them as conquering the tribes of women with their beauty. [

In the Pedasos pattern, as we find it represented in Dictys of Crete, Briseis is the unmarried daughter of the king of a city. Achilles kills the king—perhaps in order to carry off his daughter. Because we have only a free Latin translation of an original Greek Dictys, it is impossible to know exactly how the capture of Briseis/Hippodameia was represented in the earlier Greek text. Such a story pattern, however, would have a very old epic parallel in the now lost Capture of Oichalia attributed to the Samian epic poet Kreophylos. [45]

A slightly different pattern emerges from an account of the siege of Pedasos related in the scholia. [46] Walter Leaf suggests that this story might go back to an epic tradition about the raids around Troy, which he terms “The Great Foray.” Leaf summarizes the account as follows:

Faint not, Achilles, till thou take the town:
Water has failed them, and they thirst to death.

Leaf reconstructs this “Tale of the Great Foray” from references in the Iliad to a series of attacks on towns in the area of the Troad. These towns include not only Lyrnessos, Pedasos, and Thebe, but also Skyros, Tenedos, and others. Leaf believed that these raids were narrated in a famous epic poem that was an important predecessor of the Iliad:

Leaf, who was a part of the so-called “analyst” school of Homeric scholarship, is very text-centered in his theory of a famous epic poem. Nevertheless, if we substitute the phrase “well-known epic tradition” for “famous epic poem,” Leaf’s analysis is very similar to my own interpretation.

The tradition of the raids does not come down to us in a single fixed poem. This tradition, like that of the Iliad, was a fluid one, and our reconstruction of it must take into account a number of variations on the tale. One variation is that of the Cypria, which survives for us primarily in summary form. We know that the Cypria narrated the sacks of Lyrnessos and Pedasos, and perhaps much more. [50] Other variations are indicated in the Iliad itself. References to the raids form a relatively unified narrative that Leaf is able to reconstruct in striking detail. [51] The Iliad and the Cypria do not agree in every respect, however. An [63]important detail concerns Briseis directly. As I have already mentioned, the scholiast at 16.57 notes that in the Cypria Briseis was taken from Pedasos, not Lyrnessos. The Iliad and the Cypria as we know them today are each variant manifestations of a tradition of the raids. As Jonathan Burgess has pointed out, the two treatments of the raids are similar in many ways, but they are nevertheless independent retellings of the same traditional material. [52]

The capture of Lyrnessos, Pedasos, the cities of Lesbos and the others in and around the Troad is part of an epic tradition that is distinctly Aeolic. [53] As Rhys Carpenter and subsequently Nagy, Janko, and Aloni have argued, the pre-history of the Iliad, as it is narrated in the Iliad itself, takes place in Aeolic areas. [54] Achilles’ associations with Lesbos in the Iliad connect him directly with Aeolic traditions, as his Thessalian birthplace of Phthia would suggest. [55] Another such connection is attested in an account of Achilles’ sack of Methymna by Parthenius. [56] This story is similar to the Hesiodic account of the siege of Pedasos discussed above. Parthenius cites twenty-one lines from a poem on the founding of Lesbos that has been attributed by modern scholars to Apollonius of Rhodes, in which an unmarried girl named Peisidike falls in love [64]with Achilles after seeing him from the walls. [57] With the hope of a wedding to Achilles back in Phthia she unlocks the gates of the town, admits the Achaean army, and sees her parents killed:

δέκτο μὲν αὐτίκα λαὸν Ἀχαιϊκὸν ἔνδοθι πάτρης
παρθενικὴ κληῖδας ὑποχλίσσασα πυλάων·
ἔτλη δ’ οἷσιν ἰδέσθαι ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖσι τοκῆας
χαλκᾠ ἐληλαμένους καὶ δούλια δεσμὰ γυναικῶν
ἑλκομένων ἐπὶ νῆας, ὑποσχεσίῃς Ἀχιλῆος,
ὄφρα νυὸς γλαυκῆς Θέτιδος πέλοι, ὄφρα οἱ εἶεν
πενθεροὶ Αἰακίδαι, Φθίῃ δ’ ἔνι δώματα ναίοι
ἀνδρὸς ἀριστῆος πινυτὴ δάμαρ·

Straightaway the maiden received the Achaean army within her country
and unlocked the gates,
and she dared with her eyes to look upon her parents being torn
by bronze and the enslaving bonds of women
being dragged to the ships, in order that (at the promise of Achilles)
she be the daughter-in-law of gray Thetis, in order that she have
Aeacid marriage connections, and live in a house in Phthia
as the understanding wife of the best man.

(Parthenius 21)

This kind of story, of which at least two local versions are attested, may be a traditional pattern associated with Achilles’ raids against Aeolic towns. No narrative survives about a capture of the town of Brisa on Lesbos. The story of Pedasa related by the scholia nevertheless makes it tempting to imagine that Briseis’ name is a variant related to such a pattern.

If there were indeed local Aeolic traditions in which Achilles has a love interest who helps him storm Pedasos and/or Methymna (and possibly other towns as well), I suggest that the Iliad associates Briseis with them on some level. Archaic vase-paintings depict Briseis and Achilles together in a way that suggests a romantic encounter in which Briseis falls in love with and aids Achilles in the pattern of Ariadne and Theseus or Medea and Jason. [58] The Iliad would be likely to screen out such an erotic narrative, [59] but I argue that it does not do so entirely. In Iliad 1 Briseis leaves “unwillingly” (ἀέκουσα 1.348), [60] and in Iliad 9 Achilles proclaims that he loves her as a man loves his wife, even though he won her in war (ἐκ θυμοῦ φίλεον δουρικτητήν περ ἐοῦσαν 9.343). In Briseis’ lament for Patroklos in Iliad 19 we learn of her hope, like that of Peisidike, to become Achilles’ kouridiê alokhos in Phthia.

[65]To conclude I return to the title of this chapter. In two of the possible narratives that I have reconstructed, Briseis would still be a girl living in her father’s house when her city is sacked. It is worth considering, therefore, that there is more to the ever-present appellation kourê in the Iliad than we would assume at first glance. Kourai have fathers, just as traditionally Chryseis and Andromache and Iole have fathers. Embedded in the word there is already a story, and this story can be evoked whenever we imagine Briseis and other captive women as daughters. We might think of Andromache’s words to Hektor as she recalls the death of Eëtion: “you are my father and mother” (Ἕκτορ ἀτὰρ σύ μοί ἐσσι πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ 6.429). Captive women in the Iliad fall into one of two paradigms: unmarried women who have lost their fathers, or married women who have lost their husbands. Briseis, I suggest, can evoke both paradigms, because of the multiformity of the traditional stories associated with her. [61]

αὐτὴ δὲ δούλη ναῦς ἐπ’ Ἀργείων ἔβην
κόμης ἐπισπασθεῖσ’· ἐπεὶ δ’ ἀφικόμην
Φθίαν, φονεῦσιν Ἕκτορος νυμφεύομαι.

I myself embarked on an Argive ship as a slave,
dragged by my hair. And when I arrived in
Phthia, I became the bride of Hektor’s killers.

Euripides, Andromache 401–403


[ back ] 1. See Dictys of Crete 2.16–19. For more on Dictys see above, p. 5 note 15, and discussion below, pp. 55–58.   

[ back ] 2. For the geography, see the commentary of Leaf 1900-1902 at 1.37 and 1.184. (See also above, p. 24, note 15 and below, note 32.)   

[ back ] 3. So Kirk 1985, 57 of Chryses.   

[ back ] 4. See p. 3 note 10, above.    

[ back ] 5. See, e.g., Murray 1911, 221 (“She has no father or mother: no history apart from the one incident for which she was invented”), and similarly Friis Johansen 1967, 153. For more on the concept of “invention” and the phrase “Homer invented” see the conclusion.   

[ back ] 6. 1.275, 298, 336, 337; 2.377; 9.637; 16.56, 85; 18.444; 19.58, 272.   

[ back ] 7. Higbie 1995, 113.   

[ back ] 8. Higbie 1995, 111.   

[ back ] 9. Higbie 1995, 113.   

[ back ] 10. Leaf 1912, 244; Taplin 1986, 18, 1992, 84–86. Kirk, however, submits that she was visiting Thebe when she was captured, following the bT scholia (ad 1.366), which note that she was in Thebe for a religious festival (Kirk 1985, 57 and 91). The scholia go on to relate that Athena prevented Achilles from sacking Chryse, and that he sacked Thebe instead.   

[ back ] 11. See the commentary of Leaf 1900-1902 at 1.37 and 184, 2.690, and 19.286.   

[ back ] 12. Higbie 1995, 130.    

[ back ] 13. In the Greek text it is not clear whether Nastes or Amphimachos is referred to as the wearer of gold. Amphimachos is the last to be mentioned by name; Aristarchus understood him to be the referent. Others understand Nastes. See Kirk 1985 ‘ad loc’.   

[ back ] 14. See Kirk 1985 ad loc.   

[ back ] 15. Edmunds 1990, 89–90.    

[ back ] 16. Preface to Edmunds 1990.   

[ back ] 17. Edmunds 1990, 98.   

[ back ] 18. Cf. the definitions given by LSJ &sup9; 9 (s.v. κόρη): “girl”; “maiden”; “of a bride, Hom. Od. 18.279, young wife, Hom. Il. 6.247, Eur. Orest. 1438 (lyr.), Hdn.3.10.8, or concubine”; “daughter.”   

[ back ] 19. Ferrari (forthcoming).   

[ back ] 20. Sissa 1987 shows that Greek virginity was not understood in gynecological/physiological terms, but rather as a stage of life.   

[ back ] 21. Cf. Taplin 1986, 18, note 6.    

[ back ] 22. Robbins 1990.   

[ back ] 23. Cf. Iliad 9.663–665, where Achilles goes to sleep with Diomedeia, now that Briseis is with Agamemnon.   

[ back ] 24. From the T scholia at Iliad 16.57: τὴν Πήδασον οἱ τῶν Κυπρίων ποιηταί, αὐτὸς δὲ Λυρνησ<σ>όν.   

[ back ] 25. From the A scholia at Iliad 1.392   

[ back ] 26. Cf. Eustathius 121.10.   

[ back ] 27. For hoi arkhaioi vs. hoi neôteroi in the scholia see Henrichs 1993, 189, note 44. For the poets of the Epic Cycle as neôteroi see Davies 1989, 4.   

[ back ] 28. The version of Dictys’ narrative, like many works of the Second Sophistic that claim to provide a truer and more accurate account of the Trojan War than that of Homer, is radically different than the version presented in the Iliad. The narrator, self-named Dictys, claims to be an eyewitness to the Trojan War who accompanied Idomeneus and kept a journal. The authoritative frame of Dictys’ eyewitness account is further supported by a dry, chronicle-like style that adds an air of credibility to the claim that the text is a war journal from the Trojan War. Paola Venini (1981) has described in detail the ways in which the Dictys narrative differs from the Homeric poems. The account is rationalized in accordance with the premise that it is a diary written by someone who fought at Troy. The gods do not intervene in the action, Achilles and other heroes do not possess superhuman abilities, and the Trojans are presented less sympathetically than they are in Homer. There are also a number of variations in Dictys that cannot be so easily explained. For example, in 2.47 Chryses returns his daughter to Agamemnon in gratitude because she was treated so well by him. Such variations, when they are unattested elsewhere, certainly impart a fictional, novelistic quality to the narrative, especially for modern readers who do not have access to the full range of the sources for the Dictys narrative. [For the sources see Griffin 1907, 3 note 1 and the citations in Venini 1981 passim.] But it is important to note that very often the variations in the Dictys narrative are attested elsewhere. [See Venini 1981, 175–96 with notes and citations ad loc.] This is the case with Briseis. For two recent discussions of the truth behind the “fiction” of many works of the Second Sophistic, see Merkle 1994 and Bowersock 1994.   

[ back ] 29. On Briseis as one of the beautiful Lesbian women see also Aloni 1986, 52, who offers a similar interpretation.   

[ back ] 30. Aloni 1986, 52 also argues that this substitution indicates a connection between Briseis and Lesbos.    

[ back ] 31. Dictys of Crete 2.19.   

[ back ] 32. See Leaf 1900-1902 at 1.184. Fick (1894, 419) derived Briseis’ and Chryseis’ names from the towns of Brisa and Chryse on Lesbos. Another town of Chryse was known in historical times on the west coast of the Troad. I note here again that many towns on the gulf of Adramyttion, including Lyrnessos and Thebe, would have fallen within the political jurisdiction of Mytilene on Lesbos. On this last point, see especially Aloni 1986, 51–67, as well as Cook 1973, 360-63.   

[ back ] 33. The Aeolic linguistic layer of Homeric diction was most convincingly established by Parry 1932, who showed that the diction of Alcaeus and Sappho is likewise traditional. For the Aeolic features of Homeric diction see also Palmer 1962, Hoekstra 1965, and Janko 1982.    

[ back ] 34. See Janko 1982, 91.   

[ back ] 35. Nagy 1974, 134–39.   

[ back ] 36. Fick 1886, xix; West 1973, 191.   

[ back ] 37. See also Carpenter 1946, 56–69.   

[ back ] 38. Aloni 1986. Janko 1982, 92 notes that Phthian Achilles is an Aeolian hero, and that Lesbos made claims on the Hellespontine region in historical times. He argues: “All the essentials for a ‘national’ epic on the Trojan theme were present in Aeolis.”    

[ back ] 39. Parry 1932, 28 (= 1971, 345) and Palmer 1962, 98.   

[ back ] 40. See especially 2.688–693 and 19.295–296.   

[ back ] 41. For more on the epic traditions of Lesbos centered around Achilles see Aloni 1986.    

[ back ] 42. Cf. Alcaeus 130.32–35: ὄππαι Λ[εσβί]αδες κριννόμεναι φύαν πώλεντ’ ἐλκεσίπεπλοι, περὶ δὲ βρέμει ἄχω θεσπεσία γυναίκων ἴρα[ς ὀ]λολύγας ἐνιαυσίας See also the reference to such a contest in Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 13.610a. (Athenaeus cites Theophrastus, who was himself a native of Eresos on Lesbos.) Nagy 1993 shows that the sacred contest was not only for beauty, but was also choral. The contest took place in the common [ξῦνον] sanctuary of Messa—that is, τὸ Μέσσον, as the name is recorded in two 2nd century A.D. Lesbian inscriptions, documented by Robert 1960. (For the excavation of Messa, see Koldewey 1890.) This common sanctuary lay near Pyrrha, on the the outer edges of the territories of several cities, in the middle of the island. For more on the social and ritual context of archaic choral performances of aristocratic girls see Calame 1977 (= 1997). On the common sanctuary of Messa and its relationship to the city-states of Lesbos see Spencer 1995.35.    

[ back ] 43. Iliad 9.128–130.   

[ back ] 44. 9.128 (αἳ κάλλει ἐνίκων φῦλα γυναικῶν).    

[ back ] 45. See Burkert 1972 and 1979, 78ff. and Davies 1991, xxii-xxxvii with bibliography ad loc.

[ back ] 46. See the scholia at Iliad 6.35 The story is attributed in the scholia to Hesiod (= fr 214 MW).    

[ back ] 47. The Greek that Leaf translates (scholia to Iliad 6.35) is as follows: ταύτην τὴν Πήδασον πρότερον μὲν Μονηνίαν φασὶ καλεῖσθαι. Ἀχιλλέως δὲ αὐτὴν ἐπὶ πολὺ πολιορκοῦντος, εἶτα μέλλοντος ἀναχωρεῖν πηδήσασα παρθένος τις ἐρασθεῖσα αὐτοῦ ἐν μήλῳ ἔγραψεν ‘Μὴ σπεῦδ’, Ἀχιλλεῦ, πρὶν Μονηνίαν ἕλῃς  // ὕδωρ γὰρ οὐκ ἔνεστι. διψῶσι κακῶς’. ὁ δὲ περιμείνας ὑπέταξε τὴν πόλιν (bT) καὶ Πήδασον ὠνόμασε διὰ τὴν παρθένον (b).  A fuller narration is provided by the A scholia, which assign the story to Demetrius, without specification, and Hesiod. See Hesiod fr. 214 MW.   

[ back ] 48. Leaf 1912, 247–48.   

[ back ] 49. Leaf 1912, 242–43. See also Zarker 1965–66, 110-11, where the same passage is quoted.   

[ back ] 50. Since the Cypria survives for us only in summary form in Proclus’ Chrestomathia, it is impossible to know the full contents of the poem. Likewise, it is difficult to reconstruct even earlier Cypria traditions to which the Iliad may refer. On the imperfect representation of the Cypria in the summary of Proclus see Scaife 1995, 164–66.   

[ back ] 51. See Leaf 1912, 243–52.   

[ back ] 52. Burgess 1996.   

[ back ] 53. Nagy 1979, 272–73 argues for a Capture of Lyrnessos and Pedasos as local Ktisis (“foundation”) poetry.    

[ back ] 54. Carpenter 1946, 56–59; Nagy 1979, 140-41, 272–73 and 1990, 75, note 114; Janko 1982, 89–93; and Aloni 1986. See also Bethe 1927, 66ff.   

[ back ] 55. See Nagy 1979, 140-41: “We are about to see that there are Iliadic references to local epic traditions concerning Achilles, although they are as a rule merely marginal. In the Iliad, such references could not be allowed to interfere with the Panhellenic central theme of the expedition to Troy—an expedition that goes far beyond local epic interests. The Trojan expedition, as it is presented in its ultimate form by our Iliad, is a grand theme, which, by converging on the one main goal of Troy, unites on the level of content the heroic and material resources of the various cultural centers that may each once have had their own epic traditions about conquering various territories. Aside from its centralized thematic concern about the expedition to Troy, however, the Iliad also manages some marginal references to epic traditions about various other expeditions to other places, notably Lesbos (IX 129, 271, 664), Skyros (IX 668), Tenedos (XI 625), and Lyrnessos and Pedasos (XIX 60; XX 90-92, 188–194; cf. XI 104–112). These expeditions all involve territories that would have been Aeolic at the time that our Iliad took its present shape, and the Iliadic references to them consistently stress the heroic preeminence of Achilles. This emphasis on Achilles is particularly striking in the case of Lesbos: the Iliad says that Achilles himself captured all Lesbos (IX 129, 271), and the significance of such a heroic deed seems to have less to do with the epic fate of nearby Troy and far more with the here-and-now of a Homeric audience in the eighth or seventh century B.C. The Iliad is here verifying something that applies from the standpoint of this era: that the affinity of the Achilles figure with this particular Aeolic island is a matter of acknowledged tradition, incorporated even by Panhellenic Epos.”   

[ back ] 56. Parthenius, Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα (“Love Stories”) 21. See the edition of Lightfoot 1999. See also Nagy 1979, 141, note 6.   

[ back ] 57. See the editions of Stern 1992 and Lightfoot 1999. See also Nagy 1979, 140, note 6.   

[ back ] 58. See chapter 1.    

[ back ] 59. See Nagy 1990a, 72, note 99.   

[ back ] 60. Cf. Ovid, Heroides 3. Ovid transforms that single expressive word ἀέκουσα into a lover’s lament in which Briseis rebukes Achilles for letting her go.    

[ back ] 61. So too Andromache, who loses her father in the sack of Thebe, but her husband in the sack of Troy.