Homeric Variations on a Lament by Briseis

Chapter 4. Wife

[67] We have seen that in one of the traditional patterns that Briseis fulfills she is the wife of a king who gets killed in battle. In Iliad 9.340-341, moreover, Achilles asks if only the sons of Atreus love their wives (alokhous), thereby likening Briseis to Helen and Clytemnestra and inviting us to think of her as Achilles’ “wife.” [1] In Briseis’ lament for Patroklos in Book 19 she says that Patroklos had promised to make her Achilles’ kouridiê alokhos. I argued in the previous chapter that Briseis can be a kouridiê alokhos because, as a widow, she reverts to her father’s household and becomes a kourê again. But Briseis can also be imagined as a wife because of the narrative substitutions that unite her with Helen, the wife of Menelaus; Clytemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon; and Andromache, the wife of Hektor. And just as we can imagine the captive Briseis as the wife or betrothed of Achilles, we can conversely appreciate Helen (the wife/stolen concubine of Paris) as a captive woman in a foreign land, longing for legitimate status. [2]

In this chapter I propose to explore the way in which Briseis’ lament for Patroklos in essence allows her to become a wife and a widow three times. [3] In this lament, she plays the role of a weeping widow, previewing the lament that she will sing for her new “husband” Achilles, for whom Patroklos is only a substitute. [4] As I noted above, her lament is so evocative of the plight of [68]Andromache that it has been viewed by some as an awkward duplication of Andromache’s own proleptic lament for her husband in Iliad 6. [5] And yet Briseis’ song also evokes the death of parents, the hopes of a bride, and lost love. In this way Briseis’ lament explores many stages of life, and a lifetime of sorrow is expressed in a single moment. Her song is both traditional, in that it incorporates conventions of Greek lament that are still alive today, and personal in that it shows us, as nowhere else in the Iliad, Briseis’ own life experiences from numphê to widow. [6]

This duality is already a fundamental aspect of the ritual lament for the dead in Greek tradition. As Margaret Alexiou has shown on a functional level, “Objectively, it [the lament tradition] is designed to honor and appease the dead, while subjectively, it gives expression to a wide range of conflicting emotions.” [7] In terms of narrative, Briseis’ widowed status is quite personal, but, as others have noted, it gains a great deal of power from the fact that Briseis’ grief foreshadows the grief of every Trojan wife. When Briseis throws herself down on the body of Patroklos, she is already a captive woman—something that Andromache only imagines herself to be in Iliad 6.

If we compare Andromache’s speech in Iliad 6 with the lament of Briseis in Iliad 19, we find many traditional features that are typical of laments for the dead. [8] Alexiou has described the three-part structure of traditional Greek laments and notes that the laments of Iliad 24 all conform to this three-part pattern. [9] It consists of a direct address, a narrative of the past or future, and then a renewed address accompanied by reproach and lamentation. Andromache’s speech to Hektor in Iliad 6, though it is not explicitly termed goos or thrênos (which are the usual Greek words for lament), nevertheless exhibits this same structure. [10] She first addresses Hektor in the second person directly, then [69]narrates the deaths of her family members in the sack of her city, and then concludes by addressing Hektor once again:

(I)Ἀνδρομάχη δέ οἱ ἄγχι παρίστατο δάκρυ χέουσα,
ἔν τ’ ἄρα οἱ φῦ χειρὶ ἔπος τ’ ἔφατ’ ἔκ τ’ ὀνόμαζε·
δαιμόνιε φθίσει σε τὸ σὸν μένος, οὐδ’ ἐλεαίρεις
παῖδά τε νηπίαχον καὶ ἔμ’ ἄμμορον, ἣ τάχα χήρη
σεῦ ἔσομαι· τάχα γάρ σε κατακτανέουσιν Ἀχαιοὶ
πάντες ἐφορμηθέντες· ἐμοὶ δέ κε κέρδιον εἴη
σεῦ ἀφαμαρτούσῃ χθόνα δύμεναι· οὐ γὰρ ἔτ’ ἄλλη
ἔσται θαλπωρὴ ἐπεὶ ἂν σύ γε πότμον ἐπίσπῃς
ἀλλ’ ἄχε’·
(II)οὐδέ μοι ἔστι πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ.
ἤτοι γὰρ πατέρ’ ἁμὸν ἀπέκτανε δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς,
ἐκ δὲ πόλιν πέρσεν Κιλίκων εὖ ναιετάουσαν
Θήβην ὑψίπυλον· κατὰ δ’ ἔκτανεν Ἠετίωνα,
οὐδέ μιν ἐξενάριξε, σεβάσσατο γὰρ τό γε θυμᾠ,
ἀλλ’ ἄρα μιν κατέκηε σὺν ἔντεσι δαιδαλέοισιν
ἠδ’ ἐπὶ σῆμ’ ἔχεεν· περὶ δὲ πτελέας ἐφύτευσαν
νύμφαι ὀρεστιάδες κοῦραι Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο.
οἳ δέ μοι ἑπτὰ κασίγνητοι ἔσαν ἐν μεγάροισιν
οἳ μὲν πάντες ἰᾠ κίον ἤματι Ἄϊδος εἴσω·
πάντας γὰρ κατέπεφνε ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεὺς
βουσὶν ἐπ’ εἰλιπόδεσσι καὶ ἀργεννῇς ὀΐεσσι.
μητέρα δ’, ἣ βασίλευεν ὑπὸ Πλάκῳ ὑληέσσῃ,
τὴν ἐπεὶ ἂρ δεῦρ’ ἤγαγ’ ἅμ’ ἄλλοισι κτεάτεσσιν,
ἂψ ὅ γε τὴν ἀπέλυσε λαβὼν ἀπερείσι’ ἄποινα,
πατρὸς δ’ ἐν μεγάροισι βάλ’ Ἄρτεμις ἰοχέαιρα.
(III) Ἕκτορ ἀτὰρ σύ μοί ἐσσι πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ
ἠδὲ κασίγνητος, σὺ δέ μοι θαλερὸς παρακοίτης·
ἀλλ’ ἄγε νῦν ἐλέαιρε καὶ αὐτοῦ μίμν’ ἐπὶ πύργῳ,
μὴ παῖδ’ ὀρφανικὸν θήῃς χήρην τε γυναῖκα·

(I) Andromache stood near to him, shedding a tear,
and she reached toward him with her hand and spoke a word and
addressed him:
daimonios one, your own spirit will destroy you, neither do you pity
your infant son nor me, ill-fated, I who will soon be
your widow. For soon the Achaeans will kill you,
making an attack all together. It would be better for me
to plunge into the earth if I lost you. For no longer will there be any
comfort once you have met your fate,
but grief.
(II) Nor are my father and mistress mother still alive.
For indeed brilliant Achilles killed my father,
and he utterly sacked the well-inhabited city of the Cilicians,
high-gated Thebe. And he slew Eëtion,
but he did not strip him, for in this respect at least he felt reverence in his thumos,
but rather he burned his body together with his well-wrought armor,
[70]and built a funeral mound over him. And mountain nymphs,
the daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus, planted elms around him.
I had seven brothers in the palace;
all of them went to Hades on the same day.
For brilliant swift-footed Achilles killed all of them
among their rolling-gaited cattle and gleaming white sheep.
But my mother, who was queen under wooded Plakos,
he led here together with other possessions
and then released her after taking countless ransom,
and Artemis who pours down arrows struck her down in the halls of her father.
(III) Hektor, you are my father and mistress mother,
you are my brother, and you are my flourishing husband.
I beg you, pity me and stay here on the tower,
don’t make your child an orphan and your wife a widow.

(Iliad 6.405–432)

Upon Hektor’s departure, moreover, Andromache returns home and initiates an antiphonal refrain of lamentation among her serving women: [

ὣς ἄρα φωνήσας κόρυθ’ εἵλετο φαίδιμος Ἕκτωρ
ἵππουριν· ἄλοχος δὲ φίλη οἶκον δὲ βεβήκει
ἐντροπαλιζομένη, θαλερὸν κατὰ δάκρυ χέουσα.
αἶψα δ’ ἔπειθ’ ἵκανε δόμους εὖ ναιετάοντας
Ἕκτορος ἀνδροφόνοιο, κιχήσατο δ’ ἔνδοθι πολλὰς
ἀμφιπόλους, τῇσιν δὲ γόον πάσῃσιν ἐνῶρσεν.
αἳ μὲν ἔτι ζωὸν γόον Ἕκτορα ᾧ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ·

So he spoke and brilliant Hektor took up his helmet
of horse hair. And his dear wife went home,
though frequently she turned back, shedding abundant tears.
And when she quickly reached the well-inhabited house
of man-slaying Hektor, and found inside her many
attendants, she initiated lamentation in all of them.
They lamented Hektor in his own home, although he was still alive.

(Iliad 6.494–500)

Although there is a spatial and temporal gap between Andromache’s speech and the goos for Hektor among the women, we may compare the juxtaposition of the two scenes in Iliad 6 to the conclusion of Briseis’ lament in 19.301. Alexiou has commented on the element of antiphonal refrain: ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες // Πάτροκλον πρόφασιν, σφῶν δ’ αὐτῶν κήδε’ ἑκάστη “so she spoke, lamenting, and the women wailed in response, with Patroklos as their pretext, but each woman for her own cares” (19.301–302). [
12] [71]The verse at Iliad 19.301 also concludes Andromache’s laments for Hektor at Iliad 22.515 and 24.746. For stenakhonto as antiphonal wailing I adduce Iliad 24.720-723 with Alexiou’s translation:

παρὰ δ’ εἷσαν ἀοιδοὺς
θρήνων ἐξάρχους, οἵ τε στονόεσσαν ἀοιδὴν
οἳ μὲν ἄρ’ ἐθρήνεον, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες.
τῇσιν δ’ Ἀνδρομάχη λευκώλενος ἦρχε γόοιο.

(Iliad 24.720-723)

Finally, Hecuba’s lament at Iliad 24.760 concludes with a similar instigation of antiphonal weeping: ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσα, γόον δ’ ἀλίαστον ὄρινε “so she spoke, lamenting, and she initiated unabating cries of grief.” Thus both the form of Andromache’s speech and the antiphonal response evoke traditional laments for the dead. Andromache is shown to mourn for Hektor, as the text at Iliad 6.500 comments, while he is still alive.

The content of Andromache’s speech in Iliad 6 likewise resonates with other traditional laments in the Iliad. The reproach that has been noted as characteristic of laments often takes the form of an accusation of abandonment. [14] Andromache does not reproach Hektor directly in this speech, but she does warn him not to leave her a widow and their son an orphan. Hektor admits he would rather die than see Andromache led off into captivity (6.464–465). Andromache herself expresses a wish to die if she loses Hektor (6.410-411), and this wish too is a common feature of laments. [15] The accusation of abandonment in both ancient and modern Greek laments is typically accompanied by a description of the lamenting woman’s endangered position in the community. [16] Andromache relates how she has lost the protection of all of her family members, and sets up Hektor as her last resource.

We may compare here the way that Briseis too relates the deaths of her husband and brothers:

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

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

(Iliad 19.291–294)

Andromache’s and Briseis’ laments are representative of the way that wives and women in general comment on their status in the community once the man whom they are mourning is dead. Michael Herzfeld has shown in his study of a modern Cretan funeral how women may actually manipulate their status by evoking the sympathy of their audience and warding off potential reproach. [
17] Mary Ebbott, following up on the work of Herzfeld, has analyzed Helen’s language of self-blame in the Iliad in order to show how Helen uses the language of lament in even nonlament contexts to voice a view of herself that other characters in the Iliad never express. [18] We can see in Andromache’s speech a similar kind of positioning through lament language even before Hektor’s death.

Many of the traditional lament themes that are featured in Andromache’s speech recur when she learns of the death of Hektor in Iliad 22 and in her lament at Hektor’s funeral in Iliad 24. [19] She relates how Hektor has left her a widow and their son an orphan: [20]

ἆνερ, ἀπ’ αἰῶνος νέος λεο, κὰδ δέ με χήρην
λείπεις ἐν μεγάροισι· πάϊς δ’ ἔτι νήπιος αὔτως

Husband, you have perished, cut off from your life-force,
and you leave me a widow in the halls. And our son is still very much a child [nepios].

(Iliad 24.726–727)

[73]Compare this passage with her lament of Iliad 22, where the element of reproach is even stronger:

ἔρχεαι, αὐτὰρ ἐμὲ στυγερᾠ ἐνὶ πένθεϊ λείπεις
χήρην ἐν μεγάροισι· πάϊς δ’ ἔτι νήπιος αὔτως,
ὃν τέκομεν σύ τ’ ἐγώ τε δυσάμμοροι· οὔτε σὺ τούτῳ
ἔσσεαι Ἕκτορ ὄνειαρ ἐπεὶ θάνες, οὔτε σοὶ οὗτος

Now you are gone to the house of Hades under the paths of the earth,
but you leave me behind in hateful grief,
a widow in the palace. And our son is still very much a child [nepios],
whom you and I, ill-fated, bore. You will be no help
to this one now that you are dead, nor will he be any help to you.

(Iliad 22.482–486)

Andromache describes the life of servitude that will be hers, and speculates that Astyanax will likewise be a slave or else hurled to his death from the walls (24.727–728, 732–735). Andromache addresses both Hektor and Astyanax directly, in essence lamenting both of them.

In Iliad 6 Andromache argues that life will not be worth living if Hektor dies; in her lament in Iliad 24 Andromache makes a traditional comment on the sorrowful life that Hektor has left behind for her:

οὐ γὰρ ἔτ’ ἄλλη
ἔσται θαλπωρὴ ἐπεὶ ἂν σύ γε πότμον ἐπίσπῃς
ἀλλ’ ἄχε’·

For there will no longer be
any comfort once you have met your fate,
but grief.

(Iliad 6.411–413)

ἐμοὶ δὲ μάλιστα λελείψεται ἄλγεα λυγρά.
οὐ γάρ μοι θνῄσκων λεχέων ἐκ χεῖρας ὄρεξας,
οὐδέ τί μοι εἶπες πυκινὸν ἔπος, οὗ τέ κεν αἰεὶ
μεμνῄμην νύκτάς τε καὶ ἤματα δάκρυ χέουσα.

But for me especially you have left behind grievous pain.
For when you died you did not stretch out your arms to me from our marriage bed,
nor did you speak to me an intimate phrase, which I could always
remember when I weep for you day and night.

(Iliad 24.742–745)

In her lament Andromache incorporates the traditional accusation of abandonment within a song that mournfully contrasts past, present, and what might have been. The themes of lament present in Andromache’s speech in Iliad 6, because they are traditional, do not merely foreshadow but actually evoke the inevitable death of Hektor and funeral laments of Iliad 24.

[74]Briseis’ lament for Patroklos likewise allows Briseis to lament Achilles before death. I have already noted that the traditional phraseology describing Briseis’ actions after she sees the body of Patroklos evokes the death of her own warrior husband. [21] That this phraseology is particularly associated with laments triggered by the death of husbands in battle is suggested by the simile of the unnamed lamenting woman of Odyssey 8. [22] The initial comparison of Briseis to “golden Aphrodite” in 19.282 seems to be fundamentally connected with Briseis’ evocation of the role of a wife in this passage. Penelope, the quintessential epic wife, is twice compared to Aphrodite. [23] Likewise Andromache is metonymically connected to Aphrodite as she begins her lament for Hektor in Iliad 22.470. When she realizes that Hektor is dead, she throws down from her head the adornments that “golden Aphrodite” had given her on her wedding day:

τῆλε δ’ ἀπὸ κρατὸς βάλε δέσματα σιγαλόεντα,
ἄμπυκα κεκρύφαλόν τε ἰδὲ πλεκτὴν ἀναδέσμην
κρήδεμνόν θ’, ὅ ῥά οἱ δῶκε χρυσῆ Ἀφροδίτη
ἤματι τᾠ ὅτε μιν κορυθαίολος ἠγάγεθ’ Ἕκτωρ
ἐκ δόμου Ἠετίωνος.

She threw down far from her head the shining head-band,
the head-piece and the net and the woven head-band
and the veil, which golden Aphrodite gave to her,
on the day when Hektor with his patterned helmet led her in marriage
from the house of Eëtion.

These associations with marriage are borne out just a few lines later when Briseis recalls how Achilles killed her husband in the sack of Lyrnessos:

οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδέ μ’ ἔασκες, ὅτ’ ἄνδρ’ ἐμὸν ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεὺς
ἔκτεινεν, πέρσεν δὲ πόλιν θείοιο Μύνητος,

Nor did you allow me, when swift Achilles killed my husband,
and sacked the city of god-like Mynes,
to weep

(Iliad 19.295–297)

[75]The imperfect tense of ἔασκες coupled with the repetition of οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδέ μ’ connotes frequency; Patroklos repeatedly put an end to Briseis’ lamentation for her former husband by promising to marry her to Achilles, her husband’s killer.

In this way Achilles becomes substituted for her former husband and Briseis becomes a bride a second time. This will be the fate of Andromache as well, who is awarded to Achilles’ son Neoptolemus after the fall of Troy. [25] Briseis’ song in fact laments her substitute husband Achilles as much as it does Patroklos or her former husband. Two late authors, Propertius and Quintus of Smyrna, present us with a Briseis who laments Achilles after death, [26] but in archaic epic tradition our only glimpse of such a lament is contained in Briseis’ lamentation for Patroklos. [27]

[76]That Briseis laments Achilles when she laments Patroklos is in perfect accordance with Patroklos’ relationship with Achilles in the Iliad. Patroklos is Achilles’ therapôn, a word which has been shown to convey a relationship of ritual substitution. [28] This relationship becomes fulfilled when Patroklos leads the Myrmidons into battle in place of Achilles, wearing Achilles’ armor. Patroklos’ subsequent death previews in exact detail the way that Achilles will die. Achilles’ death does not take place within the narrative confines of the Iliad itself, but it is nonetheless enacted in the sacrificial death of Patroklos. [29]

Just as the ritual sacrifice of Patroklos substitutes for the death of Achilles in the Iliad, so the funeral rites for Patroklos substitute for and actually enact the funeral rites for Achilles. As Nagy notes: “The Iliadic tradition requires Achilles to prefigure his dead self by staying alive, and the real ritual of a real funeral is reserved by the narrative for his surrogate Patroklos.” [30] Nagy goes on to argue that only retrospectively can we witness the actual wake of Achilles, in the form of a flashback in the Odyssey. [31] But we do get a preview of that wake in the form of Briseis’ lament for Patroklos, Achilles’ ritual substitute.

Briseis’ lament for Patroklos deals more with defining her relationship to Achilles than it does with Patroklos. Like Andromache, Briseis uses the medium of lament to narrate the pains of her life and manipulate her status within her community. Briseis sets up first Patroklos and then Achilles as her primary resource after the deaths of her brothers and husband. She mentions the kindness of Patroklos (19.300) in order to comment on her own vulnerability. When she notes that Patroklos always promised to make her Achilles’ kouridiê alokhos she seeks to legitimize her position through lament. She creates a status for herself that might protect her in some way when Achilles himself dies.

[77]Kirk Ormand explores this kind of manipulation of status through lament in relation to Tecmessa, the concubine of Sophocles’ Ajax. [32] Tecmessa pleads with Ajax in a speech that, like Andromache’s, is in many ways a lament for Ajax before death. Tecmessa’s lament is a rhetorical attempt to position herself as Ajax’s wife, even though, like Briseis, she is a captive concubine:

I would interpret Tecmessa’s rhetoric slightly differently than Ormand does here. If we understand the lament traditions from which both Andromache’s and Tecmessa’s speeches emerge, we can see that Tecmessa’s arguments are a traditional way for a woman to ensure a certain status in the community. Even Tecmessa’s predictions of future taunts are an attempt to ward off reproach while at the same time establishing, through the speech act of lament, that she and no other woman was Ajax’s homeunetis.

Tecmessa’s speech is conventional in that it draws on traditional lament techniques, but I do not deny that a great deal of its power lies in its intertextual relationship with the Iliad. This intertextual relationship is not limited to Andromache’s speech, however; it is equally reminiscent of Briseis’ lament for Patroklos. [35] And when we understand that the speeches of Andromache and [78]Tecmessa are in fact laments, we can appreciate the connections between Andromache, Briseis, and Tecmessa on another level: all three are well-born women who become captive concubines. Andromache and Tecmessa once were and will again be social equals, and that is part of the power of Tecmessa’s speech. In fact Greek laments traditionally articulate a woman’s life history while they at the same time define a woman’s particular relationship with her community. Tecmessa’s speech is remarkable both for its traditional content as well for the literary bridge that it creates between epic and tragic interpretations of captive women’s lament traditions.

Of all the song and speech traditions that are incorporated into Homeric poetry, lament is perhaps the most pervasive. [36] Both Hektor and Achilles are lamented repeatedly throughout the Iliad. Thetis and her sister Nereids lament Achilles as soon as he becomes aware of Patroklos’ death, when Thetis knows that Achilles will return to battle:

αἳ δ’ ἅμα πᾶσαι
στήθεα πεπλήγοντο, Θέτις δ’ ἐξῆρχε γόοιο·
κλῦτε κασίγνηται Νηρηΐδες, ὄφρ’ ἐῢ πᾶσαι
εἴδετ’ ἀκούουσαι ὅσ’ ἐμᾠ ἔνι κήδεα θυμᾠ.
μοι ἐγὼ δειλή,   μοι δυσαριστοτόκεια,
ἥ τ’ ἐπεὶ ἂρ τέκον υἱὸν ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε
ἔξοχον ἡρώων· ὃ δ’ ἀνέδραμεν ἔρνεϊ ἶσος·
τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ θρέψασα φυτὸν ὣς γουνᾠ ἀλωῆς
νηυσὶν ἐπιπροέηκα κορωνίσιν Ἴλιον εἴσω
Τρωσὶ μαχησόμενον· τὸν δ’ οὐχ ὑποδέξομαι αὖτις
οἴκαδε νοστήσαντα δόμον Πηλήϊον εἴσω.

And all the Nereids together
beat their breasts, and Thetis led off the lament:
“Hear me, sister Nereids, in order that you all
know well, hearing how many cares I have in my heart.
Alas how I am wretched, alas how unluckily I was the best child bearer
since I bore a child that was faultless and strong,
outstanding of heroes. And he shot up like a sapling.
After nourishing him like plant on the hill of an orchard
I sent him forth in the hollow ships to Ilion
to fight with the Trojans. But I will not receive him again
returning home to the house of Peleus.”

(Iliad 18.50-60)

Throughout the Iliad we are constantly being prepared for the death of Achilles. [
37] Thetis tells Achilles that his death is guaranteed upon the death of Hektor, to which he responds: αὐτίκα τεθναίην “then may I die straightaway” (18.98). [79]In Iliad 23 the Achaeans build a funeral mound for both Achilles and Patroklos: κὰδ δ’ ἄρ’ ἐπ’ ἀκτῆς βάλλον ἐπισχερώ, ἔνθ’ ἄρ’ Ἀχιλλεὺς // φράσσατο Πατρόκλῳ μέγα ἠρίον ἠδὲ οἷ αὐτᾠ “They threw [the wood] down in rows upon the beach, where Achilles had indicated a great mound was to be built for Patroklos, and for himself” (23.125–126).

That Patroklos and Achilles will be buried together is established earlier in Iliad 23, when the psukhê of Patroklos visits Achilles in a dream (23.65–107). Patroklos entreats Achilles to bury him in the golden amphora that Thetis gave to Achilles in anticipation of Achilles’ death:

μὴ ἐμὰ σῶν ἀπάνευθε τιθήμεναι ὀστέ’ Ἀχιλλεῦ,
ἀλλ’ ὁμοῦ ὡς ἐτράφημεν ἐν ὑμετέροισι δόμοισιν …
ὣς δὲ καὶ ὀστέα νῶιν ὁμὴ σορὸς ἀμφικαλύπτοι
χρύσεος ἀμφιφορεύς, τόν τοι πόρε πότνια μήτηρ.

(Iliad 23.83–84,91–92)

This golden amphora is one of the only concrete symbols of Achilles’ immortality after death in the Iliad. Elsewhere in the poem only his short life and his grief while alive are emphasized. The anticipation of the finality of his death is so great that the mourning for Achilles begins while he is still alive. The Iliad is for that very reason open-ended. It does not end with the death of Achilles, but with the death of Hektor, whose own death seals that of Achilles in a future beyond our Iliad (18.96).

With the laments of Book 24 comes an awareness that Andromache, Hecuba, and every Trojan wife will soon be captive women. And just as Achilles’ death is constantly foreshadowed, but does not occur, so the capture of Andromache by Greek warriors, an event that is foretold in Books 6, 18, and 24, does not take place within the confines of the Iliad itself. Her capture is instead realized in the figure of Briseis, the “wife” of Achilles. Just as Patroklos and then Hektor are substitutes in death for Achilles within the poem, so Briseis can be a substitute for Andromache. And as the funeral of Hektor foreshadows that [80]of Achilles, Andromache’s fears for herself in turn reverberate back to Briseis, whose story, upon the death of Achilles, will come full circle, and she will be a widow and a captive once more.

Similarly, Odysseus and Telemachus are lamented by Penelope repeatedly throughout the Odyssey. [39] The Iliad and Odyssey are incongruous in that the Odyssey is about the successful homecoming of both father and son, while in the Iliad Achilles must choose either nostos (“homecoming”) or kleos (the glory conveyed by epic poetry). [40] But here again the religious dimension of Homeric poetry aids our interpretation. As Nagy has argued, the funeral rituals and lamentation of the Iliad and Odyssey are a reflection of actual cult practice in the worship of heroes like Achilles and Odysseus as religious figures. [41] The songs of lament for Achilles and Odysseus within the epic are an important part of ritual lamentation for the hero on the part of the communities for whom the epics are performed.

Briseis’ lament in Iliad 19 expresses private grief that becomes transformed into a collective sorrow for her audience both within the epic and beyond it:

ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες
Πάτροκλον πρόφασιν, σφῶν δ’ αὐτῶν κήδε’ ἑκάστη

So she spoke lamenting, and the women wailed in response,
with Patroklos as their pretext, but each woman for her own cares.

(Iliad 19.301–302)

[81]The ability to turn the personal into the paradigmatic is a fundamental feature of lament, as Herzfeld has shown:

Briseis, in the role of the lamenting wife, exemplifies this process by which the personal is transformed into the collective. Briseis’ song extends not only to the collective experience of the women around her who lament their fallen husbands, but to the audience of the epic as well. [
43] Briseis’ lamentation for Patroklos, because it is also a lament for Achilles, becomes on the level of cult a communal expression of lamentation for the hero Achilles. It is not insignificant then that the final lament of the Iliad, sung by Helen (who is the cause of the war), ends not with the antiphonal wailing of the women (as at 6.499, 19.301, 22.515, and 24.746), but of the dêmos: ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἐπὶ δ’ ἔστενε δῆμος ἀπείρων ‘So she spoke lamenting, and the people wailed in response’ (Iliad 24.776). [44]


[ back ] 1. Achilles goes on to make the analogy explicit in 9.340-343. See discussion above, p. 39.   

[ back ] 2. On the shame and self-blame that is such a pervasive part of Helen’s character see Ebbott 1999 and discussion below. For Helen as the “bride gone wrong,” see Worman 2001, 20 (with reference to Calame 1997, 191–93) and Murnaghan 1999, 209.    

[ back ] 3. Cf. Ovid Heroides 3.14–16: ei mihi! discedens oscula nulla dedi!/at lacrimas sine fine dedi rupique capillos;/infelix iterum sum mihi uisa capi. On the multiple occasions evoked by Briseis’ lament see also de Jong 1987b, Edwards 1991 (ad loc.), and Pucci 1993.   

[ back ] 4. Both Quintus of Smyrna (3.551) and Propertius (2.9.9–14) depict Briseis weeping over the body of Achilles, although such a scene is not preserved in the fragments of the Aethiopis or in Proclus’ summary of it—or in Agamemnon’s description of the funeral of Achilles in Odyssey 24.36–94.   

[ back ] 5. See especially Erbse 1983.   

[ back ] 6. On continuities and discontinuities in the forms of the Greek lament tradition from ancient to modern times see especially the foundational work of Alexiou 1974. For continuation and application of this work as well as further fieldwork, see Danforth 1982, Caraveli 1986, Seremetakis 1990 and 1991, Holst-Warhaft 1992, Herzfeld 1993, and Sultan 1993 and 1999.   

[ back ] 7. Alexiou 1974, 55.   

[ back ] 8. On Andromache’s speech as a traditional lament see also Foley 1999, 188–98. Murnaghan 1999, 206 points out that in fact much of women’s speech in the Iliad and the Odyssey is closely related to lament in both language and theme.    

[ back ] 9. Alexiou 1974, 133. See also Lohmann 1970, 108–12 and Foley 1991, 168–74.   

[ back ] 10. γόος is usually applied to the laments of nonprofessional female relatives, while θρῆνος is used of lament “especially composed and performed at the funeral by nonkinsmen” (Alexiou 1974, 12). As Alexiou points out, in the Odyssey the lamentation of the Nerieids, who are Achilles’ female relatives, is termed γόος, but the Muses sing a θρῆνος. At Hektor’s funeral a contrast is made between the γόος of the kinwomen and the θρῆνοι of the professional singers (Iliad 24.720-723). In tragedy, however, there is little distinction between the two terms. For one explanation of the merging of the terms in tragedy, see Nagy 1994–1995. For the terminology of Greek laments see Alexiou 1974, 11–12 and Sultan 1993, 93–94.   

[ back ] 11. On the antiphonal refrain of Greek laments, already represented in the laments of the Iliad, see Alexiou 1974, 131–60.   

[ back ] 12. Alexiou 1974, 132. Cf. p. 134: “There is no example in Greek antiquity of a lament which has lost all traces of refrain.” See, e.g., de Jong 1987b, 113 and Edwards 1991 (ad loc.), who remark upon the response of the women but who do not relate it to traditional lament patterns.    

[ back ] 13. Alexiou 1974, 12. Cf. 22.515 (= 24.746): ‘ὣς’‘ ’‘ἔφατο’‘ ’‘κλαίουσ’‘’’‘, ’‘ἐπὶ’‘ ’‘δὲ’‘ ’‘στενάχοντο’‘ ’‘γυναῖκες’‘.’   

[ back ] 14. Alexiou 1974, 182–84.   

[ back ] 15. Alexiou 1974, 178–81 and citations at note 46. Cf. Iliad 22.481, where Andromache wishes she had never been born, and Helen’s similar wish at 24.764.    

[ back ] 16. Alexiou 1974, 165–84, Caraveli 1986, and Herzfeld 1993.   

[ back ] 17. Herzfeld 1993.   

[ back ] 18. Ebbott 1999.    

[ back ] 19. See Iliad 22.477–514. On the relationship between Andromache’s speech in Iliad 6 and her lament in Iliad 24 see also Lohmann 1988, 70-74. Charles Segal explores what he terms “formulaic artistry” in Andromache’s lament in Iliad 22, and examines specifically the way in which Andromache’s position as alokhos “wife” is brought out in the lament: “Indeed, she is not referred to by name in the entire passage. Her personal identity is defined by her status as “Hector’s wife.” And it is precisely in this role that, after father and mother, she laments the fallen warrior” (Segal 1971, 37).   

[ back ] 20. Cf. Iliad 6.407–409, cited above: οὐδ’ ἐλεαίρεις//παῖδά τε νηπίαχον καὶ ἔμ’ ἄμμορον, ἣ τάχα χήρη//σεῦ ἔσομαι “neither do you pity/your infant son nor me, ill-fated,/I who will soon be your widow.” Cf. as well Andromache’s final plea at the end of the speech: ἀλλ’ ἄγε νῦν ἐλέαιρε καὶ αὐτοῦ μίμν’ ἐπὶ πύργῳ,//μὴ παῖδ’ ὀρφανικὸν θήῃς χήρην τε γυναῖκα· “I beg you, pity me and stay here on the tower,/don’t make your child an orphan and your wife a widow” (6.431–432).    

[ back ] 21. See the introduction, pp. 6 and 11.   

[ back ] 22. See again the introduction, pp. 6–8 and 11.   

[ back ] 23. Odyssey 17.36–37; 19.53–54; see also above, p. 4 and note 14.   

[ back ] 24. On the Iliad 22 passage, see also Segal 1971, 49. On the importance of Andromache’s veil as a symbol of her role as a wife, see (in addition to Segal 1971) Monsacré 1984, 68–69. For the veil as metaphor for the walls of Troy (and the security of the city), see Nagler 1974, 44–63.   

[ back ] 25. As related in the Little Iliad (fr. 20 Davies [= fr. 21 Bernabé]) and Iliou Persis (as summarized by Proclus); see also Euripides’ Andromache 14 and Trojan Women 658–66.   

[ back ] 26. See above, p. 6 note 20, as well as the afterword and appendix.   

[ back ] 27. As I argue throughout this chapter, the traditional phrases describing the actions of Briseis, as well as the words of her lament itself, evoke primarily the relationship of a husband and wife or of a bride and groom. Under this reading Patroklos is a direct substitute for Achilles. This reading is complicated, however, by the fact that the relationship between Achilles and Patroklos was most likely interpreted in different ways by different communities and over the course of time, as evidenced by the various interpretations of Classical times. The earliest phases of the Greek epic tradition the relationship of Achilles and Patroklos is one of ritual substitution, as witnessed in the term therapôn (on this point, see further below). In later phases their relationship may have been understood to be that of erastês and erômenos. If that is the case, Briseis’ lament takes on a slightly different significance. Patroklos (as erastês) would then be a father figure/lover, who might arrange a marriage for his erômenos. (For a casting of the erastês/erômenos relationship as that of father and son, see Plato, Laws 838A-B, Republic 403B5. For the model of the erastês who helps to procure a bride for his erômenos we may compare the myth of Poseidon and Pelops. (See Dover 1989, 198.) Achilles’ grief for Patroklos is often represented in the Iliad as that of a father for his child and vice versa. (See, e.g., Iliad 18.314–322, 19.315–337, 23.221–225, 24.507–512.) In this scenario Briseis laments Patroklos in her role as a kourê, both in the sense of daughter and in the sense of unmarried girl. It would be fruitless, however, to argue for a universal erastês/erômenos reading for Patroklos and Achilles (with Patroklos as erastês and Achilles as erômenos) even as late as archaic times. In the Iliad Patroklos is represented as being older than Achilles (11.786), but Aeschylus’ Myrmidons portrayed Achilles as the erastês of Patroklos. (See Myrmidons frs. 134a-137 and Dover 1989, 197–98.) Archaic vase-painting is divided in its representation of the respective ages of Achilles and Patroklos. In black-figure, Achilles is very often bearded, but sometimes not; in red-figure he is usually not bearded, but sometimes is. A Corinthian oinochoe in Brussels from ca. 550 (Musée du Cinquantenaire A4) shows a bearded Achilles mourning for Patroklos. But a black-figure kantharos, also from ca. 550 (Berlin F 1737), depicts both Achilles and Patroklos as without beards, in contrast to Odysseus and Menestheus who have beards. In the famous red-figure representation of Achilles tending to the wounded Patroklos (Berlin F 2278; ARV ² 2 21.1, 1620; Paralipomena 323; Addenda 154), Patroklos appears to be only slightly older than Achilles. In Plato’s Symposium (180a 4–7), Phaedrus vehemently objects to Aeschylus’ portrayal of Achilles as erastês, arguing instead that Achilles’ youth and beauty make him the erômenos, whereas Aeschines’ Against Timarchus (18ff.) assumes Achilles to be the erastês. (On the various interpretations of the relationship of Achilles and Patroklos over time see Dover 1989, 197–99. See also Halperin 1990, 75–87 and Calame 1999, 190, note 15.) But regardless of how we interpret the relationship between Patroklos and Achilles, it seems clear that Briseis laments Patroklos to some extent as a father figure, in that he was apparently going to arrange for her marriage, and he might even be interpreted as her κύριος. (Cf. Iliad 1.345–346, where Patroklos leads her from the tent and hands her over to the two heralds. He does this at Achilles’ command, but his role in the exhange seems not unlike that of a κύριος.) In this way Briseis fulfills multiple, shifting roles in her lament, as she moves from wife, to daughter, to sister, to bride and daughter again.   

[ back ] 28. See Whitman 1958, 199–203, Nagy 1979, 33, 72, and 292–93, Sinos 1980, Lowenstam 1981, and Aitken (forthcoming). For therapôn as ritual substitute see Van Brock 1959.   

[ back ] 29. See Scheliha 1943, 264 and 397–98 (with bibliography ad loc.), Whitman 1958, 201 (“The death of Patroclus is a shadow play of the death of Achilles, a montage of one image upon another”), Reinhardt 1961, 354, Nagy 1979, 33, 63, 143–45, and 293, Sinos 1980, 55, Mueller 1984, 53, Lowenstam 1981, 116–17, Schein 1984, 26 and 155, Janko 1992 at 16.777–867, and Dowden 1996, 56.   

[ back ] 30. Nagy 1979, 113.   

[ back ] 31. See Odyssey 24.58–61.   

[ back ] 32. Ormand 1999, 110-19.    

[ back ] 33. ‘ἴδετε’‘ ’‘τὴν’‘ ’‘ὁμευνέτιν’‘ ’‘// ’‘Αἴαντος’‘, ’‘ὃς’‘ ’‘μέγιστον’‘ ’‘ἴσχυσεν’‘ ’‘στρατοῦ’‘, ’‘// ’‘οἵας’‘ ’‘λατρείας’‘ ’‘ἀνθ’‘’ ’‘ὅσου’‘ ’‘ζήλου’‘ ’‘τρέφει’‘ ’‘… ’‘οἴκτιρε’‘ ’‘δ’’‘, ’‘ὦναξ’‘, ’‘παῖδα’‘ ’‘τὸν’‘ ’‘σόν’‘, ’‘εἰ’‘ ’‘νέας’‘ ’‘// ’‘τροφῆς’‘ ’‘στερηθεὶς’‘ ’‘σοῦ’‘ ’‘διοίσεται’‘ ’‘μόνος’‘ ’‘// ’‘ὑπ’‘’ ’‘ὀρφανιστῶν’‘ ’‘μὴ’‘ ’‘φίλων’‘, ’‘ὅσον’‘ ’‘κακὸν’‘ ’‘// ’‘κείνῳ’‘ ’‘τε’‘ ’‘κἀμοὶ’‘ ’‘τοῦθ’‘’’‘, ’‘ὅταν’‘ ’‘θάνῃς’‘, ’‘νεμεῖς’‘ ’‘// ’‘ἐμοὶ’‘ ’‘γὰρ’‘ ’‘οὐκέτ’‘’ ’‘ἔστιν’‘ ’‘εἰς’‘ ’‘ὅ ’‘τι’‘ ’‘βλέπω’‘ ’‘// ’‘πλὴν’‘ ’‘σοῦ’‘. ’‘σὺ’‘ ’‘γάρ’‘ ’‘μοι’‘ ’‘πατρίδ’‘’ ’‘ᾔστωσας’‘ ’‘δόρει’‘.// ’‘καὶ’‘ ’‘μητέρ’‘’ ’‘ἄλλη’‘ ’‘μοῖρα’‘ ’‘τὸν’‘ ’‘φύσαντά’‘ ’‘τε’‘ ’‘// ’‘καθεῖλεν’‘ ’‘ᾍδου’‘ ’‘θανασίμους’‘ ’‘οἰκήτορας’‘.// ’‘τίς’‘ ’‘δῆτ’‘’ ’‘ἐμοὶ’‘ ’‘γένοιτ’‘’ ’‘ἂν’‘ ’‘ἀντὶ’‘ ’‘σοῦ’‘ ’‘πατρίς’‘;’ (Ajax 501–503; 510-518).   

[ back ] 34. Ormand 1999, 113.   

[ back ] 35. See Rose 1995, 64 and Ormand 1999, 112–13. Both note in passing the connection with Briseis. For Tecmessa and Andromache see also Brown 1965 and Kirkwood 1965. Tecmessa’s lament resonates throughout Greek and Roman literature in the form of the desperation speech, which, as I argue elsewhere, is not a generic feature of all tragic figures but rather the particular province of barbarian or captive women. On the desperation speech and its echoes in literature see Dué 2000, as well as Fowler 1987.    

[ back ] 36. On this point see especially Murnaghan 1999, 203–5.   

[ back ] 37. Cf. Iliad 1.352, 416; 9.410-413; 18.59–60, 89–90, 95–96; 24.132.   

[ back ] 38. On the golden amphora of Thetis, given to her by Dionysus, see also Odyssey 24.73–77: ‘δῶκε’‘ ’‘δὲ’‘ ’‘μήτηρ’‘//’‘χρύσεον’‘ ’‘ἀμφιφορῆα’‘·’‘ ’‘Διωνύσοιο’‘ ’‘δὲ’‘ ’‘δῶρον’‘//’‘φάσκ’‘’ ’‘ἔμεναι’‘, ’‘ἔργον’‘ ’‘δὲ’‘ ’‘περικλυτοῦ’‘ ’‘Ἡφαίστοιο’‘.//’‘ἐν’‘ ’‘τᾠ’‘ ’‘τοι’‘ ’‘κεῖται’‘ ’‘λεύκ’‘’ ’‘ὀστέα’‘, ’‘φαίδιμ’‘’ ’‘Ἀχιλλεῦ’‘,//’‘μίγδα’‘ ’‘δὲ’‘ ’‘Πατρόκλοιο’‘ ’‘Μενοιτιάδαο’‘ ’‘θανόντος’‘. ’On the importance of the golden amphora for “Elysium”-type narrative closure, see Nagy 1979 chapters 9–10. See also Stewart 1983, who argues for a compositional unity to the François Vase centered on the golden amphora depicted on it. The wedding of Peleus and Thetis is set amidst narratives that explore the tensions between mortality and immortality, peerless heroism and savage wrath, and mighty prowess and terrible hubris in the figure of Achilles. Stewart notes: “Appropriately, all these themes intersect in the motif of Dionysus’ amphora and its twin promises of death and immortality” (1983, 66).   

[ back ] 39. Odyssey 1.363–364; 4.716–741, 800-801, 810-823; 18.202–205, 603–605; 20.57–90; 21.54–57, 356–358.    

[ back ] 40. For the choice of Achilles, see Iliad 9.410-413.   

[ back ] 41. See “Lamentation and the Hero” (Nagy 1979, 94–117), especially 116–17: “As Rohde [1898] himself had noticed, the Funeral of Patroklos at Iliad XXIII has several features that connote the rituals of hero cults. For example, the wine libation (XXIII 218–221) and the offering of honey with oil (XXIII 170; cf. xxiv 67–68) ‘can hardly be regarded as anything but sacrificial.’ Such marginal details of cult, as also the integral element of singing lamentations at XXIII 12 and 17, give ritual form to the akhos of Achilles for Patroklos at XXIII 47. Even the central epic action of Book XXIII, the Funeral Games of Patroklos, has ritual form. In Homeric narrative, the funeral of a hero is the primary occasion for athletic contests (XXIII 630-631: Amarynkeus; xxiv 85–86: Achilles himself). In Classical times, local athletic contests were still motivated as funeral games for the epichoric hero (cf., e.g., Pausanias 8.4.5). As a general principle, the agôn was connected with the cult of heroes, and even the Great Panhellenic Games were originally conceived as funeral games for heroes. The custom of mourning for Achilles at the beginning of the Olympics (Pausanias 6.23.3) is a striking instance of this heritage. As a parallel, epic offers a corresponding single event in the mourning for Patroklos that inaugurates the Funeral Games in Book XXIII. Even though there are hints within the Iliad that the Funeral of Patroklos is presented as a grand beginning of cult (XXIV 592–595), the overt singularity of the event forced Rohde to rule it out as a parallel to the cult of heroes, which is recurrent. And yet, the Iliad itself is a singularity. What is recurrent in ritual is timeless in the epic tradition, just like the kleos aphthiton of Achilles.”    

[ back ] 42. Herzfeld 1993, 244.    

[ back ] 43. For a similar transformation of the laments of women into a collective, civic sorrow, see Segal’s discussion of Euripides’ Hippolytus 1462–1466 (Segal 1993, 121) and McClure 1999, 41 and 156. Thomas Greene (1999, 195) has noted that lamentation in epic collapses the boundaries between the audience and the heroic past, producing “a hallowed communion between the two.” He argues that in fact the telos of most of the European poetry known as epic is tears, and that through tears the communion between past and present is most accessible.   

[ back ] 44. Cf. the bT scholia on this line: οὐ μόνον αἱ γυναῖκες· πλείονα γὰρ ἐκίνησεν οἶκτον. ἐπὶ πλείστῳ δὲ ἐλέῳ καταστρέφει τὴν Ἰλιάδα. “Not only the women [wailed in response]. For she initiated a great deal of lamentation. [Homer] brings the Iliad to a close with a view to achieving the most intense pity.”