The role of women in the Iliad is the central to the story, the war precipitated by the capture of a female of royal lineage along with untold wealth. From the beginning of the story, the tenth year of the war, the Greek forces are plagued with an incurable disease. How and why did it happen? Because of a woman. Female characters do feature throughout the story in one form or another and apart from Helen, one other created such havoc in the Greek camp, their champion and stalwart warrior refused to participate any further.
Briseis was the queen of Lyrnessos, abducted by Akhilleus after her husband and brothers were killed in one of the many raids led by the Myrmidon. He claimed her as a prize and concubine, as many of the women of the time were treated. How long was Briseis held captive by Akhilleus was never explained but from his reaction and dialogue, enough time for a bond to form.
Akhilleus disdain for Agamemnon is evident when the king refuses to return the priest’s daughter. This is the start of the trouble for the Greeks as Agamemnon wants to show who is in charge and teach Akhilleus a lesson.
‘But here is a threat: in the same way as Phoebos Apollo is robbing me of Chryseis, whom I propose to send off in my ship with my crew, I will come in person to your hut and take away fair-cheeked Briseis, your prize, Akhilleus, to let you know how far I am your superior and to teach others to shrink from claiming parity with me and playing the equal to my face.’
Taking Briseis away from Akhilleus was detrimental not only to the Greek army but also questioned Agamemnon’s position as overall leader. Akhilleus’ withdrawal from the fight gave the Trojans the opportunity to strike and launch an attack. There is a touching scene where Patroklos by the orders of Akhilleus leads Briseis out to Agamemnon’s heralds:
‘…the girl went unwillingly with them.
Withdrawing from his men, Akhilleus broke into tears. He sat down by himself on the shore of the grey sea and looked out across the boundless ocean.’
This shows a softer side to Akhilleus, an inner quality perhaps only a few were privy to see. The yin and yang of his personality.
Briseis was a commodity, as were all women during the war, and as such had no choice but to surrender her virtue and person to the victor. To do anything less would mean death. Survival is at the core of all humans, only when despair takes hold then the desire to die is stronger. Briseis succumbed to the “Stockholm Syndrome” as described by an FBI paper: a “psychological response of a hostage or an individual in a similar situation in which the more dominant person has the power to put the victim’s life in danger.” It is more common than most realise, when the victim sympathises and falls in love with their kidnapper. Perhaps it is the brain’s way of coping with the situation by protecting the victim from further harm.
I will leave you with the following quote:
Men, when they receive good from whence they expect evil,
feel the more indebted to their benefactor.
Thank you for visiting and reading. As always, I look forward to your comments.
Briseis Greek Mythology Link
Briseis – Mortal Women of the Trojan War, Stanford University
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15 commentsAdd Yours
Great post, as per usual… I enjoyed the way you summarise and analyse Homer´s Iliad , adding the genre variable, which turns teh approach even more dinamic and interesting…
I particularly enjoyed the part when you highlight Akhilleus ´disdain for Agamemnon. Machiavelli ´s quote is truly eloquent and well timed here.
Thanks fro sharing your love for Ancient Greek History and Myths…
Grazie mille, cara amica. Buon fine settimana,
Tante graze, I am very honoured by your comment 😀
The characters in the Iliad, never mind how small or whether one-dimensional impacts the story and plot. For me, I try to make sense of their role in the story and hope to learn more of Homer’s ability to weave such an enduring story.
Buona fortuna, cara amica.
Really nice to learn more about mythology and how women were viewed within the tales too – I am learning about the myths!
Soooo many layers. Even I am learning much more ;D
Thank you Christy!
Which translation(s) of Homer do you prefer? Why?
Good question! I’m a bit partial to the Penguin edition of Homer. No particular reason really, it was the first version of the story I read 😀
Another great post, Luciana, about the heroine Briseis. It was interesting how you relate the circumstances for Briseis, who was considered a war commodity, to the Stockhom Syndrome in which the hostage falls in love with their kidnapper. It was touching how Akhilleus was heartbroken when she was taken away, unlike some of his other brutal acts that included the desecration of Hector’s body. As a result Akhilleus comes across as a more complex character. It is fascinating that although women did not make decisions regarding the war, they nonetheless impacted the leaders’ decisions.
I enjoy your thorough analysis of ancient mythology and how you make it relevant to today.
Great job! I look forward to learning more in your blog.
Thank you Linnea! I am just so honoured by the response I’ve had with my interpretation of the characters in the Iliad. They are quite fascinating 😀
Thank you again for the amazing comment.
Bella, your wonderful analysis of Homer´s Iliad not only reflects your great knowledge of ancient mythology, but your deduction of Briseis was brilliant! The psychological phenomenon of the Stockholm Syndrome is fascinating in itself, but the comparison you drew with Briseis experiencing such was spot on. Perhaps this is what ensured that her life would have a more positive outcome.
Like the stories in your novel, Accursed Women, (that I devoured) you have a talent for drawing on your knowledge of ancient mythology and giving it a modern day twist. So very refreshing and always interesting!
I look forward to your upcoming posts.
Thank you Bella! Briseis was an interesting character and thought she deserved acknowledgement. All the women in the story do!
I am so pleased you enjoyed the short story collection. It means a great deal, especially from one who is so well read and intelligent.
The lot of women throughout history has been a hard one. And even today, it’s no better in many parts of the world. I’m thankful I live in a time and place where a fate like this is unlikely. Maybe someday, such acts will only be found in myths and ancient history.
Very true! Extraordinary how history keeps repeating!
We are very fortunate to live in place where women are respected and treated well.
Thanks as always for your insightful comments JM 😀
“Briseis was a commodity, as were all women during the war, and as such had no choice but to surrender her virtue and person to the victor. To do anything less would mean death.”
This was very true in ancient societies – East and West – and modern renditions (movies, TV) tend to over look and conveniently fit in with modern norms to secure larger audiences. In the East and especially among Mongols, women were treated as less valuable than herd stock.
I believe monogamy helped women to level up. With only one woman – and no harem – men started to treasure their spouses more. At least, that’s the theory and mostly holds validity, I reckon.
You are so right Eric. It’s amazing the parallels of women’s plight both in the East and West in ancient societies and unfortunately still happening and many countries.
Interesting point about monogamy too, and quite pivotal in the changing role of women. It did change the way men treated and perceived women.
Thank you so much Eric for such a profound comment.
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