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Briseis on Homer’s Epics of Troy

The most valuable captive brought by Achilles from his raiding expeditions to the Aegean region is Briseis. Briseis, whose real name is Hippodameia, is the daughter of Brises, the priest of Apollo in Lyrnessos. Brises and Khryses, the priest of Apollo of Khryse, are brothers. Briseis was a married woman who was captured by Achilles after killing her husband. Briseis also bears her pain, because while she was crying for her destroyed home, her burning city, Achilles’ pure-hearted friend Patroclus comforted her with sweet words and promised Achilles that she would be his wife. He lives quietly in Achilles’ hut, when one day the fight between Achilles and Agamemnon turns his life upside down. When Apollo was willing to return Chryseis to his father to prevent the god’s anger and plague, Agamemnon spoke as follows (II. I, 183 ff):

If Pboibos wanted Apollo, he would take Chryseis.
not necessarily,
with my ship, with my comrades
I will send it.
But I’ll take myself from the shed
come and
your honour, beautiful cheeks
his Briseis.
then what i am stronger than you
understand see.
Let him be afraid of competing, let him take a lesson
who wants to see me equal
self.

Achilles is very angry at these words, he is about to unsheath his sword and walk on Agamemnon when the goddess Athena takes his hand. Achilles, after cursing the king of kings, takes an oath not to join the war no matter what happens, and retreats to his tent. Meanwhile, Agamemnon puts Chryseis on a ship and sends him to his father, and sacrifices a hundred cattle to calm the anger of the god Apollo. But not only that, he sends his two messengers to Achilles’ tent and takes the woman away.

Upon Achilles’ wish, his mother Thetis goes and begs Zeus not to give victory to the Achaeans unless Achilles joins the battle. Zeus keeps his word, so much so that even Agamemnon regrets what he has done and sends emissaries to make peace with Achilles. He makes him say that he will give Briseis back with many gifts, that he has never touched that woman anyway. Achilles still does not soften (Il. IX, 336 ff.).

On the day Patroclus died, Briseis returned to Achilles. We see two lovers crying over the dead. Then Briseis doesn’t have much to say in the Iliad. Only in the last chapter, when Achilles complies with his human feelings and gives Hector’s body to his father Priam, when he lays on his bed at night, his wife Briseis, for whom he suffered a lot, comes and sleeps next to him.

In the stories after Homer, Briseis is described as a tall, dark woman with thick eyebrows and bright eyes. After Achilles died, Briseis gave him the last duties.

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