Like Blood Poured Over Milk: It Gets Worse When Achilles Dies

Inspired by the essay “Just a Girl: Being Briseis“, I have been reading through more passages about Briseis. In the Iliad, she performs a memorable lament for Patroklos. The much later Posthomerica similarly instrumentalizes her grief and uses her character as a way to amplify the loss of Achilles. Note, however, the really terrible observation of this passage that for a woman in war it can always get worse.

Quintus, Posthomerica 3.551-573

“Of all the women, Briseis felt the most terrible grief
in her heart within, the companion of warring Achilles.
She turned over his corpse and tore at her fine skin
With both hands and from her delicate chest
Bloody bruises rose up from the force of her blows—
You might even say it was like blood poured over milk.
Yet she still shined even as she mourned in pain
And her whole form exuded grace.
This is the kind of speech she made while mourning:

“Oh what endless horror I have suffered.
Nothing that happened to me before this was so great
Not the death of my brothers nor the loss of my country,

Nothing exceeds your death. You were my sacred day
And the light of the sun and the gentle life,
My hope for good and tireless defense against pain—
You were better by far than any gift, than my parents even—
You were everything alone for me even though I was enslaved.

You took me as your bedmate and seized me from a slave’s labor.
But now? Some other Achaean will take me away in his ships
To fertile Sparta or dry and thirsty Argos
Where I will again suffer terrible things working away,
Apart from you and miserable. I only wish that
The earth had covered over me before I saw your death.”

πασάων δ’ ἔκπαγλον ἀκηχεμένη κέαρ ἔνδον
Βρισηὶς παράκοιτις ἐυπτολέμου Ἀχιλῆος
ἀμφὶ νέκυν στρωφᾶτο καὶ ἀμφοτέρῃς παλάμῃσι
δρυπτομένη χρόα καλὸν ἀύτεεν· ἐκ δ’ ἁπαλοῖο
στήθεος αἱματόεσσαι ἀνὰ σμώδιγγες ἄερθεν
θεινομένης· φαίης κεν ἐπὶ γλάγος αἷμα χέασθαι
φοίνιον. ἀγλαΐη δὲ καὶ ἀχνυμένης ἀλεγεινῶς
ἱμερόεν μάρμαιρε, χάρις δέ οἱ ἄμπεχεν εἶδος.
τοῖον δ’ ἔκφατο μῦθον ὀιζυρὸν γοόωσα·
“Ὤ μοι ἐγὼ πάντων περιώσιον αἰνὰ παθοῦσα·
οὐ γάρ μοι τόσσον περ ἐπήλυθεν ἄλλό τι πῆμα,
οὔτε κασιγνήτων οὔτ’ εὐρυχόρου περὶ πάτρης,
ὅσσον σεῖο θανόντος· ἐπεὶ σύ μοι ἱερὸν ἦμαρ
καὶ φάος ἠελίοιο πέλες καὶ μείλιχος αἰὼν
ἐλπωρή τ’ ἀγαθοῖο καὶ ἄσπετον ἄλκαρ ἀνίης
πάσης τ’ ἀγλαΐης πολὺ φέρτερος ἠδὲ τοκήων
ἔπλεο· πάντα γὰρ οἶος ἔης δμωῇ περ ἐούσῃ,
καί ῥά με θῆκας ἄκοιτιν ἑλὼν ἄπο δούλια ἔργα.
νῦν δέ τις ἐν νήεσσιν Ἀχαιῶν ἄξεται ἄλλος
Σπάρτην εἰς ἐρίβωλον ἢ ἐς πολυδίψιον Ἄργος·
καί νύ κεν ἀμφιπολεῦσα κακὰς ὑποτλήσομ’ ἀνίας
σεῦ ἀπονοσφισθεῖσα δυσάμμορος. ὡς ὄφελόν με
γαῖα χυτὴ ἐκάλυψε πάρος σέο πότμον ἰδέσθαι.”

17th Century Tapestry based on Rubens’ “Briseis Returned to Achilles?

Briseis Weeps

For more on the Iliad from Briseis’ point of view,  see the extraordinary anonymous essay, Just a Girl: Being Briseis

D Scholia to the Iliad:

“The Poet seems to use their patronymic names and not their personal ones, for other ancient accounts notes that [Chryseis] was named Astynomê and [Briseis] was named Hippodameia.”

ἔοικε δὲ πατρωνυμικῶς τὰ ὀνόματα αὐτῶν σχηματίζειν ὁ Ποιητὴς, καὶ οὐ κυρίως. ὡς γὰρ οἱ ἄλλοι ἀρχαῖοι ἱστοροῦσιν, ἡ μὲν, ᾿Αστυνόμη ἐκαλεῖτο, ἡ δὲ, ῾Ιπποδάμεια.

Homer Iliad 19. 281-302

“Then when Briseis, like golden Aphrodite herself,
Saw Patroklos run through with sharp bronze,
Poured herself over him while she wailed and ripped
At her chest, tender neck, and pretty face with her hands.
And while mourning the woman spoke like one of the goddesses:

“Patroklos, you were the dearest to wretched me and
I left you alive when I went from your dwelling.
And now I find you here dead, leader of the armies,
When I return. Troubles are always wresting me from troubles.
The husband my father and mother gave me to
I watched run through with sharp bronze in front of the city,
And then the three brothers my mother bore,
Dear siblings, all met their fate on that day.
But you would not ever let me weep when swift Achilles
Was killing my husband and when he sacked the city of divine Munêtos—
No, you used to promise to make me the wedded wife
Of divine Achilles, someone he would lead home in his ships to Phthia,
where you would light the marriage torches among the Myrmidons.
So now I weep for you, dead and gentle forever.”
So she spoke, while weeping….

Βρισηῒς δ’ ἄρ’ ἔπειτ’ ἰκέλη χρυσέῃ ᾿Αφροδίτῃ
ὡς ἴδε Πάτροκλον δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ,
ἀμφ’ αὐτῷ χυμένη λίγ’ ἐκώκυε, χερσὶ δ’ ἄμυσσε
στήθεά τ’ ἠδ’ ἁπαλὴν δειρὴν ἰδὲ καλὰ πρόσωπα.
εἶπε δ’ ἄρα κλαίουσα γυνὴ ἐϊκυῖα θεῇσι·
Πάτροκλέ μοι δειλῇ πλεῖστον κεχαρισμένε θυμῷ
ζωὸν μέν σε ἔλειπον ἐγὼ κλισίηθεν ἰοῦσα,
νῦν δέ σε τεθνηῶτα κιχάνομαι ὄρχαμε λαῶν
ἂψ ἀνιοῦσ’· ὥς μοι δέχεται κακὸν ἐκ κακοῦ αἰεί.
ἄνδρα μὲν ᾧ ἔδοσάν με πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ
εἶδον πρὸ πτόλιος δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ,
τρεῖς τε κασιγνήτους, τούς μοι μία γείνατο μήτηρ,
κηδείους, οἳ πάντες ὀλέθριον ἦμαρ ἐπέσπον.
οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδέ μ’ ἔασκες, ὅτ’ ἄνδρ’ ἐμὸν ὠκὺς ᾿Αχιλλεὺς
ἔκτεινεν, πέρσεν δὲ πόλιν θείοιο Μύνητος,
κλαίειν, ἀλλά μ’ ἔφασκες ᾿Αχιλλῆος θείοιο
κουριδίην ἄλοχον θήσειν, ἄξειν τ’ ἐνὶ νηυσὶν
ἐς Φθίην, δαίσειν δὲ γάμον μετὰ Μυρμιδόνεσσι.
τώ σ’ ἄμοτον κλαίω τεθνηότα μείλιχον αἰεί.
῝Ως ἔφατο κλαίουσ’…

For an exploration of this speech from compositional and thematic perspectives, see Casey Dué ‘s Homeric Variations on a Lament by Briseis.

Agamemnon’s Relationship Counseling: Ovid, Remedia Amoris 466-486

“Agamemnon saw (and what did he not see, since all of Greece was subject to his judgment?) Chryseis, captured by his own martial valor, and he loved her: but her foolish old father went all around weeping for her! (Why are you crying, you hateful old man? They’ve made a good match! You idiot, you’re harming your daughter with your meddling!) After Calchas, under the protection of Achilles, had ordered that she be returned and she was safely received home, Agamemnon said, ‘Well, this other girl has a fairly similar appearance, and, excepting the first syllable, practically the same name! If he knows what’s best for him, Achilles will give her to me willingly: if not, he will feel the weight of my power. And, my Achaeans, if any of you should censure this action, – well, it really is something to hold a sceptre in a mighty hand. For, if I am king, and no girl sleeps with me, Thersites may as well go ahead and take the throne from me!’ So he spoke, and had this to ease the burden of his earlier loss, and he set aside his concern, which was forced aside by new concerns. Therefore, take counsel from Agamemnon and take up a new flame, and let your love be drawn apart in opposite directions!”

Vidit ut Atrides (quid enim non ille videret,
Cuius in arbitrio Graecia tota fuit?)
Marte suo captam Chryseida, victor amabat:
At senior stulte flebat ubique pater. 470
Quid lacrimas, odiose senex? bene convenit illis:
Officio natam laedis, inepte, tuo.
Quam postquam reddi Calchas, ope tutus Achillis,
Iusserat, et patria est illa recepta domo,
‘Est’ ait Atrides ‘illius proxima forma, 475
Et, si prima sinat syllaba, nomen idem:
Hanc mihi, si sapiat, per se concedat Achilles:
Si minus, imperium sentiat ille meum.
Quod siquis vestrum factum hoc incusat, Achivi,
Est aliquid valida sceptra tenere manu. 480
Nam si rex ego sum, nec mecum dormiat ulla,
In mea Thersites regna, licebit, eat.’
Dixit, et hanc habuit solacia magna prioris,
Et posita est cura cura repulsa nova.
Ergo adsume novas auctore Agamemnone flammas, 485
Ut tuus in bivio distineatur amor.