Tainted Love: Briseis To Achilles And Everything In Between Greek Mythology Essay

1754 words - 8 pages

Ebby Offord
Greek Mythology
Keane
December 16, 2016
Tainted Love: Briseis to Achilles and Everything in Between
The rage of Achilles is our first introduction to Homer’s Iliad. Before we learn about what has transpired in the nine years of the Trojan War before the beginning of the Iliad, we learn of the all-consuming, murderous rage that has taken hold of the darling of the Greek army. Agamemnon’s decision to deny Achilles’ advice about to how proceed after offending Chryses, a priest of Apollo, and in turn the god himself, not only demonstrates his deadly arrogance but also serves as a catalyst for Achilles’ decision to remove himself from the war. Agamemnon’s key argument to his entitlement to Chryseis is Achilles’ own war prize, Briseis, a girl stolen away from her family and her home in a similar manner. The most interesting thing about this dynamic is that both men claim to care deeply for their respective slave women, yet we never hear from the women themselves about their perspective on these relationships. Ovid’s Heroides serves as a companion piece of sorts, allowing the reader to hear Briseis’ side of the story albeit from an outside, dramatized perspective. Because of the lack of attention to Briseis’ thoughts and feelings about her predicament within the Iliad, it is almost necessary for a piece like Ovid’s Heroides to exist to offer a successful counter to Homer’s disappointingly male-centered narrative. Ovid supplements emotion where Homer does not, and subsequently elevates Briseis from a piece of property to a human being.
When Briseis is taken away from Achilles’ tent in Book 1 of the Iliad, she is treated like a prized trophy instead of a human girl. She is fetched by Patroclus and handed over to Talthybius and Eurybates and is never addressed by her master. Briseis is simply led away, unwillingly and that is all we hear of her until much later in the poem (Homer, Iliad 1.358-361, tr Lombardo). From the context given in the epic itself, Briseis does not seem to mean much as a lover to Achilles, but rather it is her status as something he has earned through his military prowess that determines her value. Even when speaking to his mother Thetis, Achilles addresses Briseis as “his prize,” and therefore, “[Agamemnon] has dishonored [him]” by taking her away (1.370). Briseis is directly connected to Achilles’ honor and thus her absence indicates his inadequacy as a soldier and a leader. If his prize is taken away from him, what can be said about his future in battle? Rather than best Agamemnon by showing that he is a better soldier, Achilles withdraws from the war altogether to form an absolute regarding the respect of his honor.
Achilles remains so steadfast in his resolve to stay out of the war that even when his friends are dying and Briseis is offered to be returned to him, along with an assortment of other treasures, he refuses. Interestingly, Achilles chooses to compare his loss of Briseis to Menelaus’ loss of Helen...

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