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For other uses, see Briseis (disambiguation).
Briseis and Phoenix, red-figure kylix, ca. 490 BC, Louvre (G 152).[1]

Brisēís (/brˈsɪs/; Greek: Βρισηΐς, pronounced [brisɛːís]; also known as Hippodameia Greek: Ἱπποδάμεια, [hippodámeːa])[2] was a mythical queen in Asia Minor at the time of the Trojan War. Her character lies at the heart of a dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon that drives the plot of Homer's Iliad.


In Greek Mythology, Briseis, a daughter of Briseus, was a princess of Lyrnessus. Briseis was said to have had golden long hair, blue eyes, and fair skin and she was considered to be very beautiful and clever. Her husband was Mynes. When Achilles led the assault on that city during the Trojan War, she was captured and her family (including her father, mother, three brothers, and husband) died at his hands.[3] She was subsequently given to Achilles as a war prize to be his concubine. In the Trojan War, captive women like Briseis were regarded as objects to be traded amongst the warriors.[4]

Patroclus comforted Briseis in her fear of being alone among her enemies and her grief over the loss of her country, her family, and her freedom, not letting her weep. He promised to have Achilles make her his wife and that he would give a wedding feast for them on their return to Phthia after the war had ended.

According to Book 1 of the Iliad, when Agamemnon was compelled by Apollo to give up his own woman, Chryseis, he demanded Briseis as compensation. This prompted a quarrel with Achilles that culminated with Briseis' delivery to Agamemnon and Achilles' protracted withdrawal from battle. His absence had disastrous consequences for the Greeks. Despite Agamemnon's grand offers of treasure and women, he did not return to the fray until the death of Patroclus.

In the Iliad, Achilles likens their relationship to that of man and wife (he often refers to her as his bride or wife) and compares it explicitly to the relationship between Menelaus and Helen, which was, after all, what the war is about. If the war was being fought because Helen had been separated from Menelaus, then what should the repercussions be for separating Briseis from him, is the question often agitated in his discourse. Briseis was said to have regarded Achilles as her husband as well.[4]

Achilles is angry at Agamemnon, and seethes with rage in his tent: made furious by the thought of Agamemnon sleeping with Briseis. When Achilles returns to the fighting to avenge Patroclus' death and Agamemnon returns Briseis to him, Agamemnon swears to Achilles that he and Briseis never shared a bed.[5]

Briseis was among those to lament and mourn over the death of Patroclus. She remained with Achilles until his death, which plunged her into great grief. She soon took it upon herself to prepare Achilles for the afterlife.[4] According to some, following his death, Briseis: "... was given to one of Achilles' comrades-at-arms just as his armor had been", after the fall of Troy.[4]

In medieval romances, starting with the Roman de Troie, Briseis becomes Briseida[6] and is the daughter of Calchas. She loves and is loved by Troilus and then Diomedes. She is later confused with Chryseis and it is under variations of that name that the character is developed further, becoming Shakespeare's Cressida.

Cultural references[edit]

  • In Ovid's Heroides, an apocryphal letter from Briseis to Achilles makes up the third entry, in which she reproaches him for both giving her up too easily to Agamemnon, and being tardy in gaining her return.
  • A papyrus leaf drawing from late antiquity, most likely of Egyptian origin, illustrates the abduction of Briseis by the heralds Talthybius and Eurybates.[7]
  • In The Firebrand by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Briseis fell in love with Achilles and chose to leave Troy to be with him.
  • The novel Daughter of Troy by Sarah B. Franklin is written from Briseis' point of view with a substantial pre-history before the events of the Iliad unfold [1].
  • In Christa Wolf's novel Kassandra, aspects of the Homeric and medieval versions of Briseis' story are blended so that the character is steadily degraded from being Troilus' lover to Agamemnon's and Achilles' plaything.
  • Briseis is played by Gloria Milland in the 1962 film The Fury of Achilles.
  • Briseis is featured in the 2004 film Troy. In the film, Briseis (Rose Byrne) is a cousin of the Trojan princes Hector and Paris, and falls in love with Achilles (Brad Pitt). She later kills Agamemnon (Brian Cox) during the Sack of Troy; in classical mythology Agamemnon is killed by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. She is also depicted as among those who escaped Troy after it fell.
  • In Steven Saylor's novel A Murder on the Appian Way, part of the Roma Sub Rosa series, Gordianus tries to insult someone by comparing her to Briseis, but the woman fails to understand the allusion and is therefore not insulted.
  • In Orson Scott Card's Shadow of the Hegemon, Briseis is the code name for Petra Arkanian while she was being held prisoner by Achilles de Flandres.
  • Madeline Miller's 2011 book The Song of Achilles, Briseis is in love with Patroclus.
  • In Judith Starkston's 2014 novel Hand of Fire, Briseis is depicted as a strong woman and a healer.


  1. ^ Beazley Archive 203900.
  2. ^ From the A scholium at Iliad 1.392 we learn that "[Homer] forms the names [of Briseis and Chryseis] patronymically. For as other ancient [poets] relate, Chryseis was called Astynome, and Briseis was called Hippodameia." Dictys Cretensis calls Briseis by the latter name in his account of the Trojan War. See Dué 2002: Homeric Variations on a Lament by Briseis 56-58.
  3. ^ See, e.g., Iliad 2. 688-694.
  4. ^ a b c d "Mortal Women of the Trojan War — Briseis (Hippodameia)". Stanford University. Retrieved 2013-01-02. 
  5. ^ Homer. Iliad, 19.261-263.
  6. ^ Brizeida in the letter of Azalais d'Altier.
  7. ^ Abduction of Briseis - Papyrus Leaf Illustration.” World Digital Library. Accessed May 11, 2015.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Briseis at Wikimedia Commons