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Briseis and Phoenix, red-figure kylix, ca. 490 BC, Louvre (G 152)[1]
Achilles' surrender of Briseis to Agamemnon, from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii, fresco, 1st century AD, now in the Naples National Archaeological Museum

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.


Briseis was said to have had long golden hair, blue eyes, and fair skin and she was considered to be very beautiful and clever. She was further described by John Tzetzes as follows[3]:

"was tall and white, her hair was black and curly;
she had beautiful breasts and cheeks and nose; she was, also, well -behaved;
her smile was bright, her eyebrows big"


Briseis, a daughter of Briseus, was a princess of Lyrnessus. Her husband was Mynes, king of Leleges.


When Achilles led the assault on Lyrnessus during the Trojan War, 21-years old[4] Briseis was captured and her family (including her father, mother, three brothers and husband) died at his hands.[5] 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 slaves and could be traded amongst the warriors.[6]

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.[6]

Achilles was angry at Agamemnon, and seethed with rage in his tent: made furious by the thought of Agamemnon sleeping with Briseis. When Achilles returned to the fighting to avenge Patroclus' death and Agamemnon returned Briseis to him, Agamemnon swore to Achilles that he and Briseis never shared a bed.[7]

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.[6] 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.[6]

In medieval romances, starting with the Roman de Troie, Briseis becomes Briseida[8] 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.[9]

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Beazley Archive 203900.
  2. ^ From the A scholium at Iliad 1.392 we learn that "[Homer] forms the names [of Briseïs 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. ^ John Tzetzes. Antehomerica, 356-358
  4. ^ John Tzetzes. Antehomerica, 360
  5. ^ See, e.g., Iliad 2. 688-694.
  6. ^ a b c d "Mortal Women of the Trojan War — Briseis (Hippodameia)". Stanford University. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  7. ^ Homer. Iliad, 19.261-263.
  8. ^ Brizeida in the letter of Azalais d'Altier.
  9. ^ Abduction of Briseis - Papyrus Leaf Illustration.” World Digital Library. Accessed May 11, 2015.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Briseis at Wikimedia Commons