In Greek mythology, Brisēís (Greek Βρισηίς) was a Trojan widow (from Lyrnessus). She was captured during the Trojan War when Achilles led the assault on Lyrnessus. Her three brothers and her husband, possibly King Mynes of Lyrnessus, died during the attack, the latter at Achilles' hands. She is given to Achilles as a prize. After an oracle forced Agamemnon to give up his woman, Chryseis, he ordered his heralds, Talthybius and Eurybates, to take Briseis from Achilles as compensation. Achilles was offended by this seizure and, as a result, withdrew from the fighting. Despite Agamemnon's grand offers of treasure and women, he did not return to the fray until the death of Patroclus.

The retirement of Achilles to his tent is the first event of Homer's "Iliad". With Achilles removed from the conflict, the Trojans enjoyed a period of success. After Achilles' return to the fighting, Agamemnon restored Briseis to him. Briseis' real name was Hippodameia, "Briseis" being a patronym as a daughter of Briseus.

In the "Iliad", Achilles loves Briseis, comparing their relationship with that of man and wife (he refers to her as his wife and bride often).

Are the Atreidai of all mortal menthe only ones who love their wives? I think not.Every sane decent fellow loves his ownand cares for her, as in my heart I lovedBriseis, though I won her by the spear. ["Iliad" 9.416-20.]

Achilles is quite angry at Agamemnon, and seethes in his tent. He is, understandably, made furious by the thought of Agamemnon sleeping with her. When the quarrel is resolved,and Achilles returns to the fighting, Agamemnon swears to Achilles that he and Briseis never shared a bed. ["Iliad" 9.334-343, 19.261-263.]

In medieval romances, starting with the "Roman de Troie", Briseis becomes Briseida ["Brizeida" in the letter of Azalais d'Altier.] 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.

Art references

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 "Illiad" unfold. In Christa Wolf's novel "Kassandra", aspects of the Homeric and medieval versions of Briseis's story are blended so that the character is steadilly degraded from being Troilus' lover to Agamemnon and Achilles' plaything. Briseis is also featured in the 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).


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