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Brisēís (Greek: Βρισηΐς; also known as Hippodameia Greek: Ἱπποδάμεια)[1] was a mythical queen in Asia Minor at the time of the Trojan War. Her character lies at the center 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. When Achilles led the assault on that city during the Trojan War, her family died at his hands;[2] she was subsequently given to Achilles as a war prize.

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 loves Briseis, comparing their relationship with that of man and wife (he refers to her as his wife and bride often) and explicitly to that of Menelaus and Helen, which was, after all, what the war is about.

Achilles is angry at Agamemnon, and seethes with rage in his tent: understandably made furious by the thought of Agamemnon sleeping with Briseis. When Achilles returns to the fighting to avenge Patrocles' death and Agamemnon returns Briseis to him, Agamemnon swears to Achilles that he and Briseis never shared a bed.[3]

In medieval romances, starting with the Roman de Troie, Briseis becomes Briseida[4] 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

  • 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.
  • 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 [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 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 - a variation of his fate in the original mythology, where Agamemnon is also killed by a woman he wronged (but in quite different circumstances).
  • 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 get 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.

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