Sunday, May 17, 2009


Libby Tolman, class of 2011, wrote this poem in Ms. Alsup's Greek Mythology class. In Homer's Iliad, Briseis was a woman taken by Achilles as a prize of war, then later seized by Achilles's commander, King Agamemnon.

Sing, goddess, the rage of Briseis
Snatched from her safe-hearthed home.
Sing of a rage forbidden, a rage constricted
Confined to a turbulent mind in a cage of beauty.
Sing of a rage that never broke its chains,
A rage that threw only itself to the House of Death.
Begin, Muse, when she first left her island and father,
When the will of Zeus had not yet begun.

What god drove her to such a fury?
Eros, son of Venus who drove men to desire
When the Black Achean ships hit the island shore.
Picture a thousand ants alighting on sugary fruit.
So were the camp-weary Achean soldiers
Voracious, devouring. Nothing they left in peace.
The men tore the island apart for gold, women, and food.
Godlike runner Achilles got the best,
That his powerful build and commander status might be honored.
Bright Briseis Achilles tore from father Briseus’ loving arms.
Picture a starving beggar’s grasping attack on nourishing bread.
So was Achilles’ attack on innocent, beautiful Briseis.
And she thrilled at heart, afraid, unknowing, unsure of her destiny.
But hostile Ares made godlike Achilles end her confusion
As Briseis watched her father killed on the son of Thetis’ spear.

And the rage…
The rage that pounded on her mind
As the foam-capped breakers pounded on Achean ships
Cutting through the storm-tossed seas to foreign Illium.
The rage that lasted as the swift runner Achilles led her to his tents, not running now.
The rage that lasted through that night and the next in Achilles’ lodge,
Making her yearn for a spear to bury in the godlike hero’s chest.

But Thetis dove down from lofty Olympus,
Looking for all the world like another of Achilles’ prizes,
But Briseis knew her at once.
“Child!” White-armed Thetis cried. “Take heed of the all-powerful goddesses!
Obey our words. Do not harm brilliant Achilles.
Do not tempt Olympus’ deathlike wrath!”Picture a snarling, drooling dog held back from the kill,
How it frets and starts, only to be held by a chain,
Until it calms, resigned never to see the dark blood of its prey.
So was Briseis’ rage calmed by god-given acceptance and duty.

Sing, Muse, how then she wept and prayed to Thetis by the turquoise salty waters.
Tell of how Thetis did not rise for her as for godlike Achilles,
But let fair Briseis cry until her dog-like rage died,
Parched by the empty Trojan surf, replaced by carcass-like despair
Sing now of Thetis’ rage.

Up now Thetis flew to mighty Apollo and held his knees.
“Apollo, powerful Apollo!
Look how defiant Briseis disrespects swift runner Achilles!
Show her how lucky she is to have Achilles!”
And Apollo took these words and held them close to his heart.
He turned them over, wondering how to bring them to effect.
When lord of men Agamemnon, most unkind and abusive man alive,
Grew to a height of fury, great Apollo saw a way.
He placed the name Briseis in grasping Agamemnon’s mind.
Picture how a small, smooth dandelion seed grows,
Becoming a large, wicked garden weed.
So “Briseis” lodged in furious Agamemnon’s mind
And grew to the idea to take her of all Achilles’ prizes.
The cruel-to-women lord of men Agamemnon raged at questioning Achilles,
“I will be there in person at your tents
To take Briseis in all her beauty, your own prize—
So you can learn just how much greater I am than you
and the next man up may shrink from matching words with me.”
And Apollo knew that Briseis would see so much more—
She would shrink to think she had raged at kind Achilles,
Achilles gentler than great Agamemnon.

So Agamemnon sent loyal Talthybius and Eurybates along the beach,
Where towering waves drag sun-baked sand to stormy seas,
To fetch fair, clear-minded Briseis.
Achilles offered her forth resignedly,
But Briseis’ mind was full of worry.
Picture a black-grey storm cloud coalescing on an already-cloudy day.
So was Briseis’ unease,
For she had heard of ruthless Agamemnon,
Agamemnon crueler than great Achilles.
Patroclus obeyed his great friend [Achilles’] command.
He led Briseis in all her beauty from the lodge
And handed her over to the men to take away.
And the two walked back along the Argive ships
While she trailed on behind, reluctant, every step.