Who Was Briseis?

 

Briseis may have looked like this.
Briseis may have looked like this.

When I first read the Iliad, Briseis captured my imagination and begged me to tell her story. Who was Briseis? Everyone’s heard of Achilles. Mention the name of Briseis, however, and you’ll likely be met with a blank stare. A very minor character in Homer’s Iliad, she only appears a few times in the epic and has just one short if poignant speech. Yet without her there would be no quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon, no Iliad at all.

Wife of the prince of a small kingdom near Troy, she must have had great beauty and courage to instantly win the heart of Achilles, the mighty warrior who sacked her city, killing her husband and three brothers. What were her thoughts and feelings as she stood before him realizing that she was now his slave? After all the havoc he had wreaked in her life, how could she come to love him? Yet she clearly did.

As I began to write about her, I was interested to find out if others had done so before me. A few historical novels of the Trojan War touch on the love story of Achilles and Briseis, all with varying interpretations. I also discovered two novels entirely about Briseis. Naturally I was curious about the competition.

The first one was Daughter of Troy, by Sarah B. Franklin, originally published in 1998. I was not overly impressed. The historical details are accurate, and the author follows the general storyline but gets sidetracked by having Briseis jump into bed with all the men she meets. And did the author have to describe these men’s private parts in such minute detail? What woman writes like that? Well, it turns out that Sarah B. Franklin is a pseudonym. “She” is actually a man, author of many successful works of science fiction and fantasy.

The second book was Hand of Fire, by Judith Starkston, published by Fireship Press in 2014. Ms. Starkston’s book is well written and meticulously researched. Her Troy and its surrounds are peopled by the Hittites, and Briseis is a healing priestess to a Hittite goddess. Ms. Starkston closely follows the Iliad’s storyline—as I do in my novel of Briseis, Warrior’s Prize. Ms. Starkston too has created a strong heroine in charge of her own destiny. Beyond that, her book and mine have differences: the beginning and end, the way the love story unfolds, the role of the gods, and more. Hand of Fire is a most rewarding read. I highly recommend it.

If you enjoy ancient history and are interested in a passionate love story, check out Warrior’s Prize when it comes out with Knox Robinson Publishing in 2017. For more about it and my other books, including Shadow of Athena, due to be published in 2016 by Knox Robinson, visit my website at http://www.elenadouglas.com and my author page “Elena Douglas” on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter at “Barbara Brunetti.”

A Direct Link Between Myth and History?

legionxiiiiA direct link between myth and recorded history? You decide. An ancient legend, an ancient curse. A sacrilege is committed in Athena’s sanctuary during the sack of Troy. The goddess demands retribution. Two maidens, sworn to virginity, must serve as slaves for a year in her temple on an alien shore. Two new girls must be sent every year—for a thousand years.

Think it sounds far fetched? Think again. The Trojan War, if it happened at all, supposedly took place around 1200 B.C. So while this ritual may have originated in myth, historical evidence tells us that it was re-enacted annually until almost 300 B.C. That’s pretty close to a thousand years.

The Greek warrior Ajax’s rape of Cassandra in Athena’s Trojan temple was a sacrilege so outrageous that the wrathful goddess sank his homebound fleet, killing him and all his men, then wreaked famine and pestilence on his native realm, Locris. When the beleaguered citizens asked the Oracle of Delphi how to lift her curse, they learned that they must send the goddess two maiden slaves—you guessed it—every year for a thousand years.

What was it like, I wondered, to be one of those maidens chosen against her will and bound for an unforgiving shore? This is the premise for my novel Shadow of Athena.

Sixteen-year-old Marpessa’s name is drawn to be one of the unfortunate maidens. She and another girl must cross the Aegean to serve as slaves in Athena’s temple in Troy. As a part of the ritual, once they land they are hunted like prey and can be killed until they reach the sanctuary. If they survive their journey and their servitude, they return home at the end of a year but must remain virgins for life.

The day she is chosen is just the beginning of Marpessa’s troubles. Many unforeseen calamities befall her and the male slave sent to help her. Even if the two can find their way home at the end of their trials, Marpessa’s vengeful thwarted suitor awaits them there with murder in his heart.

To find out what happens, look for Shadow of Athena, by Elena Douglas, to be published by Knox Robinson Publishing in 2016.

The Locrian Maidens

THE LOCRIAN MAIDENS

 

When doing research on the Trojan War for my novel, Warrior’s Prize, I came upon an amazing story concerning a unique, bizarre ritual with its roots in legend that was carried out well into historical times. It provided an actual link between the Trojan War and verifiable recorded history. And it was so compelling that I knew at once it was the premise of my next novel—Ancient Wrath.

It began with a sacrilege committed at Troy. Homer tells of two heroes by the name of Ajax. One was a mighty warrior who died before Troy fell. But our story concerns the second Ajax, a lesser man who hailed from Locris in mainland Greece. During the sack of Troy, when the princess Cassandra, sister of Hector, sought refuge in the temple of Athena, this Ajax followed her there, tore her from the sanctuary and, some versions say, raped her. Ajax’s fellow warriors realized immediately that he had committed a great sacrilege. Fearing that the goddess’s wrath would fall on all of them, they tried to stone him to death. Whereupon Ajax saved himself by running back into the temple, clinging to the image of Athena, and vowing to expiate his sin.

But it was not to be. On his journey home his ship was wrecked near the coast of Greece and Ajax was flung into the raging sea. He managed to scramble onto a rock near the shore, where he shouted his defiance of the gods. His hubris had passed all bounds. Poseidon sheared off the section of rock to which he clung, and he fell into the sea and drowned.

Athena, unappeased, sent drought and pestilence to his homeland Locris. When the citizens sought help from the oracle of Delphi, they were told that to propitiate the goddess they must send two maidens to her temple in Troy every year for a thousand years. Thus began the ritual that continued into recorded history.

Every year two maidens were chosen by lot to go to Troy, accompanied on their journey across the sea by two Locrian guides. The ritual decreed that once they reached the Trojan shore, they were fair game to be killed by armed men who lay in wait for them and who were hailed as heroes if they killed one of the maidens. Not until they reached the temple itself were they safe. If a maiden was killed, her body was burned as a defilement on unfruitful wood and thrown into the sea. And a replacement from Locris had to be sent.

The maidens who survived this journey had their heads shorn and went barefoot, clothed in the single garment of a slave. They spent their days in degrading servitude, washing and sweeping the outer temple but not allowed to enter the sanctuary itself. And when their year was finished, they returned home but could not marry and must remain virgins the rest of their lives.

The story of the Locrian maidens was fairly begging to be told. And so my novel Ancient Wrath began to take shape. The maiden Marpessa, a happy young girl who loved all living things and wanted only to live a normal secure life, found her name drawn to become one of the temple slaves. And so began the adventure that would uproot her from her home and endanger her very life.

 

Further reading:

Walter Leaf. A Study in Homeric Geography. MacMillan and Company limited. London,1912. Reprinted by Kessinger Publishing.

James M. Redfield. The Locrian Maidens. Princeton University Press. Princeton, 2003.

Photos by Bruce Precourt. Used with permission.