For a long time, I read The Iliad once a year. I’ve let it lapse for the past few, but I’ve been amazed at how the poem’s depths continue to reveal themselves to me. I notice new characters every time, and am moved by different moments.
One thing has always compelled me more than anything else, and may be why the poem has taken such a huge place in my heart. That’s Briseis. She’s involved in the inciting incident of the world’s most epic story, but her character is such a mystery. Agamemnon and Achilles fight over her, but this is about Briseis as a prize, not Briseis as a person.
There is the suggestion that she leaves Achilles unwillingly, that she and his beloved Patroclus get along, but there isn’t much else.
When I wrote Andromache’s Prize, I was riffing very, very loosely on The Trojan Women, Euripides’ play about the aftermath of the Trojan War. I wanted to know about Briseis, and about Hector’s noble wife Andromache. So I turned Andromache into a warrior woman, though at the beginning of the story Briseis remains one of the spoils of war, enslaved to the unworthy.
This story is about Briseis becoming her own, revealing who she is. I called it Andromache’s Prize because at the beginning of the story, Andromache is in the position of simply echoing the brutalities of the male warriors she’s emulating. She warns a camp of men to watch out because she’s coming for their women. In this context, she steals Briseis away—and Briseis’ entire life is about being stolen.
Once Andromache steals her, though, Briseis becomes more complex than a pile of loot. She learns from Andromache how to fight, but she also speaks up for the feminine. She tells Andromache that she prays to Hera, not Zeus, and the domestic goddess taught her how to make herself softer than water.
The Iliad is a great and exciting story of war, action, and magic. It’s also about tragedy and human cost. I wanted Andromache and Briseis to engage deeply with the question of where a person can go from there. They and many others are trapped, still living on the wasted battlefield. What sorts of solutions are even available to them? Andromache’s ferocity is glorious, but in many ways, it’s another sort of trap.
In writing Andromache’s Prize, I wanted to honor the things that Briseis must have learned in her years of captivity and yielding. More than that, I wanted to honor the innocents over the centuries who have paid the costs of wars that were never theirs to fight, who are tired of the stories being told over their heads, and who are ready to tell their own stories and make their own worlds.