Notes for

Ovid, Heroides III


Achaeans: Literally, the inhabitants of the Greek region of Achaea. "Achaeans" was used by Homer and other writers as a general name for the Greeks at Troy.

Achilles: Son of the immortal sea-nymph Thetis, and the mortal king of Phthia, Peleus; central character in Homer's Iliad. The king of the gods, Jove, had wished to seduce Thetis, but was told of a prophecy that the nymph's son would be mightier than his father; fearing for his kingdom, Jove arranged for Thetis to marry a mortal, Peleus. When Achilles was an infant, his mother tried unsuccessfully to make him immortal, either by placing him upon a fire, or by dipping him in the river Styx (in the latter story, she held him by the heel when she dipped him in the river, so that the heel was untouched by the waters and was the only part of him that remained vulnerable to harm--hence the term "Achilles' heel"). Thetis knew of a prophecy that Achilles would either live a short and glorious life or a long and obscure one. To prevent him from going to Troy (and hence to a glorious but youthful death), she disguised him as a maiden and hid him among the women in the court of King Lycomedes of Scyros. There Achilles fell in love with the king's daughter, Deidamia, who bore him a son, Neoptolemus (or Pyrrhus). Achilles' disguise was eventually penetrated when Ulysses placed weapons among an array of female finery and noted Achilles' "unfeminine" reaction (in another version, Ulysses sounded a trumpet to get the same effect). Achilles became the greatest of the Greek heroes who fought in the war against Troy; the seer Calchas even prophesied that Troy could not be taken without his help. Among Achilles' many exploits during the Trojan War was the conquest and sack of Lyrnessus. During this campaign, he acquired the woman Briseis as a slave, having killed her brothers and her husband in the fighting. Briseis became his concubine, and Achilles became deeply attached to her. When Agamemnon, the commander-in-chief of the Greek forces at Troy, had to give up his own female war-slave, Chryseis, he took Briseis away from Achilles to compensate himself. Achilles became furious and withdrew to his tents, declaring his great love for Briseis and refusing to fight for the Greeks any further. The Trojans took advantage of Achilles' absence and mounted a successful offensive, driving the Greek forces back to their ships and even setting some of the fleet on fire. Agamemnon sent Ulysses, Phoenix and Ajax to Achilles' tent with an offer to return Briseis and to give lavish gifts in compensation as well, if Achilles would return to the fighting; Achilles refused. However, Achilles' closest friend, Patroclus, distraught over the imminent peril to the Greek armies, borrowed Achilles' armor and led their forces out once more against the Trojans; during the fighting, Patroclus was killed by the Trojan hero Hector. Determined to avenge Patroclus' death, Achilles finally accepted Agamemnon's offers (including the return of Briseis) and reentered the fighting, killing Hector in single combat and then desecrating his body by dragging it behind his chariot. Achilles himself was killed not long thereafter by being wounded in the heel by an arrow from the bow of the Trojan prince, Paris. 

Aeacus: Son of Jove and Aegina; father of Peleus and Telamon, and grandfather of Achilles and Ajax. Aeacus was king of the island of Aegina. When his kingdom was virtually wiped out by a plague, he prayed to Jove to send him subjects as numerous as the ants he saw swarming in an oak tree. He then fell asleep, and dreamed that he saw the ants being transformed into men. When he awoke, he found that the dream was true: the ants had been transformed into a host of young men who surrounded his palace and called him their king. He called these new subjects "Myrmidons," from the Greek word for "ant"; the Myrmidons were tireless workers and fierce fighters, who remained intensely loyal to their king. 

Aegina: Daughter of the river-god Asopus; mother of Aeacus. Aegina was loved by Zeus, who carried her off to the island which was later named after her. She bore a son, Aeacus, who was the father of Peleus and the grandfather of Achilles

Agamemnon: Son of Atreus and King of Mycene (in Homer) or of Argos (in later accounts); commander-in-chief of the Greek forces at Troy. In Homer's Iliad, Agamemnon has the woman Chryseis as a war-slave and concubine. Chryseis' father, Chryses, begs Agamemnon to release his daughter; Agamemnon refuses. Chryses, who is a priest of Apollo, prays to the god to punish the Greeks, and Apollo sends a plague into the Greek camp. The Greek seer Calchas proclaims that Chryseis must be returned to her father if Apollo is to be appeased. In a meeting of the Greek leaders, Achilles upbraids Agamemnon and presses him to return the girl. Agamemnon finally consents to return her, but says that he will take Achilles' own concubine, Briseis, in compensation. Achilles is enraged; he agrees to deliver Briseis, but says that he will no longer fight for the Greeks in their war against Troy. Following Achilles' withdrawal, the war goes badly for the Greeks, and Agamemnon sends Ulysses, Phoenix and Ajax to Achilles' tent with an offer to return Briseis and to give lavish gifts in compensation as well, if Achilles will return to the fighting. Achilles refuses, and only returns after the death of his close friend, Patroclus

Ajax: Son of Telamon and king of Salamis; brother of Teucer. Ajax was one of the mightiest of the Greek heros to fight at Troy, second in military prowess only to Achilles; he was also Achilles' first cousin (Telamon and Peleus were brothers). Ajax is described as a huge man, enormously strong but somewhat slow of speech and wit. He was one of the ambassadors sent by Agamemnon to offer the return of Briseis and to entreat Achilles to return to the fighting. After Achilles' death, Ajax and Ulysses competed for the possession of Achilles' magnificent armor, each giving a speech on his own merits before the assembled Greeks. Ajax lost the contest, went mad, and committed suicide. (Note: He is often called "the greater Ajax," to distinguish him from Ajax the son of Oileus, who also fought for the Greeks at Troy.) 

Briseis: Daughter of Briseus of Lyrnessus (Apollodorus makes her the daughter of the priest Chryses). She was married to Mynes. Achilles, the greatest of the Greek heros in the Trojan War, conquered Lyrnessus, killing Briseis' husband and her three brothers and taking Briseis herself away as a slave. Briseis became Achilles' concubine, and Briseis says in Homer's Iliad that Achilles' friend Patroclus had promised to see to it that Achilles formally married her when he returned home. When Agamemnon, the commander-in-chief of the Greek forces at Troy, had to give up his own female war-slave, Chryseis, he took Briseis away from Achilles to compensate himself. Achilles became furious and withdrew to his tents, declaring his great love for Briseis and refusing to fight for the Greeks any further. The Trojans took advantage of Achilles' absence and mounted a successful offensive, driving the Greek forces back to their ships and even setting some of the fleet on fire. Agamemnon sent Ulysses, Phoenix and Ajax to Achilles' tent with an offer to return Briseis and to give lavish gifts as compensation as well, if Achilles would return to the fighting; Achilles refused. However, Patroclus, distraught over the imminent peril to the Greek armies, borrowed Achilles' armor and led their forces out once more against the Trojans; during the fighting, he was himself killed by the Trojan hero Hector. To avenge Patroclus' death, Achilles finally reentered the fighting, killing Hector and being killed himself soon thereafter by an arrow from the bow of the Trojan prince, Paris. Briseis' letter in Heroides III is set in the short period of time after the visit of Ulysses, Phoenix, and Ajax, and before Patroclus' death. 

brothers: The three brothers of Briseis, who were killed by Achilles when he sacked Lyrnessus.

Danaan: Literally, the decendants of Danaus. "Danaans" was used by Homer and other writers as a general name for the Greeks at Troy.

father-in-law: See Peleus.

goddess: See Minerva.

Eurybates and Talthybius: Heralds for Agamemnon. Eurybates and Talthybius were the men who were sent to bring Briseis from Achilles' tent to Agamemnon's. 

Hector: Son of Priam (King of Troy) and Hecuba. Hector was the mightiest warrior on the Trojan side, and was regarded with fear by the Greek forces. He could finally be defeated only by the Greek hero Achilles. His body was desecrated after death by Achilles, and was only returned for proper burial following a touching and courageous personal appeal by Priam. Hector was married to Andromache, and he is mentioned as an example of a faithful and steadfast husband by Oenone in Heroides V. 

husband: Mynes, the husband of Briseis, who was killed by Achilles when he sacked Lyrnessus.

I have seen three fall: See note on Briseis' brothers.

Jove: (Also called Jupiter; Greek name--Zeus) King of the gods; husband of Juno. Jove had countless love affairs with mortal women, as well as with other goddesses and nymphs. One of these affairs was with the river-nymph Aegina; he carried her away to the island which was later named "Aegina" in her honor. Aegina bore a son, Aeacus, who was the father of Peleus and the grandfather of Achilles

king: See Agamemnon.

Laertes' offspring: See Ulysses.

Lesbos: Large island off the coast of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). The women of Lesbos were famed for their beauty. In the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., Lesbos was a center of Greek culture; its most famous poet (among modern readers, at least) was Sappho. 

Lyrnessus, Lyrnessian: The home of Briseis. Lyrnessus was a city in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), southeast of Troy

Mars: (Greek: Ares) God of war; son of Jupiter and Juno. Mars sided with Troy in the Trojan War. 

master and husband: See Achilles.

Meleager: Son of Oeneus, King of Calydon (in Aetolia), and of Althaea (in some versions, his father is the god Mars). In Homer's Iliad, Phoenix tells the story of Meleager as part of his attempt to persuade Achilles to return to the fighting. Phoenix's version of the story of Meleager is roughly as follows. The Aetolians and the Curetes were at war; as long as Meleager was in the fighting, the Aetolians were winning. However, Meleager's mother, Althea, was angry because Meleager had killed her brother (or brothers in post-Homeric versions), and called down curses upon him. Meleager then refused to fight any longer. Meleager's father pleaded with him to re-enter the fighting, and the Aetolians offered him rich gifts to return, but he refused. Finally, when the Curetes were at the very gates of Calydon, Meleager's wife, Cleopatra (daughter of Idas and Marpessa--not the Ptolemaic queen of Egypt), pleaded with him to return, and he finally assented. The Curetes were defeated with Meleager's help, but the Aetolians never made good on their earlier promises of gifts. Meleager is also famous as one of the Argonauts who sailed with Jason on the quest for the golden fleece, as the leader and organizer of the hunt for the deadly Calydonian boar, and as the lover of the maiden-huntress Atalanta. 

Minerva: (Greek: Athena). Daughter of Jove (without the aid of a mother's womb); goddess of wisdom and of defensive warfare, as well as patron of domestic arts such as weaving. When Agamemnon announced that he would take Briseis from Achilles in Book I of Homer's Iliad, Achilles started to draw his sword to attack Agamemnon. Minerva appeared beside him, invisible to all but Achilles himself, and stopped the attack. 

mother: See Thetis.

Mycenean: See Agamemnon.

Neoptolemus: (Also called Pyrrhus) Son of Achilles and Deidamia. After Achilles' death, he entered the fighting at Troy, fighting with great ferocity and killing, among others, King Priam

Nereus: Sea-god and father of the Nereids, including Thetis; grandfather of Achilles.

Patroclus: Son of Menoetius, the king of Opus; cousin and closest friend of Achilles, and his constant companion at the seige of Troy. (Patroclus' father and Achilles' grandfather were brothers.) After Achilles' withdrawal from the fighting, when the Greek troops were faring badly at the hands of the Trojans, the Greek leader Nestor suggested to Patroclus that he ask to borrow Achilles' distinctive armor and lead their troops back into combat (the idea was that Patroclus would be mistaken for Achilles himself and strike fear into the hearts of the Trojan warriors). Achilles agreed to the plan, with the provision that Patroclus would avoid combat with Hector, the mightiest of the Trojan heros. Patroclus went into battle and fought heroically, finally facing Hector himself. Hector, thinking that he faced the mighty Achilles, killed Patroclus and stripped the body of its armor. Patroclus' death incensed Achilles, and he returned to the fighting, hunting down and finally killing Hector to avenge his friend's death. When Briseis returned to Achilles' encampment, the first thing she saw was Patroclus' body; she grieved tearfully over him, remembering how he had "always been kind" to her, and saying that Patroclus had promised to see to it that Achilles married her when they returned to Phthia

Peleus: Son of Aeacus and king of Phthia; father of Achilles. When Jove decided that the sea-goddess Thetis must marry a mortal, he selected Peleus as the most worthy among men. To gain his bride, however, Peleus had first to capture and subdue her. He wrestled with her, holding her tightly while she changed into many strange and frightening shapes; finally, unable to escape, she submitted and agreed to marry him. Their wedding was attended by almost all the gods, who lavished many magnificent gifts upon the couple, but the festivities were disrupted by Eris, the goddess of Discord, in an episode which led ultimately to the war at Troy (see the note on Thetis). 

Pelion: A mountain in northern Greece. Mt. Pelion was the home of the wise centaur Chiron, who was tutor to the young Achilles

Pergamum: The citadel of the city of Troy. The god Neptune is said to have built the wall surrounding the citadel.

Phoenix: Son of Amyntor. Phoenix was blinded by his father (or cursed with childlessness in another version) because of an accusation by his father's concubine. Peleus took him to the centaur Chiron, who restored his sight. Peleus also made him the tutor of his young son, Achilles. Phoenix later accompanied Achilles to Troy, and was one of the ambassadors sent by Agamemnon to offer the return of Briseis and to entreat Achilles to return to the fighting. 

Phthia, Phthian: Homeland of Achilles in Greece, northeast of Athens; ruled by Achilles' father, Peleus.

plectrum: A thin piece of ivory, metal, etc., used for plucking the strings of a lyre.

Priam: King of Troy, father of Paris and Hector. One of the most moving scenes in Homer's Iliad occurs when Priam comes secretly at night into the Greek camp to plead with Achilles for the return of Hector's body. Priam was finally killed when the city of Troy was taken by the Greeks at the close of the Trojan War. 

Pyrrhus: See Neoptolemus.

son of Amyntor: See Phoenix.

son of Atreus, Atreus' son: See Agamemnon.

son of Menoetius: See Patroclus.

son of Oeneus: See Meleager.

son of Telamon: See Ajax.

Teucer's brother: See Ajax.

Thetis: Sea-goddess (a Nereid), daughter of the sea-god Nereus and the Oceanid Doris; mother of Achilles. The king of the gods, Jove, had wished to seduce Thetis, but was told of a prophecy that the goddess' son would be mightier than his father; fearing for his kingdom, Jove arranged for Thetis to marry the best and most worthy of mortals, Peleus. Their wedding was attended by all the gods and goddesses, except Eris, goddess of Discord. Eris retaliated for her exclusion by throwing a golden apple among the guests, with the inscription "For the fairest." Venus, Minerva and Juno all vied for the apple and finally asked Paris, a prince of Troy, to judge among them. Paris' famous judgement ultimately led to the Trojan War--see the note on Troy. Thetis was not particularly happy about being married to a mortal, but she was quite solicitous of her son's welfare, first trying to make him immortal, and then trying to prevent him from going to Troy (see the note on Achilles). When Achilles retired from the fighting after his quarrel with Agamemnon, she consoled him, and after the death of Patroclus she persuaded the god Vulcan to make new armor for him. 

Thracian: Of or pertaining to Thrace, a region north (or northeast) of classical-era Greece. There were Greek colonies along the Aegean coast of Thrace, but the interior was dominated by Thracian-speaking peoples, including warlike tribes living in the mountains of Haemus and Rhodope, whom the Greeks considered barbarous. Thrace is often associated with music, especially of the lyre. 

Troy, Trojan: City in Asia Minor (part of modern-day Turkey), ruled by King Priam. Paris, the son of Priam, was asked to judge which of three Olympian goddesses (Juno, Minerva, and Venus) was the most beautiful. He selected Venus, and was rewarded by being given the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen. Unfortunately, Helen was already married to King Menelaus of Sparta, and all of the other Greek kings had sworn to defend Menelaus's marriage rights. After Paris abducted Helen, taking her back to Troy with him, Greek armies besieged Troy for ten years in what became known as the Trojan War. They finally conquered and destroyed the city in the tenth year, thanks in part to Ulysses' strategem of the Trojan horse. 

Ulysses: (Greek name: Odysseus) Greek hero, son of Laertes and king of Ithaca; one of the leaders of the Greek troops at the ten-year siege of Troy. Odysseus (Ulysses) is the hero of Homer's Odyssey, which tells the story of his ten-year wanderings on the way home from Troy. He was one of the ambassadors sent by Agamemnon to offer the return of Briseis and to entreat Achilles to return to the fighting. After Achilles' death, Ulyssess and Ajax competed for the possession of Achilles' magnificent armor, each giving a speech on his own merits before the assembled Greeks. Ulysses won the contest, whereupon Ajax went mad and committed suicide. Ulysses is a favorite subject in Greek and Roman literature and art. He was renowned for his eloquence and his often unscrupulous cleverness. 

Venus: (Greek: Aphrodite) Goddess of love. Venus was the patron goddess generally of heterosexual romantic or sexual love of any kind, and often particularly of unmarried love. Her son ("Eros" in Greek, and "Amor" or "Cupid" in Latin) used a bow and arrow for inflaming hearts with love or violent passion. Venus was also involved in the divine dispute which led ultimately to the Trojan War.

 

 

This page created and maintained by James M. Hunter

Comments and suggestions welcome:  hunter@edgewood.edu

Last updated 06/22/2013