The Atlantic

The Silence of Classical Literature’s Women

Pat Barker’s retelling of The Iliad imagines the Trojan War from the perspective of a female slave fought over by two Greek heroes.
Source: Naples National Archeological Museum / Wikimedia Commons

At the end of The Silence, Briseis, a princess taken as a slave by Achilles, considers the cost of the Trojan War. Fragments of songs are running through her head, stories about voyages and adventure and “the glorious deaths of heroes.” Briseis is sick of them. The death of young men in war is a tragedy, she thinks, but worse is the fate of the women who survive. Their husbands, brothers, and children are all dead; the women are traded as sexual trophies by the same men who murdered their families. “I looked at Andromache,” Briseis thinks, “who’d have to live the rest of her amputated life as a slave, and I thought, ”

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