We’re going to survive-our songs, our stories. They’ll never be able to forget us. Decades after the last man who fought at Troy is dead, their sons will remember the songs their Trojan mothers sang to them. We’ll be in their dreams-and their worst nightmares too.
-Pat Barker “The Silence of the Girls”
Shoutout to Cath whose excellent review of The Silence of the Girls made my fingers itch to get a hold of it. One of the things I found most jarring about The Iliad was the naked purity of the misogyne which fills its pages. In Pat Barker’s retelling of the story she chooses not to ignore the prejudices which run so rampant in the story of The Iliad, but instead gives a voice to those who are maligned.
Barker reframes the story through the eyes of Briseis. In Homer’s writing Briseis serves mainly as a plot device. Barker teases out the plot points that define Briseis and attempts to discover the individual behind them. Barker’s Briseis is, though tortured and abused, remarkably benevolent. As she adjusts to her life as a Greek sex slave Briseis retains all of the dignity and poise of the Trojan princess that she was.
Briseis’s counterpoint in the book is Helen. While Homer gives us scant details on who Briseis was as a person he is more forthcoming when it comes to Helen, and the picture he paints is far from ideal. The Helen we are told of is a woman of striking physical beauty and rotten ideals. Instead of trying to create a more sympathetic character out of Helen, Barker embraces Homer’s view.
I think It shows constraint and thoughtfulness on Barker’s part to not paint a sunnier version of Helen. Another relationship which develops in interesting ways throughout the book is Briseis’s relationship to Tecmessa, Ajax’s wife who shares a similar story to Briseis.
Barker is thoroughly seeped in Greek writings, and it shines through on every page. The Silence of the Girls does not seem like a retelling, so much as an addendum. Barker doesn’t try to shape events or people so much as she attempts to observe who they would have been. Even Achilles is given a redemptive arch, as Briseis shifts from viewing him as merely a captor to seeing in him innate greatness.
The story of Achilles will surely be told as long as humanity exists. Whether that’s just because that’s because he was truly great in some mysterious way or it’s just a story we’re used to telling I’m not really sure. Either way, Briseis’s part in this story is well deserved.
Read The Silence of the Girls.
While we’re talking about greatness it should be pointed out that Tom Brady is going to be playing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next season.
I’m a Cheesehead through-and-through, but Brady’s 20 years with the New England Patriots have been astounding. He used to annoy me when he was just really good, but now that he’s great I unashamedly cheer for greatness. Any argument over his place in history should have ended on February 5th 2017, when he led the New England Patriots to a 25 point comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
The average career length for NFL players is a little over 3 years. When Brady suits up this fall he will be entering his 21st season. Brady has started in 9 Super Bowls, and won 6. No other Quarterback has won more than 4.
Keep in mind, the year Brady was drafted 198 players were picked before him. Brady’s success doesn’t come from athletic prowess so much as it comes from dogged determination and hard work. I find this type of greatness inspiring because, unlike Achilles, I will never gain world renown for the raw talent I displayed in my mid twenties.
Funny thing, I hear that in Europe they only know Tom Brady because he happens to be married to Gisele Bündchen. So maybe the world has gotten a little more egalitarian in the last three millenniums? On the other hand, Paris didn’t have much going for him besides the fact that he had sex with Helen, so maybe we’ve learned nothing?
Photo by Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports