Briseis, with some additions by Achilles, tells the story of the fall of Troy. This retelling, from the female and minor character point of view, is in the fashion of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Firebrand, about Cassandra, and Ursula LeGuin’s Lavinia, although the language here is much stronger and violent. Briseis states Barker’s main point on the very last page:
What will they make of us, the people of those unimaginably distant times? One thing I do know: they won’t want the brutal reality of conquest and slavery. They won’t want to be told about the massacres of men and boys, the enslavement of women and girls. They won’t want to know we were living in a rape camp. No, they’ll go for something altogether softer. A love story, perhaps? I just hope they manage to work out who the lovers were.
Indeed, this is a book that could only be written in our time, when the knowledge of what happens to the conquered, whether in Africa, the Middle East or elsewhere, is brought to light. In unflinching prose Barker makes us feel the fear and loss of “me-ness” that comes with being a slave, being seen as “it.” The casual cruelty is just part of the story.
My only objection to the book is when Achilles becomes the focus and we learn about his inner workings – his relationship with his mother, his feelings for Patroclus – too much pop-psychology here. Briseis is a very strong character, who manages to survive Achilles, Agamemnon, the murders of her family in Lyrnessa, and at the end, reclaim herself:
Once, not so long ago, I tried to walk out of Achilles’ story – and failed. Now, my own story can begin.
I definitely recommend this books for adults – it will hold your interest and make you look at Agamemnon in a whole new light.
Reviewed by Ruth Breindel
Salvete Soldales! XAIPETE!
I am writing as President of CANE with greetings and wishes for a productive (and dare I say happy?) new school year. I am honored to take on the presidency of our association. CANE has been a constant and vital presence in my professional life over many years and remains so still.
I am always struck by how much CANE does, and how effectively, from the Annual Meeting to the Summer Institute, the scholarships for study in the classical lands, student activities and prizes, help for classroom materials and other things. NECJ has grown incredibly quickly from a pretty good newsletter to a sophisticated academic journal in my own academic career, and continues to grow and change, now being completely electronic.
All the things CANE does are not enough, though. Of course, we provide support for teachers in the classroom, and reach out when we can to administrators in schools at all levels. There is more to do. We as a profession have to get more involved in letting the world at large know about the good things that we have to offer to everyone, not just the students in our current classrooms. CANE is going to be very active this year in developing a program of outreach. I want to keep you informed about what we are planning to do, as well as to encourage you to get involved. For one thing, we have helped sponsor an outreach effort teaching Latin to incarcerated persons in CT: the Yale Prison Education Initiative. According to the organizer it was a great success and the students are clamoring for more Latin. This is one of the under-served constituencies we should be reaching out to. Other initiatives that may be coming include a proposal to bring real Classics into our communities: public libraries, community organizations and clubs, community colleges, and other venues. This last is a developing project, and you will be hearing more about it.
These issues are going to be a major focus this year, including at the Annual Meeting, which will be held at Trinity College in Hartford CT, on March 13-14, 2020. Please consider submitting a paper or workshop session. There have been so many paper and workshop proposals in recent years, and the sessions have proven so valuable for us as teachers and scholars that we are planning a full day of workshops and papers on Saturday as well as Friday—this has been creeping up and it is time to make the change. So, things will end on Saturday at 5 with, we hope, a reception to follow. A special new initiative will be the inclusion of a poster session for the first time, so if you have something to share in a form like that—a classroom project or new approach to old material, an account of an archaeological project, an electronically based research project, or anything that would be more valuable for people to see in this format, please consider offering a poster.
Lastly, I want to have you consider getting funding from CANE for your classroom and for your own intellectual benefit. CANE has money available for its members—that is to say, for you. There are three major scholarships available in 2020: the Coulter for study at the American Academy in Rome, the Endowment for study somewhere else (often but not necessarily the American School of Classical Studies in Athens), and the Poggioli for early-career teachers and scholars. Plan now to apply for one of these scholarships. In my experience, the experience was transformative: I came back from Greece and Italy a very different teacher than when I went.
There are more funds available for teachers at all levels. The Educational Grants combine the Discretionary Grants and the Educational Programs grants we have offered for some years and are now available on a rolling basis, so you can obtain the funds you need right away. These grants can be used for many types of projects in the classroom or for research, or for activities outside of the classroom such as museum visits. Find the link on www.caneweb.org and apply.
I hope you have a good start to the school year—and plan on Hartford in March!
— John Higgins