Greek Diomedes madly loved Trojan Briseida during Trojan War

The ruthless Greek warrior Diomedes, King of Argos, didn’t seem like the sort of man who would suffer lovesickness. Yet he fell madly in love with the beautiful Trojan woman Briseida during the brutal violence against men of the Trojan War. Like a foolish courtly lover, he made himself completely subservient to her. She initially refused his love. He, begging her for mercy, nearly died in despair. Men must beware of their emotional weakness in relation to women.

What is offered me
causes me great fear.
What is denied me,
that I crave
passionately.

If she yields to me,
I am wary of her.
If she doesn’t do what I ask,
I favor her,
and I’m truly

wretched, whether she would destroy me,
or give me relief with herself.
She who desires me I flee;
she who flees from me, I desire.

The more I turn from what I ought to do,
the more I’m attracted to what’s forbidden.
The more what I dislike is allowed;
the more I like what isn’t allowed.

{ Quod michi datur
expaveo,
quodque negatur,
hoc aveo
mente severa.

Quae michi cedit,
hanc caveo.
Quae non oboedit,
huic faveo,
sumque revera

infelix, seu peream,
seu relever per eam.
Quae cupit, hanc fugio,
quae fugit, hanc cupio.

Plus renuo debitum,
plus feror in vetitum;
plus licet illibitum,
plus libet illicitum. }[1]

Greek warrior Diomedes, King of Argos

Diomedes didn’t seem like a weak-kneed, self-abasing woman-wooer. He was a skillful, treacherous, violent warrior:

Diomedes was very strong,
big and square-shouldered and rather tall.
He had a treacherous look about him.
He made many false promises.
He was very bold, very troublesome,
and very skillful in armed conflict.
His speech was very violent and slanderous,
and he was very much feared.
Very difficult it was to be able to find
anyone willing to be against him,
for nothing was able to make him hold his peace.

{ Forz refu mout Diomedès,
Gros e quarrez e granz adès;
La chiere aveit mout felenesse:
Cist fist mainte fausse pramesse.
Mout fu hardiz, mout fu noisos,
E mout fu d’armes engeignos;
Mout fu estouz e sorparlez,
E mout par fu sis cors dotez.
A grant peine poëit trover
Qui contre lui vousist ester:
Rien nel poëit en pais tenir }[2]

Diomedes was regarded as “more ruthless and more brutal than any other {sor toz en est fel e engrès}.” Yet Diomedes was also loyal to friends. In Homer’s Iliad, Diomedes put down him arms when he discovered that the Trojan warrior he was fighting was Glaucus, a friend from his youth.

The beautiful, young Briseida was expelled from Troy. She was the daughter of the Trojan turncoat-soothsayer Calcas. The oracle of Apollo at Delphi had ordered Calcas to go over to the Greek side and help the Greeks destroy Troy.[3] Like Aeneas in the Aeneid, Calcas placed duty to the gods above his own personal desire. After Calcas’s change of worldly allegiance, Briseida was expelled from Troy at the Greeks’ request in conjunction with a prisoner exchange. The Trojan warrior Troilus loved her. Both Briseida and Troilus mourned bitterly her departure from Troy.

Diomedes conducting Briseida from Troy to the Greek camp

Diomedes was in the group of Greek nobles who took Briseida back to the Greek camp. She was a classic damsel in distress:

The young woman was sobbing strongly.
No one could give her comfort.
She was suffering greatly because of Troilus,
who was receding farther and farther from her love.

{ La dameisele plore fort;
Rien ne li puet doner confort:
De Troïlusa grant dolor,
Qui si s’esloigne de s’amor. }

Diomedes immediately sought to offer himself to save Briseida’s heart. Despite never before having seen Briseida or spoken to her, he spoke to her at length:

“Beautiful lady,” he said, “he who has won
your love is rightly pleased with himself.
Your heart and your soul
I would like to have by covenant
that I would be yours as long as I live.
If it were not too soon
and we were not near the Greek army,
and because I see you distressed,
downcast and fearful and angry,
I would beg for great mercy,
to be your knight and your beloved,
that you would receive me so entirely.
Because of this, I would rather suffer great pain
if it pleases you, than fail in my appeal.
But I am very fearful and very anxious
that your heart may harbor hatred
toward me and toward those on our side.
Toward the people who have nurtured you
I know that you will always have love.
No one should ever blame you for that.
But I have heard it said
that persons who have never seen,
become acquainted, or known one another
can love one another very much. This happens often.”

{ “Bele,” fait il, “a dreit se prise
Qui de vostre amor est saisiz:
Le cuer de vos e les periz
Voudreie aveir par covenant
Que vostre fusse a mon vivant.
Se por ço non que trop est tost
E que si somes près de l’ost,
E que jo vos vei deshaitiee,
Pensive e dotose e iriee,
Jos criasse mout grant merci,
Qu’a chevalier e a ami
Me receüssiez tot demeine.
Ainz en voudrai sofrir grant peine
Que, se vos plaist, a ço n’en vienge;
Mais mout me dot e mout me criem ge
Que vostre cuers seit haïnos
Vers mei e vers ceus devers nos.
A la gent qui vos ont norrie
Sai que sereiz toz jorz amie:
De ço nos deit om ja blasmer.
Mais j’ai oî assez parler
Que gent qu’onc ne s’erent veü
Ne acointié ne coneü
S’amoënt mout, ç’avient adès.” }

Diomedes was already married to a woman named Egial.[4] Nonetheless, he instantly proposed essentially a Christian covenantal marriage to Briseida, the damsel in distress that he had just met. That’s insane. Before Briseida said anything, the ruthless, crafty warrior Diomedes, acting like a naive, awestruck schoolboy, said much more:

“Beautiful lady,” continued Diomedes,
“I have never entered into a love affair,
nor had a beloved nor been a beloved.”

{ “Bele,” fait sei Diomedès,
“Onques d’amer ne m’entremis,
N’amie n’oi ne fui amis.” }

Hey Diomedes, tell that to your wife Egial! Ignoring this heckling from millennia later, Diomedes earnestly continued on and on:

Now I feel love drawing me towards you.
One who gazes on your great beauty
is inflamed in love for you. That is no wonder.
You may know for very certain
that I’m placing all my good hopes in you.
I do not ever wish to have great joy
until I have assurance
of having your love without doubt,
and that I have your solace
such that with you in my arms,
I can kiss your eyes and mouth and face.
Sweet beloved, may you not be displeased
by anything that I ask of you or say to you,
nor should you consider it base.
You will be courted and asked
for love in may ways. That I know.
Here are all the world’s most renowned men,
and here are the noblest men,
and the most beautiful and the finest.
They will ask you for your love.
But mark well, beautiful lady, what I say to you.
If you make me your beloved,
you will gain nothing but honor from doing so.
He should be esteemed and greatly renowned
who possesses your love.
Beautiful lady, if I have offered myself to you,
do not refuse my homage.
Have the heart and the desire
to take me as your knight.
A loyal and true lover
you will thus know from now through
all the days that I live.
Many young women have I seen
and many ladies have I known.
Never did I ask any one of them
to love me in this manner.
You are the first
and you will be the last.
If I fail to win you, may God not grant
that I ever strive to win another.
I shall not do so, that I know for certain,
and if I can gain your love,
I shall keep it without doing any wrong.
You will never hear anything about me
that might displease you for even a day.
Heavy sighs and great tears
I see have overburden you in full.
I will put my heart to great effort
so that you can be happy
with my embraces and kisses.
I will give such comfort to you
that your body will again be joyful.
To your service I abandon myself.
From now on I’m ready for this.
God grant that you do not turn me down!
He who loves, begs, and serves
she who hates him — all his pains are wasted.

{ Or sent qu’Amors vers vos me tire.
Qui vostre grant beauté remire,
N’est merveille se il esprent.
Tant sacheiz bien certainement
Qu’en vos metrai mon bon espeir:
Ja ne quier mais grant joie aveir
Desci que j’aie seürance
D’aveir vostre amor senz dotance,
E que j’aie vostre solaz
Si faitement qu’entre mes braz
Vos bais e ieuz e boche e face.
Douce amie, ne vos desplace
Rien que vos pri ne que vos die,
Ne nel tengiez a vilanie.
Preiee sereiz e requise
D’amer, ço sai, en mainte guise,
Ci sont tuit li preisié del mont
E li plus riche qui i sont,
E li plus bel e li meillor,
Qui vos requerront vostre amor.
Mais sacheiz, bele, bien vos di,
Se de mei faites vostre ami,
Vos n’i avreiz se honor non.
Preisiez deit estre e de grant non
Qui de vostre amor est saisiz:
Bele, s’a vos me sui ofriz,
Ne refusez le mien homage.
Tel cuer prenez e tel corage
Que mei prengiez a chevalier:
Leial ami e dreiturier
Vos serai mais d’ore en avant
A toz les jorz de mon vivant.
Mainte pucele avrai veüe
E mainte dame coneüe:
Onc mais a rien ne fis preiere
De mei amer en tel maniere.
Vos en estes la premeraine,
Si sereiz vos la dereraine.
Ja Deu ne place, s’a vos fail,
Que mais por autre me travail:
Non ferai jo, ço sai de veir,
E se vostre amor puis aveir,
Guarderai le senz rien mesfaire;
N’orreiz de mei chose retraire
Que vos desplace a nes un jor.
Des granz sospirs e del grant plor
Dont vos vei mout chargiee e pleine,
Metrai mon cors en mout grant peine
Com vos en puisse esleecier
O acoler e o baisier;
Si metrai tel confort en vos
Dont vostre cors sera joios.
Al servir sui abandonez:
Dès ore en sui apareilliez:
Deus doint ne m’en faceiz deviez!
Quar qui ço aime e prie e sert
Quil het, tote sa peine pert. }

Briseida, a “wise and honorable {sage e proz}” woman, didn’t cry out to Diomedes to stop pleading on and on to her, a weeping Trojan woman that he had just met. Instead, she sympathetically issued a long, evasive speech that began:

“My lord,” she said, “at a time like this
it’s neither good, reasonable, nor right
that I speak to you of love.
A very flighty and very foolish woman
you might then take me for all my days.”

{ “Sire,” fait ele, “a ceste feiz
Nen est biens ne reisons ne dreiz
Que d’amer vos donge parole:
Por trop legiere e por trop fole
M’en porriëz toz jorz tenir.” }

She then went on to speak at length about love without mentioning her lover Troilus, whom she had just left weeping in Troy. The speeches that Diomedes and Briseida exchanged at their first meeting established that they deserve each other.[5]

Amid the vicious violence against men of the Trojan War, the warrior Diomedes feared most what the unarmed Briseida would do to him. Without using physical strength or arms, women can destroy men:

He was very fearful: nothing but a thread
it was, he thought, that he would come to have her.
In the daughter of Calcas of Troy
was his hope for bliss.
He feared that he would never lie with her
beneath a quilt, whether by night or by day.
For this he would make much effort,
to this all his thoughts turned.
But if she never gave him her consent,
he would be dead, without any hope of recovering.

{ Paor a grant: n’est mie fiz
Que il ja seit de li saisiz.
En la fille Calcas de Troie
Est l’esperance de sa joie;
Crient sei que ja soz covertor
Ne gise o li ne nuit ne jor:
De ço se voudreit mout pener,
A ço tornent tuit si penser.
Se ele ensi ne li consent,
Morz est, senz nul recovrement. }

Diomedes in Homer’s Iliad warred against the goddess of love Aphrodite herself and injured her. Here he surrenders himself completely to mad love.

Just as Diomedes was treacherous and skillful in fighting with men in war, so too was Briseida in fighting with men in love. She waged love as war:

Diomedes visited her frequently,
but Briseida was very clever.
She knew well by his sighs
that he was totally smitten with her.
For that reason she was three times harsher with him.

{ Par maintes feiz la vait veeir,
Mais cele est trop de grant saveir:
Mout le conoist bien as sospirs,
Qu’a li est del tot ententis;
Por ço l’en est treis tanz plus dure. }

Like other knowledgeable medieval men, the author Benoît de Sainte-Maure recognized this pattern. Medieval freedom of speech somehow allowed him to state what he knew:

A woman’s nature is always this way.
If she recognizes that you love her
and that you are distraught on her account,
she will always treat you with arrogance.
She will rarely cast her eyes on you
except to show her dominance and cruelty.
Very dearly you will have paid before
she deigns to grant you any favor.

{ Toz jors a femme tel nature:
S’ele aparceit que vos l’ameiz
E que por li seiez destreiz,
Sempres vos fera ses orguieuz;
Poi vos tornera puis ses ieuz
Que n’i ait dangier ne fierté.
Mout avreiz ainz chier comparé
Le bien qu’ele le vos deint faire. }

So it was for Briseida in relation to Diomedes. The Trojan prisoner-of-war Briseida held the Greek Diomedes as her prisoner in the Greek camp during the Trojan War.

On the battlefield of the Trojan War, men continued to engage in brutal violence against men. A massive number of ordinary men were killed without notice. Among the notable men, Briseida’s former lover Troilus thrust a lance through Diomedes’s side. Troilus then taunted him that his lover Briseida would also have other men for brief visits, because she was a whorish woman.[6] Diomedes was carried off the battlefield, placed in bed, and presumed to be soon dead.

Briseida tending the wounded Diomedes

By getting himself nearly killed in battle, Diomedes gained Briseida’s love. She found the gravely wounded Diomedes to be irresistibly attractive:

When Diomedes was wounded
and the daughter of Calcas learned of it,
she consoled herself as best as she could.
But she wasn’t able to conceal her heart
that prompted weeping, tears, and sighs.
Those hidden feelings went out from her.
It was made obvious from her heart
that she loved him more than anyone living.
Never had she made a great show,
up to that day, of her love for him.
But from then she couldn’t keep it secret.
She felt great sorrow and profound grief.
Not caring about gossip,
she frequently went to his tent.
To him she devoted from then on all her attention,
from then all her love, from then she clung to him,
but she feared deeply that she might lose him,
because his wound was very dangerous.

{ Quant Diomedès fu navrez
E la fille Calcas le sot,
Conforta s’en tant com plus pot,
Mais n’en pot pas son cuer covrir
Que plor e lermes e sospir
N’issent de li a nes un fuer.
Semblant fait bien que de son cuer
L’aime sor tote rien vivant:
Nen aveit onc fait grant semblant,
Jusqu’a cel jor, de lui amer,
Mais lores ne s’en pot celer;
Mout a grant duel e grant pesance.
Ne laisse par por reparlance
Qu’el nel veie dedenz sa tente:
Dès ore est tote en lui s’entente,
Dès or l’aime, dès or l’en tient,
Mais de lui perdre mout se crient.
Mout fu perillose la plaie }

Briseida spoke at length to herself about her love for Diomedes. She recognized that her love for him was foolish and wrong. She knew that she would be disparaged and scorned for loving Diomedes. Her lengthy soliloquy appropriately ended on a note of self-centeredness: “May God grant me joy and contentment {Deus m’en doint joie e bien aveir}!”[7] Diomedes remained in pain with a dangerous wound. That wound was in part from love for Briseida — insane love that Gallus pioneered in classical Latin elegy.[8]

During the Trojan War, the Greek warrior Diomedes fell in love with the Trojan woman Briseida and pledged subservience to her. Diomedes nearly died in lovesickness for Briseida. That’s not an isolated incident. The Greek warrior Achilles fell in love with the Trojan princess Polyxena, pledged subservience to her, and abandoned his fellow men for her. These stories of men’s subservience to women in love undoubtedly appealed to women, who surely made up an important part of the medieval audience for tales of the Trojan War. Men, who as human beings have hearts crooked beyond all things, are prone to gyno-idolatry.[9] Men too find a thrill in men’s subservience to women, even to women plausibly regarded as enemies.

* * * * *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Carmina Burana 71, “Phoebus in his golden chariot {Axe Phoebus aureo}” st. 5a-6b, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Traill (2018).

[2] Benoît de Sainte-Maure, Roman de Troie, vv. 5211-21, Old French text from Constans (1904), English translation (modified slightly) from Burgess & Kelly (2017). In Homer’s Iliad, Bk. 5, Diomedes even fought against the gods. He wounded Aphrodite in the hand and speared Ares in the bowels.

Subsequent quotes from Benoît’s Roman de Troie are similarly sourced. Those above are vv. 24452 (more ruthless and brutal…), 13524-6 (The young woman was sobbing strongly…), 13532-55 (“Beautiful lady,” he said…), 13556-8 (“Beautiful lady,” continued Diomedes…), 13559-616 (Now I feel love drawing me…), 13617 (wise and honorable), 13619-23 (“My lord,” she said…), 15023-32 (He was very fearful…), 15033-7 (Diomedes visited her frequently…), 15038-45 (A woman’s nature is always this way…), 20202-19 (When Diomedes was wounded…), 20340 (May God grant me joy and contentment).

[3] On Calcas switching worldly allegience, Roman de Troie vv. 5817-920. The story of Briseida in the matter of Troy appeared first in Benoît’s Roman de Troie. Within Benoît’s primary source, Dares of Phrygia’s The History of Troy’s Fall {De excidio Troiae historia}, Briseida was merely a sole woman’s name in the catalog of Greeks participating in the second Greek expedition to Troy. On Benoît’s invention of “Briseida’s story,” Kelly (1995).

[4] Diomedes’s wife Egial (Aegialia) was the elder daughter of King Adrastus’s daughter Polynice. The eminent King Adrastus was King of Argos. Before Diomedes had returned to his home in Argos, King Nauplus’s son Oeaus told Egial that Diomedes was bringing home a woman who would be his only love and who would rule over the household. Oceaus told Egial that Diomedes threatened her ominously. Egial then arranged to have Diomedes banished from Argos before he even arrived and before she had even spoken with him. Roman de Troie vv. 27932-94. Men are readily banished from their homes without being able to respond to claims against them.

Diomedes subsequently went to the aid of the besieged Trojan traitor Eneas (Aeneas). Diomedes fought valiantly for five days to defeat Eneas’s foes. That feat prompted Egial to offer peace and reconciliation to Diomedes. He accepted her offer. Briseida at this time was apparently gone. She may have drowned in the Greeks’ perilous homeward journey. Roman de Troie vv. 28208-76.

[5] Benoît presented the love affair of Briseida, Troilus, and Diomedes “in an extremely skilful and sensitive fashion.” Benoît “provides for speculation concerning the psychological development of the three characters.” Lumiansky (1954) p. 733. In Lumiansky’s gynocentric view, the most psychologically intriguing character is Briseida:

the choice topic for psychological speculation in Benoit’s version of this love story is of course Briseida, who in her long soliloquy and elsewhere exhibits her complex mixture of down-to-earth realism and evasive rationalization.

Id. For elaboration in that gynocentric direction, Kelly (1995). Diomedes seems to me a much more psychologically perverse character than Briseida and a character meriting much more attention. Scholars lacking the benefit of meninist literary criticism have difficulty recognizing men’s perverse self-abasement to women. The medieval author Guido delle Colonne at least showed appropriate outrage at how many men died in the Trojan War over one woman, Helen of Troy.

[6] Troilus was understandably bitter at Briseida’s betrayal of their love:

Afterwards Troilus complained bitterly
about his beloved Briseida, who abandoned him
and now loved his enemy.
He claimed that ladies are treacherous
and young women mendacious.
He said it’s wrong to trust them,
because there are very few among them
who are faithful beloveds,
without deceit and without betrayal.
“Whoever enjoys them, I’m not one,
because the daughter of Calcas has betrayed me.”

{ Après s’est assez escharniz
De s’amie qui l’a guerpi
E a amé son enemi.
Les dames claime trichereces;
E les puceles mentereces,
Dit mal fiër se fait en eles,
Quar mout en i a poi de celes
Que leiaument seient amies
Senz fauseté e senz boisdies:
“Qui que s’en jot, ne m’en jo pas:
Trichié m’a la fille Calcas.” }

Roman de Troie vv. 20666-76. Troilus subsequently died in the violence against men of the Trojan War. The difficulties of medieval men’s lives help to explain why elite medieval men suffered more than a nine-year lifespan shortfall relative to elite medieval women. Scholar’s today typically ignore or obfuscate violence against men and men’s life-expectancy shortfall relative to women.

[7] Of course, according to today’s dominant dogma under gynocentrism, Benoît offered a “misogynistic evaluation of Briseida” because he criticized Briseida and women. See Kelly (1995) p. 234.

[8] After Briseida publicly showed her love to the grievously wounded Diomedes, Diomedes next appeared fighting with his men in the brutal violence against men of the Trojan War. Roman de Troie v. 20548. That evokes the fantasy of Lancelot strengthened with the view of his lady. Diomedes at least deserves credit for fighting hard against the men-hating Amazons. Roman de Troie v. 23625-74.

[9] Jeremiah 17:9.

[images] (1) “Munich Diomedes”: Roman copy after a Greek original from c. 440–430 BGC. Original attributed to Greek sculptor Kresilas. Preserved as accession # Inv. 304 in Glyptothek (Munich, Germany). Credit: Albani Collection, 1815. Source image thanks to Bibi Saint-Pol and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Diomedes conducting Briseida from Troy to the Greek camp. Illumination made in 1340s for an instance of Benoît de Sainte-Maure’s Roman de Troie. From folio 104r of MS. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana Reg.lat 1505. (3) Briseida attending the gravely wounded Diomedes. Similarly from folio 154r of MS. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana Reg.lat 1505.

References:

Burgess, Glyn S., and Douglas Kelly. 2017. The Roman de Troie by Benoît de Sainte-Mauré: a translation. Gallica, 41. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer. Review by Sylvia Federico and by Cristian Bratu.

Constans, Léopold, ed. 1904-12. Le roman de Troie, par Benoît de Sainte-Maure, publié d’après tous les manuscrits connus. Société des Aanciens Textes Français. Paris: F. Didot. Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Kelly, Douglas. 1995. “The invention of Briseida’s story in Benoît de Sainte-Maure’s Troie.” Romance Philology. 48 (3): 221-241.

Lumiansky, R. M. 1954. “The Story of Troilus and Briseida according to Benoit and Guido.” Speculum. 29 (4): 727-733.

Traill, David A. 2018, ed. and trans. Carmina Burana. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 48-49. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

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