26 The Forgotten Bard

Kate Shimamoto

This piece is written from the perspective of a female bard who sings the story of the Iliad. This post is in response to the question of who narrates the Iliad. Is it the muses? Is it Helen’s story? The many bards that passed down and shaped the versions that survive today? The elusive “Homer”? Given the focus on Achilles and Hector, evident in most plot summaries or analyses of the Iliad, it feels as if the story is centered around only the best Greek and Trojan warriors. However, is this focus due to the select written records, whose narrative now dominates our idea of the epic? Was there counter-storytelling already occurring, which emphasized the storyline of Helen or perhaps Briseis that did not survive? In my attempt to write from the perspective of a female bard, I assume her song is a similar version to one we read. The female bard feels constrained by this story, not chosen by her, her truth silenced by tradition and pressure to perform the “true story of the Iliad”.


“I bring voice to the muses, who sing through my being to share stories of the Iliad. I tell of noble Hector, his final stand circling the wall as Hecuba prays, a mother’s weeping, to his already cursed fate. I sing for the rage of Achilles, the bloodshed spilled from his temper, his grief upon hearing lover Patroclus, soul snatched away as he laid upon the battlefield. However, while I speak my voice is not hearkened. Bards telling of the same tale constrain my words, I need not threaten the story hundreds of mouths have shaped. But it is not true. I yearn to bring life to the voice of Briseis, to her bravery fending for herself while held captive at camp. For she was alone, fighting alone, with rage and survival flashing across her eyes as she held off creepers, gone from their own lovers in this battle of 9 years. My words are short with Helen, though her story begins and ends the Iliad, as her tale is overcast by words of ships and names of men, an illusion to the great majority unnamed and forgotten. The fault of the war falls upon her shoulders and has stained her legacy and taken away her power. Helen, speak forth your truth. This is your story, twisted away over time, just as you were, snatched from the arms of your home. Speak through the pain in my song, while my words concise, speak through and let them hear your strength. I sing for the rivers of Troy, whose waters have labored for 9 years desperate to conserve their only home. Their currents red, littered with anger and pride in the hopes of being remembered. The fall of the Trojan people has come with the destruction of the land and rivers, the life source of culture and community vanquished. The river speaks, though its anger is lost among the rage of Achilles and Hera. It can only defend in a losing battle against mortal and divine ego, unable to conquer or relocate as practiced by those who brought devastation. My story labors against what has already been heard. How many narratives have been lost in the grandness of this tale? For a 9 year story is only complete with song of that length. My voice cries for the grief and bravery unspoken yet fighting to be heard.”


Gender & Sexuality in Ancient Greece Copyright © by Jody Valentine. All Rights Reserved.

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