Main Text

The action is set before Agamemnon's tent at Aulis. [Enter agamemnon holding wooden writing tablets, and the old man.* Both characters chant their lines until 48.

agamemnon. Old man, come here* in front of the tent.

old man. I am coming. What new plan do you have in mind,

King Agamemnon?

agamemnon. Hurry!

old man. I'm hurrying.

My old age is very wakeful

and my eyes remain keen-sighted.

agamemnon. Whatever can this star be that passes

with blazing light, darting still in mid-heaven

near the Pleiades on their seven paths?*

There is not a sound from the birds

10or the sea. The winds are hushed

and silence holds the strait of Euripus.*

old man. Why are you darting about outside your tent,*

King Agamemnon?

Still there is silence over Aulis here,

and the guards on the walls do not stir.

Let us go inside,

agamemnon. I envy you, old man,

I envy any man who has passed through life

pg 85free from danger, in obscurity, with no glory.

Those in high renown, I envy less.*


old man. And yet it is they who have success in life.

agamemnon. But that success is an unsteady thing,

and while high rank has its sweetness,

it brings pain to the man who achieves it.

Now the will of the gods swerves against him

and overturns his life, now it is men

whose manifold, perverse counsels

shatter him.

old man. I do not admire this in a man who leads us.

It was not so that you could find success everywhere,

30Agamemnon, that Atreus begat you. You must meet with

both joy and sorrow, for you are only mortal.

Even if you do not like it,

what the gods will, will be. But you fail to understand this. No,

you have lit a lamp* and are writing on this tablet

which you still hold in your hands,

and you constantly erase what you have written,

seal the pine tablets* up and break them open again,

and fling them on the ground

shedding a big rich tear* down your cheeks,

40and in your helplessness

you lack no symptom of madness.

What troubles you? What new sorrow oppresses you, my king?

Come, talk it over with me.

You will be speaking to a good and trustworthy fellow.

For Tyndareus sent me, a loyal man, to your wife,

as part of her bridal dowry long ago.*

agamemnon. Leda,* the child of Thestios, had three daughters, 50Phoebe and Clytemnestra, my wife, and Helen. To woo Helen there came the young men who were most blest by fortune among the Greeks. Terrible threats and jealousy arose between them at the prospect of failing to win the maiden, and her father Tyndareus was in a quandary over this. Should he give her or not? How could he best achieve a fortunate outcome? And the idea came to him that the suitors should join in an oath, should clasp each other's right hand, pg 8660burn sacrifices and pour libations, and swear to this—that 60 whichever of them should have the daughter of Tyndareus as his wife, they should all join to help him if anyone took her from her home and ran off with her, ousting her husband from his marriage; and they should go on an expedition and by force of arms overthrow Greek or barbarian city alike. And when they had pledged themselves—it was a neat scheme with which the crafty invention of old Tyndareus caught them—he allowed his daughter to choose whichever of the suitors the sweet winds of love* should waft her to. And she 70chose—O that he had never taken her!—Menelaus. And to Sparta there came from the Trojans this man who had judged the goddesses*—as men tell the tale—dazzling in the finery of his robes, aglitter with gold, with all the luxury of the east.* He fell in love with Helen and she with him, and, finding Menelaus away from home, he snatched her off and went to his ox stalls on Mount Ida. So Menelaus rushed the length and breadth of Greece in a frenzy, reminding everybody of the old oath they had sworn to Tyndareus—that they must help the husband if he was wronged.

80After that the Greeks darted forth to fight. They took their armour and came, with a force of ships and shields too, and many horses and chariots, to Aulis here, built by its narrow strait. And then they chose me to be general, out of respect for Menelaus since I am his brother. If only someone else had won this honour and not me! When the expedition had been gathered together and was all assembled, we sat at Aulis idle, unable to sail. And Calchas the seer* announced the divine will to us in our helplessness. I had to sacrifice my 90daughter Iphigenia, the flesh of my flesh, to Artemis who dwells in this place.* And we could sail to Troy and sack the city if I performed this sacrifice, but if I did not sacrifice her, it was not to be. When I heard this, I ordered Talthybius* to make a loud announcement that all the army should disperse—for I could never bring myself to kill my daughter. At that, my brother brought all kinds of argument to bear and persuaded me to go through with a terrible deed. So I wrote on folding tablets which I dispatched to my wife, telling her to send my 100daughter here so that she can marry Achilles. I wrote with pride of the man's high worth and said that he pg 87was not willing to sail with the Achaeans unless a bride from my family went to Phthia.* For I had this means of persuasion to use on my wife—to weave my lies about marriage for the girl. We are the only ones of the Achaeans who know the situation, Calchas, Odysseus, Menelaus, and myself.

My decision then was dishonourable, and now I am repairing that dishonour by writing a countermand on this 110tablet which you have seen me tying and untying in the dark, old man. But come now, take this letter and off with you to Argos.* But I shall read to you all that is written and lies concealed in these folded tablets. For you are faithful to my wife and my home.

The characters sing until 301.

old man. Speak and make it plain, so that what my tongue says

may be in harmony with what you have written.

agamemnon (reading his letter). I send you this tablet, o daughter of Leda,

in addition to the former one,

to tell you not to send your child

to sheltered Aulis,*

120the bay enfolded by the wing of Euboea's promontory.

We shall feast our daughter's wedding

and sing her wedding song at another time.

old man. And what of Achilles? If he is robbed of this marriage,

will he not feel great indignation and resentment

against you and your wife? This is a real danger.

Explain what you are writing.

agamemnon. Achilles has lent his name, nothing more substantial.

He does not know about the marriage or what we are up to—

or that I am bespoken

130to give my daughter to him

to embrace as a bride

in the marriage bed.

old man. You have acted with terrible boldness, King Agamemnon,

pg 88in promising your daughter as wife to the son of the goddess,

when you meant to bring her here to be slaughtered for the Greeks.

agamemnon. O misery! I was out of my mind.

Alas! I am falling into mad ruin.

Be off with you, move fast,

140go with a young man's speed,

old man. As fast as I can, my king.

agamemnon. Do not sit by woodland springs,

or fall beneath the spell of sleep.

old man (indignantly). Quiet! Say no more.

agamemnon. As you pass any place where roads diverge,

always keep your eyes open in case you fail to spot

a carriage passing you with its rolling wheels,

bringing my daughter here

to the ships of the Greeks.

old man. I shall,

agamemnon. †If she has left her chamber door

150and you meet her with her escort,

turn round the horses' bridles,†

and hurry her back to the Cyclops' palace.*

old man. But if I say this, how shall I win belief

with your daughter and your wife?

agamemnon. Keep safe the seal which you carry

on these tablets. Go! The glimmering dawn

and the fiery four-horsed chariot of the Sun

now bring a gleam of whiteness to the sky here.*

160Shoulder your share of my troubles. No mortal

is prosperous or happy till the end.

No one on earth has yet been free from sorrow.

agamemnon and the old man go out.] The chorus of women from Chalcis in Euboea enter.*

chorus (sings). I came along the sandy shore

of Aulis on the sea,

where I put into port across the waters

of Euripus' narrow strait,

leaving my city of Chalcis,

nurse of the sea-neighbouring waters

pg 89170of famous Arethusa.*

My purpose was to view the army of the

Achaeans and the sea-faring oars

of the Achaean demi-gods whom, as our husbands say,

red-haired Menelaus*

and nobly-born Agamemnon

are leading with a fleet of a thousand ships

to Troy

in quest of Helen,

180whom Paris the oxherd took

from Eurotas,* reedy river,

the gift of Aphrodite

when the Cyprian goddess* joined in strife

by the dewy waters of a spring—*

strife with Hera and Pallas over their beauty.

I came in haste through the sacred grove of Artemis,

scene of so many sacrifices,

my cheeks turning red

with the fresh bashfulness of a young woman,

eager to see the strong guard of the shield-bearing Greeks,

190their armed encampment

and their numberless horses.

And I saw the two Ajaxes sitting together,

the son of Oileus and the son of Telamon,

the glory of Salamis,*

and Protesilaus* and Palamedes,

whom the son of Poseidon begot,

as they sat taking delight

in the ever-shifting patterns of the draughts board,*

and Diomedes enjoying

200the pleasures of discus-throwing,

and beside him Meriones,

Ares' son, a wonder to men,

and the son of Laertes from his mountainous island,*

and together with him Nireus,

handsomest of all the Achaeans.

And I saw, his feet as fleet as the wind,

light-running Achilles

whom Thetis gave birth to

pg 90and Chiron trained to perfection,*

210saw him racing in his armour

over beach, over shingle,

swift of foot

as he raced hard against a four-horsed chariot,

rounding the course for victory's sake.

And the charioteer was shouting,

Eumelus, Pheres' grandson—

I saw his horses, so beautiful,

their bits gold-chased,

220as he struck them with his goad—

the middle ones who carried the yoke

dappled with flecks of white on their manes,

the trace-horses outside them

sweeping close round the turnings of the race-track,*

bays with spotted fetlocks. The son of Peleus

went bounding along by these in his armour,

beside the chariot's rail

230and its wheels.

[And I went on to count up their ships,

to see something wondrous,*

so that I could glut my woman's eyes

with a sight that brought me pleasure honey-sweet.

Holding the right wing

of the fleet

was the warlike force of Myrmidons from Phthia

with fifty fierce ships.

High on their sterns the Nereid goddesses* stood

240in golden images,

emblems on the ships of Achilles' armament.

Nearby were the ships of the Argives,

equal in number to these,

their commanders Mecisteus' son

whom his grandfather Talaus brought up,*

and Sthenelus, son of Capaneus.

Next there lay at anchor the son of Theseus*

who had led sixty ships from Attica,

his emblem the goddess Pallas Athena

250placed in a winged chariot

pg 91drawn by horses with uncloven hoofs,

a blazon signalling good fortune to sea-faring men.

And I saw the Boeotians' sea armament—

fifty ships

decorated with emblems.

For them it was Cadmus

grappling with a golden dragon

on their ships' curving stern.

The earth-born Leitus*

260led the fleet.

And from the land of Phocis* 〈there were ships〉

and there too was the son of Oileus leading vessels of Locris

equal to these in number.

He had come from the famous city of Thronium.

And from Cyclops-built Mycenae

the son of Atreus* led

the mustered crews of a hundred ships.

With him was his brother to share the command,

as kin supporting kin,

270so that Greece could take revenge

on the woman who fled from her home

for marriage to a barbarian.

From Pylos I saw the ships

of Gerenian* Nestor,

their blazon a picture of the river Alpheus, their neighbour,

footed like a bull.*

From the Aenians was a muster of twelve ships

which King Gouneus commanded.

Then, near these

280were the lords of Elis

with men whom the whole army called Epeians.

Eurytus was their leader.

He led the warlike force of the Taphians

with their white oars,

though Meges, child of Phyleus, was their king.

He had left the Echinades islands,

inhospitable to sea-faring men.*

pg 92And Ajax, nursling of Salamis,

†united his right wing

290to the force of those on his left

—he was moored nearby them—† linking them with his ships

which were stationed at the end of the line,

his twelve supremely manoeuvrable vessels.*

As I had heard of it, so did I observe

this sea-faring host.

If anyone sets his barbarian boats

against this,

he shall not return home—

such an armada

300have I seen here,

and I heard some things at home

about the summoned host, which I keep in my mind.*]

menelaus enters, holding the writing tablets, with the old man, who is trying to snatch them back from him.

old man. Menelaus*, this is an outrage. You must not do this.

menelaus. Stand back! You are all too faithful to your master.

old man. What you reproach me with brings me honour!

menelaus. You'll be sorry if you do what you ought not to do.

old man. You shouldn't have broken open the writing tablets which I was carrying.

menelaus. And you shouldn't have been carrying what will bring disaster on all the Greeks.

old man. Quarrel about this with someone else.* Let me have the letter.


menelaus. I won't let go.

old man. Neither will I.

menelaus. Then I'll soon give you a bloody head with my staff.

old man. Well, it is a noble thing to die for one's master.

menelaus. Let go. For a slave, you are talking far too much.

menelaus still has the letter, agamemnon enters.

old man. My master, we are being wronged. This man has used force on me, Agamemnon, and snatched your letter from my hand. He flatly refuses to deal justly with us.

agamemnon. What's going on?* What is this noisy quarrel outside my tent?

pg 93

menelaus. My words have a better right to be spoken than his.

agamemnon. Why have you got into a quarrel with this man, Menelaus? Why are you pulling him about so violently?

The old man goes out.

menelaus. Look me in the face so that I can get started on 320the story without any evasions.

agamemnon. Do you think that Agamemnon, son of Atreus, is going to tremble and not look you in the eye?*

menelaus. Do you see this tablet, which carries a disastrous message?

agamemnon. I see it. First of all hand it over.

menelaus. Not before I show what is written there to all the Greeks.

agamemnon. Have you really opened the seal? Do you know what you have no right to know?

menelaus. Yes, I opened it, and you'll be sorry that I did—I have brought your underhand mischief to the light.

agamemnon. Just where did you catch him? By the gods, what an impudent spirit you have!

menelaus. I caught him as I waited to see whether your child would come to the army from Argos.

agamemnon. Why must you keep watch on my affairs? Doesn't this brand you an impudent scoundrel?


menelaus. Because the wish to do so provoked me to it. I am not your slave.

agamemnon. Is not this outrageous? Will you not let me manage my own affairs?

menelaus. No, for your thoughts are crooked, shifting with every moment.*

agamemnon. What a fine gloss you have put on your base deed!* A clever tongue is a hateful thing.

menelaus. Yes, but a mind devoid of steadfastness makes a man unjust and untrustworthy to his friends. I want to put you to the question. You must not turn from the truth in a passion, and I for my part shall not press things too far.

You know, when you were eager to be the commander of the Greeks against Troy—to all appearances reluctant, yet willing enough in your heart—you know how humble 340you were, clasping every hand, keeping open house for any pg 94citizen who wanted to visit you and allowing everyone, high or low, to talk to you even if they did not expect it. In behaving like this, you sought to buy popularity against all comers. And then, when you had your power, you sang a different tune.You were no longer as friendly as before to your one-time friends. It was hard to get access to you since you stayed behind barred doors and were rarely to be seen.* Do you remember? A good man should not change his ways when he achieves greatness. Rather, it is then most of all that he should prove steadfast to his friends, at the time when his success enables him to help them most. This is the first point for which I criticize you, the first where I have found you at fault.

350Then again, when you and the united army of the Greeks came to Aulis, you proved a man of straw. You were panic-stricken by the fortune the gods sent us when no favourable wind would blow us Troywards. The Greeks spread the word that you should disband the ships—no pointless suffering at Aulis for them. How helpless you looked, how confused at the thought that, though you ruled a thousand ships, you would not fill the plain of Troy with your spearmen. So you called for me. 'What am I to do?' you said. 'What solution can I find? or where?'—so that you didn't lose your command and forfeit glorious honour. And then when Calchas amid the holy offerings bade you sacrifice your daughter to Artemis and said that if you did, the Greeks could sail, your 360heart rejoiced. You gladly promised to sacrifice your child. And you willingly wrote to your wife—nobody forced you, don't say that they did—telling her to send your child here on the pretext of marriage with Achilles.* And now you have been caught sending a different message, since you are no longer willing to be the killer of your daughter. Have you shifted yet again? Most certainly you have. This is the same sky above us as heard your former words.

Countless men have shared your experience. They keep toiling away at affairs of state, but then come out of it badly, some through the citizens' foolish misjudgement, but some deservedly since it is all their own fault that they cannot keep 370their city safe. Unhappy Greece,* it is for her above all that I myself lament, for she wishes to do something good, yet pg 95will let the barbarians escape—those nobodies who laugh at her—because of you and your daughter. I hope I shall never make anyone ruler of a country or commander of an army because of his manliness. A city's general must have intelligence. Every man is up to that position if he possesses understanding.

chorus. It is a terrible thing when brothers join in conflict and fling violent criticism at each other.

agamemnon. I wish to say in my turn where I find fault with you, but I shall be brief and avoid assuming too scornful and superior an expression. No, I shall speak more moderately 380since it is my brother that I am talking to. After all, a good man is accustomed to show respect to others. Tell me, why are you snorting with rage, your face flushed in anger? Who is wronging you? What do you want? Do you desire to win a good wife? I could not provide you with one. You certainly proved a bad master of the one you did have. Then am I, a man with no grievance, to pay the penalty for your misfortunes? It is not my advancement to high office that needles you. No, you want to hold a beautiful woman in your arms, casting discretion and honour to the winds. The desires of a base man are evil. But if I made the wrong decision before and have now thought better of it, am I out of my mind? No, it is rather you who are mad. You lost a bad wife and 390want to take her back, though the god gave you good fortune when she went. The suitors were misguided when in their eagerness to win the bride, they swore Tyndareus' oath. It was hope, a goddess as I think, who made it happen rather than you and your strength. Take them and go on your expedition. In their hearts' folly they are ready. The gods are not devoid of wisdom. No, they are able to recognize oaths which were sworn without validity because they were made under compulsion. I will not kill my child. And your fortunes will not prosper, in defiance of what is just, by your vengeance on a worthless bedfellow, while nights and days waste me away in tears, the perpetrator of a lawless and unjust deed against the daughter of my flesh.

400That is what I have to say to you. It is brief, clear, and easy enough. If you do not wish to be sensible, I shall put my own affairs in good order.

pg 96

chorus. What you have just spoken is different from what you said before.* But it is good to hear you talk of sparing your child.*

[menelaus. Alas! I can see then in my misery that I have no friends.

agamemnon. Ah, but you have, if you do not seek your friends' ruin.

menelaus. How can you show that you were born from the same father as myself?

agamemnon. I want to share with you in wisdom, not in folly.

menelaus. Friends should join in their friends' distress.

agamemnon. Ask for my help by treating me well, not by causing me sorrow.

menelaus. Do you not think it right to share in the efforts of 410Greece?*

agamemnon. Some god has brought this sickness on Greece and on you.

menelaus. Take pride in your sceptre then, and betray your brother. But I shall go to other friends and other plans.

Enter messenger.

messenger. O king of all the Greeks,* Agamemnon, I have come bringing you your child whom you named Iphigenia in your palace. Her mother is accompanying her, your Clytemnestra in person, as well as your son Orestes, so that you can take pleasure in seeing him after your long absence 420from home. But since they have travelled far, they are cooling and refreshing their feet by a fair-flowing spring, women and fillies alike.* We turned the horses loose in the meadows' grass so that they could feed themselves. As for myself, I have come here before them to prepare you. For the army has discovered—after all, news spreads quickly—that your daughter has arrived. The whole host is running to see the sight. They want to look at your child. Yes, those of blessed estate are regarded by all as famous, the observed of all 430observers. The soldiers are saying: 'Does this mean a marriage? Or what is going on? Is it because he misses her that the king has sent for his young daughter?' And you might have heard this too: 'They are consecrating the young girl to Artemis,* the ruler of Aulis, in preparation for her wedding. pg 97Who is the bridegroom?' Come then, bring the baskets,* start the sacrificial rite and garland your heads. And you, King Menelaus, rehearse the wedding song! Let the pipe sound forth in the tents! Let the earth thud with the noise of stamping feet. For this day has dawned with the promise of happiness for the maiden.]


agamemnon. Good. But go inside the tent. As fortune takes its course, the rest will turn out well.

Exit messenger.

agamemnon. Alas! What can I say in my misery? Where can I begin? Under what yoke of necessity have I fallen? A god has outwitted me and proved far cleverer than all my clever plans. Men of low birth have some advantages. They can weep without restraint and speak freely. But for the man of noble birth there is no relief from unhappiness.* We have 450solemnity to rule our lives and are slaves to the common people. I am ashamed to pour forth tears, but then I am ashamed, poor wretch that I am, to hold them in, now that I have plumbed these terrible depths of disaster.

Well then, what shall I say to my wife?* How shall I receive her? What expression shall I assume when I meet her? I had troubles enough already but by coming here when I did not ask her to, she has dealt me the final blow. Yet it was perfectly reasonable that she could accompany her own dear daughter to give her in marriage—and at that marriage she will find that I am a criminal. As for the 460wretched virgin—why do I call her virgin? Hades, it seems, will soon marry her*—Oh how I pity her! I think I hear her supplicating me: 'O father, will you kill me? May you make such a marriage, may anyone you love!' Orestes will be there nearby. He cannot talk yet but he will scream out inarticulate, though only too comprehensible cries. Alas, it was Priam's son, Paris, who brought me to this when he made his marriage with Helen—and destroyed me!


chorus. I feel pity too—as far as a foreign woman may grieve for the sorrows of kings.

menelaus. My brother, take your hand in mine.

agamemnon. Here is my hand. For yours is the victory, mine the misery.

pg 98

menelaus. I swear by Pelops,* whom they call the father of my father and yours, and by Atreus who begat us, that I shall open my heart to you, speaking frankly, with no ulterior motive but simply saying what I think. When I saw tears falling from your eyes, I pitied you, I myself shed tears for you in my turn,* and I withdraw the words I spoke 480before. I am not your enemy. No, I am putting myself in your position. And I advise you not to kill your child and not to prefer my interests to yours. For it is not right that you should sorrow while all goes well for me and that your child should die while my family looks on the light of day.

What do I want then? Could I not make another marriage, an excellent one, if you will say that it is marriage I desire? Am I to win Helen* by losing a brother—the last person I should lose—, exchanging good for evil? I was mad and headstrong until I examined your situation closely and 490saw what it means to kill one's child. And besides that, pity for the wretched girl swept over me as I thought about our kinship, for the girl who is about to be sacrificed for the sake of my marriage. What has your daughter to do with Helen? Disband the expedition! Let it go from Aulis! Wet your eyes with tears no longer, brother. No longer make me weep with you. Whatever concern you may have in the oracles about your daughter, let them be no concern of mine. My interest in this business I make over to you.

500But you will say that I am a different man from the one who spoke so violently. That is perfectly natural. I have changed out of love for my brother, the son of the same parents. To act in the best way as occasion arises—that is how an honourable man behaves.

chorus. You have spoken noble words, worthy of Tantalus,* the son of Zeus. You bring no shame on your ancestors.

agamemnon. I thank you, Menelaus, because against my expectation you have suggested an honourable course of action in a manner which reflects your worth. Strife between brothers* arises through love of a woman or ambition to take 510over the house. I detest the type of brothers' bond which leads to bitterness for both of them. However, we have come to a point where necessity dictates our fortunes. We must carry out the bloody murder of my daughter.

pg 99

menelaus. What is this?* Who will force you to kill your own child?

agamemnon. The whole assembled host of the Achaeans.

menelaus. Not if you send Iphigenia back to Argos.

agamemnon. I could do that secretly, but there is something that we cannot keep secret.

menelaus. What is that? You must not fear the people too much.

agamemnon. Calchas will tell the prophecy to the Argive army.

menelaus. Not if he dies first.* This presents no problems.


agamemnon. The whole breed of seers is an abomination—always on the make.

menelaus. †Yes, hateful and useless—while alive.†*

agamemnon. But are you not afraid of something else that comes to my mind?

menelaus. How can I understand what you're talking about if you won't tell me?

agamemnon. The vile son of Sisyphus* knows all of this.

menelaus. Odysseus cannot do you or me any injury.

agamemnon. He is always sly and sides with the mob.

menelaus. It is ambition, a terrible evil, that possesses him.

agamemnon. Don't you think that he will stand in the midst of the Argives and speak out the oracles which Calchas 530revealed, saying how I promised to make the sacrifice to Artemis and then lied about it? Will he not then carry the whole army with him and tell the Argives to kill you and me and next slaughter the girl? And if I escape to Argos, they will come there, destroy the city and raze it to the ground, Cyclopean walls and all. Such thoughts torment me. Wretched Agamemnon, to what helplessness have the gods reduced you now today?

Please take care of one thing for me, Menelaus, when you 540go among the army—see that Clytemnestra does not learn of this before I take my daughter and hand her down to Hades, so that I may endure my torment with the fewest tears. And you, keep silent, you foreign women.

agamemnon and menelaus go out.

chorus (sings). Happy are they*

who share in the joys of marriage

pg 100with a temperate spirit

when Aphrodite proves moderate—

enjoying a calm free from the stings

of mad desire, for when desire is there,

golden-haired Eros bends his bow

with two arrows of his delights,

550one bringing a fortunate fate,

the other leading life into confusion.

That one I banish,

o most beautiful Cypris,*

from our bedrooms,

Rather may my pleasures be moderate,

my desires pure,

and may I have my part in Aphrodite

but abjure her when she comes in full force.*

Mortals have different natures,

different habits. But what is truly noble

560is always clear.

Education and upbringing

make a great contribution to virtue.

And a sense of shame is itself wisdom

†and has the surpassing grace

of discerning the path of duty

through reason.† Then reputation brings

ageless glory to human life.

It is a great thing to hunt after virtue,

for women in a chaste love at home;

570among men in their turn

†self-discipline in its countless forms†

raises their city to greatness.

You came, O Paris, to the place where you were reared

an oxherd among white heifers

on Mount Ida

playing your barbarian tunes

and, as you breathed on the reeds,

imitating the Phrygian pipe of Olympus,*

your full-uddered cows were feeding

580while the judgement of the goddesses awaited you—

the judgement which sent you to Greece.

pg 101You stood before the throne of Helen

with its inlay of ivory,

and as you gazed at each other

you gave her your gift of love and with love

you were yourself transported.

And for that you are bringing strife, yes, strife—

Greece with her spears and ships,

upon Troy's citadel.

clytemnestra, holding the baby Orestes, and iphigenia enter on a carriage. They are accompanied by attendants.

[chorus (chants). Ah! Ah! Great is the happiness

of the great.* See Iphigenia,

the daughter of the king, my princess,

and Clytemnestra, Tyndareus' daughter.

From what high ancestry were they born!

To what imposing destinies have they come!

In the eyes of less fortunate mortals

the powerful and the wealthy are gods.

Let us stand close, young women from Calchis,

let us support the queen as she leaves her chariot

600in case she stumbles as she steps to the ground,

let us give gentle hands in soft courtesy

so that the famous child of Agamemnon

may not be frightened the moment she arrives,

and let us not trouble or alarm

these foreigners from Argos—

we are foreigners too.

clytemnestra. I take this as a favourable omen, your kindness and your auspicious words. I have some hopes of happiness 610for the marriage to which I have come as escort to the bride. (To her attendants ) Come, unload from the carriage the wedding gifts I am bringing for the girl and take them carefully inside. And you, my child, leave the horse-drawn carriage and place your weak, delicate, and dainty feet* on the ground. And you young women, take her on your arms and help her down from the carriage. Will someone give a supporting hand to me as well so that I can leave my seat in this vehicle with decorum? And you girls, pg 102620stand at the front of the yoked horses. For a horse looks frightened when no one soothes it. And take this child, Orestes, Agamemnon's son.* He's still a baby. Are you sleeping, my child, lulled by the motion of the carriage? Wake up for the marriage of your sister, and be happy. For you, nobly-born yourself, will become the kinsman of an excellent man, the god-like offspring of Nereus' daughter.* Sit here beside my feet, my child. You, Iphigenia, stand next to your mother and give these foreign women a picture of my happiness.*

agamemnon enters.

630Here is your dear father. Speak to him. King Agamemnon, my most revered lord, we have come in obedience to your commands.]*

iphigenia. Mother, I shall outrun you—do not be angry—and clasp my father heart to heart. O father, I want to run to you before the others and clasp my father heart to heart. It has been so long. I want to look at you. (To Clytemnestra) Don't be angry.*

clytemnestra. So you should, my child. Of all the children I bore to your father, you have always been the one who loved him best.


iphigenia. My father,* what joy it is to see you after so long a time!

agamemnon. Joy for your father too! You speak for both of us there.

iphigenia. Greetings. You have done well to bring me here, father.

agamemnon. Can I say that, my child, or can I not? I do not know.

iphigenia (with a start). But how troubled you look in spite of your happiness at seeing me.

agamemnon. A king and a commander has many cares.

iphigenia. Give yourself to me now. Put these anxious thoughts aside.

agamemnon. I am altogether yours. I am thinking of nothing else.

iphigenia. Smooth out this frown then and look on me with love.

pg 103

agamemnon. Look! I have all the joy I can have in seeing you, my child.


iphigenia. And even then do tears pour from your eyes?

agamemnon. A long separation is in store for us.

iphigenia. I do not know what you mean, dearest of fathers, I do not know. Where do they say that the Phrygians* dwell, father?

agamemnon. In a place … ah! if only Priam's son Paris had never dwelt there!

iphigenia. You are voyaging to a distant land, my father, and leaving me.

agamemnon. O my daughter, you will come to the same place as your father.* The more sensibly you speak, the more you make me pity you.

iphigenia. I shall talk nonsense then if that will make you happy.*

agamemnon (aside). Alas, I do not have the strength to keep silent, (to Iphigenia) You're a good girl.

iphigenia. Stay at home, father, for your children.

agamemnon. That is my wish, but my sorrow is that I cannot wish it.

iphigenia. A curse on wars and Menelaus' wrongs!

agamemnon. What has already brought me ruin will ruin others too.


iphigenia. What a long time you have been away on the gulf of Aulis!

agamemnon. Even now something prevents me from sending the expedition on its way.

iphigenia. Alas! If only it was †proper for us both that I should sail with you!

agamemnon. A voyage yet lies in store for you as well and on it you will forget† your father.*

iphigenia. Shall I sail with my mother or travel alone?

agamemnon. Alone, alone, away from your father and mother.


iphigenia. Can it be that you want me to live in another home, father?

agamemnon. We must let this matter be. It is not right for girls to know such things.

iphigenia. Put all to rights at Troy, my father, and hurry back to me from there.

pg 104

agamemnon. First I must make a certain sacrifice here.

iphigenia. Well, you must have regard for what is holy with religious rites.

agamemnon. You will discover about this. For you will stand near the holy water.*

iphigenia. Then am I to lead the dances round the altar, father?

agamemnon. I count you happier than myself because you do not understand at all. Go inside the tent—it is not pleasing that girls should be seen in public. But first kiss me and 680give me your hand, for you are going to dwell far away from your father for all too long.

O these breasts and cheeks, o this blond hair,* what a sorrow has this city of the Phrygians and Helen proved for us! I'll say no more, for a sudden flood of tears overcomes me as I touch you. Go into the tent. iphigenia goes inside.

I beg you to forgive me, daughter of Leda, if I have shown too much sorrow at the prospect of giving my daughter to Achilles. To send away one's child in marriage is a happy event, but nevertheless it tears at the parents' hearts when 690a father hands over his children to other houses after all his trouble in bringing them up.

clytemnestra. I am not so devoid of understanding. You can be sure that I myself will suffer the same pain—so I cannot criticize you—when I lead out my daughter to the sound of the wedding song. But getting used to it will help to dry the tears. As to the name, I know who it is that you have betrothed our child to, but I want to discover about his family and where he was born.

agamemnon. Asopus* was the father of a daughter, Aegina.

clytemnestra. Which god or mortal married her?

agamemnon. Zeus. And he begat Aeacus, the king of Oenone.


clytemnestra. And who was the son of Aeacus, who inherited his house?

agamemnon. Peleus, and Peleus married Nereus' daughter.

clytemnestra. Did a god give her to him or did he take her in defiance of the gods?

agamemnon. Zeus, who had the authority to do so, betrothed her to him and gave her away.*

pg 105

clytemnestra. Where did he marry her? Was it beneath the heaving sea?

agamemnon. It was where Chiron* lives on the holy foothills of Olympus.

clytemnestra. Where they say that the centaur race dwells?

agamemnon. It was there that the gods feasted Peleus' wedding.

clytemnestra. Did Thetis or his father bring up Achilles?*

agamemnon. Chiron did, so that he might not learn the ways of evil men.


clytemnestra. Ah. Wise was the teacher, and wise the father who entrusted his son to a wiser influence.

agamemnon. Such is the man who will be your daughter's husband.

clytemnestra. I can find no fault with him. Which Greek city does he live in?

agamemnon. By the banks of the river Apidanos in the land of Phthia.

clytemnestra. Will he take our daughter there?

agamemnon. That will be the business of the master who has won her.*

clytemnestra. May they meet with good fortune. On what day will he marry her?

agamemnon. At the time of the full moon.*

clytemnestra. Have you already made the sacrifice to the goddess for our daughter?

agamemnon. I am on the point of doing so. That is the very event that occupies me now.


clytemnestra. In that case will you postpone the marriage feast till later?

agamemnon. Yes, when I have made the sacrifice which I must make to the gods.

clytemnestra. Where shall we hold the banquet for the women?

agamemnon. Here by the Agives' fair-sterned ships.

clytemnestra. Good, if it must be so. I pray for fair fortune even so.

agamemnon. You know what you must do, lady? You must follow my instructions.

clytemnestra. In what? I am accustomed to obey you in everything.

pg 106

agamemnon. I myself here, where the bridegroom is …

clytemnestra. In the mother's absence, what will you do that should fall to me?

agamemnon. I shall give away your daughter with the Achaeans to assist me.


clytemnestra. And where must I be at the time?

agamemnon. Go to Argos and take care of your daughters.

clytemnestra. And leave my child? Who will hold the marriage torch on high?

agamemnon. I shall supply the ceremonial torch for bride and groom.

clytemnestra. This is not the custom, and such things must be treated seriously.

agamemnon. It is not proper for you to be away from home amid the crowd of soldiers.

clytemnestra. But it is proper for me as the mother to give away my daughter.

agamemnon. Yes, and it is proper that the girls at home should not be on their own.

clytemnestra. They are well and securely guarded in the maidens' quarters.

agamemnon. Do what I say.

clytemnestra. No, by the sovereign goddess of Argos.* [You go to arrange what needs to be done outside, while I look 740after everything indoors* and see to what is needed for brides at their wedding. clytemnestra goes out.

agamemnon. Alas! My preliminary strike was useless. I wanted to send my wife away from here far from my sight, but my hopes have been baffled. I make clever plans and devise schemes against those I love best—but am defeated everywhere. Still, despite that I shall go to consult with the soothsayer Calchas and make the best I can of what the goddess wishes, which will bring no happiness to me and torment to the Greeks. A wise man must keep a woman who is 750helpful and good in his house—or avoid marriage altogether. agamemnon goes out towards the army.

chorus (sings). There will indeed come to Simois*

and its silvery swirling waters

the assembled army of the Greeks

pg 107aboard its ships and with its arms—

come to Ilium, the plain of Troy,

Phoebus' land,

where I hear that Cassandra, adorned with a garland

of green-leafed laurel,

tosses her golden locks

760whenever the god breathes upon her

and compels her to prophecy.

The Trojans will stand

on the citadel of Troy and its circle of walls,

when Ares of the bronze shield comes near

over the sea,

as the Greeks row their fine-prowed ships

near to Simois' streams,

wishing to take back from Priam

Helen, sister

770of the twin sky-dwelling Dioscuri,

back to the land of Greece,

won by the shields and spears of Achaean warriors.

The war-god will circle Pergamum, the Phrygians' city,

around its stone towers

with his spirit of slaughter,

will cut throats and †hack off heads,

will ransack Troy's city†

from top to bottom

and make girls and the wife of Priam

780weep many tears.

And Helen, the daughter of Zeus,

will weep many tears

for deserting her husband.

May there never come to me or my children's children

such a prospect as the doom

that will befall the Lydian women decked in gold

and the wives of the Phrygians,

as they say these words to one another

790at the loom:

'What man, †tightening his grasp on my luxuriant locks as I weep,†

will pluck me as a flower is plucked,

pg 108from my country as it dies?'

It is all because of you, daughter of the long-necked swan,

if the story is really true

that Leda met with a winged bird

when Zeus had altered his form—

or have poets in their inspired writings

introduced this fable to men—

800an inept and empty fiction?

Enter achilles.

achilles. Where can I find here the commander of the Achaeans? Will one of his servants let him know that Achilles, the son of Peleus, is in front of his tent looking for him? The fact is that we do not wait near Euripus under the same circumstances.* For some of us who sit here on the shore are not yet married and have left our houses unprotected, while others have wives and children. So passionate a longing for this expedition has seized hold on Greece—the 810gods must be playing a part in this. And so it is right that I should make my own business clear. Anyone else can state his case if he wants to. I have left the land of Pharsalus and my father Peleus and, as I wait by the Euripus with its narrow straits, I have to restrain my Myrmidons.* They are for ever harassing me, saying, 'Achilles, why are we waiting? How much time must we spend here counting the days until we sail for Troy? Act, if you are going to act! If not, lead the army home and don't wait here because the sons of Atreus are delaying.']

Enter clytemnestra from the tent.

clytemnestra. O son of the divine daughter of Nereus, I 820heard you talking from inside and have come out in front of the tent.

achilles (recoiling). O lady Modesty,* what woman is this that I see? How beautiful she is!

clytemnestra. It is not surprising that you do not know who I am since you have not met me before. I approve of your respectful modesty.

achilles. But who are you? Why have you come to the army gathered here—a woman among men plated in armour?

pg 109

clytemnestra. I am the daughter of Leda, Clytemnestra is my name, and my husband is King Agamemnon.

achilles. You do well to be brief in telling me the main facts. 830But it is not proper for me to join in conversation with a woman.

clytemnestra. Stay! Why are you running away? Join your right hand with mine as a prelude to a happy marriage.

achilles. What do you mean? I join my right hand with yours? I should feel shame before Agamemnon if I were to touch what I have no right to touch.

clytemnestra. You have every right, for you are marrying my child, o son of the sea-goddess, the daughter of Nereus.

achilles. What is this marriage you are talking about? I am at a loss for words, lady. Perhaps you are a bit crazy and that is why you are talking so strangely.

clytemnestra. It is natural for everyone to feel modesty 840when meeting new friends, especially when they are speaking about marriage.

achilles. I never paid court to your daughter, lady, and no talk of marriage ever came to me from Atreus' sons.

clytemnestra. What can this mean? You for your part must guess at my meaning. I am amazed at what you say.

achilles. Well may you be amazed. We both have to rely on guesswork here. We were both misled equally by what we were told.

clytemnestra. Can I really have been treated so outrageously? I am looking for a marriage which seems to be imaginary. I am deeply ashamed.

achilles. Perhaps someone is making fools of both of us. But 850don't give it another thought. Don't take it to heart.

clytemnestra. Goodbye.* I cannot look at you face to face any more. I have proved to be a liar—and the victim of treatment which I do not deserve.

achilles. I bid you goodbye as well. I am going to look for your husband inside this tent.

The old man appears in the entrance to the tent, which he has half-opened.

old man. Stranger,* descendant of Aeacus, wait. It's you I'm talking to, you, the son of a goddess, and you, the daughter of Leda.

pg 110

achilles. Who is this who has half-opened the entrance to the tent and is calling us? How terrified he sounds!

old man. I'm a slave—I'm not too proud to admit it. What has happened leaves me with no choice.

achilles. Whose slave? Not mine. My slaves and Agamemnon's live apart.

old man. I am the slave of this lady in front of the tent. Her 860father Tyndareus gave me to her.

achilles. I'll stay. Please tell me why you stopped me.

old man. Is it really just the two of you standing in front of the tent?

achilles. You will be speaking only to the two of us—so come out of the king's tent.

The old man comes out onto the stage.

old man. O fortune, o my foresight, save those I wish to save!

achilles. We shall have to wait to hear what he has to say. He is taking his time.

clytemnestra. I guarantee you protection. Do not hold back if you want to say something to me.

old man. Then do you know who I am and how well-disposed I feel towards you and your children?

clytemnestra. I know that you are an old slave of my house.

old man. And you know that King Agamemnon took me as part of your dowry?

clytemnestra. You came to Argos with me and have been 870mine all this time.

old man. That is so. And I am well-disposed towards you, less so to your husband.

clytemnestra. Now at last reveal to us what you are holding back.

old man. The father who begat your daughter is about to kill her with his own hand.

clytemnestra. What are you saying? I refuse to believe this, old man. You are out of your mind.

old man. With his sword he will stain the wretched girl's white neck with blood.

clytemnestra. What outrageous cruelty to me! Has my husband gone mad?

pg 111

old man. He is sane except where you and your child are concerned. There he has lost all sense.

clytemnestra. But for what reason? What avenging demon drives him on?

old man. It is an oracle, so Calchas says, at any rate—so that the expedition can set sail.

clytemnestra. Sail where? What cruelty to me! What cruelty 880to the girl whom her father is about to kill!

old man. To the house of Dardanus,* so that Menelaus can win back Helen.

clytemnestra. Is it then destined that Helen can only return if Iphigenia is killed?

old man. You know it all. Her father is about to sacrifice your daughter to Artemis.

clytemnestra. What was the reason for the false marriage by which he brought me from home?

old man. He wanted you to be happy to bring your child here to marry Achilles.*

clytemnestra. O my daughter, you have come here to meet your death, you and your mother too.

old man. I pity you both equally in your sufferings. Agamemnon has nerved himself to do a terrible deed.

clytemnestra. O misery! It is all over for me. I can no longer hold back my welling tears.

old man. If losing your children is a painful loss, let your tears flow.

clytemnestra. But where do you say you learnt this from, 890old man? How did you find it out?

old man. I was going with a letter for you about the former message.

clytemnestra. Did the letter tell me not to bring the girl here to her death, or confirm the previous instructions?

old man. No, you were not to do so. For your husband was in his right mind then.

clytemnestra. So, if you were carrying the letter, how was it that you did not hand it over to me?

old man. Menelaus snatched it from me. He is to blame for all these evils.

clytemnestra. O child of Nereus' daughter, Peleus' son, do you hear this?

pg 112

achilles. Yes, I hear that you are wretched, and I do not view the way I have been treated as a trivial matter.

clytemnestra. They are going to kill my child, and it was by the promise of a marriage to you that they tricked me.

achilles. I too find your husband at fault and I do not take it as lightly as you may think.


clytemnestra. I shall feel no shame in falling at your knees,* though I am a mortal while you are the son of a goddess. For why should I be proud? She is my child. She comes first. I must fight for her.* Come to my aid, o son of a goddess, in my misery, help the girl who was called your wife—falsely, but even so. It was for you that I garlanded her and led her here to marry you. But as it is I have brought her to be slaughtered. It will be levelled as a reproach against you if you fail to protect her. For although you were not joined with her in marriage, you were still called the beloved husband of the unhappy girl. By your chin, by your right hand, 910by your mother—I call on you because your name, which you ought to be defending, has destroyed me—I have no altar to take refuge at except your knees, and there is no friend nearby. You hear of the cruelty of Agamemnon who will stop at nothing. As you see, I have arrived here, a woman in a camp full of unruly sailors who are bold when it comes to evil deeds, though helpful when they wish to be. If you have the courage to hold your hand over me in protection, we are saved. If not, we are lost.

chorus. There is a strange power in motherhood. It has its own magic. This is an instinct all humans share—to fight for their children.

[achilles. My proud spirit swells within me and urges me on. 920But I have learnt to be moderate in my grief over misfortune as well as in my joy over prosperity with her billowing sails. For moderate men have reasoned how to show good judgement as they go through life. So while there are times when it is pleasant not to be too sensible, there are also occasions when it is useful to exercise that good judgement. As for me, brought up as I was in the house of Chiron, the most pious of men, I have learnt straightforward ways. And I shall obey the sons of Atreus when they lead well, but when they lead 930badly I shall not obey them. Here and in Troy I shall show pg 113myself to be a free spirit and, as far as I am able, I shall fight the good fight.

As for you, so cruelly treated by those closest to you, I shall set this matter right with all the vigour a young man can muster. That much pity I shall show you. And your daughter, who was declared my bride, will never be slaughtered by her father. I shall not allow your husband to involve me in his trickery. For it is my name that will kill your daughter even if it does not wield the knife. Your husband is to blame. My body will no longer be untainted if the girl 940dies because of me and her marriage to me, the victim of terrible, unendurable suffering, of an outrage so unjust that it defies imagination. I shall be proved the most cowardly of the Greeks, a mere cipher—and Menelaus will be counted a man!—no son of Peleus I, but of some avenging demon, if your husband uses my name to murder her. By Nereus, reared in the waves of the sea, the father of Thetis who gave 950me birth, King Agamemnon shall not lay a hand, no, not a finger on your daughter. He shall not touch her dress. Or Sipylus, that barbarian stronghold from which our generals draw their descent,* will prove a mighty power and Phthia find no fame the whole world over, If Calchas begins the sacrifice with the barley* and the purifying water, he will regret it. What kind of man is a seer? A man who tells a few truths and many lies—and that is when things are going well for him. When things go badly, he is finished.

I do not say this because of the marriage. Countless girls 960seek to be my bride. But Agamemnon has insulted me brutally. He ought to have asked me himself for the use of my name to trap his child. It was mainly by the thought of me that Clytemnestra was persuaded to betroth her daughter to me in marriage.* I would have given my name for the Greeks if that was what was causing the voyage to Troy to founder. I would not have refused to promote the common interest of my comrades in arms.* But as it is I am of no account, the commanders do not trouble themselves 970whether they treat me well or badly. As for this sword of mine, before I go to Troy I shall defile it †with murder, stains of blood,† and it shall soon know if anyone is going to take your daughter from me.

pg 114Be calm. I have appeared to you like an all-powerful god, though I am not one. Even so, that is what I shall become.

chorus. What you have said, son of Peleus, is worthy both of you and of the sea-goddess, that reverent divinity.

clytemnestra. Ah! What words can I find to praise you that do not go too far and yet do not forfeit your good will by falling too short. When good men are praised, there is a kind 980of resentment in what they feel towards those who praise them if they praise them excessively. I am ashamed of forcing my sad story on you, for my sorrows are my private sickness and you are uninfected by them. But it is nobly done when the good man comes to the help of the unfortunate even though he is remote from them.

Show us pity for we have suffered piteously. First of all, I thought that I would have you as my son-in-law and fed on empty hopes. Then the death of my daughter may perhaps prove a bad omen for your marriage when it comes, and 990that is something you must guard against. But what you said at the beginning and what you said at the end—both were spoken well: if you wish it, my daughter shall be saved. Do you want her to clasp your knees as a suppliant? That is not how a maiden should behave, but if you desire it, she will come out wearing a modest, open expression. However, if I can win the same result from you if she is not here, let her remain in the tent. Her pride has its own dignity. But nevertheless we must plead with every resource we can muster.

achilles. Do not bring out the girl before me here. And let 1000us not expose ourselves to ignorant criticism, lady. Soldiers, all together like this and free from personal worries, love malicious, back-biting gossip. In any case, whether the two of you supplicate me or not, it will come to the same thing. Before me lies a single mighty endeavour—to deliver you from disaster. Listen to me and rest assured of this one thing: I shall not lie to you. If my words are lies and empty mockery, may I perish. But as I hope for life, I shall save the girl.

clytemnestra. May you always be happy, you friend of the unfortunate.

achilles. Listen to me then—so that this matter may turn out well.

pg 1151010

clytemnestra. What do you mean? I must listen to you.

achilles. Let us persuade her father to think better of the matter.

clytemnestra. He is something of a coward and is too fearful of the army.

achilles. But reason surely can outwrestle fear.

clytemnestra. My hopes are cold. But tell me what I must do.

achilles. First of all, beseech him not to kill his child. And if he goes against you, you must come to me. †For if you persuaded him to grant your desire,† there would be no need for me to interfere, since that secures her safety. I should 1020become a better friend to a friend and the army would not find fault with me, if I managed the affair by reason rather than by force.* †If things reach a successful conclusion, they will please your friends and you, even if I give you no help.†

clytemnestra. How sensibly you have spoken. I must do what you think best. But still, if I do not gain what I desire, where shall I see you again? Where must I come, poor woman, to find your hand to champion me in my misery?

achilles. I shall protect you where you need a protector. We 1030must not let anyone see you going through the host of the Greeks in frantic agitation. And do not disgrace your father's house. For Tyndareus* does not deserve to be ill spoken of. He is great among the Greeks.

clytemnestra. So be it. I must perform your bidding. If the gods are wise, you will find good fortune as a just man. But if they are not, what point is there in all our efforts?

achilles and clytemnestra go out, the latter into the tent.]

chorus (sings). What joyous sounds did the god of the marriage song ring out

to the strains of the Lybian lotus pipe*

and the lyre that loves the dance

and the pipes of reed,

1040when the fair-tressed Muses of Pieria

who stamp their golden sandals on the ground

at the feasts of the gods

came along the ridge of Mount Pelion*

to the wedding of Peleus,

celebrating in their melodious songs

pg 116Thetis and the grandson of Aeacus

on the centaurs' mountains throughout Pelion's woods?

And the descendant of Dardanus,

1050the beloved plaything of Zeus' bed,

was drawing off wine

mixed in the depths of golden bowls,

Ganymede the Phrygian.*

And along the bright white sands

the fifty daughters of Nereus

celebrated the wedding as they twirled

in the circles of the dance.*

And with their staffs of silver fir,* with their garlands

of fresh foliage, the revelling company

1060of human horses, the centaurs, came

to the feast of the gods and the wine-bowl of Bacchus

and loudly they cried: 'O daughter of Nereus,

the son you bear

will be a great light to Thessaly—

so Chiron, instructed in the art of Phoebus,*

has declared.

He will come at the head of his Myrmidons

with their spears and shields

1070to burn the famous land of Priam to ashes,

his body clad in his suit of golden armour,

the work of Hephaestus' forge,

which he will receive as a gift

from his divine mother,

from Thetis who bore him.'*

Then it was that the gods poured blessings

on the wedding of the first of the Nereids,*

the daughter of a noble father,

and her marriage with Peleus.

1080But as for you,* the Argives will crown your head,

the beautiful tresses of your hair,

like a dappled heifer,

a pure heifer brought down

from the mountain caves of rock,

bloodying your throat with gore.

You were not brought up

pg 117where the shepherd blows his pipe or where the herdsman whistles,

but by your mother's side, to be dressed as a bride one day

for a wedding with a son of Inachus.*

1090Where is the face of Shame, where is the face of Goodness now?

Do they have any power?—

when what is impious holds sway

and men turn their back on Goodness

and ignore her.

Anarchy holds dominion over laws

and mortals cannot make common cause in the struggle

to avoid the anger of the gods.

[clytemnestra enters.

clytemnestra. I have come from the tent as I watch for my husband who went out some time ago and is not yet back. 1100My wretched daughter is in tears, sounding despair in many different tones, for she has heard about the death which her father is planning for her. But look. Agamemnon is approaching just when I was talking about him. The moment he arrives, he will stand convicted of planning an unholy act against his own child.

agamemnon enters.

agamemnon. Daughter of Leda, it is opportune that I have found you outside the tent. I want to say some things to you which it is not proper for a bride to hear, without the girl being there.

clytemnestra. What is it? Why does this strike you as an opportune moment?


agamemnon (resignedly). Fetch the girl out of the tent to join her father. The holy water is ready, as is the barley to cast on the cleansing fire, and the heifers which must fall before a marriage, snorting black blood from their nostrils, in sacrifice to the goddess Artemis.

clytemnestra. You make a good show with your words, but how I should call your actions good, I do not know. Come outside, daughter—for you are aware of all that your pg 118father intends to do—take your brother Orestes in the folds of your dress and bring him here, my child.

iphigenia enters, holding Orestes.

  • 1120Look, here she is in obedience to your commands. As for the rest, I myself shall say it for my daughter and for myself.

agamemnon. My child, why are you weeping? Why aren't you still smiling at me, but staring down at the ground and holding your dress in front of your eyes?*

clytemnestra. Alas! Which of my woes should I start my speech with? Every one of them could be brought in anywhere, at the beginning, at the end, and in the middle.

agamemnon. What is it? You are all* looking at me with the same confusion and distress in your eyes.

clytemnestra. Reply to what I ask you like an honourable man, husband.


agamemnon. There is no need for that command. I am willing to listen to your questions.

clytemnestra. Your child and mine—are you about to kill her?

agamemnon (with a start). Ah! You have spoken out of turn and you suspect what you have no right to.

clytemnestra. Be quiet. First answer again what I asked just now.

agamemnon. If you ask a reasonable question, I shall give you a reasonable answer.

clytemnestra. But that is the question I am asking you, and that and nothing else is what you must answer.

agamemnon. O mistress fate, my fortune, and my evil genius!

clytemnestra. My evil genius too, and hers, a single one for us three doomed creatures.

agamemnon. How have you been wronged?

clytemnestra. You ask that—of me? This mind of yours is no mind at all.*


agamemnon (aside). All is over for me. My secrets are betrayed.

clytemnestra. I know everything. I have discovered what you are about to do to me. Your very silence says that you agree—your every groan. Spare yourself the labour of speaking.

agamemnon. Look, my lips are shut. (aside) Why should I tell lies and so add shamelessness to my tally of woes?

clytemnestra. pg 119Listen then. I shall reveal my meaning plainly and speak in hinting riddles no longer. First of all—and this will be my first reproach against you—you married me against my will. Indeed, you won me with violence by 1150killing Tantalus,* my former husband. †And you wafted my baby to your share of captives,†* tearing him from my breast with brute force. The two sons of Zeus, my brothers,* came on their flashing white steeds to make war on you. But my father, old Tyndareus, saved you when you became his suppliant, and despite everything else you took me to be your wife. I was reconciled to you in this marriage, and you will bear witness how irreproachable I was as your wife and the mistress of your house. I proved chaste in my sexual conduct 1160and I built up your estate so that you rejoiced to enter the house and were happy when you went away.* It is a rare catch for a man to win such a wife, while there is no lack of bad ones.

After three daughters, I bore you this son. And you are cruelly robbing me of one of the girls. If someone asks you why you will kill her, tell me, what will you say? Or must I speak for you? So that Menelaus can take back Helen. It would be a fine thing to pay for a bad woman with the life 1170of a child! We are buying what we hate the most with what we love the best.

Another point—if you go off to fight, leaving me in the house and staying at Troy in a long separation from me, what do you imagine will be my feelings back at home every time I see each chair she used to sit in standing empty, the maidens' chambers empty?—while I sit alone with nothing to do but weep, for ever singing my lament for her: 'The father who begat you has destroyed you, my child. He killed you himself, no one else. His alone was the hand.'—†the father who has left such a motive for hatred in the house.†* 1180It needs only a slight pretext and I and the girls you have left behind will receive you as it is fitting you should be received. By the gods then, do not force me to become a traitor to you, and you must not prove a traitor to me.

So then, you will kill your daughter. What prayers will you utter? What blessing will you beg should fall on you as you slaughter your child? A grim journey back—after your pg 120shameful departure from home? But do you expect me to pray for some good for you? We would surely believe that 1190the gods are fools if we call down blessings on murderers. On your return from Argos, will you hold your children in your arms? But you have no right to do so. And which of the children will even meet you with a look if you are to kill the one you embrace? Did you pause to consider this, or are you only interested in parading your sceptre and giving your army orders? These would have been the right words to say to the Greeks: 'Achaeans, do you wish to sail to the Phrygians' land? Cast lots to see whose child must die.' This would have been fair—not that you should pick out your 1200daughter as a sacrificial victim to give to the Greeks. Fair too for Menelaus to kill Hermione* for her mother. After all, the quarrel was his. But as things are, I, who have been loyal to your bed, shall be robbed of my child, and the woman who sinned will get back her girl under her roof in Sparta and find happiness.

Answer me if anything I have said was not well said. But if I did speak well, then do not kill your child and mine. This will show that you are a man of judgement.


chorus. Listen to her. To join in saving a child is a noble thing, Agamemnon. No one will gainsay that.

iphigenia. If I had the voice of Orpheus,* father, with the power to persuade by my song so that I could make rocks follow me and charm all those I wished to with my eloquence, I would have used it. But as it is I shall offer the only skill that I possess, my tears. They are my only resource. I press my body, which this lady bore to you, close to your knees as though it were a suppliant's branch.* Do not kill me before my time. It is sweet to see the light of day. Do not force me to look on the underworld. I was the first to call 1220you father,* you were the first to call me child. I was the first i to climb up on your knees and give you loving kisses and take them in return. And this is what you used to say: 'Shall I see you happy, my child, in your husband's house, leading a palmy life worthy of your royal father.' This was my reply as I reached up to clasp the chin which I take hold of now: 'And what about you? Shall I receive you in my house with a loving welcome, father, when you are old, and so repay pg 1211230the tender care with which you brought me up?' I can remember these words but you have forgotten them and want to kill me. Do not do it, I beg you, by Pelops and by Atreus your father and by my mother here who suffered long ago the agony of bringing me to birth and endures this second agony now. What do I have to do with the marriage of Helen and Paris? Why must I die because he came to Sparta? Look at me, turn your eyes this way, and kiss me so 1240that as I die I may have this at least as a remembrance of you, if my words cannot persuade you.

Brother, you are only a tiny champion for your friends, but weep with me none the less and beg your father that your sister should not die. Even in infants there is an inborn sense of life's cruelties. Look, he can say nothing but still he pleads with you, father. Show me mercy. Pity me and do not kill me. Yes, by your chin, we supplicate you, we your two darlings, this one here but a nestling, the other already fledged.

1250The success of my whole case rests on this single point. This light of day is very sweet for men to look upon and what is below the ground is nothing. The person who prays to die is mad. To live basely is better than to die nobly.*

chorus. Cruel-hearted Helen, because of you and your marriage a great struggle has come to the sons of Atreus and their children.*

agamemnon. I understand what calls for pity and what does not, and I love my children. I would be mad if I did not love them. It is a terrible thing for me to bring myself to do this deed, lady, and terrible also not to do it. But whether I want to or not, I have to. Both of you can see what a vast army 1260is here with its armada, how many Greeks, masters of bronze arms. They can never sail against the towers of Ilium, never overturn the famous foundations of Troy, if I do not sacrifice you, as the seer Calchas says. In the army of the Greeks there rages some mad desire* to sail with all speed to the land of the barbarians and put an end to the rape of Greek wives. They will kill my girls in Argos, and the three of you, and me as well, if I frustrate the oracle of the goddess. It is not Menelaus who has made me his slave, my 1270child, no, I am not guided by his wishes. It is Greece* for pg 122which I must sacrifice you whether I want to or no. There's the necessity that masters me. Greece must be free, as far as that lies in your power, my child, and in mine, and as Greeks, her men must not be robbed of their wives through force.* agamemnon goes out.

clytemnestra (chants). O my child, o you foreign women,

O my own misery over your death,

your father is running away. He has surrendered you to Hades.

iphigenia (chants). I cry for myself, my mother. For the selfsame song against our fortune

1280has fallen to us both,

and the light of the sky and this brilliant sun

are mine no longer.


  • Ah! Ah!
  • Snow-beaten valley of the Phrygians
  • and Ida's mountains, where Priam once
  • cast out his tender baby,
  • taking it far away from its mother
  • and dooming it to death,
  • Paris,* who was called the child of Ida,
  • 1290the child of Ida in the Phrygians' city,
  • if only you had never given a home
  • to Alexandros, the ox-herd reared among the oxen,
  • a home by the sparkling waters
  • where the springs of the Nymphs lie
  • and the meadow,
  • lush with its green shoots,
  • and roses and hyacinths
  • for goddesses to pick. There once
  • 1300Pallas came and Cypris, the schemer,
  • and Hera and Hermes, Zeus' messenger—
  • Cypris, vain* of the love which she inspires,
  • Pallas, proud of her martial prowess,
  • and Hera, of the royal bed of Zeus—
  • they came to judgement,
  • pg 123to a hateful contest in beauty
  • which meant death for me,
  • 1310a death which brings glory to the maidens of Greece,
  • and Artemis has won her sacrifice
  • as a prelude to the voyage to Ilium.
  • But my father has gone,
  • o mother, o mother,
  • he has betrayed me, deserted me, his wretched daughter.
  • O my misery, bitter,
  • bitter was the sight of Helen, name of ill omen,
  • and I am being killed, murdered,
  • impiously slaughtered by an impious father.
  • If only Aulis had not received
  • 1320the sterns* of bronze-beaked ships
  • into this anchorage,
  • the fleet that was taking the army to Troy!
  • If only the breath of Zeus on Euripus
  • had not held back the voyage, of Zeus who whirls the winds
  • to suit all kinds of mortals,
  • some to be cheered by full sails,
  • while for others there is sorrow, and for others the clamp of necessity.
  • Here they are sailing out, here furling their sails,
  • here they simply wait.
  • 1330We humans are mere creatures of a day, and full of suffering,
  • yes, full of suffering is our life. It is a hard undertaking
  • for men to find out their fate.
  • Ah!
  • I cry out against the daughter of Tyndareus
  • who brings great torments, great woes upon the Greeks.

chorus. I pity you. You have met with calamity. O that you never had!

iphigenia. My mother,* you who gave me birth, I see a troop of soldiers approaching.

clytemnestra. And the son of the goddess, Achilles, child, the man for whom you came here.


iphigenia. Open up the tent please, servants, so that I can hide myself.

pg 124

clytemnestra. Why are you running away, my child?

iphigenia. I am ashamed to look upon Achilles here.

clytemnestra. Why?

iphigenia. The sad business of my marriage makes me feel ashamed.

clytemnestra. This is no time for false delicacy, considering what has happened. I tell you, you must stay. Pride is no use to us if we are to find help.

achilles enters with attendants carrying his armour.

achilles. Daughter of Leda, you unfortunate woman …

clytemnestra. There you speak the truth.

achilles. The Greeks are shouting terrible things …

clytemnestra. What are they shouting? Tell me.

achilles … about your child …

clytemnestra. What you say bodes ill.

achilles … that she must be slaughtered.

clytemnestra. And no one is speaking against this?

achilles. I myself met with some noisy shouting.

clytemnestra. What were they shouting?

achilles. That I should be stoned to death.


clytemnestra. Not because you tried to save my child?

achilles. Yes, for just that.

clytemnestra. Who would have dared to lay a hand on you?

achilles. All the Greeks.*

clytemnestra. But wasn't the Myrmidon army there to protect you?

achilles. They were the bitterest in opposing me.

clytemnestra. It is all over with us then, my child.

achilles. Why, they taunted me, calling me the slave of my hoped-for marriage.

clytemnestra. And what did you answer?

achilles. I forbade them to kill my future wife …

clytemnestra. Yes, and you were right to.

achilles … the wife her father promised me.

clytemnestra … and sent for from Argos.

achilles. But I was overwhelmed by the uproar,

clytemnestra. Yes, the mob is a terrible, destructive force.

achilles. But I shall protect you nevertheless,

clytemnestra. And fight all alone against a multitude?

achilles. Do you see these men who carry my arms?

clytemnestra. Blessings on you for your sense of honour.

pg 125

achilles. Well, I shall have my reward.*

clytemnestra. 1360Will my child not be slaughtered now?

achilles. No, at least not with my consent,

clytemnestra. Will someone come to lay hold of the girl?

achilles. Many will come, and Odysseus will lead her away.

clytemnestra. What, the son of Sisyphus?*

achilles. The very same,

clytemnestra. On his own initiative—or instructed by the army?

achilles. Chosen, and willing too.

clytemnestra. A vile choice, to commit a murder.

achilles. But I shall hold him off.

clytemnestra. Will he drag her away by force if she is unwilling to go?

achilles. Certainly, and by her golden hair,

clytemnestra. What must I do then?

achilles. Hold your daughter tightly,

clytemnestra. If that is all I have to do to save her, she will not be slaughtered.

achilles. But it will certainly come to that.

iphigenia. Mother,* you must listen to my words. For I see that you are angry with your husband for no reason. It is 1370not easy for us to go through with the impossible. It is right to thank the stranger* for his generous heart. But you should think of this too. His reputation among the army must not be destroyed. We should be no better off and he would be ruined. Hear what has settled in my mind, mother, as I thought about this. I have made the decision to die. I want to do this gloriously, to reject all meanness of spirit. Only consider these things with me, mother, and you will see how nobly I am speaking. Greece in all its greatness* now looks to me and no one else, on me depends the voyage of the ships across the sea and the overthrow of the

1380Phrygians; and if the barbarians try to seize our women from happy Greece in the future, it lies with me to stop them by ensuring that they pay for the ruin of Helen whom Paris snatched away. Through my death I shall secure all this and my fame as the liberator of Greece will be for ever blessed.

And indeed it is right that I should not be too much in love with life. You bore me for the common good of the Greeks, not for yourself alone. Will countless warriors, with their shields their bulwark, will numberless oarsmen dare to strike against the enemy and die for their fatherland when pg 1261390Greece is wronged, and shall my life, my single life, prevent all this? †How could we argue that this is right?†

And let me come to the next point. This man must not battle with all of the Greeks for a woman's sake, and die. It is better that one man should see the light of day than any number of women. If Artemis has decided to take my body, am I, a mere mortal, to oppose the goddess? No, it is impossible. I give my body to Greece. Sacrifice me and sack Troy. This shall be my lasting monument, this shall be my children, 1400my marriage and my glory. It is right that the Greeks should rule barbarians, mother, and not barbarians Greeks. For they are slaves and we are free.

chorus. The part you play, maiden, is a noble one. But fate and the goddess—that is where the sickness lies.*

achilles. Child of Agamemnon, a god meant to make me happy—if I could only win you as a wife. I envy Greece because she is blessed in you and you because you are blessed in Greece. Your words were noble and worthy of your fatherland. You have given up your struggle with the gods, for they are too strong for you, and you have pondered on what is good and what is inevitable. Now that I have 1410seen your character, I long still more to marry you. You have a noble heart. And consider this. It is my own wish to serve you and to take you to my house, and it will bring me grief—let Thetis be my witness—if I do not join battle with the Greeks and save you. Think. Death is a fearful thing.

iphigenia. It is enough that Helen's beauty should stir up deadly strife for men. Do not kill anyone or be killed because 1420of me, but allow me to save Greece if I can.

achilles. You heroic spirit, I have nothing more to say to this, since this is what you have decided and your thoughts are noble. Why should one fail to speak the truth? But even so, perhaps you may change your mind about this. Hear then—for I shall tell you—what I plan to do. I shall go to the altar and place my arms nearby. I shall not allow you to be killed. No, I shall prevent it. You will take up my promise soon enough when you see the sword close to your neck. I 1430shall not let you die because of a foolish impulse.* I shall go with these weapons of mine to the temple of the goddess and wait for your arrival there. achilles goes out.

pg 127

iphigenia. Mother, why are you silent? Why these tear-filled eyes?*

clytemnestra. In my misery I have good cause for a sorrowing heart.

iphigenia. Stop. Do not make a coward of me.* Obey me in what I ask you.

clytemnestra. Tell me what it is—you shall have no cause to complain of me, at any rate.

iphigenia. Then do not cut off a lock of your hair,* or clothe your body in black robes.

clytemnestra. Why do you say this my child—when I have lost you?

iphigenia. But you have not. I have been saved and through 1440me you shall win glory.*

clytemnestra. What do you mean? Must I not grieve for your death?

iphigenia. No, no. For no tomb will be raised to me.

clytemnestra. What? Is not burial customary for the dead?

iphigenia. The altar of the divine daughter of Zeus will be my memorial.*

clytemnestra. Well then, my child, I shall obey you. This is good advice.

iphigenia. It comes from a happy woman, the benefactor of Greece.

clytemnestra. What message from you should I give your sisters?

iphigenia. Do not dress them in black robes either.

clytemnestra. Should I say some loving word to the girls from you?


iphigenia. Bid them farewell. And bring up Orestes here to manhood, I beg you.

clytemnestra. Hug him close to you and look at him for the last time.

iphigenia. Dearest Orestes, you did everything you could to help your dear sister.

clytemnestra. Is there anything I can do in Argos which will please you?

iphigenia. Do not hate your husband, since he is my father.

clytemnestra. He must run a terrible race because of you.*

pg 128

iphigenia. It was against his will and for the sake of Greece that he destroyed me.

clytemnestra. But it was by a foul trick, unworthy of Atreus.*

iphigenia. Who will come to take me away before they tear at my hair?

clytemnestra. I shall go with you …

iphigenia. No, not you. You show bad judgement there.


clytemnestra. Yes I shall, holding tight to your robes.

iphigenia. Mother, obey me. Remain here. That will be better both for myself and you. Let one of my father's attendants here lead me to Artemis' meadow where I am to be slaughtered.

clytemnestra. Are you lost to me, my child?

iphigenia. Yes, and I shall never come again.

clytemnestra. You will leave your mother?

iphigenia. As you see—and not as a girl should leave her.

clytemnestra. Stay! Do not forsake me.

iphigenia. I forbid you to let fall a tear.* And you, young women, sing a propitious song for my fate, a song in praise of Zeus' daughter Artemis. Let the Greeks keep propitious 1470silence. Let someone begin the sacrifice with the baskets, let the fire blaze with purifying barley meal, and let my father walk round the altar from left to right,* for I come to give salvation and with it victory to the Greeks.

  • (sings) Lead me on—the destroyer
  • of Ilium's city and the Phrygians.
  • Give me, bring me garlands to bind my head—
  • here is a lock of my hair to wreathe the altar—
  • and streams of purifying water.
  • 1480Dance your swirling dance for Artemis
  • around the temple, around the altar,
  • for Artemis the queen, the blessed one.
  • For with my blood,
  • shed in sacrifice if it must be,
  • I shall wash away the oracle.
  • O mother, my lady mother, I shall not
  • give you my tears.
  • 1490They are not fitting at a holy rite.
  • Ah, young women, ah,
  • pg 129join with me in singing the praise of Artemis,
  • the goddess across the strait from Chalcis,
  • where because of me, Iphigenia,
  • the sailors of the wooden ships
  • in Aulis' mooring on the narrow straits
  • are impatient for the end.
  • O land of Argos which gave me birth,
  • and Mycenae, my home …


chorus (sings). Are you calling on the city of Perseus

constructed by Cyclopian hands?*

iphigenia (sings). You brought me up to be a light for Greece.*

It causes me no regret that I die.

chorus (sings). Your glory shall live for ever.

iphigenia (sings). Ah! Ah!

Bright torch of the day,

and Zeus' sunlight,

a different life,

a different fate shall be mine.

Farewell, beloved light.*

iphigenia is led off. clytemnestra goes into the tent.


[chorus (sings). Ah! Ah!

See the destroyer

of Ilium's city and the Phrygians

going on her way—garlands will be cast upon her head

and streams of purifying water—

†to sprinkle the altar of the goddess divine*

and her own lovely neck

with a dew of gushing blood

at the moment of slaughter.

The generous streams of purifying water

which your father will pour await you.†

The army of the Achaeans awaits you,

1520eager to go to the city of Troy.

But let us invoke the daughter of Zeus,

Artemis, sovereign goddess,

as if this were a happy fate.

O maiden, maiden, your favour won

by a human sacrifice,

send the Greek army

pg 130to the land of the Phrygians

and the treacherous city of Troy,

and grant that Agamemnon

may crown the spears of Greece

1530with glorious fame, and his own brows

with a glory that never dies.

Enter messenger.

messenger. Daughter of Tyndareus, Clytemnestra, come out of the tent, so that you can hear my words.

Enter clytemnestra holding Orestes.

clytemnestra. I heard your voice and have come here, out of my mind in an agony of fear. Surely you have not come with news of another disaster to add to what I suffer now?

messenger. No, I want to tell you something strange and wonderful about your child.

clytemnestra. Do not delay then, but let me know at once.


messenger. Well then, my dear mistress, I shall make everything clear to you. I shall begin at the beginning in case my excitement makes me incoherent as I tell you the story.

Well, we came to the grove of Zeus' daughter Artemis and her flowery meadows where the army of the Achaeans had gathered. We were leading your child. Immediately all the Greeks crowded together shoulder to shoulder. And when King Agamemnon saw the girl coming into the grove to be slain, he groaned loudly, turned his head away from her and 1550burst into tears, pulling his robe in front of his eyes.*

But she stood near to her father and said: 'O my father, here I am beside you. I gladly give my body for my father-land and for the whole land of Greece. Lead me to the altar of the goddess, you Achaeans, and sacrifice me, if this is what the oracle demands. So far as it depends on me, may you have success, may you win victory with your spears and come back to your fatherland. Therefore let no Greek lay a 1560hand on me. I shall offer my neck with a brave heart in silence.'

This is what she said. And as they listened, everyone marvelled at the courage and heroism of the maiden. Then Talthybius—whose office it was—*called for a reverent pg 131silence from the army. And the seer Calchas, drew a sharp sword from its scabbard, placed it in a golden basket, and put a garland round the girl's head. Next the son of Peleus took the basket and the holy water too, quickly circled the 1570altar of the goddess, and said: 'O daughter of Zeus, o slayer of wild beasts, spinning your bright radiance through the darkness of the night,* accept this sacrifice which we, the Achaean army and King Agamemnon too, present to you, the undefiled blood from a virgin's beautiful neck, and grant that our ships sail on safely and take Troy's citadel.' The sons of Atreus and the whole army stood staring down at the ground.

The priest took the knife, uttered his prayer and looked at 1580her throat to see where he should strike. As for myself, a great anguish began to lay hold on my heart and I stood there, my head drooping.* But suddenly there was a wonder to behold. Everyone would have heard the thud of the blow clearly, but the girl had sunk into the ground, nobody knows where.

The priest shouted and the whole army echoed back the cry. We had seen an unhoped for portent from one of the gods and could scarcely believe our eyes. For a deer lay panting and struggling on the ground, an impressive sight in its vastness and its beauty, and it was that creature's blood that 1590spattered all the altar. At this, Calchas cried with unimaginable joy: 'Lords of the united Achaean army, do you see this victim which the goddess has placed on her altar, a mountain-running deer? She has gladly received this rather than the girl. She does not wish to defile her altar with noble blood. She is pleased to accept this sacrifice and will give us favourable winds as we sail to attack Troy. So let every sailor take good heart and go to his ship. For on this day we must 1600leave the hollow bay of Aulis and cross the swelling Aegean sea.' When the whole victim had been burnt to ashes* in Hephaestus' fire, he prayed a suitable prayer to win a good voyage.

Agamemnon has sent me to tell you this and to let you know what fate the gods have given your daughter. She has won glory throughout Greece, glory that will never die. I was there, and I am telling you this as one who saw it. pg 132Clearly your daughter has flown away to join the gods. Put an end to your grief and lay aside your anger against your 1610husband. What the gods purpose cannot be foreseen by mortals. They save those they love. For this day has seen your daughter dying and coming back to life.

chorus. How I rejoice to hear the messenger's report. He says that your daughter is alive and living among the gods.

clytemnestra (chants). O my child, which of the gods has stolen you?

By what name can I call you? How can I be sure

that this story has not been made up to console me

so that I can lay to rest

my cruel grief over you?

chorus (chants). But look, King Agamemnon is coming.

1620He brings you confirmation of the story.

Enter agamemnon.

agamemnon. My wife, we may be happy for our daughter's sake. For I tell you truly, she lives among the gods. You must take this little baby and go off home, since the army has its voyage in prospect. And farewell. It will be a long time before I return from Troy and greet you again. May all go well with you.*

chorus (chants). May you reach the Phrygian land in happiness

and meet with a happy return

carrying most splendid spoils from Troy.

All the characters leave the stage.]

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1 s.d.: the stage building must do duty for a tent—as will be suggested by a speaker (12). The stage-building, which is imposing enough to do service as a palace in many plays, has in fact left its mark in 2—where the word I have rendered by 'tent' really means 'house'.
Like Euripides' Electra, this play, performed by day in bright Athenian light, opens in darkness, again evoked by the speakers (6–8, etc.). The Old Man's sluggish entry is presumably somewhat delayed.
Editor’s Note
1–48 Old man, come here … dowry long ago: among Euripides' extant plays, only Rhesus and Iphigenia at Aulis (IA from now on) begin with lyrical (here chanted) poetry. The authorship of the present passage and the whole of Rhesus are in doubt.
Editor’s Note
7–8 near the Pleiades on their seven paths: the Pleiades were the seven sisters who became the seven stars of the constellation of that name.
Editor’s Note
10–11 The winds are hushed … Euripus: Euripus is the strait which separates the island of Euboea from Boeotia in mainland Greece (see map). The audience begins to discover about the setting of the play. We discover the exact location, Aulis (now disfigured by a cement factory), in 14.
In Euripus the current changed seven times a day (Strabo 1.3.12); and the name was used proverbially of an unstable man (Aeschines 3.90). The sea is quiet now, but it is to prove a highly appropriate background for the extreme shifts in the protagonist's decisions.
Editor’s Note
12 Why are you darting about outside your tent: Agamemnon's insomnia is an index of a guilty conscience.
Editor’s Note
16–18 I envy any man … I envy less: the theme of the ordinary man's ease of spirit in contrast with the anxieties that torment a king is one that Shakespeare communicates with particular expressiveness, as in 2 Henry IV, iii.i.26–31:
  •     Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
  •     To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,
  •     And in the calmest and most stillest night,
  •     With all appliances and means to boot,
  •     Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!
  •     Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
Editor’s Note
34–5 You have lit a lamp: is there a table (on which Agamemnon can constantly erase what he has written on his tablet, 37) with a torch on it on stage? Or is the lamp simply suggested by the words (see n. at 1 s.d.)? Menelaus can, after all, mime the erasure standing up.
Editor’s Note
39 pine tablets: two (or more) wooden tablets were covered with wax (which was kept in place by a raised border) on which messages would be scraped with a stylus. They could also be smoothed over and thus erased. These tablets would be hinged to each other so that they could be shut together like a modern book, and then sealed.
Editor’s Note
39–40 shedding a big rich tear: the phrase is Homeric, one of many references in IA to this great epic poet—after all, it is a kind of prologue to the story of the Iliad.
Editor’s Note
46–8 Tyndareus … long ago: Tyndareus, the husband of Leda, was Menelaus' predecessor as king of Sparta. The Old Man's history makes him the perfect go-between for Agamemnon and his wife.
Editor’s Note
49–107 Leda … Menelaus and myself: the Prologue proper—in which the audience is given the information it needs in order to understand the action. The conventional nature of such prologues is often in conflict with naturalism, perhaps above all in this instance when the Old Man would surely know all that Agamemnon tells him in 49–85.
Editor’s Note
69 the sweet winds of love: the stillness of the actual winds (10–11, 88) is in contrast with the potent winds of love and the shifting currents of human motivation in IA (see n. at 10–11).
Editor’s Note
71–2 this man who had judged the goddesses: Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy and an oxherd on Mount Ida behind Troy (76), awarded a golden apple as a prize for beauty to Aphrodite, goddess of love, who had offered him the most beautiful woman in Greece if she won. (This of course proved to be Helen.) The two goddesses who lost were Hera and Pallas Athena.
Editor’s Note
73–4 dazzling in the finery … luxury of the east: this talk of oriental luxury with its overtones of effeminacy and decadence is common in classical literature, but none the less expressively scornful for that.
Editor’s Note
89 Calchas the seer: he could interpret the significance of the flight of birds and knew the past, present and future. He had been given this gift of prophecy by his grandfather Apollo.
Editor’s Note
91 Artemis who dwells in this place: gods are imagined as inhabiting the areas where they are worshipped. Artemis was the goddess of hunting.
Editor’s Note
95 Talthybius: one of Agamemnon's heralds.
Editor’s Note
100–3 Achilles … Phthia: Achilles, the greatest of the Greek warriors, came from Phthia in Thessaly (the capital of which was Pharsalus) where his father Peleus was king. His mother was the sea goddess Thetis (see 134). Achaeans is Homer's collective noun for the Greeks.
Editor’s Note
112 Argos: where Agamemnon was king. See n. at 152.
Editor’s Note
121 sheltered Aulis: the bay at Aulis offers protection from the currents of Euripus.
Editor’s Note
152 the Cyclops' palace: it was the popular belief that the walls of Mycenae were made of such immense stones that only the huge Cyclopes (one-eyed giants) could have built them. Mycenae and Argos were both by tradition Agamemnon's capital cities, in Homer always the latter. In Greek tragedy they are referred to interchangeably.
Editor’s Note
156–8: The glimmering dawn … the sky here: day has arrived.
Editor’s Note
162 s.d.: the excited curiosity of these sight-seeing day-trippers is conveyed with appealing vivacity. These are youthful (615), eager married (176) women. From any realistic standpoint, their presence at Aulis must be highly improbable, but these sympathetic young wives, poised in age between the maiden Iphigenia and the motherly Clytemnestra, prove dramatically apt observers for the action of IA.
Editor’s Note
170 Arethusa: a popular name for a fountain. The most celebrated of these was at Syracuse in Sicily, and among several others was the one at Calchis.
Editor’s Note
174 red-haired Menelaus: Menelaus is given one of his Homeric epithets (adjectives). Cf. n. at 39–40.
Editor’s Note
178–9 Eurotas: the river which flows through Sparta.
Editor’s Note
184 the Cyprian goddess: Aphrodite was born from the foam of the sea and landed first on the island of Cythera and then on Cyprus—hence 'Cyprian' here, and the name Cypris by which she was also known.
Editor’s Note
182 by the dewy waters of a spring: in Euripides, Andromache 284–5, the goddesses are described as bathing in a woodland spring before going to Paris to be judged.
Editor’s Note
192–4 the two Ajaxes … Salamis: as is implied here, Ajax the son of Telamon—who came from the island of Salamis near Athens—was a far greater fighter than Ajax the son of Oileus, who, as well as being inferior to his namesake, was a bad character.
Editor’s Note
194–5 Protesilaus: the first Greek to be killed at Troy, he was struck down by Hector as he leapt from his ship.
Editor’s Note
196 draughts board: the game was a kind of backgammon, combining skill with chance. A famous vase by Exekias dating from 540–530 bce (in the Vatican in Rome) shows Achilles and Ajax (the son of Telamon) sitting playing this game.
Editor’s Note
203–4 the son of Laertes from his mountainous island: i.e. Odysseus from Ithaca.
Editor’s Note
206–9 And I saw … Chiron trained to perfection: 'swift-footed' is one of the key epithets (adjectives) used of Achilles in Homer's Iliad. He was brought up by the civilized centaur (half man, half horse) Chiron.
Editor’s Note
224 sweeping close round the turnings of the race-track: too wide a turn at the ends of the race course would waste valuable time. Euripides may have written an ode (quoted by Plutarch at Alcibiades 11.2) in celebration of Alcibiades' victory in the chariot race in the Olympic Games of 416 bce.
Editor’s Note
232 to see something wondrous: the word for 'see' here is part of the Greek word for 'theatre'. The theatre audience watches the Chorus watching the Greek army. Both Chorus and audience are in fact spectators (cf. n. at 628–9) as Homer's catalogue of ships (from Iliad 2.484–877) becomes living drama.
The Greek word for 'wondrous' literally means 'beyond even a god's power to express'. It is a Homeric word, used in tragedy only here, and so plays its part in Euripides' conjuring up of Homer's world.
Editor’s Note
239–40 the Nereid goddesses: the Nereids were sea-deities, the daughters of Nereus and the granddaughters of Oceanus. In most accounts they numbered fifty, which conveniently allows one per ship. Achilles' mother Thetis was one of them.
Editor’s Note
244–5 Mecisteus' son … brought up: the son of Mecisteus and grandson of Talaus was Euryalus.
Editor’s Note
248–9 the son of Theseus: in Homer the leader of the Athenian contingent is Menestheus, and he is the son of Peteus and an enemy of Theseus. Euripides must here be referring to either Acamas or Demophon, the two sons of Theseus.
Editor’s Note
256–9 Cadmus … earth-born Leitus: for the Theban myth which explains Cadmus, the dragon and the earth-born men, see Bacchae, n. at 264.
Editor’s Note
261 And from the land of Phocis: something has fallen out of the text here. The words supplied in brackets aim to do no more than make sense.
Editor’s Note
265–6 from Cyclops-built Mycenae the son of Atreus: for Cyclops-built, see n. at 152. The son of Atreus is Agamemnon; his brother is, of course, Menelaus.
Editor’s Note
274 Gerenian: from Gerena or Gerenon, a city in Messenia in South Greece near Pylos where Nestor ruled—a Homeric epithet.
Editor’s Note
275–6 the river Alpheus, their neighbour, footed like a bull: the Alpheus flowed through Pylos (hence 'neighbour'). It is common for rivers to be typified in the form of a bull. Ancient writers suggest that this is because of the noise the rivers make and their bends, which are called horns.
Editor’s Note
287 inhospitable to sea-faring men: the Taphians had a reputation for piracy. (See Homer, Odyssey 15.427.)
Editor’s Note
288–93 And Ajax … supremely manoeuvrable vessels: this is a problematic passage. However, it certainly establishes that Ajax was at one end of the line of ships and thus, like Achilles at the other end (235–7), in one of the two positions most exposed to danger (since they alone were exposed on one flank). This positioning was repeated on the shore at Troy.
Editor’s Note
301–2 And I heard … which I keep in my mind: the Chorus here makes it plain how it knows so much about the fleet. It could scarcely have deduced all it has told us from mere visual observation. This is an extraordinarily bathetic conclusion to the Chorus' delightfully animated song.
Editor’s Note
303 Menelaus: a Victorian editor of the play, E. B. England (Iphigeneia at Aulis (London, 1891)), remarks at this point: 'It is with a sigh of relief that every student must turn from the perplexities of the prologue and the doggerel navy list at the end of the parados [opening Chorus], to a scene of definite intelligible action, and of genuine Euripidean stamp.' Many may feel that England does far less than justice to the passages of which he is so scornful.
Editor’s Note
303–33 Menelaus … a hateful thing: are almost entirely in stichomythia. See Introducton, p. xxxvi.
Editor’s Note
309 someone else: i.e. Agamemnon.
Editor’s Note
317–401 What's going on … in good order: a new metre—called 'trochaic'—starts up at 317 in the Greek and is sustained for 84 lines. England (n. ad loc.) remarks: 'The livelier metre not only suits a rapid appearance [for Agamemnon] on the stage, but also the hasty tempers of the interlocutors in the following scene.'
Editor’s Note
321 Do you think that Agamemnon, son of Atreus, is going to tremble and not look you in the eye: there is a play on words here in the original which gives the line its point. The Greek word for 'untrembling' and the name Atreus are similar in sound.
Editor’s Note
332 No, for your thoughts are crooked, shifting with every moment: the flux of Agamemnon's thoughts, set against the background of the shifting currents of Euripus (see n. at 10–11), is clear from 84–110. There is irony here too. Menelaus' thinking is to undergo an extreme sea-change later in the play.
Editor’s Note
333 What a fine gloss you have put on your base deed: the base deed is presumably the interception and opening of private correspondence, with a glance at the rough treatment of the Old Man.
Editor’s Note
339–45 you know how humble you were … rarely to be seen: Athenian politicians of the fifth century bce seem to have been more consistent in their behaviour towards the voters than Agamemnon, as portrayed here by Menelaus. Cimon (Plutarch, Cimon 10.1–2) removed the fences from his estates so that anyone could take the produce, gave dinner to all who wanted it (or at least to the members of his deme), and tactfully dispensed money hand-outs and free clothes. Pericles and Nicias on the other hand kept out of the public eye (Plutarch, Pericles 7.4, Nicias 5.1).
Editor’s Note
359–62 your heart rejoiced … Achilles: Menelaus gives an extremely different version of what happened from Agamemnon's account at 93–7. Both are highly plausible psychologically.
Editor’s Note
370 Unhappy Greece: an important statement of what W. Stockert calls the 'Panhellenic motif' (Iphigenie in Aulis (Vienna, 1992), n. at 410). The Greeks have united to fight the barbarians, but here are two of their leading figures quarrelling violently with each other.
Editor’s Note
402 What you have just spoken is different from what you said before: Agamemnon is now stating his determination not to kill his daughter with unhesitating, indeed superb confidence. The Chorus base their comment on the shifts—and shiftiness—of Agamemnon of which Menelaus has spoken (334–75).
At this line, the metre now moves back to the iambic, the regular metre of dramatic dialogue.
Editor’s Note
403 But it is good to hear you talk of sparing your child: the Chorus of young women is naturally sympathetic to Iphigenia's plight. Ennius in his Latin adaptation of IA used a Chorus of soldiers instead. While this may have seemed decidedly more realistic, the galumphing, down-to-earth quality of the fragment of Ennius' writing for them which survives underscores the fine dramatic judgement of Euripides in his choice of observant women with a finely-tuned sensibility for this fundamentally important role.
Editor’s Note
410 Do you not think it right to share in the efforts of Greece: the Panhellenic motif (see n. at 370). Agamemnon's duty to the assembled Greeks is in conflict with his love for his daughter.
Editor’s Note
413 O king of all the Greeks: these words form the second half of a line which Menelaus has begun. C. E. S. Headlam comments (Iphigeneia at Aulis (Cambridge, 1886), n. at 414) that, though it is 'a general rule in tragedy that a line is not divided between a person already on the stage and a fresh arrival', the fact that this happens here is justified by the hurried entry of the messenger, impatient to spill out his news.
Editor’s Note
422 women and fillies alike: Headlam suggests (n. on 420 ff.) that the travellers walk 'on the grass round a spring' while the horses stand in its waters—presumably before being turned loose in the fields (422). But why shouldn't Clytemnestra and Iphigenia be allowed to wet their feet?
Editor’s Note
433 They are consecrating the young girl to Artemis: England (n. at 433) calls this a 'clumsy attempt at tragic irony'. 'This very significant hint of Iphigenia's fate,' he continues, 'is dragged in "by the head and shoulders".' This is unreasonable. Artemis was one of the goddesses to whom offerings were made before marriage. The army's ignorance of the true situation is given poignant emphasis.
Editor’s Note
435 bring the baskets: in these was the barley meal to be sprinkled over the victim and the altar.
Editor’s Note
446–9 Men of low birth … unhappiness: England (n. at 446–9) quotes Beaumont and Fletcher, The Maid's Tragedy v.2: 'But such the misery of greatness is, They have no time for tears.'
Editor’s Note
454 what shall I say to my wife: Agamemnon had hoped that Clytemnestra would stay at home and send Iphigenia to Aulis without her. It is Clytemnestra's decision to accompany her daughter that has given Agamemnon the coup de grâce, for now that the army knows that Iphigenia is here, her sacrifice seems inevitable. The presence of the wife will not only make the deed far more problematic to encompass but will add greatly to the emotional trauma of putting it into effect.
Editor’s Note
460–1 why … virgin … marry her: Agamemnon finds the word 'virgin' grimly inappropriate since he believes that his daughter will be violated by her marriage to the god of the Underworld.
Editor’s Note
473 I swear by Pelops: some have felt that this apparent recantation of Menelaus is false, designed to ram home, behind a façade of sincere fraternal support, the true dangers Agamemnon would face if he did not kill Iphigenia. For the writer of these notes, a violent shift in Menelaus' view of the situation seems entirely characteristic of this play (see n. at 10–11), and I take the speech at face value. However, Pelops and Atreus, the father and grandfather of Agamemnon and Menelaus, are famously treacherous characters in Greek mythology, and this could certainly foster some suspicion about the words of a man who swears by them so eagerly (Pelops here, Atreus in 474).
Editor’s Note
477–8 When I saw … tears for you in my turn: Greek actors wore masks, which denied them changing facial expressions. Agamemnon may have suggested weeping through his voice, while Menelaus may have mimed it by, e.g., putting his hands up to his eyes. This play is remarkable for the weeping which is said to take place on stage, i.e. at 39–40, 496–7, 650, 683–4, 888–9. The characters, especially Agamemnon, seem to be seeking to drown the stage in tears.
Editor’s Note
488 win Helen: there is a play on words here which cannot be reproduced in English. The Greek word for 'win' contains the first syllable of the name Helen.
Editor’s Note
504 words, worthy of Tantalus: Tantalus, another ancestor of Agamemnon and Menelaus (see n. at 473), was father of Pelops and founder of the dynasty, and received a famous punishment in the Underworld because of his evil dealing on earth. The blithe approval of this notorious figure by the Chorus here may awaken further doubts about the sincerity of Menelaus' speech.
Editor’s Note
508 Strife between brothers: Agamemnon is no doubt thinking of the murderous conflict between his father Atreus and Atreus' brother Thyestes.
Editor’s Note
513–27 What is this … that possesses him: stichomythia. See Introduction, p. xxxvi. The convention comes under some strain at 522–3.
Editor’s Note
519 Not if he dies first: Menelaus chillingly suggests that they arrange the murder of Calchas, and Agamemnon does not seem shocked by this.
Editor’s Note
521 Yes, hateful and useless—while alive: I have followed Nauck's reading of this corrupt line.
Editor’s Note
524 The vile son of Sisyphus: Odysseus is usually regarded as the son of Laertes. The tradition which describes him as the son of Sisyphus is insulting to him since it makes him out to be a bastard and tarred with his father's criminality.
Editor’s Note
543–57 Happy are they … in full force: the female Chorus in Euripides, Medea (627 ff.) express very similar sentiments.
Editor’s Note
553 Cypris: i.e. Aphrodite. See n. at 184.
Editor’s Note
556–7 may I have my part … when she comes in full force: cf. Racine, Phèdre, 1.iii: 'Vénus toute entière à sa proie attachée.'
Editor’s Note
576–8 imitating the Phrygian pipe of Olympus: the Olympus who invented the pipe was a mythical personage who lived in Mysia before the Trojan War. A real-life Olympus who invented the enharmonic scale and established the pipe by the side of the lyre in Greek music flourished c.650 bce. In Greek literature the two figures are often merged. 'Phrygian' may simply mean 'Trojan' here. Alternatively—or in addition—it may refer to the Phrygian mode with its 'mournful and passionate strains'. (See Headlam, n. at 576.)
Editor’s Note
590–1 Ah! Ah! Great is the happiness of the great: the Chorus, who know the mortal danger in which Iphigenia stands, greet the new arrivals with extraordinarily fulsome strains. It seems probable that the whole of this ecstatic welcome (590–606) is not by Euripides. O. Taplin (The Stagecraft of Aeschylus (Oxford, 1977), 77) comments that 'it is best to regard the lines as hurriedly composed pastiche'.
Editor’s Note
614 your weak, delicate, and dainty feet: the feminine fragility of Iphigenia is stressed. Yet iphi is Homeric Greek for 'strongly', 'mightily'. Her name in fact proves a true guide to her personality as it ultimately emerges in this play.
Editor’s Note
621–2 And take this child … son: the presence of the baby Orestes is a poignant touch. F. Jouan (Iphigénie à Aulis (Paris, 1983), n. at 627) remarks: 'It has sometimes been considered that the verses about little Orestes are excessively extended and sacrifice too much for the effect of pathos. But this scene of family tenderness must appear piquant to an audience which knows that 'little Orestes' will later kill his mother!'
Editor’s Note
626 Nereus' daughter: the sea-goddess Thetis.
Editor’s Note
628–9 give these foreign women a picture of my happiness: Clytemnestra wants to demonstrate her joy by posing with her children in a happy family group (an effective irony). Again the Chorus spectate. Their experience is a reflection of that of the theatre audience. Cf. n. at 232.
Editor’s Note
634 we have come in obedience to your commands: in fact, as we have seen (100), Agamemnon never sent for Clytemnestra, only for Iphigenia, and it is his wife's presence that has reduced him to his impasse. Cf. n. at 454.
Editor’s Note
631–7 Mother, I shall outrun … Don't be angry: after Clytemnestra has greeted her husband rather formally, 'Iphigenia throws herself into her father's embrace … and as he turns to respond to the queen's greeting Iphigenia would have him yet spare all his attention to herself, asking pardon for the importunity of her affection. The repetition of words has caused this passage to be held unsound, but it is in the situation a very natural and pathetic touch' (Headlam, n. at 631–6).
Editor’s Note
640–76 My father … altar, father: stichomythia. See Introduction, p. xxxvi. This scene is full of poignant irony.
Editor’s Note
662 Phrygians: i.e. Trojans.
Editor’s Note
665 you will come to the same place as your father: i.e. either the altar where her father is to sacrifice her, or the Underworld, or both.
Editor’s Note
654 I shall talk nonsense then if that will make you happy: this line, with its intimacy and playfulness, evokes the loving closeness of the relationship between father and daughter.
Editor’s Note
667 A voyage yet lies in store for you as well and on it you will forget your father: this is the voyage to the Underworld. The text is corrupt, and the word 'forget' is speculative.
Editor’s Note
675 the holy water: needed for purification for the sacrifice.
Editor’s Note
681 o this blond hair: in Homer blond hair is customary for princes and young women. In Euripides all young people are blond.
Editor’s Note
697–738 Asopus … Do what I say: stichomythia. See Introduction, p. xxxvi.
Editor’s Note
703 Zeus, who had the authority to do so, betrothed her to him and gave her away: in Athenian society all women had a man in authority over them. According to the myth, Zeus wanted to marry Thetis himself, but the goddess Themis prophesied that the son of Thetis would be more powerful than his father. Thus Zeus was content to marry her off to Peleus, which she was in fact extremely reluctant to do.
Editor’s Note
705 Chiron: see n. at 206.
Editor’s Note
708 Did Thetis or his father bring up Achilles: Achilles, of course, is not famous yet, but there is surely a certain humour in the total ignorance about him which Clytemnestra displays here. Agamemnon imparts a great deal of information, but—another humorous touch?—omits the birth of Achilles.
Editor’s Note
715 That will be the business of the master who has won her: a fine irony: Agamemnon is referring to the god of the Underworld.
Editor’s Note
717 At the time of the full moon: the full moon was an auspicious time for weddings.
Editor’s Note
739 by the sovereign goddess of Argos: i.e. Hera, goddess of marriage.
Editor’s Note
740 while I look after everything indoors: C. Luschnig (Tragic Aporia: A Study of Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis (Victoria, 1988), 18) remarks: 'We meet Clytemnestra as a happy housewife, stubborn perhaps over the proprieties due to family affairs, but no killer.' By the end of the play, Luschnig suggests, the tragic events have set her on the path to becoming one.
Editor’s Note
751–800 There will indeed come to Simois … empty fiction: Simois was a river on the plain of Troy, whose waters according to Homer, were 'swirling'. Ilium and Pergamum were other names for Troy. Phoebus Apollo, the god of prophecy, was on the side of the Trojans, whose walls he had helped to build, in the Trojan War. Cassandra was his wild prophetess. Ares was the god of war. He in fact supported the Trojans, but is here viewed as a symbol of war and all its troubles. The Dioscuri were Castor and Polydeuces, who formed a constellation. The Lydians were Asians, presumably Trojans here; the Phrygians were the Trojans, as always in Euripides. Myth had it that Zeus came to Leda in the form of a swan, whereupon she gave birth to two eggs, out of which sprang two pairs of children, Polydeuces and Clytemnestra, and Helen and Castor—in which case Tyndareus, Leda's husband, would not have been their father.
Now that Iphigenia is here, the Chorus know that war is an inevitability. They visualize its horrors and conclude by casting doubt on the myth that makes Helen the miraculously-born offspring of Zeus. Apart from her dazzling beauty (which is not stressed in this play), the woman who has brought all this destruction in her wake may just be an ordinary mortal.
Editor’s Note
804 The fact is … circumstances: Achilles is here, and elsewhere in the play (see e.g. 965–7), concerned with the well-being of the whole Greek force. His speech here conveys well the idea of waiting (804, 813, 815). There is an irony in the fact that he thinks of himself as a bachelor (805–6) at a time when we have heard much false news about his imminent wedding.
Editor’s Note
814 Myrmidons: the followers of Achilles.
Editor’s Note
821 O lady Modesty: England calls this 'an almost comically outspoken expression of surprise' (n. at 821). Certainly the moment raises a laugh in Cacoyannis' film of Iphigenia. It appears that Achilles, who tries to escape from Clytemnestra at 830, has not had much experience of women (cf. 802). This initial bashfulness adds depth to his subsequent relations with Iphigenia and her mother.
Editor’s Note
851 Goodbye: it was Achilles who wanted to get away at 830. Now Clytemnestra wishes to flee in embarrassment. Such shifts and echoes are characteristic of IA.
Editor’s Note
855–916 Stranger … we are lost: the metre now shifts back to the trochaic (see n. at 317–401). This rhythm 'corresponds to the exciting nature of the old man's communication' (England, n. at 855).
Editor’s Note
881 Dardanus: the first king of Troy.
Editor’s Note
885 He wanted you to be happy to bring your child here to marry Achilles: this is mistaken. Agamemnon very much did not want his wife to come to Aulis. See n. at 454.
Editor’s Note
900 I shall feel no shame in falling at your knees: by the process called supplication, the person seeking a favour would fall to his or her knees before the person asked to give it. He or she would touch the other's body—the knees and chin (909) were the most effective areas—and this would make it extremely difficult to reject the entreaty.
Editor’s Note
902 She is my child. She comes first. I must fight for her: England comments (n. at 902): 'This is one of the Euripidean lines which touch hearts of all times.'
Editor’s Note
952–3 Or Sipylus … draw their descent: Mount Sipylus, in the area of Mount Tmolus in Lydia, was where Tantalus, great-grandfather of Menelaus and Agamemnon, came from. Any settlement in this barbarian region would be regarded by the Greeks as a mere collection of dwellings of semi-savages.
Editor’s Note
955 barley: see n. at 435.
Editor’s Note
963–4 It was mainly … in marriage: this is wrong, though Clytemnestra is happy to encourage Achilles in this belief (986–7). It is clear that she knew next to nothing about him.
Editor’s Note
965–7 I would not have refused … comrades in arms: in this disconcerting variation of the Panhellenic motif (see notes at 370 and 410), Achilles makes it clear that he has no moral objection to human sacrifice to further the Trojan War or indeed to lending his own name to assist a fraudulent scheme. It is simply that Agamemnon has insulted him by not asking him first (961–3)!
Editor’s Note
1019–21 I should become … by force: readers of Homer's Iliad will be surprised by an Achilles who is hoping to preserve, indeed enhance, his friendship with Agamemnon and is fearful of criticism from the Greek army. Clearly the temperate values his teacher Chiron had instilled in him (920–7) have had their effect on Euripides' characterization.
Editor’s Note
1031 Tyndareus: the husband of Clytemnestra's mother (see n. at 751–800). Achilles here speaks as if he, and not Zeus, were her father.
Editor’s Note
1036 the Lybian lotus pipe: the Libyan lotus was often used for making pipes.
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1045 Mount Pelion: a mountain in Thessaly not far from Phthia.
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1053 Ganymede the Phrygian: Zeus fell in love with the boy Ganymede while he was tending his father's flocks in the mountains near Troy. The god metamorphosed into a eagle and carried him off to Olympus to be his wine-steward. Zeus had presumably brought him to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis to perform that function there.
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1054–7 And along the bright white sands … dance: being sea-goddesses, the Nereids could only dance at the sea's edge. They could not attend their sister's wedding. See n. at 239–40.
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1058 their staffs of silver fir: these were, in fact, the traditional weapons of the centaurs.
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1064 Phoebus: Phoebus Apollo, god of prophecy.
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1067–75 He will come at the head … Thetis who bore him: Hephaestus was the god of fire and made two sets of divine armour for Achilles. The second set was the one given to the hero by his mother. Achilles' intention may have been 'to burn the famous land of Priam to ashes' (1069–70), but he was to be killed before Troy was taken and sacked.
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1078 the Nereids: i.e. the daughters of Nereus. See n. at 239–40.
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1080 you: i.e. Iphigenia.
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1089 a son of Inachus: i.e. descended from a river god in the Argolid, and therefore 'an Argive' (the meaning here).
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1122–3 My child … in front of your eyes: England (n. at 1122 f.) remarks: 'There is no longer the glad greeting which met Agamemnon in the former scene (640 ff.). The heroine's head is bowed down, and her face covered in sign of grief.'
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1127 all: presumably Clytemnestra, Iphigenia and Orestes.
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1139 This mind of yours is no mind at all: Clytemnestra is referring to Agamemnon's pretence of ignorance.
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1150 Tantalus: not Agamemnon's ancestor but his cousin. Euripides is the first to give the version of the marriage of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon continued in the lines which follow (1151–6).
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1151 And you wafted my baby to your share of captives: an alternative reading means: 'You dashed my baby living to the ground.' This could well be preferable, since, if Agamemnon had spared the child, he would scarcely have provoked the vengeance described in 1153–4.
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1153 The two sons of Zeus, my brothers: Castor and Polydeuces. See n. at 751–800.
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1161 happy when you went away: i.e. happy at the thought that he had a chaste wife who was increasing the value of his property back at home.
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1180 the father who has left such a motive for hatred in the house: this line is corrupt and I have given a plausible, though quite possibly incorrect meaning. However, what I have led Clytemnestra to say here does sum up an important implication of 1171–84. Clytemnestra can see that, if the killing of Iphigenia proceeds, she will be nursing her bitter feelings against her husband as she waits at home for the whole duration of the Trojan War. The subtext in this passage seems to be her awareness that she will be transformed from a loving mother into a killer. See n. at 740. Luschnig (Tragic Aporia, 32) writes: 'One of the great losses in this tragedy is the conversion of Clytemnestra from the perfect wife to her opposite. She could have been another Penelope. Learning comes through suffering, but what it teaches is not always forgiveness or justice. Clytemnestra had forgiven her husband once. But he did not learn from her suffering …'
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1201 Hermione: the daughter of Menelaus and Helen.
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1211 Orpheus: Orpheus, the 'type' of the singer, musician, and poet, made such sweet music that animals would follow him, trees and plants would bow to him, and the wildest of men would be tamed.
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1216 a suppliant's branch: a branch of olive wood with strands of wool twined round it, carried by suppliants. For the conventions of supplication, see n. at 900.
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1220 I was the first to call you father: we discover that Iphigenia was Agamemnon's eldest child. The two younger daughters, not mentioned by name in IA, were called Electra and Chrysothemis.
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1250–2 The light of day … to die nobly: like others by the strait of Euripus with its shifting currents (see notes at 10–11 and 332), Iphigenia is going to reverse her present view of things radically (see esp. 1375–85, 1503).
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1253–4 Cruel-hearted Helen … their children: the characteristic banality of the Chorus' comment here stimulates Headlam to a commonsensical discussion of their role when commenting within the dramatic scenes on the views of the protagonists (n. at 1253 f.): 'when an actor has been able to excite and maintain the keen interest of his audience during a speech of any length, there follows upon its close a slight restless movement through the house as people recover themselves from the sustained effort of attention. There is therefore a brief interval in which the effect of any weighty utterance would be weakened or lost. It is by the help of the chorus that this interval is bridged; and the modes of expression which they adopt, together with the range of sentiments to which they generally confine themselves, are therefore worthy of remark. We find them at these critical moments interposing a short sentence, which designedly contributes nothing either striking or novel or essential to the development of the action … Often, as here, they simply repeat in a quiet manner the "note" of the situation; or they touch upon the moral issues at stake, viewing them however, as suits their character of spectators of the action, not so much with reference to the individual case as in connexion with the abiding principles by which the world is ordered. We thus perceive that on both the artistic and moral sides their position is in living accord with the aims of the drama; and so far from being offended by "the commonplaces of the chorus" we should in this very characteristic recognize an economy of the most discerning and effective nature.'
The reference to 'a great struggle' which 'has come to the sons of Atreus and their children' may evoke the Oresteia (458 bce), the trilogy in which Aeschylus deals with the horrors which afflict this family after the Trojan War. It may be that this resonance rescues these lines from the charge of banality.
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1264 desire: my translation of the Greek name 'Aphrodite'. Aphrodite is the goddess of sexual passion. The Greeks are on fire with love of war. There is an irony here too, for Aphrodite caused the Trojan War by causing the love between Paris and Helen.
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1271 Greece: 'Agamenon chooses, now for the last time, to be not a man but an identity, to be the leader and, therefore, the apologist for the greatest common event in Greek history' (Luschnig, Tragic Aporia, 31). For the Panhellenic theme, see notes at 379, 410, 965–7.
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1275 through force: is there a strong trumpery element in Agamemnon's patriotism? Paris did not—according to Agamemnon (75), the Chorus (585–6), and indeed most sources in Greek literature—use force to abduct Helen. In fact, the person who did win a wife by force was Agamemnon himself (1149—see Luschnig, Tragic Aporia, 51).
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1284–9 Snow-beaten valley … Paris: Paris, also known as Alexandros (1292–3), was the second son of Priam, king of Troy, and Hecuba. As he was about to be born, Hecuba dreamed that she gave birth to a torch which set fire to Troy. This dream was interpreted as signifying that Paris (the torch) would destroy the city, and so he was abandoned at birth on Mount Ida where it was intended that he should die. He survived, however, was brought up by shepherds and became an oxherd. He was called the child of Ida (1289–90) because that was where he had been exposed and reared.
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1304 vain: the Greek word for which this stands is (T. Stinton, Euripides and the Judgement of Paris (London, 1965), 33–4) 'an untranslatable word implying pride, luxury and sexual forwardness'.
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1320 sterns: ships were drawn up on the beach and anchored by the stern.
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1338–1401 My mother … we are free: we return to the trochaic rhythm (cf. notes at 317–401, 855–916) which reflects extreme agitation, and perhaps lends a note of hysteria to Iphigenia's great patriotic speech (1368–401). This agitated effect is enhanced in 1341–68 when the lines are divided between Achilles and Clytemnestra, thus creating an extraordinary sense of excitement, tension and pressure.
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1352 All the Greeks: the Panhellenic theme: cf. notes at 370, 410, 965–7, 1271.
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1360 Well, I shall have my reward: meaning either 'a chivalrous action is its own reward' (Headlam) or 'I shall have a reward': i.e. 'I shall win the bride'.
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1362 What, the son of Sisyphus: see n. at 524.
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1368 Mother: in this great speech, Iphigenia proudly asserts a completely different view of life. This is the last—and the most extraordinary—of the shifting attitudes and decisions of the characters as they stand by the shifting straits of Euripus (cf. notes at 10–11, 332, 1250–2). Aristotle accused Euripides of inconsistency here 'since the girl who beseeches is in no way like her later self' (Poetics 1454a), but we may disagree, feeling that the playwright has paved the way for this conversion. See also n. at 1402–3.
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1371 the stranger: Achilles has, in his own mind, almost succeeded in making Agamemnon's invented marriage plan a reality. Iphigenia will not go along with this. She maintains a distance between herself and Achilles, and she never addresses him by his name.
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1378 Greece in all its greatness: from now until the end of Iphigenia's speech, the Panhellenic theme (cf. notes at 370, 410, 965–7, 1271, 1352) blares forth superbly. The Chorus, however (see n. at 1402–3), and Achilles (especially at 1424 and 1428–30) cannot see the matter with the heroine's single-minded clarity of vision.
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1402–3 The part you play … sickness lies: the Chorus admire Iphigenia but even so they see that something fundamental is very wrong indeed. Are they here making a comment on the play's behalf, 'in living accord with the aims of the drama', to use Headlam's words (see n. at 1253–4)? I certainly accept what they say in these lines. I feel that Euripides endows Iphigenia with a kind of heroism when she makes a coherent pattern out of her own life in the cruel and anarchic world of IA where humans are at the mercy of malevolent or chaotic forces whether divine or human. I also believe that the high patriotic ideals adopted by Iphigenia are viewed by Euripides as false ones. I believe this especially in view of the fact that this play was written as the Peloponnesian War neared its end—a war in which the Greek city states had torn each other apart and the fighting had lost any sheen of glamour or nobility. Spartans and Athenians may be moored in alliance with each other around the bay at Aulis (247–9, 265–7) in our play, but, in historical fact, within two or three years of its composition Sparta finally defeated and occupied her hated rival Athens (see Chronology, pp. xlix–xlx). So much for Panhellenism! Even so, we must surely admire the way in which Iphigenia finds within herself the strength to construct an identity which holds a valid meaning for her, and she goes off to die with this identity fully intact.
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1430 a foolish impulse: Achilles disconcertingly advances this possible view of Iphigenia's decision to die. His words here run completely counter to the spirit of his uncompromising 1421–3.
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1433 why these tear-filled eyes: tears again, this time from Clytemnestra. Cf. n. at 477–8. The passage starting from this line and continuing till 1465 is almost completely in stichomythia. See Introduction, p. xxxvi.
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1436 Do not make a coward of me: by causing me to weep in sympathy with you.
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1437 Then do not cut off a lock of your hair: she refers to the lock of hair customarily laid on the grave. Since the head and the hair signified strength and life, the cutting of the latter symbolized submissive grief. And the cut hair replicated safely the hair cut from the victim before sacrifice (1478).
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1440 I have been saved and through me you shall win glory: dramatic irony, not only since in the play as we have it Iphigenia is saved, but also because Clytemnestra is to win the opposite of glory through her subsequent actions.
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1442–4 No, no … memorial: Iphigenia shows the clairvoyance with which Euripides sometimes endows doomed or dying characters in his plays.
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1455 He must run a terrible race because of you: presumably this refers to Agamemnon's subsequent murder by Clytemnestra. Note the athletic image.
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1457 But it was by a foul trick, unworthy of Atreus: since Atreus killed the three sons of his brother Thyestes and served them up to their father in a stew, this comment of Clytemnestra's proves disconcerting. In fact, Agamemnon's family had a history of infanticide.
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1466 I forbid you to let fall a tear: Iphigenia tries to put an end to the play's copious weeping, but she proves unsuccessful. See notes at 477–8, 1433, 1549–50.
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1471–2 and let my father … right: a ritualistic movement put into practice at 1568.
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1500–1 Are you calling on the city … Cyclopian hands: Perseus is said to have founded Mycenae (Pausanias 2.3.16). For the Cyclopian hands, see n. at 152.
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1503 a light for Greece: cf. Achilles at 1063.
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1507–9 a different life … beloved light: these poignant lines come from a poet who may have been shortly to die himself. Headlam (n. at 1507 ff.) suggests that the word 'different' is here employed euphemistically, 'contrasting the free vigorous life beneath the sun with the feeble shadowy existence in the underworld'.
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1510–14 Ah! Ah! … goddess divine: to supremely poignant effect, the Chorus, whom Iphigenia has told to sing a propitious song (1467–8), simply mimic her own utterance (1475–82) until their hymn of praise to Artemis veers into a welter of blood (1515–7).
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1549–50 he groaned loudly … in front of his eyes: a contemporary of Euripides called Timanthes (of Cynthus, later of Sicyon) painted a celebrated picture of the sacrifice of Iphigenia which may (or may not) have been inspired by this speech. Cicero (Orator 22.74) commented of Timanthes' work (now lost) that 'the painter saw that, since at the sacrifice of Iphigenia Calchas was sad, Ulysses [i.e. Odysseus] was sadder, and Menelaus was grieving, Agamemnon's head had to be veiled because that supreme sorrow could not be portrayed by the brush'. A famous wall painting from Pompeii (in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples) shows Agamemnon standing, his head veiled, his right hand before his eyes. We have here the final outburst of tears in the play, though, of course, it is only reported. See notes at 477–8, 1433 and 1466.
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1563 Talthybius—whose office it was: Talthybius is a herald of the Greeks. Cf. n. at 95.
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1570–1 O daughter of Zeus … darkness of the night: Artemis is addressed here as the goddess of hunting on earth and of the moon in the sky. Are we intended to think also of her identification with the death goddess Hecate (see Aeschylus, Suppliants 676)?
Achilles, who speaks these words, now appears to accept the inevitability of Iphigenia's death (cf. 1425–30).
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1581 I stood there, my head drooping: the sons of Atreus and the whole Greek army are looking down at the ground (1577). The messenger now lowers his head. Thus nobody apart from Calchas can see what happens.
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1601–2 When the whole victim had been burnt to ashes: normally some of the sacrificial victim would be kept for human consumption. In this case, the entire victim is burnt for Artemis.
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1626 May all go well with you: Clytemnestra does not respond to Agamemnon's conciliatory and buoyant words. Her silence is pregnant indeed. See notes at 740 and 1180.
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