Of Iphigenia In Aulis by
King Agamemnon sat in his
tent at Aulis, where the army of the Greeks was gathered
together, being about to sail against the great city of
Troy. And it was now past midnight; but the King slept
not, for he was careful and troubled about many things.
And he had a lamp before him, and in his hand a tablet
of pine wood, whereon he wrote. But he seemed not to
remain in the same mind about that which he wrote; for
now he would blot out the letters, and then would write
them again; and now he fastened the seal upon the tablet
and then brake it. And as he did this he wept, and was
like to a man distracted. But after a while he called to
an old man, his attendant (the man had been given in
time past by Tyndareus to his daughter, Queen
Clytæmnestra), and said
"Old man, thou knowest how
Calchas the soothsayer bade me offer for a sacrifice to
Artemis, who is goddess of this place, my daughter
Iphigenia, saying that so only should the army have a
prosperous voyage from this place to Troy, and should
take the city and destroy it; and how when I heard these
words I bade Talthybius the herald go throughout the
army and bid them depart, every man to his own country,
for that I would not do this thing; and how my brother,
King Menelaüs, persuaded me so that I consented to it.
Now, therefore, hearken to this, for what I am about to
tell thee three men only know, namely, Calchas the
soothsayer, and Menelaüs, and Ulysses, King of Ithaca. I
wrote a letter to my wife the Queen, that she should
send her daughter to this place, that she might be
married to King Achilles; and I magnified the man to
her, saying that he would in no wise sail with us unless
I would give him my daughter in marriage. But now I have
changed my purpose, and have written another letter
after this fashion, as I will now set forth to
thee,—'DAUGHTER OF LEDA, SEND NOT THY CHILD TO THE LAND
OF EUBŒA, FOR I WILL GIVE HER IN MARRIAGE AT ANOTHER
"Aye," said the old man,
"but how wilt thou deal with King Achilles? Will he not
be wroth, hearing that he hath been cheated of his
"Not so," answered the
King, "for we have indeed used his name, but he knoweth
nothing of this marriage. And now make haste. Sit not
thou down by any fountain in the woods, and suffer not
thine eyes to sleep. And beware lest the chariot bearing
the Queen and her daughter pass thee where the roads
divide. And see that thou keep the seal upon this letter
So the old man departed
with the letter. But scarcely had he left the tent when
King Menelaüs spied him and laid hands on him, taking
the letter and breaking the seal. And the old man cried
"Help, my lord; here is
one hath taken thy letter!"
Then King Agamemnon came
forth from his tent, saying, "What meaneth this uproar
and disputing that I hear?"
And Menelaüs answered,
"Seest thou this letter that I hold in my hand?"
"I see it: it is mine.
Give it to me."
"I give it not till I have
read that which is written therein to all the army of
"Where didst thou find
"I found it while I waited
for thy daughter till she should come to the camp."
"What hast thou to do with
that? May I not rule my own household?"
Then Menelaüs reproached
his brother because he did not continue in one mind.
"For first," he said, "before thou wast chosen captain
of the host, thou wast all things to all men, greeting
every man courteously, and taking him by the hand, and
talking with him, and leaving thy doors open to any that
would enter; but afterwards, being now chosen, thou wast
haughty and hard of access. And next, when this trouble
came upon the army, and thou wast sore afraid lest thou
shouldst lose thy office, and so miss renown, didst thou
not hearken to Calchas the soothsayer, and promise thy
daughter for sacrifice, and send for her to the camp,
making pretence of giving her in marriage to Achilles?
And now thou art gone back from thy word. Surely this is
an evil day for Greece, that is troubled because thou
Then answered King
Agamemnon, "What is thy quarrel with me? Why blamest
thou me if thou couldst not rule thy wife? And now to
win back this woman, because forsooth she is fair, thou
castest aside both reason and honour. And I, if I had an
ill purpose, and now have changed it for that which is
wiser, dost thou charge me with folly? Let them that
sware the oath to Tyndareus go with thee on this errand.
Why should I slay my child, and work for myself sorrow
and remorse without end that thou mayest have vengeance
for thy wicked wife?"
Then Menelaüs turned away
in a rage, crying, "Betray me if thou wilt. I will
betake myself to other counsels and other friends."
But even as he spake there
came a messenger, saying, "King Agamemnon, I am come, as
thou badest me, with thy daughter Iphigenia. Also her
mother, Queen Clytæmnestra, is come, bringing with her
her little son, Orestes. And now they are resting
themselves and their horses by the side of a spring, for
indeed the way is long and weary. And all the army is
gathered about them, to see them and greet them. And men
question much wherefore they are come, saying, 'Doth the
King make a marriage for his daughter; or hath he sent
for her, desiring to see her?' But I know thy purpose,
my lord; wherefore we will dance and shout and make
merry, for this is a happy day for the maiden."
But the King Agamemnon was
sore dismayed when he knew that the Queen was come, and
spake to himself. "Now what shall I say to my wife? For
that she is rightly come to the marriage of her daughter
who can deny? But what will she say when she knoweth my
purpose? And of the maiden, what shall I say? Unhappy
maiden whose bridegroom shall be death! For she will cry
to me, 'Wilt thou kill me, my father?' And the little
Orestes will wail, not knowing what he doeth, seeing he
is but a babe. Cursed be Paris, who hath wrought this
And now King Menelaüs came
back, saying that it repented him of what he had said,
"For why should thy child die for me? What hath she to
do with Helen? Let the army be scattered, so that this
wrong be not done."
Then said King Agamemnon,
"But how shall I escape from this strait? For the whole
host will compel me to this deed?"
"Not so," said King
Menelaüs, "if thou wilt send back the maiden to Argos."
"But what shall that
profit," said the King; "for Calchas will cause the
matter to be known, or Ulysses, saying that I have
failed of my promise; and if I fly to Argos, they will
come and destroy my city and lay waste my land. Woe is
me! in what a strait am I set! But take thou care, my
brother, that Clytæmnestra hear nothing of these
And when he had ended
speaking, the Queen herself came unto the tent, riding
in a chariot, having her daughter by her side. And she
bade one of the attendants take out with care the
caskets which she had brought for her daughter, and bade
others help her daughter to alight, and herself also,
and to a fourth she said that he should take the young
Orestes. Then Iphigenia greeted her father, saying,
"Thou hast done well to send for me, my father."
"'Tis true and yet not
true, my child."
"Thou lookest not well
pleased to see me, my father."
"He that is a King and
commandeth a host hath many cares."
"Put away thy cares
awhile, and give thyself to me."
"I am glad beyond measure
to see thee."
"Glad art thou? Then why
dost thou weep?"
"I weep because thou must
be long time absent from me."
"Perish all these
fightings and troubles!"
"They will cause many to
perish, and me most miserably of all."
"Art thou going a journey
from me, my father?"
"Aye, and thou also hast a
journey to make."
"Must I make it alone, or
with my mother?"
"Alone; neither father nor
mother may be with thee."
"Sendest thou me to dwell
"Hold thy peace: such
things are not for maidens to inquire."
"Well, my father, order
matters with the Phrygians, and then make haste to
"I must first make a
sacrifice to the Gods."
"'Tis well. The Gods
should have due honour."
"Aye, and thou wilt stand
close to the altar."
"Shall I lead the dances,
"O my child, how I envy
thee, that thou knowest nought! And now go into the
tent; but first kiss me, and give me thy hand, for thou
shalt be parted from thy father for many days."
And when she was gone
within, he cried, "O fair bosom and very lovely cheeks
and yellow hair of my child! O city of Priam, what woe
thou bringest on me! But I must say no more."
Then he turned to the
Queen, and excused himself that he wept when he should
rather have rejoiced for the marriage of his daughter.
And when the Queen would know of the estate of the
bridegroom, he told her that his name was Achilles, and
that he was the son of Peleus by his wife Thetis, the
daughter of Nereus of the sea, and that he dwelt in
Phthia. And when she inquired of the time of the
marriage he said that it should be in the same moon, on
the first lucky day; and as to the place, that it must
be where the bridegroom was sojourning, that is to say,
in the camp. "And I," said the King, "will give the
maiden to her husband."
"But where," answered the
Queen, "is it your pleasure that I should be?"
"Thou must return to
Argos, and care for the maidens there."
"Sayest thou that I must
return? Who then will hold up the torch for the bride?"
"I will do that which is
needful. For it is not seemly that thou shouldst be
present where the whole army is gathered together."
"Aye, but it is seemly
that a mother should give her daughter in marriage."
"But the maidens at home
should not be left alone."
"They are well kept in
"Be persuaded, lady."
"Not so: thou shalt order
that which is without the house, but I that which is
But now came Achilles, to
tell the King that the army was growing impatient,
saying that, unless they might sail speedily to Troy,
they would return each man to his home. And when the
Queen heard his name—for he had said to the attendant,
"Tell thy master that Achilles, the son of Peleus, would
speak with him"—she came forth from the tent and greeted
him, and bade him give her his right hand. And when the
young man was ashamed (for it was not counted a seemly
thing that men should speak with women) she said—
"But why art thou ashamed,
seeing that thou art about to marry my daughter?"
And he answered, "What
sayest thou, lady? I cannot speak for wonder at thy
"Often men are ashamed
when they see new friends, and the talk is of marriage."
"But, lady, I never was
suitor for thy daughter. Nor have the sons of Atreus
said aught to me of the matter."
But the Queen was beyond
measure astonished, and cried, "Now this is shameful
indeed, that I should seek a bridegroom for my daughter
in such fashion."
But when Achilles would
have departed, to inquire of the King what this thing
might mean, the old man that had at the first carried
the letter came forth, and bade him stay. And when he
had assurance that he should receive no harm for what he
should tell them, he unfolded the whole matter. And when
the Queen had heard it, she cried to Achilles, "O son of
Thetis of the sea! help me now in this strait, and help
this maiden that hath been called thy bride, though this
indeed be false. 'Twill be a shame to thee if such wrong
be done under thy name; for it is thy name that hath
undone us. Nor have I any altar to which I may flee, nor
any friend but thee only in this army."
Then Achilles made answer,
"Lady, I learnt from Chiron, who was the most righteous
of men, to be true and honest. And if the sons of Atreus
govern according to right, I obey them; and if not, not.
Know, then, that thy daughter, seeing that she hath been
given, though but in word only, to me, shall not be
slain by her father. For if she so die, then shall my
name be brought to great dishonour, seeing that through
it thou hast been persuaded to come with her to this
place. This sword shall see right soon whether any one
will dare to take this maiden from me."
And now King Agamemnon
came forth, saying that all things were ready for the
marriage, and that they waited for the maiden, not
knowing that the whole matter had been revealed to the
Queen. Then she said—
"Tell me now, dost thou
purpose to slay thy daughter and mine?" And when he was
silent, not knowing, indeed, what to say, she reproached
him with many words, that she had been a loving and
faithful wife to him, for which he made her an ill
recompense slaying her child.
And when she had made an
end of speaking, the maiden came forth from the tent,
holding the young child Orestes in her arms, and cast
herself upon her knees before her father, and besought
him, saying, "I would, my father, that I had the voice
of Orpheus, who made even the rocks to follow him, that
I might persuade thee; but now all that I have I give,
even these tears. O my father, I am thy child; slay me
not before my time. This light is sweet to look upon.
Drive me not from it to the land of darkness. I was the
first to call thee father; and the first to whom thou
didst say 'my child.' And thou wouldst say to me, 'Some
day, my child, I shall see thee a happy wife in the home
of a rich husband.' And I would answer, 'And I will
receive thee with all love when thou art old, and pay
thee back for all the benefits thou hast done unto me.'
This I indeed remember, but thou forgettest; for thou
art ready to slay me. Do it not, I beseech thee, by
Pelops thy grandsire, and Atreus thy father, and this my
mother, who travailed in childbirth of me, and now
travaileth again in her sorrow. And thou, O my brother,
though thou art but a babe, help me. Weep with me;
beseech thy father that he slay not thy sister. O my
father, though he be silent, yet, indeed, he beseecheth
thee. For his sake, therefore, yea, and for mine own,
have pity upon me, and slay me not."
But the King was sore
distracted, knowing not what he should say or do, for a
terrible necessity was upon him, seeing that the army
could not make their journey to Troy unless this deed
should first be done. And while he doubted came
Achilles, saying that there was a horrible tumult in the
camp, the men crying out that the maiden must be
sacrificed, and that when he would have stayed them from
their purpose, the people had stoned him with stones,
and that his own Myrmidons helped him not; but rather
were the first to assail him. Nevertheless, he said that
he would fight for the maiden, even to the utmost; and
that there were faithful men who would stand with him
and help him. But when the maiden heard these words, she
stood forth and said, "Hearken to me, my mother. Be not
wroth with my father, for we cannot fight against fate.
Also we must take thought that this young man suffer
not, for his help will avail nought, and he himself will
perish. Therefore I am resolved to die; for all Greece
looketh to me; for without me the ships cannot make
their voyage, nor the city of Troy be taken. Thou didst
bear me, my mother, not for thyself only, but for this
whole people. Wherefore I will give myself for them.
Offer me for an offering; and let the Greeks take the
city of Troy, for this shall be my memorial for ever."
Then said Achilles, "Lady,
I should count myself most happy if the Gods would grant
thee to be my wife. For I love thee well, when I see
thee how noble thou art. And if thou wilt, I will carry
thee to my home. And I doubt not that I shall save thee,
though all the men of Greece be against me."
But the maiden answered,
"What I say, I say with full purpose. Nor will I that
any man should die for me, but rather will I save this
land of Greece."
And Achilles said, "If
this be thy will, lady, I cannot say nay, for it is a
noble thing that thou doest."
Nor was the maiden turned
from her purpose though her mother besought her with
many tears. So they that were appointed led her to the
grove of Artemis, where there was built an altar, and
the whole army of the Greeks gathered about it. But when
the King saw her going to her death he covered his face
with his mantle; but she stood by him, and said, "I give
my body with a willing heart to die for my country and
for the whole land of Greece. I pray the Gods that ye
may prosper, and win the victory in this war, and come
back safe to your homes. And now let no man touch me,
for I will offer my neck to the sword with a good
And all men marvelled to
see the maiden of what a good courage she was. Then the
herald Talthybius stood in the midst and commanded
silence to the people; and Calchas the soothsayer put a
garland about her head, and drew a sharp knife from his
sheath. And all the army stood regarding the maiden and
the priest and the altar.
Then there befell a
marvellous thing. For Calchas struck with his knife, for
the sound of the stroke all men heard, but the maiden
was not there. Whither she had gone no one knew; but in
her stead there lay gasping a great hind, and all the
altar was red with the blood thereof.
And Calchas said, "See ye
this, men of Greece, how the goddess hath provided this
offering in the place of the maiden, for she would not
that her altar should be defiled with innocent blood. Be
of good courage, therefore, and depart every man to his
ship, for this day ye shall sail across the sea to the
land of Troy."
But how it fared with the
maiden may be read in the story of "Iphigenia among the