Iphigenia Among The
Taurians by Alfred Church
It has been told in the
story of King Agamemnon that the Goddess Artemis, being
wroth with him because he had slain a hart which she
loved, suffered not the ships of the Greeks to sail till
he had offered his daughter Iphigenia for a sacrifice.
But when the King consented, and all things had been
made ready for slaying the maiden, the goddess would not
that her blood should be shed, but put a fair hind in
her place, and carried away the maiden to the land of
the Taurians, where she had a temple and an altar. Now
on this altar the King of the land was wont to sacrifice
any stranger, being Greek by nation, who was driven by
stress of weather to the place, for none went thither
willingly. And the name of the King was Thoas, which
signifieth in the Greek tongue, "swift of foot."
Now when the maiden had
been there many years she dreamed a dream. And in the
dream she seemed to have departed from the land of the
Taurians and to dwell in the city of Argos, wherein she
had been born. And as she slept in the women's chamber
there befell a great earthquake, and cast to the ground
the palace of her fathers, so that there was left one
pillar only which stood upright. And as she looked on
this pillar, yellow hair seemed to grow upon it as the
hair of a man, and it spake with a man's voice. And she
did to it as she was wont to do to the strangers that
were sacrificed upon the altar, purifying it with water,
and weeping the while. And the interpretation of the
dream she judged to be that her brother Orestes was
dead, for that male children are the pillars of a house,
and that he only was left to the house of her father.
Now it chanced that at
this same time Orestes, with Pylades that was his
friend, came in a ship to the land of the Taurians. And
the cause of his coming was this. After that he had
slain his mother, taking vengeance for the death of King
Agamemnon his father, the Furies pursued him. Then
Apollo, who had commanded him to do this deed, bade him
go to the land of Athens that he might be judged. And
when he had been judged and loosed, yet the Furies left
him not. Wherefore Apollo commanded that he should sail
for the land of the Taurians and carry there the image
of Artemis and bring it to the land of the Athenians,
and that after this he should have rest. Now when the
two were come to the place, they saw the altar that it
was red with the blood of them that had been slain
thereon. And Orestes doubted how they might accomplish
the things for the which he was come, for the walls of
the temple were high, and the gates not easy to be
broken through. Therefore he would have fled to the
ship, but Pylades consented not, seeing that they were
not wont to go back from that to which they had set
their hand, but counselled that they should hide
themselves during the day in a cave that was hard by the
seashore, not near to the ship, lest search should be
made for them, and that by night they should creep into
the temple by a space that there was between the
pillars, and carry off the image, and so depart.
So they hid themselves in
a cavern by the sea. But it chanced that certain
herdsmen were feeding their oxen in pastures hard by the
shore; one of these, coming near to the cavern, spied
the young men as they sat therein, and stealing back to
his fellows, said, "See ye not them that sit yonder.
Surely they are Gods;" for they were exceeding tall and
fair to look upon. And some began to pray to them,
thinking that they might be the Twin Brethren or of the
sons of Nereus. But another laughed and said, "Not so;
these are shipwrecked men who hide themselves, knowing
that it is our custom to sacrifice strangers to our
Gods." To him the others gave consent, and said that
they should take the men prisoners that they might be
sacrificed to the Gods.
But while they delayed
Orestes ran forth from the cave, for the madness was
come upon him, crying out, "Pylades, seest thou not that
dragon from hell; and that who would kill me with the
serpents of her mouth, and this again that breatheth out
fire, holding my mother in her arms to cast her upon
me?" And first he bellowed as a bull and then howled as
a dog, for the Furies, he said, did so. But the
herdsmen, when they saw this, gathered together in great
fear and sat down. But when Orestes drew his sword and
leapt, as a lion might leap, into the midst of the herd,
slaying the beasts (for he thought in his madness that
he was contending with the Furies), then the herdsmen,
blowing on shells, called to the people of the land; for
they feared the young men, so strong they seemed and
valiant. And when no small number was gathered together,
they began to cast stones and javelins at the two. And
now the madness of Orestes began to abate, and Pylades
tended him carefully, wiping away the foam from his
mouth, and holding his garments before him that he
should not be wounded by the stones. But when Orestes
came to himself, and beheld in what straits they were,
he groaned aloud and cried, "We must die, O Pylades,
only let us die as befitteth brave men. Draw thy sword
and follow me." And the people of the land dared not to
stand before them; yet while some fled, others would
cast stones at them. For all that no man wounded them.
But at the last, coming about them with a great
multitude, they smote the swords out of their hands with
stones, and so bound them and took them to King Thoas.
And the King commanded that they should be taken to the
temple, that the priestess might deal with them
according to the custom of the place.
So they brought the young
men bound to the temple. Now the name of the one they
knew, for they had heard his companion call to him, but
the name of the other they knew not. And when Iphigenia
saw them, she bade the people loose their bonds, for
that being holy to the goddess they were free. And
then—for she took the two for brothers—she asked them,
saying, "Who is your mother, and your father, and your
sister, if a sister you have? She will be bereaved of
noble brothers this day. And whence come ye?"
To her Orestes answered,
"What meanest thou, lady, by lamenting in this fashion
over us? I hold it folly in him who must die that he
should bemoan himself. Pity us not; we know what manner
of sacrifices ye have in this land."
"Tell me now, which of ye
two is called Pylades?"
"Not I, but this my
"Of what city in the land
of Greece are ye? And are ye brothers born of one
"Brothers we are, but in
friendship, not in blood."
"And what is thy name?"
"That I tell thee not.
Thou hast power over my body, but not over my name."
"Wilt thou not tell me thy
And when he told her that
his country was Argos, she asked him many things, as
about Troy, and Helen, and Calchas the prophet, and
Ulysses; and at last she said, "And Achilles, son of
Thetis of the sea, is he yet alive?"
"He is dead, and his
marriage that was made at Aulis is of no effect."
"A false marriage it was,
as some know full well."
"Who art thou that
inquirest thus about matters in Greece?"
"I am of the land of
Greece, and was brought thence yet being a child. But
there was a certain Agamemnon, son of Atreus, what of
"I know not. Lady, leave
all talk of him."
"Say not so; but do me a
pleasure, and tell me."
"He is dead."
"Woe is me! How died he?"
"What meaneth thy sorrow?
Art thou of his kindred?"
"'Tis a pity to think how
great he was, and now he hath perished."
"He was slain in a most
miserable fashion by a woman. But ask no more."
"Only this one thing. Is
his wife yet alive?"
"Nay; for the son whom she
bare slew her, taking vengeance for his father."
"A dreadful deed, but
"Righteous indeed he is,
but the Gods love him not."
"And did the King leave
any other child behind him?"
"One daughter, Electra by
"And is his son yet
"He is alive, but no man
Now when Iphigenia heard
that he was alive, and knew that she had been deceived
by the dreams which she had dreamt, she conceived a
thought in her heart, and said to Orestes, "Hearken now,
for I have somewhat to say to thee that shall bring
profit both to thee and to me. Wilt thou, if I save thee
from this death, carry tidings of me to Argos to my
friends, and bear a tablet from me to them? For such a
tablet I have with me, which one who was brought captive
to this place wrote for me, pitying me, for he knew that
I caused not his death, but the law of the goddess in
this place. Nor have I yet found a man who should carry
this thing to Argos. But thou, I judge, art of noble
birth, and knowest the city and those with whom I would
have communication. Take then this tablet, and thy life
as a reward; and let this man be sacrificed to the
Then Orestes made answer,
"Thou hast said well, lady, save in one thing only. That
this man should be sacrificed in my stead pleaseth me
not at all. For I am he that brought this voyage to
pass; and this man came with me that he might help me in
my troubles. Wherefore it would be a grievous wrong that
he should suffer in my stead and I escape. Give then the
tablet to him. He shall take it to the city of Argos,
and thou shalt have what thou wilt. But as for me, let
them slay me, if they will."
"'Tis well spoken, young
man. Thou art come, I know, of a noble stock. The Gods
grant that my brother—for I have a brother, though he be
far hence—may be such as thou. It shall be as thou wilt.
This man shall depart with the tablet, and thou shalt
Then Orestes would know
the manner of the death by which he must die. And she
told him that she slew not the victims with her own
hand, but that there were ministers in the temple
appointed to this office, she preparing them for
sacrifice beforehand. Also she said that his body would
be burned with fire.
And when Orestes had
wished that the hand of his sister might pay due honour
to him in his death, she said, "This may not be, for she
is far away from this strange land. But yet, seeing that
thou art a man of Argos, I myself will adorn thy tomb,
and pour oil of olives and honey on thy ashes." Then she
departed, that she might fetch the tablet from her
dwelling, bidding the attendants keep the young men
fast, but without bonds.
But when she was gone,
Orestes said to Pylades, "Pylades, what thinkest thou?
Who is this maiden? She had great knowledge of things in
Troy and Argos, and of Calchas the wise soothsayer, and
of Achilles and the rest. And she made lamentation over
King Agamemnon. She must be of Argos."
And Pylades answered,
"This I cannot say; all men have knowledge of what
befell the King. But hearken to this. It were shame to
me to live if thou diest. I sailed with thee, and will
die with thee. For otherwise men will account lightly of
me both in Argos and in Phocis, which is my own land,
thinking that I betrayed thee, or basely slew thee, that
I might have thy kingdom, marrying thy sister, who shall
inherit it in thy stead. Not so: I will die with thee,
and my body shall be burnt together with thine."
But Orestes answered, "I
must bear my own troubles. This indeed would be a
shameful thing, that when thou seekest to help me, I
should destroy thee. But as for me, seeing how the Gods
deal with me, it is well that I should die. Thou,
indeed, art happy, and thy house is blessed; but my
house is accursed. Go, therefore, and my sister, whom I
have given thee to wife, shall bear thee children, and
the house of my father shall not perish. And I charge
thee that when thou art safe returned to the city of
Argos, thou do these things. First, thou shalt build a
tomb for me, and my sister shall make an offering there
of her hair and of her tears also. And tell her that I
died, slain by a woman of Argos, that offered me as an
offering to her Gods; and I charge thee that thou leave
not my sister, but be faithful to her. And now farewell,
true friend and companion in my toils; for indeed I die,
and Phœbus hath lied unto me, prophesying falsely."
And Pylades sware to him
that he would build him a tomb, and be a true husband to
his sister. After this Iphigenia came forth, holding a
tablet in her hand. And she said, "Here is the tablet of
which I spake. But I fear lest he to whom I shall give
it shall haply take no account of it when he is returned
to the land Therefore I would fain bind him with an oath
that he will deliver it to them that should have it in
the city of Argos." And Orestes consented, saying that
she also should bind herself with an oath that she would
deliver one of the two from death. So she sware by
Artemis that she would persuade the King, and deliver
Pylades from death. And Pylades sware on his part by
Zeus, the father of heaven, that he would give the
tablet to those whom it should concern. And having sworn
it, he said, "But what if a storm overtake me, and the
tablet be lost, and I only be saved?"
"I will tell thee what
hath been written in the tablet; and if it perish, thou
shalt tell them again; but if not, then thou shalt give
it as I bid thee."
"And to whom shall I give
"Thou shalt give it to
Orestes, son of Agamemnon. And that which is written
therein is this: 'I THAT WAS SACRIFICED IN AULIS, EVEN
IPHIGENIA, WHO AM ALIVE AND YET DEAD TO MY OWN PEOPLE,
But when Orestes heard
this, he brake in, "Where is this Iphigenia? Hath the
dead come back among the living?"
"Thou seest her in me. But
interrupt me not 'I BID THEE FETCH ME BEFORE I DIE TO
ARGOS FROM A STRANGE LAND, TAKING ME FROM THE ALTAR THAT
IS RED WITH THE BLOOD OF STRANGERS, WHEREAT I SERVE.'
And if Orestes ask by what means I am alive, thou shalt
say that Artemis put a hind in my stead, and that the
priest, thinking that he smote me with the knife, slew
the beast, and that the goddess brought me to this
Then said Pylades, "My
oath is easy to keep. Orestes, take thou this tablet
from thy sister."
Then Orestes embraced his
sister, crying—for she turned from him, not knowing what
she should think—"O my sister, turn not from me; for I
am thy brother whom thou didst not think to see."
And when she yet doubted,
he told her of certain things by which she might know
him to be Orestes—how that she had woven a tapestry
wherein was set forth the strife between Atreus and
Thyestes concerning the golden lamb; and that she had
given a lock of her hair at Aulis to be a memorial of
her; and that there was laid in her chamber at Argos the
ancient spear of Pelops, her father's grandsire, with
which he slew Œnomaüs, and won Hippodamia to be his
And when she heard this,
she knew that he was indeed Orestes, whom, being an
infant and the latest born of his mother, she had in
time past held in her arms. But when the two had talked
together for a space, rejoicing over each other, and
telling the things that had befallen them, Pylades said,
"Greetings of friends after long parting are well; but
we must needs consider how best we shall escape from
this land of the barbarians."
But Iphigenia answered,
"Yet nothing shall hinder me from knowing how fareth my
"She is married," said
Orestes, "to this Pylades, whom thou seest."
"And of what country is
he, and who is his father?"
"His father is Strophius
the Phocian; and he is a kinsman, for his mother was the
daughter of Atreus, and a friend also such as none other
is to me."
Then Orestes set forth to
his sister the cause of his coming to the land of the
Taurians. And he said, "Now help me in this, my sister,
that we may bear away the image of the goddess; for so
doing I shall be quit of my madness, and thou wilt be
brought to thy native country, and the house of thy
father shall prosper. But if we do it not, then shall we
And Iphigenia doubted much
how this thing might be done. But at the last she said,
"I have a device whereby I shall compass the matter. I
will say that thou art come hither, having murdered thy
mother, and that thou canst not be offered for a
sacrifice till thou art purified with the water of the
sea. Also that thou hast touched the image, and that
this also must be purified in like manner. And the image
I myself will bear to the sea; for, indeed, I only may
touch it with my hands. And of this Pylades also I will
say that he is polluted in like manner with thee. So
shall we three win our way to the ship. And that this be
ready it will be thy care to provide."
And when she had so said,
she prayed to Artemis: "Great goddess, that didst bring
me safe in days past from Aulis, bring me now also, and
these that are with me, safe to the land of Greece, so
that men may count thy brother Apollo to be a true
prophet. Nor shouldst thou be unwilling to depart from
this barbarous land, and to dwell in the fair city of
After this came King Thoas,
inquiring whether they had offered the strangers for
sacrifice, and had duly burnt their bodies with fire. To
him Iphigenia made answer, "These were unclean
sacrifices that thou broughtest to me, O King."
"How didst thou learn
"The image of the goddess
turned upon her place of her own accord, and covered
also her face with her hands."
"What wickedness, then,
had these strangers wrought?"
"They slew their mother,
and had been banished therefore from the land of
"O monstrous! Such deeds
we barbarians never do. And now what dost thou purpose?"
"We must purify these
strangers before we offer them for a sacrifice."
"With water from the
river, or in the sea?"
"In the sea. The sea
cleanseth away all that is evil among men."
"Well, thou hast it here,
by the very walls of the temple."
"Aye, but I must seek a
place apart from men."
"So be it; go where thou
wilt; I would not look on things forbidden."
"The image also must be
"Surely, if the pollution
from these murderers of their mother hath touched it.
This is well thought of in thee."
Then she instructed the
King that he should bring the strangers out of the
temple, having first bound them and veiled their heads.
Also that certain of his guards should go with her, but
that all the people of the city should be straitly
commanded to stay within doors, that so they might not
be defiled; and that he himself should abide in the
temple, and purify it with fire, covering his head with
his garments when the strangers should pass by.
"And be not troubled," she
said, "if I seem to be long doing these things."
"Take what time thou
wilt," he said "so that thou do all things in order."
So certain of the King's
guards brought the two young men from out of the temple,
and Iphigenia led them towards the place where the ship
of Orestes lay at anchor. But when they were come near
to the shore, she bade them halt nor come over near, for
that she had that to do in which they must have no part.
And she took the chain wherewith the young men were
bound in her hands, and set up a strange song as of one
that sought enchantments. And after that the guard sat
where she bade them for a long time, they began to fear
lest the strangers should have slain the priestess, and
so fled. Yet they moved not, fearing to see that which
was forbidden. But at the last with one consent they
rose up. And when they were come to the sea, they saw
the ship trimmed to set forth, and fifty sailors on the
benches having oars in their hands ready for rowing; and
the two young men were standing unbound upon the shore
near to the stern. And other sailors were dragging the
ship by the cable to the shore that the young men might
embark. Then the guards laid hold of the rudder, and
sought to take it from his place, crying, "Who are ye
that carry away priestesses and the images of our Gods?"
Then Orestes said, "I am Orestes, and I carry away my
sister." But the guards laid hold of Iphigenia; and when
the sailors saw this they leapt from the ship; and
neither the one nor the other had swords in their hands,
but they fought with their fists and their feet also.
And the sailors being strong and skilful, the King's men
were driven back sorely bruised and wounded. And when
they fled to a bank that was hard by and cast stones at
the ship, the archers standing on the stern shot at them
with arrows. Then—for his sister feared to come
further—Orestes leapt into the sea, and raised her upon
his shoulder and so lifted her into the ship, and the
image of the goddess with her. And Pylades cried, "Lay
hold of your oars, ye sailors, and smite the sea, for we
have that for the which we came to this land." So the
sailors rowed with all their might; and while the ship
was in the harbour it went well with them, but when it
was come to the open sea a great wave took it, for a
violent wind blew against it, and drave it backwards to
And one of the guards when
he saw this ran to King Thoas and told him, and the King
made haste and sent messengers mounted upon horses, to
call the men of the land that they might do battle with
Orestes and his comrade. But while he was yet sending
them there appeared in the air above his head the
Goddess Athené, who spake, saying, "Cease, King Thoas,
from pursuing this man and his companions; for he hath
come hither on this errand by the command of Apollo; and
I have persuaded Poseidon that he make the sea smooth
for him to depart."
And King Thoas answered,
"It shall be as thou wilt, O goddess; and though Orestes
hath borne away his sister and the image, I dismiss my
anger, for who can fight against the Gods?"
So Orestes departed and
came to his own country and dwelt in peace, being set
free from his madness, according to the word of Apollo.