The Story Of Iphigenia
Source: Myths And Legends Of All Nations.
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 Clytaemnestra) 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 Menelaues,
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 Menelaues, 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 Euboea, for I will give her in marriage at
"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 wife?"
"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
So the old man departed with the letter. But scarcely had he left the
tent when King Menelaues spied him and laid hands on him, taking the
letter and breaking the seal. And the old man cried out:
"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 Menelaues answered, "Seest thou this letter that I hold in my
"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 the Greeks."
"Where didst thou find it?"
"I found it while I waited for thy daughter till she should come to
"What hast thou to do with that? May I not rule my own household?"
Then Menelaues 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 wantest wisdom."
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 honor. 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 Menelaues 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 Clytaemnestra, 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 woe!"
And now King Menelaues 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
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 Menelaues, "if thou wilt send back the maiden to
"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 Clytaemnestra hear nothing of these things."
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 elsewhere?"
"Hold thy peace: such things are not for maidens to inquire."
"Well, my father, order matters with the Phrygians and then make haste
"I must first make a sacrifice to the gods."
"'Tis well. The gods should have due honor."
"Aye, and thou wilt stand close to the altar."
"Shall I lead the dances, my father?"
"O my child, how I envy thee, that thou knowest naught! 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
"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
"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
"But the maidens at home should not be left alone."
"They are well kept in their chambers."
"Be persuaded, lady."
"Not so: thou shalt order that which is without the house, but I that
which is within."
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
And he answered, "What sayest thou, lady? I cannot speak for wonder at
"Often men are ashamed when they see new friends and the talk is of
"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
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 dishonor, 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 good 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 naught 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 forever."
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
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 die with a good heart."
And all men marveled to see the maiden of what a good courage she was.
And all the army stood regarding the maiden and the priest and the
Then there befell a marvelous thing. For suddenly 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
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."
Then the goddess 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 she only was left to the house of her
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
thence 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 counseled 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 companion."
"Of what city in the land of Greece are ye? And are ye brothers born
of one mother?"
"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
"Wilt thou not tell me thy country?"
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 him?"
"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
"Only this one thing. Is his wife yet alive?"
"Nay; for the son whom she bare slew her, taking vengeance for his
"A dreadful deed, but righteous withal."
"Righteous indeed he is, but the gods love him not."
"And did the king leave any other child behind him?"
"One daughter, Electra by name."
"And is his son yet alive?"
"He is alive, but no man more miserable."
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 goddess."
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
"'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 die."
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
honor 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
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
Phoebus hath lied unto me, prophesying falsely."
And Pylades swore 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 it?"
"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, bid thee----_'"
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
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 Oenomaues and won Hippodamia to be his wife.
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 sister Electra."
"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 perish altogether."
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 Athens."
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 this?"
"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 therefor from the land
"O monstrous! Such deeds we barbarians never do. And now what dost
"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 purified."
"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
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 guards 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 its
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 as the sailors were 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 farther--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 harbor 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 drove it backwards to the shore.
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 Athene, 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.
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