July 27, 2023

#08-330: Iphigenia

The sacrifice of Iphigenia, a wall painting in Pompeii (Wikipedia)

Note: No one did tragedy--or the power of redemption--like the Greeks. This is one of the great stories they produced.

Get Ready: What penance could possibly repay the killing of a close relative, like a daughter or a mother?

Iphigenia was the eldest daughter of King Agamemnon of Mycenae and his faithless wife Clytemnestra. A sometimes-tragic feature, she appears in a number of Greek tragedies based on mythology.

When the Trojan Prince Paris steals Helen--the wife of Agamemnon's brother Menelaus--Agamemnon and other kings are duty-bound to help fetch Helen back.

On the way to the Trojan War, however, Agamemnon shoots a stag sacred to the moon goddess Artemis. In return, Artemis has the Mycenaean ships becalmed. A seer, Calchas, tells Agamemnon that the only way to continue his journey is to sacrifice his daughter in place of the stag.

So Agamemnon sends for Iphigenia and her mother Clytemnestra, lying that he has arranged for the girl to marry the great hero Achilles. In some stories, the sacrifice is completed and Iphigenia's story ends. Her death will be one reason for the murderous vengeance Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus take on Agamemnon when he returns from the Trojan War.

In other versions, Artemis, in her compassion, substitutes a deer under the sacrificial shroud; Agamemnon still thinks he has killed his daughter, but in fact she has been taken away to a Temple of Artemis in the land of the Taurians.

In a separate story, Iphigenia's brother Orestes shows up at her temple after killing Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus in revenge for their killing of Agamemnon. Because she is a Greek (the Taurians are a separate, non-Greek people), she is tasked with sacrificing any Greek unfortunate enough to appear on Taurian shores.

So when Orestes and his companion Pylades appear in order to steal the statue of Artemis and bring it to Athens (as a penance for killing Clytemnestra and Aegisthus), Iphigenia--unaware of who he is--is ordered to kill him and Pylades. She uses her discretion, however, to let one of the youths go and take a letter back to Mycenae. As she reads the letter aloud, Orestes realizes who she is; they reunite, and she helps the men escape with the statue.

The story of Orestes continues in the famous Oresteia trilogy, but Iphigenia retires to become priestess of the sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron until her death.


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. becalmed
  2. discretion
  3. duty-bound
  4. faithless
  5. penance
  6. sacrifice
  7. sanctuary
  8. seer
  9. shroud
  10. stag
  1. a covering for a dead body
  2. punishment for wrongdoing
  3. grounds of a temple
  4. freedom to choose
  5. a person who talks to the gods
  6. unable to move for lack of wind
  7. a male deer
  8. disloyal; untrustworthy
  9. required by honor
  10. kill as an offering to a god

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for July 27, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. d; 3. i; 4. h; 5. b; 6. j; 7. c; 8. e; 9. a; 10. g