IPHIGENIA

Iphigenia was a character in Greek mythology. Originally, she may have been a goddess who was associated with Artemis, the Greek goddess of wild animals, hunting, and virginity. Later, she appeared in legend and literature as a figure from Greece’s turbulent prehistory. Playwrights, such as Aeschylus and Euripides, wrote dramas based on the stories about her.

This fresco depicts Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his eldest daughter, Iphigenia. Agamemnon, a Greek military leader, was willing to make the sacrifice to ensure a favorable wind to carry his ships to Troy. Here, Clytemnestra, Iphigenia’s mother, hides her face in grief, while Agamemnon looks to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, who demanded the sacrifice.

According to legend, Iphigenia was the daughter of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, and his wife Clytemnestra. On the eve of the Trojan War, Agamemnon’s fleet needed a favorable wind to sail for Troy. According to one version of the story, Agamemnon had angered Artemis by boasting that he was a greater hunter than the goddess. For this insult, Artemis demanded that Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter before she would send a favorable wind. Agamemnon summoned Iphigenia to be sacrificed. When Clytemnestra learned what had happened, she swore that she would never forgive her husband.

There are several accounts of Iphigenia’s fate. Aeschylus said that Agamemnon did sacrifice her. Euripides said that Artemis saved her at the last minute and took her off to the land of Tauris near the Black Sea. There she became a priestess whose duties included sacrificing strangers who entered the land. Years later, two men were brought before her for sacrifice. Iphigenia recognized them as Greeks and offered to help one of them escape if he would carry a letter back to her brother Orestes. To her amazement, she learned that one of these two men was Orestes. With the help of the god Poseidon and the goddess Athena, Iphigenia managed to save both her brother and his companion. The three returned to Greece carrying a statue of Artemis.

Several Greek shrines claimed to possess the statue that Iphigenia had brought from Tauris. Some people believed that Iphigenia had become immortal, and various cults worshiped her along with Artemis. (See also Cults; Myths, Greek; Myths, Roman.)

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