Ancient History & Civilisation



The name of Iphigenia is absent from Homer. In one passage he mentions three daughters of Agamemnon as still alive and marriageable in the final phase of the Trojan war: Electra, Chrysothemis and Iphianassa. The last is sometimes identified with Iphigenia in later usage, but if that was Homer’s understanding, either he must be unaware of the tale that Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter at Aulis to gain a fair wind for the fleet, or he is silently rejecting it. It has often been argued that certain tales were objectionable in Homer’s eyes, and that he may have deliberately avoided stories involving kin-killing: in the Odyssey he does mention, but guardedly and in passing, the matricide of Orestes (cf. Preface to Orestes, p. 61). Other poets, however, were less squeamish or more sensational: the sacrifice of Iphigenia figured in an early Greek epic known as the Cypria, and is mentioned frequently in Attic tragedy: both Aeschylus and Sophocles wrote plays entitled Iphigenia, now lost, and the sacrifice is invoked as a major part of the indictment against Agamemnon by Clytemnestra in the Electra plays of both Sophocles and Euripides. Above all, the prophecy of Calchas and the horror of the child-killing were recounted in an unforgettable lyric passage of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon.

So he was hard enough to sacrifice

his daughter, in aid of a war

to punish a woman

and as first-rites for the fleet to sail.

Her entreaties and appeals to her father,

and her maiden’s years – in their love for battle

the officers set this at naught;

her father after praying gave an order

for the servers to come and lift her like a goat-kid

over the altar, when she had fallen forward

about his robes to plead with all her heart;

the lips in her beautiful face

were curbed to suppress

any word making the house accursed,

violently and with a bridle’s muting power.

(Agamemnon 224–38, tr. C. Collard)

As early as the Cypria, there was a tradition that Iphigenia did not die at Aulis but was miraculously rescued by Artemis, to whom she was being offered in sacrifice. According to the surviving summary of the Cypria, Artemis carried her off to the land of the Tauri (the modern Crimea) and made her immortal. In some versions she is replaced by a deer or a bear, beasts associated with the goddess. But in Aeschylus it is taken for granted by all, including the audience, that she died at the altar; nor would the ferocity of Clytemnestra’s vengeance be easy even for her to justify were this not believed to be the case. Euripides in his earlier play Iphigenia among the Taurians (see volume 3 of this translation) had taken this as the premiss and dramatized the novel chain of events whereby Orestes finds his sister and brings her home. In the present play, the last which survives from his pen, he returns to the beginnings of the tale and the prelude to the Trojan war.

Aeschylus’ narrative in the Agamemnon, though austere and selective, had made clear that Agamemnon struggled over the decision: patriotic duty (and his obligations to his brother) prevailed over natural father-feeling. Euripides develops this hint in a number of ways, characteristically exploring the emotional impact of the divine command on the different members of the family. At the start of the play the king has already sent a message summoning his daughter to Aulis, ostensibly in order for her to be married to Achilles. Agamemnon now thinks better of this, and paternal love takes first place over patriotism (the reverse of Aeschylus’s sequence). But Menelaus’ interests must also be taken into account: whereas Aeschylus had spoken of the two brothers acting in unison, Euripides sets them in conflict. While Agamemnon wants to call off the expedition, Menelaus is determined that it should go ahead: his motive, it seems, is purely personal, the hope of recovering Helen, although he attempts to put a fine gloss on this by high-sounding words about the glory of Greece. Further complications ensue: not only Iphigenia arrives but also Clytemnestra: how can the plan be executed with the girl’s mother present? Agamemnon is in despair, and his grief-stricken speech finally moves Menelaus to a change of heart: he will help his brother and forget his worthless wife. Immediately still further problems arise: even if the two brothers are at one, how can they achieve their goal against the connivances of Calchas and Odysseus? The whole army will soon be up in arms against them and force them to sacrifice the girl. As this fast-moving plot unfolds, we glimpse political rivalries and motives of personal ambition which go well beyond the original premisses of the story.

The next scene, involving the meeting of Agamemnon with wife and daughter, is rich in the ironies of double meaning and ominous anticipation which the tragedians love. The portrait of Iphigenia is charmingly sketched: a naive, affectionate and playful girl, hardly more than a child. Clytemnestra is characterized quite differently from the more familiar representations of her in her later life, embittered and bent on vengeance: instead she is amiable and obedient. We sense that this is how the family could have been, how it ought to be. A sharper edge is evident, however, when the king tries to send her home: she will not hear of the marriage being celebrated without her presence. Euripides cleverly contrives to anticipate future tension: later, when Agamemnon’s true motive emerges, there are still clearer signals of trouble ahead, when Agamemnon eventually returns from Troy (1171 ff., 1454–7).

Clytemnestra’s presence and involvement in events is probably a Euripidean innovation: we recognize the technique of the dramatist who asked himself what the reaction of Admetus’ father would be to his son’s request that he die in his place, or how Tyndareus would have felt about his grandson murdering his daughter. Another creative device can probably be seen in the role of Achilles. As Iphigenia’s alleged bridegroom, he has an obvious stake in all this: but how much did he know about Agamemnon’s intentions? It is not clear how earlier writers dealt with this issue, but in Euripides Achilles is ignorant both of the marital proposal and of the underlying plan to sacrifice the girl. This ignorance makes first for comedy (the awkward encounter with an unexpected mother-in-law to be!), subsequently for angry indignation. Throughout, Euripides shows us an Achilles who is both like and unlike his Homeric prototype – like him in being honourable, straightforward, courageous; unlike him, in that his proud outbursts become self-important expostulations, his heroic gestures ineffectual. When he first appears he is coming to convey to the commander-in-chief the discontent of his followers, the Myrmidons; later he arrives hot and bothered after being almost lynched by his rebellious men. The power of the army cows the prowess even of the greatest warrior of the Iliad. Although he declares his willingness to help Iphigenia repeatedly and at length, Achilles in the end achieves precisely nothing. Nor are the mother and daughter any more successful in their dual appeal to Agamemnon for mercy: the king explains that he is in the grip of necessity (Aeschylean motifs are redeployed, but here debased), and he himself now voices the patriotic arguments that had been put to him by Menelaus. ‘It is not Menelaus who has turned me into a slave, my child, nor his desire that guides my actions, but Greece: to her, whether I wish it or not, I am bound to offer you in sacrifice; against this I have no power. Greece must be free, as far as you and I, my child, can bring it about; we are Greeks, and must not let foreigners use violence against our wives and carry them off’ (1269–75).

Thus the stage is set, the victim must be sacrificed. This type of plot, or story-pattern, was common in Euripides. In this volume Iphigenia’s role is paralleled in the Phoenician Women by Menoeceus, who sacrifices himself to save Thebes, at Teiresias’ bidding; more usually the victim is female, as in the Children of Heracles (to save Athens), the fragmentary Erechtheus (also to save Athens) and the Hecabe (to placate the ghost of Achilles). It is usual for all those concerned to be at first horrified and reluctant (thus Creon, Menoeceus’ father, rejects Teiresias and hopes to help his son escape), but for the victim himself or herself finally to accept the necessity and go voluntarily to the slaughter. This sequence enabled the poet to dramatize a whole gamut of emotions – ominous foreboding, terror and dismay, anger and defiance, grief before and after the death-scene, but also heroic pride and the spirit of self-sacrifice. Since the story-pattern is well established, the audience probably anticipated that Iphigenia would in the end go willingly to her death (as the myth, and ritual propriety, demanded), and she does so, voicing her decision in a speech of memorable firmness (1368 ff.), in which she too seems to subscribe to the patriotic rhetoric used by Menelaus and Agamemnon. Aristotle complained that Euripides had made her character inconsistent, but we may suspect that a striking, even extraordinary change of attitude was exactly what he wished to represent.

The difficulties of interpretation are considerable. On the one hand, we must admire Iphigenia’s courage and eloquence (as does Achilles) and we need not doubt that in appropriate contexts the Athenian audiences might have responded positively to anti-barbarian rhetoric (cf. note 65); on the other, we are bound to question the value of her self-sacrifice and still more of the cause for which the Greeks are fighting. The campaign as represented in this play can hardly be seen as a crusade by virtuous Greeks against depraved barbarians: the champions of Greece are ignoble and unheroic, the crime of the Trojans consists of the abduction of one woman whom her husband admits to be of little worth. Later reshapings of the legend laid more stress on economic motives, glory, ambition, loot: there are hints of these in the Euripidean text, but more emphasis is laid on the collective sickness or passion which has inflamed the Greek forces: ‘a heaven-sent affliction’, is what Agamemnon calls it (411, cf. 407, 808, 1264). While we may feel confident that we are meant to admire the victims’ virtue when one death saves the lives of many or preserves a city from destruction (as in several of the parallel plots), the example of the Hecabe, where the wholly sympathetic Polyxena is slaughtered to satisfy a resentful ghost, shows that the motif is capable of more complex uses. In this play the nobility of Iphigenia is thrown away on a cause which is important in terms of its mythical stature – the Trojan War must indeed take place – but which, as represented here, is a shabby undertaking led by weak and vacillating generals. We need not suppose that it is mere anachronism to find in ancient literature hostility to war and suspicion of arguments used to promote military ends. The poet of the Hecabe and the Trojan Women knew well enough what the cost of war was for the victims, and its brutalizing effect upon the victors.

So far we have avoided confrontation with the most intractable problems of the play, those concerning its multiple authorship (for some general comments on these issues, see the Note on the Text). The essential point is that the play was (like the Bacchae) produced posthumously, but (unlike the Bacchae) appears not to have been finished by the playwright. Nowhere else in the dramatic corpus of Greek tragedy do we find such great variety of style, tone and quality. There are parts which cannot have been written by Euripides, and other parts where it is hard to believe that he is the author. Sometimes it is a matter of additional material of clearly inferior quality being added to a text which perhaps seemed unduly short to the editor (the clearest case is the latter part of the choral entrance-song); elsewhere more than one version seems to have been combined, and it is not clear which version, if any, was in the original text (as in the prologue). There are superfluous or clumsy lines; there are passages where the text has been certainly or probably expanded. Most important, the ending of the play is certainly not Euripidean: the authentic text probably ends with Iphigenia’s exit at 1509. As explained further in the Notes, the ending we have has numerous defects (including linguistic and metrical errors which cannot possibly be the work of Euripides or any competent dramatist of the fifth or fourth century BC): it must be a much later composition. There is also external evidence that a different ending (Euripides’ own?) once existed, in which Artemis appeared and promised that she would rescue Iphigenia and replace her with a deer as victim.

Most of these points are objectively demonstrable; but when editors and critics get down to detail, the degree of disagreement as to which parts of the play belong to which layer of revision rapidly becomes evident, and some of the more specific arguments can seem worryingly subjective. We cannot expect to be able to peel away the newer layers and find the original still intact: as is clear from the case of the conclusion, authentic or at any rate early material has been irretrievably lost. Part of the problem lies in the need to be clear about what we are trying to achieve: to identify Euripides’ own contribution, while admitting that the play may have been incomplete when he died? To establish what was actually presented to the public in the first performance (perhaps a composite work by Euripides senior and junior)? Or to produce a text which could be performed effectively today, whether or not it corresponds closely to the original work? There are many specific problems which are disturbing to scholars but which make little impact on the theatre-goer or on those who read the play in translation. After much consideration we have translated the whole text, despite the obvious weaknesses of some parts: to present the reader only with the portions of the play which are certainly Euripidean would be impossible, and even if possible would leave the play truncated. In the Notes I draw attention to the most serious problems and offer some references to more detailed discussions. By general agreement the most suspicious portions are 1–162, 231–302, 1510–1628: in my view none of this is likely to be Euripidean. Controversy elsewhere takes us into more difficult territory, and detailed argument is inappropriate here.

Despite the special problems of the play, it retains astonishing power, and many recent productions have shown that it continues to speak to our age. The audience which gathered in the Theatre of Dionysus in 405 BC to witness the last dramas of the dead Euripides was surely most impressed, as we are today, by the Bacchae; but we need not doubt that in the Iphigenia at Aulis they recognized a drama of a different kind, also recognizably the work of the master’s hand, and equally deserving of the first prize that the great playwright had so often been denied.


AGAMEMNON, commander of the Greek expedition and king of Argos

OLD SERVANT of Agamemnon

CHORUS of women from Chalcis in Euboea

MENELAUS, brother of Agamemnon and king of Sparta


CLYTEMNESTRA, wife of Agamemnon

IPHIGENIA, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra

ACHILLES, a Greek leader, king of the Myrmidons

SERVANTS of Agamemnon

FOLLOWERS of Achilles

BABY Orestes


[The scene is set in front of AGAMEMNON’s tent1 in the Greek camp at Aulis. Agamemnon is seated at a makeshift table, pen and ink near at hand, fingering a message-tablet.]

AGAMEMNON: Old man, come out here in front of the tent!2

[The OLD MAN emerges.]

OLD MAN: I’m coming. What new plan do you have, my lord Agamemnon?


OLD MAN: I’m hurrying! This old age of mine stays wide awake, I tell you, and alert on my eyes.

AGAMEMNON: What star with blazing light is that in its course, still speeding along high in the heavens near the seven Pleiads? There is no sound either of birds or of the sea; a windless silence prevails all [10] along the Euripus.

OLD MAN: But why do you pace restlessly outside your tent, my lord Agamemnon? All is still quiet here at Aulis and the watchmen who guard our walls do not stir. Let’s go inside.

AGAMEMNON: I envy you, old man, and I envy those who live their lives free from danger, not winning fame or a name among men. I feel less envy for those in office.

OLD MAN: And yet there is honour in such a life. [20]

AGAMEMNON: Yes, but an honour that brings danger; eminence may be pleasurable but once attained it causes grief Sometimes the service of the gods improperly conducted overthrows a man’s life, sometimes it is shattered by the diverse and peevish judgements of his fellow men.

OLD MAN: These sentiments in a leader I do not admire. Atreus did not father you to enjoy unmixed blessings, Agamemnon. You must [30] acquaint yourself with pain as well as joy; for you are of mortal stock. Whether you wish it or not, this shall be the gods’ will.

But you have kindled your lamp’s light; you keep writing3 on this tablet that you still hold in your hands, then you erase the same message again, you seal the tablet and open it once more, flinging it [40] on the ground as tears pour freely from your eyes. Anyone would suppose from these signs of despair that you have lost your wits! What troubles you? What new problem vexes you, my royal lord? Come, share the news with me! You will be speaking to a good man worthy of trust; I was sent by Tyndareus all those years ago as part of your wife’s dowry and a loyal attendant of the bride.

AGAMEMNON: Three daughters were born to Leda, Thestius’ [50] child: Phoebe, Clytemnestra, my wife, and Helen. The young men counted the foremost in fortune in Greece came to seek Helen’s hand in marriage. This gave rise to jealousy among the rival suitors, and threats of dreadful action, if they did not succeed in winning the maiden. Her father Tyndareus faced a dilemma. Should he give her away or not? What was the best way to handle the problem?

This was the solution he found: the suitors should swear a mutual oath sealed by the clasping of hands, and, with burnt-sacrifice, they should make libations and offer up this [60] solemn pledge: whoever Tyndareus’ daughter should marry, they would rally round him, if anyone ever took her from her home and carried her off, dispossessing her husband of his bride; they would make war on such a man and level his city, be it Greek or foreign, by force of arms.

When they had sworn this oath (a cunning enough trick by old Tyndareus to win them round), he gave his daughter permission to choose one man from the suitors, wherever the fond breezes of Aphrodite might carry her. Her choice fell on [70] the one who should never have taken her, Menelaus. Then that man who judged the goddesses,4 as the story goes,5 came from Phrygia to Sparta, florid in the style of his dress and glittering with gold, suitably lavish trappings for a foreigner. Finding Menelaus away from home, he seized Helen – his passion for her was fully returned – and took her off to Ida, where he kept his cattle.

Menelaus was filled with rage and rushed up and down Greece, invoking the ancient oath of Tyndareus that the wronged party should receive military aid. So the Greeks next grabbed their spears and leapt at the call to arms. They [80] brought their weaponry to these narrow straits of Aulis where now they are encamped: ships and shields, together with a host of horses and chariots, formed their preparation. And they chose me as commander for Menelaus’ sake, as I am his brother; but I wish this honour had fallen to some other man!

Once the army had been mustered and was assembled, we remained idle at Aulis, becalmed and unable to sail. As we found ourselves in this difficulty Calchas announced the divine will: we must sacrifice my own daughter Iphigenia to Artemis, [90] who inhabits this land; if we made the sacrifice, we would have our voyage and bring the Phrygians to their knees, but if not, neither would follow.

When I heard this, I ordered Talthybius to dismiss the whole army with shrill proclamation, for never would I bring myself to kill my own daughter.

Then it was that my brother, employing every form of argument, persuaded me to dare the dreadful deed. In a folding tablet I wrote a message and sent it to my wife, telling her to send our daughter here in the belief that she would marry Achilles. [100]

I made great play of the hero’s distinction, saying that he was refusing to sail with the Greek expedition unless a bride from our house should go to his Phthia. This was the means of persuasion I used with my wife, weaving the web of a false marriage to get the girl here. Of the Greeks only we four know the true situation: Calchas, Odysseus, Menelaus and I.6 Now I am writing a new letter in turn, having changed my thoughts afterwards from the wrong ones I had before, and it is this one you saw me opening and sealing again, old man, [110] under cover of night. Here, take it now and make your way to Argos! I will tell you in words the whole message that lies hidden in the tablet’s folds, for you are loyal to my wife and to my house.

[AGAMEMNON and the OLD MAN now sing in a lyric exchange.]7

OLD MAN: Speak, tell me, so my tongue may utter words in harmony with your message.

AGAMEMNON: ‘I send you this letter in addition to my earlier one, child of Leda. Do not send your daughter to waveless Aulis, sheltered [120] wingtip of Euboea. We shall postpone our daughter’s wedding to another time.’

OLD MAN: And if Achilles is cheated of his bride, will this not rouse him to furious anger against you and your wife? That is certainly to be feared. Tell me your meaning.

AGAMEMNON: It is the name and nothing else that Achilles provides;8 he knows nothing about a marriage, or our intentions either, or my [130] supposed desire to give my child to him in marriage, to clasp in a bridegroom’s embrace.

OLD MAN: This is boldness that makes me afraid, Agamemnon, my royal lord; in order to bring your daughter here to be sacrificed by the Greeks, you held out the promise of her marriage to the son of the goddess.

AGAMEMNON: Ah, my wits deserted me! Oh, the pain! I fall into ruin! But hasten on your way, old man; make no concessions to your years!

[140] OLD MAN: I hurry, king.

AGAMEMNON: No sitting down by shady springs or letting sleep seduce you!

OLD MAN: What a thing to suggest!

AGAMEMNON: When you pass a place where the road divides, look all round you, making sure no carriage on rolling wheels escapes your eye, as it carries my girl here to the ships of the Greeks.

OLD MAN: Rely on me.

AGAMEMNON: If she has left the shelter of her home and you encounter her escort, turn their bridles round at once and hurry to the dwellings [150] raised by the Cyclopes.9

OLD MAN: But tell me, when I give this instruction to your daughter and wife, how will they believe me?

AGAMEMNON: Guard the seal on the letter you carry here. On your way! See, the dawn already breaks with the white light of the Sun’s flaming chariot. Be the partner of my labours.

[The OLD MAN leaves.]

No mortal experiences happiness to the end; no one is born free [160] from sorrow.

[AGAMEMNON retires into his tent. The CHORUS enters.10]

CHORUS [Strophe]: I have come to the sandy shores of Aulis by the sea, sailing through the surging waters of Euripus’ narrow channel and leaving behind my city of Chalcis, nurse of glorious Arethusa, [170] whose waters mingle with the sea. To see the Achaean army I came, and the Achaean heroes’ seafaring ships. These men, our husbands say, with a fleet of a thousand craft are being led to Troy by fair-haired Menelaus and noble Agamemnon. They go to reclaim Helen, whom the herdsman Paris took from reedy Eurotas as the prize awarded by [180] Aphrodite, when at the bright fountain waters the Cyprian competed, competed in beauty with Hera and Pallas.

[Antistrophe:] Through Artemis’ grove rich in sacrifices I came in haste, my cheeks crimsoned with a young girl’s blush, as I wanted to see the fortifications of the shield-bearing Greeks, the tents of the [190] warriors and their massed horses. I saw the two Ajaxes sitting together, Oileus’ son and Telamon’s, crown of fame to Salamis, and Protesilaus and Palamedes,11 whom Poseidon’s daughter bore, seated at the draught-board and delighting in the many complicated moves. Diomedes, too, I saw, charmed by the pleasures of the discus, and beside [200] him Meriones, offspring of Ares, a marvel to mortal eyes, and also the son of Laertes from his mountainous island, and at his side Nireus, most handsome of the Achaeans.

[Epode:] And swift-running Achilles I saw, whose feet match the wind, Thetis’ son whom Cheiron trained, running a race in full armour along the shingle by the seashore. He was competing hard [210] against a chariot drawn by four horses, lap after lap, struggling to win the victory. The charioteer, Eumelus of Pheres’ line, kept shouting. I saw his horses, beautiful animals with bridles of finely worked gold, [220] being urged onward by his goad. The two harnessed in the middle were dappled with white hair, while the tracers on the outside, confronting the bends of the course, were bays and dappled at the ankle above the solid hoof. The son of Peleus in his armour sped [230] along beside them, keeping alongside the rail by the chariot-wheels.

[Strophe:] To the host of ships I came, a marvellous spectacle, to satisfy a woman’s eyes with the sight and taste the pleasure, honeysweet. The right wing of the fleet the Myrmidon warriors held, Phthia’s men, with their fifty swift vessels. Divine Nereids stood at [240] the sterns in images of gold, the emblem to signify the ships of Achilles.

[Antistrophe:] The Argive vessels stood near by, a like number of oared ships. These were commanded by the son of Mecisteus, whom Talaus raised as grandfather, and by Sthenelus, son of Capaneus. The next station was held by the son of Theseus with his sixty Attic ships. Their insignia that raised their sailors’ spirits was the goddess [250] Pallas in a winged chariot drawn by horses with uncloven hoof.

[Strophe:] And the naval host of the Boeotians I saw, fifty ships, wearing their ensign with pride. This was Cadmus holding a golden serpent at the curved stern. Laitus the earth-born commanded their [260] naval force. There were vessels from the land of Phocis,12 [ … ] and also ships from Locris equal in number to these, led by the son of Oileus, who had left the famous city of Thronium behind.

[Antistrophe:] From Cyclopean Mycenae the son of Atreus sent a hundred ships manned with crews. With him as fellow commander came his brother, kin alongside kin, so that Greece might take [270] righteous vengeance on the one who abandoned her home to marry a foreigner. And I saw the ensign of Gerenian Nestor from Pylos, [ … ] his neighbour Alpheus, represented at the stern with bull’s hooves.

Of the Aenians there were twelve ships commanded by their king, [280] Gouneus. Near these in turn were the rulers of Elis, whom all the people called Epeians. Eurytus was their commander, and also led the white-oared warriors of Taphos, whose king was Meges. He was the son of Phyleus and had left behind the islands of Echinae shunned by mariners.

The Ajax whom Salamis reared combined his right wing with the left wing of those near his own station, making the link with his ships [290] drawn up at the end of the line, twelve of the trimmest vessels. So much I heard or saw of the naval host. Whoever engages his foreign [300] craft with them will not win a safe return home, such is the preparation of ships I saw there! But some news of the assembled army I heard at home and keep this in mind.

[MENELAUS enters, followed by Agamemnon’s SERVANT, from whom he has taken the letter.]

OLD SERVANT: Menelaus, you go too far! This is an outrage!

MENELAUS: Get away! You show too much loyalty to your master.

OLD SERVANT: That’s a reproach that brings me honour!13

MENELAUS: You’ll regret it, if you go too far!

OLD SERVANT: You should not have opened the letter I was carrying!

MENELAUS: And you should not have carried something that spelled ruin for every Greek!

OLD SERVANT: Argue this with others; give me back this letter!

MENELAUS: I will not release it.

OLD MAN: And I will not let it go! [310]

MENELAUS: Then I’ll soon give you a bloody head with my sceptre!

OLD MAN: Well, it’s an honourable end to die for one’s master.

MENELAUS: Let go! For a slave you talk too much!

OLD MAN: Master, we’re being wronged! This man snatched your letter from my hands by force, Agamemnon, and has no wish to behave justly!

[AGAMEMNON comes out of his tent.]

AGAMEMNON: Ha! What is this disturbance outside my tent,14 this angry exchange of words?

MENELAUS: My account has a better right to be heard than this fellow’s.

AGAMEMNON: What has caused you to quarrel with this man, Menelaus, and to use violence?

[The SERVANT goes hastily into the house.]

[320] MENELAUS: Look at me. I will begin my speech in this fashion.

AGAMEMNON: What? Do you think the son of Atreus the Unafraid is afraid to look you in the eye?

MENELAUS: Do you see this letter that serves as a vile messenger?

AGAMEMNON: I do. First of all, hand it over to me now.

MENELAUS: Not until I show its contents to all the Greeks.

AGAMEMNON: Do you mean you have broken the seal and know what you have no business to know?

MENELAUS: Yes, I opened it, and I know the wicked plan you hatched in secret. You’ll be sorry for it!

AGAMEMNON: And where did you catch him? Gods, what shamelessness!

MENELAUS: I was waiting for your daughter to reach the camp from Argos.

AGAMEMNON: Why must you watch for what is my concern? Is this not effrontery?

[330] MENELAUS: Because I felt the whim; I am not your slave!

AGAMEMNON: Monstrous! Shall I not be allowed to govern my own affairs?

MENELAUS: No, for your thoughts are crooked, some just now, others long since, others still to come.

AGAMEMNON: You present a fine case for dishonesty; a clever tongue breeds hatred.

MENELAUS: Yes, and an inconstant mind makes a man unjust and devious towards friends. I want to prove your guilt in this. Don’t let anger turn you away from the truth and I in turn will not press my case too far. You remember the time15 when you were ambitious to lead the Greek force to Ilium. You appeared reluctant but the desire was there in your heart. What an embarrassing spectacle you made – grasping every man by the hand and keeping your doors unlocked for any [340] citizen who wished to enter! You tried to speak to all of them, one after the other, whether they wanted it or not, and by this behaviour you made a bid for popularity against all comers. Then, once the command was won, you assumed a different manner: you no longer showed your friends the love they had before but became difficult to approach and rarely seen, as you stayed behind locked doors. A good man should not change his character when he rises in the world; no, that is the time for him to remain true to his friends, when good fortune enables him to benefit them more than ever. This is my first criticism of you, as here I first found you wanting.

Then, when you and the army of all Greece16 came to Aulis [350] and you lacked a wind to blow you on your way, you were completely helpless; this fortune sent by the gods kept you in a state of panic, as the Greeks clamoured for the fleet to be disbanded and an end made to all their fruitless labour at Aulis. What an unhappy look you wore, how dismayed you were at the prospect of not leading a host of a thousand ships and filling the plain before Priam’s city with your soldiery! You kept asking for my help: ‘What shall I do? What way out can I find and where?’ All this so you would not be stripped of your high office and lose your glorious name! Then, when Calchas said you had to sacrifice your daughter to Artemis at the altar for the Greeks to have their voyage, your heart leaped and readily you promised to sacrifice the girl. Of your own free will you sent to your wife, not under duress – do not [360] claim that – to have your daughter brought here under the pretext that she was to be Achilles’ bride.

And then you turn about and are caught sending a different message: no longer will you be your daughter’s murderer. Just so! The sky above us is the same one that witnessed your promises then. But this is the experience of countless men: they labour hard to win against obstacles, and then they fail basely. Sometimes the foolish judgement of the citizens is the cause but sometimes their fall is deserved, as they prove incapable themselves of keeping their city safe. But it is wretched Greece I weep for above all: she wishes to perform [370] a glorious deed, but thanks to you and your girl she will have to allow those foreign nobodies to mock her.

Oh, may I never appoint a man leader of his country or commander of its forces because of his courage! It’s a good head that a city’s general must have; any man who is shrewd is capable of doing the job.

CHORUS LEADER: It is a terrible thing when brothers trade insults and fight as the result of some quarrel.

AGAMEMNON: I now wish to criticize you, but not at length, not shamelessly raising my eyes too high, but in modest fashion, as you are my brother. A good man is disposed to [380] show respect. Tell me, why this fearful huffing and puffing, that makes your face flushed? Who does you wrong? What do you want? Do you yearn to have a good wife?17 I cannot give you one: you made a poor job of governing the one you did get. Am I to be punished for your errors, when I haven’t gone astray myself? It’s not my ambition that vexes you; you long to hold a beautiful woman in your arms, throwing discretion and honour to the winds. A bad man’s pleasures do not bear examination. If I made a wrong decision previously and came to my senses subsequently, does that make me a madman? You are a better candidate for that title, the man who lost a bad wife and now wants to get her back, despite [390] heaven’s kindness in doing you a good turn.

Those misguided suitors swore the oath to Tyndareus in their desire for Helen’s hand; but it was hope, a goddess, I think, that brought this about rather than you and your strength. Take them and lead the expedition; the folly in their hearts makes them ready enough. But divinity is not stupid: it can recognize when oaths are sworn wrongfully and under compulsion. I will not kill my own children; I will not offend against justice so that you may prosper by avenging yourself on your harlot wife, while night and day consume me with tears for my lawless deeds, my crimes against my own children!

This is my brief response to you, one that is clear and not hard to understand. If you choose not to see good sense, so [400] be it; I shall order my own affairs well.

CHORUS-LEADER: These words strike a different note from those you spoke before, and are welcome – sparing the life of your child.

MENELAUS: Ah, my state is a sorry one! I have no friends, it seems.

AGAMEMNON: You would have, if you weren’t trying to ruin your friends!

MENELAUS: How will you give me proof that your father and mine are one?

AGAMEMNON: I want to share your sensible thoughts, not your foolish ones.

MENELAUS: Friends should share one another’s grief.

AGAMEMNON: Ask for my help when you are helping, not harming, me.

MENELAUS: Are you not prepared to share this great task with Greece? [410]

AGAMEMNON: Greece, like you, suffers from some heaven-sent affliction.18

MENELAUS: Then betray your brother and glory in your sceptre! I shall resort to other plans, to other friends…

[A MESSENGER enters in a hurry.]

MESSENGER: King of the united Greeks, Agamemnon, I bring you your daughter, to whom you gave the name Iphigenia in your palace. Her mother accompanies her, the lady Clytemnestra, and your son Orestes. She means to give you joy at the sight of him, after your long absence from home. But since the journey they were on was long, they are giving cool refreshment to their feet by a fountain’s gracious waters, both [420] the ladies and their horses. We let the animals loose to graze in a green meadow and crop the grass.

But I have run on here in advance to tell you to be ready. The army has heard19 – word spread fast – that your daughter has arrived. The whole crowd is hurrying to look, eager to set eyes on your daughter. Men of note are there, famous by everyone’s consent and the object of every eye. They are [430] saying: ‘Is there to be a wedding or something? Does King Agamemnon miss his daughter so much that he had the girl brought here?’ From others you would have heard this: ‘They are preparing the girl’s bridal offerings for Artemis, Aulis’ queen. Who on earth will be her groom?’

Come, look to what follows now, begin the sacrificial rites with the baskets; put garlands on your heads, and you, my lord Menelaus, prepare the nuptials; let the flute send out its notes in the hall, let feet pound out the dance! This day that has dawned is a blessed one for the maid!

[440] AGAMEMNON: Thank you; now go inside the house. The rest, as fortune moves on its course, will be well.

[The MESSENGER leaves.]

Oh, what pain!20 What a wretch I am! What can I say? Where begin? Necessity’s harsh yoke is on my shoulders. Destiny has stolen up on me and proved subtler by far than my subtle plans. There is some advantage in being of humble birth. It is easy for such men to weep and to tell the full tale of their sorrow. The man of noble birth suffers no less misfortune, but we have dignity to rule our lives and are the [450] slaves of the mob.

So I am ashamed to shed a tear but shame again afflicts my wretched heart if I do not weep at finding myself in such a calamitous state. So be it; what shall I say to my wife? How shall I receive her? What looks shall I assume? She has destroyed me by coming in the midst of troubles to see me, uninvited. But it is natural that she accompany her daughter, to do her office as mother of the bride and give away her greatest treasure – where she will discover me a traitor! And [460] then there is the poor maiden – but why ‘maiden’? Hades, it seems, will be her bridegroom soon21 – how I pity her! I imagine how she will beg me as a suppliant: ‘Father, will you kill me? I hope you and anyone you love may make such a marriage!’ And Orestes will be there at her side, wailing unintelligibly, but his meaning will be clear. He is still a baby.22 Oh, how I suffer! How he has destroyed me by making this marriage to Helen – Priam’s son Paris! He has brought all this about!

CHORUS-LEADER: I, too, pity you, as a foreign woman must lament the misfortunes of kings. [470]

MENELAUS: Brother, give me your right hand to clasp!23

AGAMEMNON: I give it; the victory is yours, and I am in despair.

MENELAUS: I swear by Pelops, who was called my grandfather and yours, and by our father Atreus, to speak plainly to you and from the heart, saying nothing deceitful but what is in my mind. When I saw you weeping, I myself felt pity and shed tears in turn for you. I retract my earlier words and have no wish to be cruel but rather put myself in your own position now. [480]

My advice to you is that you should neither kill your daughter nor prefer my interest to your own; there is no justice in you grieving, while I prosper, or in your family dying, while mine sees the daylight. What is it I wish for? Can I not make other choice marriages if it is wedlock I desire? Am I to sacrifice a brother, who should be my dearest friend, to win back Helen, a poor prize in place of one so noble? I was a fool and rash in judgement before I examined the matter closely and saw what it is to kill one’s child. In any case I felt [490] pity for the wretched girl when I considered the blood we share: she is to be sacrificed for the sake of my marriage! What has your child to do with Helen?

Let the expedition be disbanded and quit Aulis. And you, my brother, stop making your face wet with tears, and inviting me to shed them likewise. Whatever you feel about the oracles concerning your daughter, let them not concern me; I resign my claims in this to you.

Have I left my earlier threats behind and undergone a change? It is natural to feel this way: I have changed because [500] of love for one who has the same mother as I. Such are the ways of a man whose instincts are sound, on each occasion to adopt the best course.

CHORUS-LEADER: These are noble words, worthy of Tantalus, son of Zeus;24 you do not disgrace your ancestors.

AGAMEMNON: I commend you, Menelaus, for the course you advise is honourable and worthy of you – it is not what I expected. Strife between brothers comes about through love or domestic ambition. I loathe this kind of kinship that brings [510] pain to both parties. But I have reached a point where I no longer have any choice: I must bring about the bloody execution of my daughter.

MENELAUS: How so? Who will compel you to kill your child?

AGAMEMNON: The whole gathering of the Greek army.25

MENELAUS: Not if you send her back to Argos.

AGAMEMNON: That I might manage to do in secret but there is another issue.

MENELAUS: What do you mean? You should not be too afraid of a mob.

AGAMEMNON: Calchas will voice his oracles to the Greek army.

MENELAUS: Not if he dies first; and this is easily managed.

AGAMEMNON: The whole breed of prophets26 is corrupted by [520] ambition!

MENELAUS: Yes, they are good for nothing – a useless presence.

AGAMEMNON: Do you not fear another possibility that occurs to me?

MENELAUS: Unless you tell me your thought, how would I infer it?

AGAMEMNON: The son of Sisyphus27 knows all of this.

MENELAUS: You and I have nothing to fear from Odysseus.

AGAMEMNON: He is a subtle fellow always and takes the mob’s side.

MENELAUS: Yes, he is enslaved by ambition, a terrible plague.

AGAMEMNON: Can’t you see him standing in the midst of the Greeks, proclaiming the oracles expounded by Calchas and saying how I promised to make the sacrifice to Artemis, then tried to go back on my word? Won’t he sweep the troopsoff [530] their feet and tell the Greeks to kill you and me before butchering the girl? And if I escape to Argos, they will come and destroy my land, razing it to the ground, Cyclopean walls28 and all. Such are the sorrows that weigh on me. Oh, what misery! How helpless I am in the face of these troubles the gods have sent!

Take care of one task for me, Menelaus: go through the army and make sure that Clytemnestra does not learn about our plan before I seize my child and offer her to Hades. I want [540] to achieve my horrible purpose with as few tears as possible.

And you, women, keep silence.29

[MENELAUS leaves; AGAMEMNON goes back into his tent.]

CHORUS [Strophe]: Blessed are those to whom Aphrodite is gentle, who share in due measure in the bliss of marriage, enjoying a spirit of calm untroubled by mad passions; for when golden-haired Eros bends his bow with arrows twofold in charm, one is for a destiny of happy days, the other for life’s ruin. O fairest Cyprian, keep this fate [550] far from my bedchamber!

May the delights of love visit me in due measure, and my desires be pure! May I know Aphrodite in moderation; I want none of her rage!

[Antistrophe:] Different are the natures of mortals, different are their ways; yet true goodness is always clear. Nurture and education [560] greatly contribute to virtue; for a modest spirit is itself wisdom and has the exceptional charm whereby reflection makes one discern the right course; then good repute confers on its possessor a glory that is forever young. A great thing it is to pursue virtue; among women it lies in love that is chaste and secret, whereas with men it is observing inner discipline in its countless forms;30 this will make a city greater. [570]

[Epode:] You came, Paris,31 to the place where you were raised as a cowherd among white heifers on Ida, piping foreign notes as you breathed on your reeds an imitation of Olympus’ Phrygian flute. The beasts were browsing, their udders swollen, that day the goddesses came to be judged in the trial that sent you to Greece. Before Helen’s [580] throne of ivory you stood, sending shafts of love into her eyes as they gazed at you, and yourself succumbing to love’s distraction. Hence came the strife, the strife with Greece that you bring with spears and ships against the towers of Troy.

[CLYTEMNESTRA enters with IPHIGENIA and ORESTES in a carriage, accompanied by servants and another carriage.32]

[590] Oh, look! Great is the blessed state of the great! See the king’s daughter Iphigenia, my queen, and Tyndareus’ child Clytemnestra. How great the houses that gave them birth, how happy and lasting the fortune they have found! The powerful and wealthy are as gods to mortals not blessed by fortune.

Let us stand near, daughters and nurslings of Chalcis, let us receive [600] the queen steadily as she steps to the ground from her carriage, with gentle hands and kind intent; I would not have Agamemnon’s glorious child feel afraid on her new arrival. Let us not, visitors here ourselves, give the Argive visitors cause to be disturbed or alarmed.

CLYTEMNESTRA: This I count a favourable omen – your kind hearts and the graciousness of your greeting. It is my hope [610] that I am here to be the bride’s matron at a happy wedding.

[She turns to her attendants:] Fetch the dowry gifts I bring for the maiden from the carriage and carry them with care into the house.

And you, my child, leave this horse-drawn carriage, stepping down with tender and delicate feet.

[To the CHORUS:] And you, young women, receive her in your arms and escort her from the carriage. Someone lend me a supporting hand, so I may leave my carriage-seat in a graceful manner.

Some of you stand in front of the horses’ yoke; a horse’s [620] eye is timorous if no one is near to soothe him. [To Orestes’ nurse:] And take this boy, Agamemnon’s son, Orestes; he is still just a babe. My child, do you sleep, overcome by the carriage’s movement? Wake up for your sister’s wedding and bring her luck! You will gain as kinsman a noble warrior, as you yourself are noble, the son of Nereus’ daughter, a man like the gods. [CLYTEMNESTRA, escorted to a seat, gestures towards the nurse.] Sit down here, child, near my foot. And you, Iphigenia, stand next to me and let these strangers see how blessed your mother is. And here is your loving father – give him your greetings! [630]

[AGAMEMNON enters.]

Agamemnon, my most revered lord and king, we have come in full obedience to your command.

IPHIGENIA [running to embrace AGAMEMNON]: Oh, don’t be angry with me, mother – I want to hug my father, pressing close against him! I want to sneak up close and press against your chest, father, after all this time! How I have longed to see your face! Oh, don’t be angry!

CLYTEMNESTRA: And so you should, child; of all the children I bore him you are the most devoted to your father.

IPHIGENIA: O father, what joy to see you after such a long time! [640]

AGAMEMNON: Your father’s joy is the same; you speak for both of us.

IPHIGENIA: Greetings! Thank you for bringing me to you, father!

AGAMEMNON: I don’t know whether I deserve your thanks or not, child.

IPHIGENIA: Ah! How ill at ease you look, for one so glad to see me!

AGAMEMNON: A king and commander has many thoughts to occupy him.

IPHIGENIA: Stay with me for the present; dismiss your worries!

AGAMEMNON: I am with you for now, all of me, and nowhere else.

IPHIGENIA: Then relax that frown and put on a loving expression.

AGAMEMNON: There, I am as joyful as I feel in seeing you, my child.

IPHIGENIA: And yet there are tears in your eyes? [650]

AGAMEMNON: Yes, for my absence from you is to be a long one.

IPHIGENIA: I don’t understand your meaning, dearest Father, I don’t understand!33 Where do they say the Phrygians have their home?

AGAMEMNON: Where I wish Priam’s son Paris had never lived!

IPHIGENIA: It’s a long voyage you are making, Father, leaving me behind.

AGAMEMNON: You will come to the same place as your father, daughter.34 These sensible words of yours move me the more to pity.

IPHIGENIA: Then I will not speak sensibly, if that will make you happy!

AGAMEMNON [turning away from IPHIGENIA]: Ah! I have not the strength to keep silent! [Turning back to face her:] That’s my good girl!

IPHIGENIA: Stay at home with your children, Father!

AGAMEMNON: That is my wish, but my torment is that I cannot bring it about.

IPHIGENIA: Destruction fall on spears and Menelaus’ woes!

AGAMEMNON: What is destroying me now will bring destruction on others.

[660] IPHIGENIA: How long you have been away, deep in Aulis’ bay!

AGAMEMNON: And even now there is something that hinders me from starting the expedition.

IPHIGENIA: Ah, if only your honour and mine allowed me to share your voyage!

AGAMEMNON: You, too, have a voyage still to make, one that will make you remember your father.

IPHIGENIA: Shall I sail with my mother or make the voyage alone?

AGAMEMNON: Alone, unaccompanied by father or mother.

IPHIGENIA: You aren’t finding me another home to live in are [670] you, Father?35

AGAMEMNON: Enough! Girls should not know such things.

IPHIGENIA: Please hurry back from Phrygia, Father, once you have settled matters well!

AGAMEMNON: First I must conduct a certain sacrifice here.

IPHIGENIA: Well, piety needs to be observed through holy rites.

AGAMEMNON: You will know; you will be standing near the sacred vessels.

IPHIGENIA: Shall we be dancing round the altar, Father?

AGAMEMNON: I envy you your lack of understanding; I wish I shared it! Go into the house – it harms a girl’s reputation to be seen – kiss me and let me take your hand;36 you are going to spend a long time away from your father’s home. [680]

Oh, dear bosom and cheeks, oh your golden hair! What a burden the Phrygians’ city and Helen have proved to me! I must speak no more; my eyes grow wet with tears the moment I touch you.

Go into the house.

[IPHIGENIA leaves.]

I beg you to bear with me in this, child of Leda, if I show too much grief at the thought of giving away my daughter to Achilles. These leave-takings are happy but still painful to parents’ hearts, when a father after all his loving care hands a child over to another house. [690]

CLYTEMNESTRA: I am not so insensitive; consider that I myself will also have these feelings – so I do not criticize you – when I lead the girl out to the sound of wedding songs. But it is customary practice, and this will join with time in easing the pain. Now I know the name of the man you have betrothed our child to but I wish to learn his lineage and where he comes from.

AGAMEMNON: Aegina was the daughter of Asopus.37

CLYTEMNESTRA: What mortal or god joined with her in marriage?

AGAMEMNON: Zeus; he fathered Aeacus, lord of Oenone.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Which son of Aeacus inherited his home? [700]

AGAMEMNON: Peleus; and Peleus won the hand of Nereus’ daughter.38

CLYTEMNESTRA: Was she the gift of a god or did he take her in spite of the gods?

AGAMEMNON: Zeus betrothed her and gave her away as guardian.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Where did he marry her? Was it under the ocean waves?

AGAMEMNON: Where Cheiron39 has his dwelling at the base of holy Pelion.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Where they say the race of Centaurs have their home?

AGAMEMNON: There the gods celebrated the wedding of Peleus.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Did Thetis or his father raise Achilles?

AGAMEMNON: It was Cheiron, so that he would not learn the ways of wicked men.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Ah, wise was the teacher, and also he who [710] entrusted him to a wiser head.

AGAMEMNON: Such is the man who will be your daughter’s husband.

CLYTEMNESTRA: No fault can be found in him. What city of Greece is his home?

AGAMEMNON: He lives in the land of Phthia, by the river Apidanus.

CLYTEMNESTRA: And is it there he will take your daughter and mine?

AGAMEMNON: That will be for him to decide as her new lord.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Well, may they be happy! What day will the marriage be?

AGAMEMNON: When the full moon comes round.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Have you already performed the initial sacrifices to the goddess?

AGAMEMNON: I am about to; this is the business I am engaged in at present.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Then after this you will celebrate the wedding [720] feast?

AGAMEMNON: Yes, once I have made the sacrifice required of me to the gods.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Where shall I hold the feast for the women?

AGAMEMNON: Here, by the ships of the Greeks with their fine prows.40

CLYTEMNESTRA: That is good, as there is no alternative; still, may it turn out well!

AGAMEMNON: Do you know what you must do, lady? Do what I ask.

CLYTEMNESTRA: What? I am accustomed to following your orders.

AGAMEMNON: Here, where the bridegroom is, it will be my task …

CLYTEMNESTRA: What task will you perform that is my duty, in the mother’s absence?

AGAMEMNON: … to give away your daughter amidst the men of Greece.

CLYTEMNESTRA: And where am I to be at this time? [730]

AGAMEMNON: You are to return to Argos and look after your girls.

CLYTEMNESTRA: And leave my daughter? Who will raise the marriage torch?

AGAMEMNON: I will provide the torch that is fitting for this wedding.

CLYTEMNESTRA: But this is not the customary way; these things should not be looked upon as trivial!

AGAMEMNON: It is not right that you should be away from home, in the middle of a mob of soldiers.

CLYTEMNESTRA: It is right that I should give my own child in marriage – I am her mother!

AGAMEMNON: It is also right that your daughters should not be left at home alone.

CLYTEMNESTRA: They are well guarded in the security of their chambers.

AGAMEMNON: Do what I ask!

CLYTEMNESTRA: No, by the heavenly Queen of Argos!41 Go and organize matters away from home; but I will see to domestic affairs and do what must be done for a maid about [740] to be married.

[CLYTEMNESTRA enters the tent with ORESTES and ATTENDANTS; the carriages are removed from the stage area.]

AGAMEMNON: Ah, I was too hasty and failed! My hope is dashed, my plan to get rid of my wife frustrated! I make clever plans and devise plots against those I love best, and on every front I lose the battle! Nevertheless I will go with the priest Calchas and together we will set in train what is pleasing to the goddess but disastrous for me – no happy outcome for Greece. A wise man should keep in his home a good and [750] helpful wife or not keep one at all.


CHORUS [Strophe]: Now to Simois and its silvery whirling waters the assembled host of the Greeks will come with ships of war and weaponry, to Ilium and the plain of Troy where Phoebus toiled,42 where Cassandra,43 I hear, decked with garland of green-leafed bay, tosses her golden locks, whenever she feels the compelling breath of the [760] god’s prophetic power.

[Antistrophe:] On the battlements of Troy, around its walls the Trojans will stand, when upon the sea, driven by the oars of fair-prowed ships, Ares of the bronze shield draws near to Simois’ channels, eager to bring back Helen, sister of the twins who dwell in [770] heaven, the Dioscuri, back from Priam’s land to Greece, through the spears and shields of the Achaeans, unwearying warriors.

[Epode:] When he has encircled Pergamum, city of the Phrygians, and its battlements of stone with the carnage of war and has sacked the city from its foundations, cutting off heads and severing throats, [780] he will bring many tears to Priam’s wife and daughters.

And Helen, child of Zeus, shall be consumed in tears for the husband she has lost. Never may I or my children’s children know such fearful thoughts as the Lydian women rich in gold and Trojan [790] wives shall have, sitting at the loom and saying to one another: ‘What man, then, will take my fine, abundant hair in his tight grip as I weep, and pluck me from the withering flower that is my homeland?’ It is you who are to blame, offspring of the long-necked swan,44 if the story is true that Leda encountered the winged bird when Zeus changed his shape, or else these things are mere tales brought to men by the writings of poets, lacking sense or reason. [800]


ACHILLES: Where can I find the commander of the Greeks? Let some servant announce that the son of Peleus, Achilles, is at his door and looking for him! Not all of us who wait here by the Euripus are on the same footing: some who left their homes empty and sit here by the shore are unmarried men, others have wives and children; so wondrous a passion for this expedition has taken hold of Greece – some god must have inspired it. I must now state my own justification for intervening: any other man who pleases will speak for himself. I [810] left the land of Pharsalus behind, and Peleus, and here I wait by these narrow waters of the Euripus, trying to restrain my Myrmidons. They pursue me endlessly with their questions: ‘Achilles, why are we waiting? How much more time do we still have to sit out before the voyage to Ilium? Act, if you mean to act at all, or else lead your men back home without waiting for the sons of Atreus to make up their minds!’

[Enter CLYTEMNESTRA from the door of the tent.45]

CLYTEMNESTRA: Son of Nereus’ divine child, I heard your words indoors and have come out in front of the house. [820]

ACHILLES: By all that’s modest, who on earth is this lady I see, so blessed with beauty?

CLYTEMNESTRA: It is no wonder that you do not know me, since we have never met; I applaud your respect for modesty.

ACHILLES: Who are you? Why have you come to the gathering of the Greeks, a woman to men fenced with shields?

CLYTEMNESTRA: I am Leda’s daughter, Clytemnestra is my name, and my husband is King Agamemnon.

ACHILLES: Well answered, brief and to the point! [He turns as if to go.] But it is not right that I should converse with women. [830]

CLYTEMNESTRA: Wait – why do you run away? Clasp your right hand in mine in token of a happy marriage!

ACHILLES: What are you saying? Clasp my hand in yours? I would feel ashamed before Agamemnon, if I touched what I have no right to touch!

CLYTEMNESTRA: You have a perfect right, son of the sea-goddess, Nereus’ child, as you are about to marry my daughter!

ACHILLES: What marriage is this? I am speechless, lady. Is some delusion causing you to speak so strangely?

CLYTEMNESTRA: It is natural for men to be embarrassed when [840] they see new relatives and think of marriage.

ACHILLES: I have never courted your daughter, lady, and no talk of marriage has reached me from the sons of Atreus.

CLYTEMNESTRA: How can this be? You may well puzzle over my words, for your own fill me with wonder.

ACHILLES: Wonder indeed; but together we can puzzle this out. We are both equally deceived in what we say.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Am I the victim of some monstrous hoax? I am in search of a marriage that does not exist, it seems! This fills me with shame!

ACHILLES: Perhaps someone has played a trick on both of us. [850] Think nothing of it. Do not let it upset you.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Goodbye; I can no longer look you properly in the eye, now that I have been turned into a liar and humiliated.

ACHILLES: Goodbye to you also; I go to find your husband inside the house here.

[The old SERVANT of Agamemnon is heard calling out from inside.]

OLD MAN: Stranger, born of Aeacus’ line, wait!46 It’s you I mean, the son of the goddess, and you, Leda’s daughter!

ACHILLES: Who is it that calling from behind these half-opened doors? What fear there is in his voice!

OLD MAN [peering out and half-emerging]: A slave, and little pride it gives me; fortune does not permit it.

ACHILLES: Who is your master? Not I; my property is separate from Agamemnon’s.

OLD MAN: I belong to this lady who stands before the house. [860] She received me from Tyndareus, her father.

ACHILLES: Here I stand; say what reason you have for holding me back. What do you wish to say?

OLD MAN: Are the two of you quite alone at the entrance here?

ACHILLES: Speak, for we alone will hear; but come out of the king’s house!

[Enter the old SERVANT of Agamemnon.]

OLD MAN: O Fortune and my own foresight, save the ones I want saved!

ACHILLES: This speech of yours keeps us waiting: you shrink from saying what you mean.

[The SERVANT kneels to take hold of CLYTEMNESTRA’S right hand.]

CLYTEMNESTRA: You have my protection – do not hesitate if you want to tell me anything.

OLD MAN: Well, then, you know me, the kind of man I am, how loyal a servant to you and your children!

CLYTEMNESTRA: I know that for many a year you have been one of my household retainers.

OLD MAN: And that King Agamemnon received me as part of your dowry?

CLYTEMNESTRA: You accompanied me to Argos and have been mine ever since. [870]

OLD MAN: It’s true; and it’s your interests I care about, more than your husband’s.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Well, now’s the time to uncover the secret message you have for me.

OLD MAN: Your daughter is going to die, and her own father with his own hand will do the deed!

CLYTEMNESTRA: What do you mean? What an abominable suggestion, old man! You have lost your senses!

OLD MAN: He means to cut the poor girl’s white throat with a sword.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Oh, what misery I feel! Has my husband gone mad, then?

OLD MAN: He has his wits, except where you and your daughter are concerned; that’s where sanity has left him.

CLYTEMNESTRA: But why? What angry spirit is driving him to this?

OLD MAN: An oracle, so Calchas says, so that the army may set out.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Where are they bound? O pity me, pity the [880] one her father intends to kill!

OLD MAN: For the palace of Dardanus, to win back Menelaus’ Helen.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Then it was fated that Iphigenia’s life should be the price for Helen’s return?

OLD MAN: Just so; her father is going to sacrifice your child to Artemis.

CLYTEMNESTRA: And the marriage with which he brought me from home, what was the point of that story?

OLD MAN: He wanted you to bring your child here, happy at the prospect of her becoming Achilles’ bride.

CLYTEMNESTRA: O daughter, you have come to meet destruction, you and your mother also!

OLD MAN: It is pitiful, what you both have to endure; Agamemnon has contrived a monstrous act.

CLYTEMNESTRA: I am ruined! Ah, the pain! No more can I staunch the flow of these tears!

OLD MAN: If the loss of a child is matter for grief, let the tears flow.

CLYTEMNESTRA: But where do you say you learned this, old [890] man? How did this knowledge reach you?

OLD MAN: I was sent on my way with a letter for you, one that concerned the earlier one he wrote.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Did it forbid me to bring my daughter to her death or reinforce the instruction?

OLD MAN: It said you should not bring her; in that hour, it happened, your husband had returned to his senses.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Then how was it that, if you had this letter, you failed to deliver it into my hands?

OLD MAN: Menelaus took it from me. He is responsible for this sorry situation.

CLYTEMNESTRA: O child of Nereus’ daughter, son of Peleus, do you hear this?

ACHILLES: I hear it, and know your misery, but my own part in this vexes me indeed.

CLYTEMNESTRA: They mean to kill my daughter, and marriage to you was the trap they set!

ACHILLES: I, too, blame your husband; my anger is twofold.

CLYTEMNESTRA: It will cause me no shame to fall at your knees,47 for I am mortal and a goddess is your mother. This is [900] no time for me to show pride, and where should I devote my energy if not for my child’s sake?

Son of the goddess, champion my misfortune and hers, the maiden who was called your wife – falsely, yes, but protect us nonetheless! For you I put a garland on her hair, and I escorted her to be your bride, but now it is to the sacrificial knife I bring her. The disgrace of not defending her will fall on your head; for though you did not marry her, yet at any rate you were called the poor girl’s loving husband.

By your beard, by your right hand, by your mother – it is your name has ruined me, and your name that should protect me – I have no other altar where I can seek refuge except [910] your knees, and no friend stands at my side. Agamemnon’s conduct you have heard of, his cruelty and lack of any scruple. And here I have come, as you see, a woman among an army of sailors who lack discipline and have the boldness for any wicked deed, but can be of service when they will.48 If you have the courage to offer us your protection, we are saved; if not, we are not.

CHORUS-LEADER: Motherhood is a formidable thing, and it casts a powerful spell. All mothers possess this trait in common: they will endure any labour for their children’s sake.

ACHILLES: My anger rises49 high and far. But I know how to exercise restraint in grieving at misfortune and rejoicing in [920] success. Such mortals show true judgement in their thinking: they will pass through life wisely. There are times when it is pleasant not to show too much wisdom, and times when it is helpful to have good sense. Now, I was reared in the house of Cheiron, a most pious man, and I learned to be straightforward in my dealings with people. As regards the sons of Atreus, I will obey them if their leadership is honourable; if it departs from honour, I will not obey. Here and in Troy I [930] will keep my nature free, and do my utmost to honour Ares with my spear.

But you, lady, have been outrageously treated by those closest to you. I give you the tribute of my pity, as much as lies in a young warrior to bestow. Never, now that she has been named as mine, shall your daughter be slaughtered by her father! I will not let your husband play tricks with Achilles! My very name, though it never raised the sword, will bring death to your daughter. And your husband is the cause. My [940] body is no longer pure, if because of me and my marriage this girl is to die, suffering a terrible, unendurable end, shamefully dishonoured past imagining.

I am, it seems, the basest of the Greeks, I am nothing, and Menelaus is a proper man; I am not Peleus’ son but some fiend’s, if, to please your husband, my name is to commit murder. No, by Nereus who was reared in the watery waves, sire of Thetis who gave me birth, king Agamemnon shall not [950] lay hands on your daughter, not even a finger, so as to touch her robes! Or else Sipylus, that barbarian fortification where our generals’ family has its origin, will be held in high honour, and the name of Phthia nowhere spoken on men’s lips. Prophet Calchas shall rue the day he offers up his barley-cakes and lustral water! Who is he, your prophet? A man who tells a few truths and a lot of lies when he is in luck, and when he isn’t, counts for nothing.

It is not for the sake of marriage that I have said this50[960] countless girls compete to have me as their husband. No, King Agamemnon has insulted me. He should have asked my permission to use my name to entrap this girl. It was my name above all as the bridegroom that persuaded Clytemnestra to give her daughter in marriage. I would have given the Greeks my name, if the voyage to Troy depended upon it; I would not have refused to further the common good of all my comrades. But, as it is, I count for nothing; the commanders do not care whether they treat me well or badly. My sword shall soon know, when I tarnish it with someone’s life-blood before we ever reach the Trojans – any man who tries to take [970] your daughter from me.

Do not be troubled. You see in me a god strong to save, though I am not one; but I will yet prove to be one.

CHORUS-LEADER: Son of Peleus, your words do honour to yourself and to the goddess of the sea, a power whom we revere.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Ah, how can I praise you with words that do not exceed the mark or fall short and so lose your goodwill? Good men feel a certain distaste for those who praise them, if their compliments go too far. I am ashamed to burden [980] you with piteous appeals when mine is a personal affliction; this malady I suffer does not vex you. And yet it is a fine sight when a good man assists the unfortunate, far removed though he be from their problems. Pity me: my sufferings are pitiful. First, I thought I would have you as a son-in-law but I hoped in vain. Moreover, perhaps my child’s death may prove an omen for your own marriage, when it comes, and you must guard against this. But your first words were well said, as were your last: if it is your wish, my child shall be [990] saved.

Do you want her to clasp your knees as a suppliant would? This does not become a maiden, but, if you so decide, she will come forth, with modesty and frankness in her looks. But if you will extend me the same kindness without her presence, let her stay indoors; her manner is reserved and proud. But still, as far as possible, entreaty must prevail.

ACHILLES: Do not bring your child into my sight, lady; I have no wish to be criticized by men without feeling. An army gathered from every source, untroubled by home cares, loves [1000] foul gossip and slander. In any case, whether you come as suppliants or not, it will make no difference to your success; my one supreme challenge is to save you from danger. Be sure of one thing: I will not speak falsely: if I am guilty of lying or deluding you to no purpose, may I die. But may I be spared death, if I save the girl.

CLYTEMNESTRA: May you be blessed for constantly helping those in distress!

ACHILLES: Listen to me now, so that our enterprise may prosper.

[1010] CLYTEMNESTRA: Why tell me this? I must listen to you.

ACHILLES: Let us persuade her father to adopt a better frame of mind.

CLYTEMNESTRA: He is something of a coward and fears the army too much.

ACHILLES: But arguments overthrow fears.

CLYTEMNESTRA: It is a cold hope; but tell me what I must do.

ACHILLES: Beg him first not to kill the child; if he resists, you must come to me. If you succeed in your request, there is no need for me to intervene; your safety is assured. I shall be on better terms with my friend, and the army [1020] would not blame me, if I resolved this matter by deliberation rather than by force. If things are resolved well, and turn out as you and your loved ones want, you will succeed even without me.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Your words are full of sense; I must act as you think best. If, however, I fail in any of my plan, where shall I see you again? Where am I to go in my misery to find your protecting hand?

ACHILLES: I shall keep watch for you where I am most needed. We don’t want you to be seen rushing distraught through the crowd of Greek soldiers. You must not disgrace the house of [1030] your ancestors. Tyndareus does not merit the abuse of men’s tongues; his name is great among the Greeks.

CLYTEMNESTRA: So be it; give your orders; I must be your servant. If the gods are intelligent,51 then, being a just man, you will find them gracious; if they are not, why should we exert ourselves?

[ACHILLES leaves; CLYTEMNESTRA re-enters the tent.]

CHORUS [Strophe]: What was the melody that Hymenaeus52 raised on the Libyan flute, to the strains of the dance-loving lyre and reedy pipes, that day when the Pierian maids with lovely hair, beating time [1040] on the earth with gold-sandalled feet, came over Pelion to the wedding of Peleus, where the gods held feast? With tuneful airs that echoed in the Centaurs’ mountain haunts and the woodlands of Pelion they sang the praises of Thetis and Aeacus’ son. And the scion of Dard-anus, Phrygian Ganymede,53 beloved darling of Zeus’ couch, was [1050] there to draw the wine-libation from bowls in cups of gold, while Nereus’ fifty daughters celebrated the marriage in dance, whirling in a maze of circles upon the gleaming sand.

[Antistrophe:] And with staffs of pine, and heads wreathed in greenery, there came to the feast of the gods and mixing-bowl of Bacchus the troop of mounted Centaurs. Loud was the cry they made: [1060] ‘Daughter of Nereus, the prophet who is skilled in Phoebus’ lore, Cheiron, has proclaimed that you will bear a son to be a great light to Thessaly. He shall come to the land of Priam with the spears and shields of his Myrmidons, to destroy that famous land by fire, and [1070] shall be furnished with a suit of armour for his body,54 weaponry of gold fashioned by Hephaestus, that he shall wear as a gift from his goddess mother, Thetis, who gave him birth.’ Then did the gods bless the nuptials of the first of Nereus’ noble daughters, and the wedding of Peleus.

[Epode:] But your head, rich in lovely hair, the Greeks will [1080] wreathe like a flawless heifer’s, a dappled beast that has come from its rocky cave in the mountains; a human throat they will make run red with blood. Not with a shepherd’s pipe were you reared, or amid the whistling of herdsmen, but in your mother’s home, to be adorned as a bride for one of Inachus’ sons to wed!

Where can the face of Modesty, the face of Virtue, prevail, when [1090] Godlessness holds sway, and mortals put Virtue behind them, paying her no regard, when Lawlessness controls laws, and men make no common effort to keep heaven’s anger at bay?


CLYTEMNESTRA: I have come out of the house on the look-out for my husband, who has left his quarters and has been [1100] absent a long while. My poor child is in tears; all the different notes of lamentation pour from her lips, for she has heard of the death her father plans. I spoke of him and here he comes – Agamemnon approaches, who will soon be exposed for his wicked plots against his own child!

[AGAMEMNON enters.]

AGAMEMNON: Daughter of Leda, it is timely that I find you outside the house; I wish to tell you, away from the girl, things a bride ought not to hear.

CLYTEMNESTRA: What seems to you so urgent at this time?

AGAMEMNON: Bring the child out of the house to join her [1110] father. The lustral water is prepared and ready, and the cakes of barley to throw on the purifying fire, as are the heifers that must die for the goddess before the wedding, their nostrils spouting dark blood for Artemis.55

CLYTEMNESTRA [aside, as she moves away to the door]: Your words sound well, but your actions – I cannot bring myself to praise them. Daughter, come outside – you know, in any case, your father’s intentions – take your brother Orestes under your cloak, child, and bring him out! [She turns and addresses AGAMEMNON, as IPHIGENIA enters with ORESTES:] Look, [1120] here she comes, obedient to your will! In all things now I will speak for her as well as for myself.

AGAMEMNON: Child, why do you weep? Are you no longer glad to see me? Why do you stare at the ground and keep your cloak before your eyes?

CLYTEMNESTRA: Ah! Where am I to begin my tale of woes? I may start with any one of them; first, last, middle – they’re all as grim as the rest!

AGAMEMNON: What is this? How you all combine to show me faces of confusion and despair!

CLYTEMNESTRA: Answer whatever I ask you, husband, as a man of honour should.

AGAMEMNON: You need not instruct me; I am willing to be questioned! [1130]

CLYTEMNESTRA: This child – your daughter, and mine – do you intend to kill her?

AGAMEMNON: Oh! What cruel words! These suspicions do you no honour!

CLYTEMNESTRA: Calm yourself; answer me that first question.

AGAMEMNON: You’ll get a reasonable answer if you ask reasonable questions!

CLYTEMNESTRA: One question is all I ask you; answer this and this alone.

AGAMEMNON: O sovereign destiny, chance and my evil fate!

CLYTEMNESTRA: My evil fate as well, and this girl’s – three evil fates in one!

AGAMEMNON: How are you wronged?

CLYTEMNESTRA: You ask me this? That brain of yours has little sense in it!

AGAMEMNON: I am ruined! My deception has been exposed! [1140]

CLYTEMNESTRA: I know it all. I have learned what you intend to do to me; your very silence is a confession – and these sighs. Spare yourself the effort of a lengthy speech!

AGAMEMNON: See, I am silent; why should I add shamelessness to my misfortunes by telling lies?

CLYTEMNESTRA: Then listen; I shall speak plainly, no longer dealing in riddles or obfuscations.

Firstly, let me make this my first charge against you:56 you married me against my will and took me by force, after you had killed my former husband, Tantalus. You tore my infant [1150] child rudely from my breast and dashed his brains out on your floor. The twin sons of Zeus, my brothers, rode against you in war, resplendent on their horses, but you turned suppliant and won the protection of my old father, Tyndareus. Next you gained me as your wife.

As such, I was reconciled to you, and you will testify that I was a blameless wife to you and your house; chaste in my [1160] conduct, I brought honour to your halls, so that you entered with joy and left a happy man. It’s a rare catch for a man to find such a wife; to have a bad one is common enough. I gave birth to three daughters and presented you with this boy, besides; one of these you cruelly mean to take from me. And if you are asked why you intend to kill her, tell me, what will your answer be? Or must I say it for you? So that Menelaus may have Helen. A fine price to pay for a woman of no morals – one’s own child! We use what we love dearly to buy what [1170] we loathe.

Come, if you go to war,57 leaving me at home, and spend a long time away on campaign, what feelings do you suppose I will have back at home? When I go through her chambers and see them vacant, vacant every chair, and sit on my own with tears for company, chanting an endless dirge for her: ‘He destroyed you, child, the father who sired you, himself and no one else the killer, and by no other man’s hands. [You] were the price he paid on departure, [so as to bring Helen [1180] back] to her home.’58 No great excuse is now needed for me and the daughters you left at home to give you the welcome back that you deserve. In heaven’s name do not compel me to play the wicked wife by being wicked yourself!

Now then, when you sacrifice your child here, what prayers will you voice? What blessing will you ask of the gods as you butcher your daughter? A sorry homecoming to match the shameful way you left your home? What blessing is it right that I should ask for you? We would hardly be crediting the [1190] gods with intelligence if we wish murderers well! Will you embrace your children on your return to Argos? The gods would not permit it; which of your offspring will meet your eye, accepting your embrace only to be killed?

Did you give any thought to this, or were you concerned only to parade your sceptre and play the general? You should have made this speech to the Greeks, an honourable one: ‘Men of Greece, is it your wish to sail against the land of the Trojans? Then decide by lot whose child must die.’ That would have been an equitable solution, not that you should select your own daughter as a victim for sacrifice and give her to the Greeks, or that Menelaus should kill Hermione for her [1200] mother’s sake, though the quarrel is his. But now it is I, the woman who has been loyal to your bed, who am to lose my child, while that criminal will keep her daughter in Sparta under her roof, and be happy!

Answer me if there is any point here I have misrepresented; but if my words are true, then do not kill your daughter and mine, and you will show sense.

CHORUS-LEADER: Do as she says! Honour requires that you join her in saving the child, Agamemnon; no one on earth will speak against it. [1210]

IPHIGENIA: If I had the eloquence of Orpheus,59 Father, charming rocks to follow me at my song and bewitching with my words whoever I pleased, I would have taken that course. But as it is, I will offer the only art I possess, my tears; that is within my power. Like a suppliant’s branch I press against your knees this body of mine that this woman bore to you; do not destroy me before my time! It is sweet to gaze on the light; do not force me to see the underworld! I was the first to call you father, as you first called me daughter; I was the [1220] first to hug your knees, to give loving caresses and receive them in turn. These were your words at that time: ‘O my child, shall I see you happy in some husband’s home, alive and blooming to bring me honour?’ Then I would reply, my hand clinging to your beard as now it clasps you, ‘What state shall I find you in? Shall I welcome you into my home with loving hospitality, father, when you are old? Shall I make you a proper return for the effort and care you spent on my upbringing?’ [1230]

These words I keep in my memory but you have forgotten them; your wish is to kill me. Do not, I beg you by Pelops, by your father Atreus, by my mother here, whose former birth-pains have now returned to cause her agonies a second time! What have I to do with the marriage of Alexander and Helen? Why must I perish for his coming to Sparta, father? Look at me – give me a glance, a kiss! Let me have this at least as a memory of you when I die, if my words fail to [1240] persuade you.

Brother, you may be no strong ally to your loved ones, but still, share your tears with mine, and beg our father humbly not to let your sister die! [The child wails.] Even infants are aware of suffering. See, Father, he does not speak but begs you just the same!

Oh, hear my appeal! Take pity on my young life! Yes, by your beard we beseech you, both loving you well, the one a fledgling still, the other full grown. I will win my case by summing it all up in one plea: the greatest joy for mortals is [1250] to look upon the light of this world; the nether world is nothing. Mad is the man who prays for death; a sorry life is better than a noble death.

CHORUS-LEADER: O cruel Helen, because of you and your marriage a great trial faces the sons of Atreus and their children!

AGAMEMNON: I love my children and understand what stirs pity and what does not; otherwise I would lack all reason. It is a terrible thing for me to carry out this act, my wife, and terrible if I do not;60 it is the same for me in either case.

[To both CLYTEMNESTRA and IPHIGENIA:] You see the size of this naval preparation, the scores of Greek warriors, [1260] armed in bronze, for whom there will be no voyage to conquer Ilium’s towers and level Troy’s glorious foundations, unless I sacrifice you as Calchas the prophet prescribes. A passionate desire rages in the Greek army to sail with all speed against that foreign land and to teach them not to carry off the wives of Greeks. These men will kill my young daughters in Argos, as well as you and me, if I ignore the command of the gods’ oracle. It is not Menelaus who has turned me into a slave, my child, nor his desire that guides my actions, but [1270] Greece: to her, whether I wish it or not, I am bound to offer you in sacrifice; against this I have no power. Greece must be free, as far as you and I, my child, can bring it about; we are Greeks and must not let foreigners use violence against our wives and carry them off.


[CLYTEMNESTRA sings a short response to Agamemnon’s speech, then IPHIGENIA sings of her despair in a monody.]

CLYTEMNESTRA: O ladies, and you, my child, how wretched it makes me to think of your death! Your father runs away, consigning you to Hades!

IPHIGENIA: Pity me, mother! Fortune has descended on us both with the same doleful strain. No more shall I see the light, no more these [1280] rays of the sun!

Ah, ah, snow-clad glen of Phrygia,61 mountain haunt of Ida, where Priam once cast out for a deadly end the tender babe he had wrested from its mother – Paris, who was called ‘Ida’s child’, yes, ‘Ida’s child’ was he called in the city of the Phrygians.62[1290]

Would that he had never been raised as a herdsman among cattle,63 that Alexander, never given a home by you beside the shining waters where the fountains of the nymphs lie, and the meadow blooming with fresh flowers, and roses and hyacinths for goddesses to gather! There one day came Pallas, and the wily Cyprian, and Hera, and [1300] Hermes, messenger of Zeus; the Cyprian prided herself on the desire she inspires, Pallas on her spear, and Hera on her royal union with Lord Zeus. So to that loathsome judgement they came, to that dispute over beauty that would bring death to me but glory to the maidens of Greece, as Artemis accepted the sacrifice for the voyage to Ilium. But [1310] the man who fathered me in my misery is gone, Mother, o Mother; he has left me alone and forsaken! Oh what a wretch am I! How cursed, cursed was the day I set eyes on that monster, Helen! My blood is being spilled, I perish at my father’s hands – unholy the deed, unholy the doer!

I wish that Aulis here had never welcomed into this anchorage the sterns of bronze-beaked ships, the fleet to speed the army to Troy, [1320] and that Zeus had not blown winds on the Euripus to oppose their sailing! Many and varied are the breezes he sends to mortals: some have joy in raising the sail, some sorrow, some hardship; one ship speeds from port, another’s sails are furled, another waits for wind.

Born to sorrow, then, is the race of man that lives for a day, born [1330] to sorrow. Destiny is unhappiness for men to discover. Ah, great is the suffering, great the sorrow that Tyndareus’ daughter brings upon the Greeks!

CHORUS-LEADER: I pity you for the grimness of your fate; it is one that should never have befallen you.

IPHIGENIA: O Mother, my Mother,64 I see a crowd of men approaching!

CLYTEMNESTRA: It is the son of the goddess, Achilles, my child, for whom you came here.

[1340] IPHIGENIA: Open up the house, servants! I want to hide!

CLYTEMNESTRA: Why are you running away, child?

IPHIGENIA: I am ashamed to see this Achilles.


IPHIGENIA: The miserable outcome of this marriage embarrasses me.

CLYTEMNESTRA: You cannot afford such fastidiousness in your situation. Stay where you are. It is no time to stand on our dignity if we are to be saved.

[ACHILLES enters with attendants who carry his armour.]

ACHILLES: Poor lady, daughter of Leda …

CLYTEMNESTRA: Your words are true!

ACHILLES: … there is fearful shouting among the Greeks …

CLYTEMNESTRA: What shouting? Tell me!

ACHILLES: … about your daughter …

CLYTEMNESTRA: Your words are an omen of evil.

ACHILLES: … that she must be sacrificed.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Does no one speak against this?

ACHILLES: I myself got into some danger …

CLYTEMNESTRA: What danger, sir?

ACHILLES: … of being pelted with stones.

[1350] CLYTEMNESTRA: Not for trying to save my girl?

ACHILLES: Exactly that.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Who would have dared to lay a finger on you?

ACHILLES: All the Greeks.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Were your Myrmidon warriors not there to protect you?

ACHILLES: They were the first to turn against me.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Then we are ruined indeed, my child!

ACHILLES: They called me a slave to my hopes of marriage.

CLYTEMNESTRA: And what answer did you give?

ACHILLES: That they should not kill the bride who was meant to be mine …

CLYTEMNESTRA: Quite right!

ACHILLES: … who was promised to me by her father.

CLYTEMNESTRA: The man who sent for her from Argos!

ACHILLES: But their roars beat me down.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Yes, a mob is a curse and a fearful thing.

ACHILLES: Even so, I will defend you!

CLYTEMNESTRA: You will fight, one against many?

ACHILLES: Do you see these men who bear my armour?

CLYTEMNESTRA: May your generous spirit be rewarded!

ACHILLES: I will have my reward.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Then will my child no longer be slaughtered? [1360]

ACHILLES: Not with my consent.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Will someone come forward to lay hands on the girl?

ACHILLES: Men past numbering, with Odysseus at their head.

CLYTEMNESTRA: You mean the son of Sisyphus?

ACHILLES: None other.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Acting on his own initiative, or at the army’s bidding?

ACHILLES: They may have chosen him, but he is willing enough!

CLYTEMNESTRA: A wicked choice – to commit murder!

ACHILLES: But I will prevent him.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Will he seize her and lead her off, though she resists?

ACHILLES: Certainly, and by her golden hair!

CLYTEMNESTRA: What am I to do when that happens?

ACHILLES: Hold on firmly to your daughter.

CLYTEMNESTRA: If that’s what’s needed, she shall escape the knife!

ACHILLES: Yet this is what it will come to.

IPHIGENIA: Mother, you must hear what I have to say.65 This anger you feel against your husband, I see that it is pointless; [1370] when our task is impossible, resistance is hard indeed. It is right for us to praise the stranger for his zeal; but you must also see that his reputation with the army does not suffer, that he should not come to grief, while we gain no advantage.

Let me tell you what occurred to me, Mother, as I reflected. I am resolved to die; and I want to do so gloriously, banishing all ignoble thoughts from my mind. Come, Mother, consider it with me; see how right I am in this. All eyes in mighty Greece now turn to me. On me depend the voyage of the fleet and the destruction of the Phrygians; with me it lies to [1380] stop barbarians carrying off our women from prosperous Greece in days to come, should they make any such attempt, and to make them pay for the ruin of Helen when Paris abducted her. All this I will achieve by my death, and my fame as the liberator of Greece shall prove blessed. Again, it is not right that I should love life too much. You bore me to be the child of all Greeks, not yours alone.66 Countless men stand armed with shields, countless with oars in hand, who will dare to do brave deeds against the enemy and to die for Greece, now that their country has been wronged; shall my [1390] one life stand in the way of all this? Where would lie the justice in this? What argument could we offer? Consider this point as well: it is not right that this man should have to fight with all the Greeks and be killed for a woman’s sake. One man has greater claim to see the sunlight than ten thousand women.67 If it is Artemis’ will to take this life of mine, shall I, a mortal, oppose the goddess? It is impossible. I give my body to Greece. Sacrifice me, sack Troy! This will be my memorial for many an age, this my children, my marriage, my renown! It is natural that Greeks rule barbarians, Mother, not barbarians [1400] Greeks;68 the one is a race of slaves, the other free men.

CHORUS-LEADER: Young woman, you have a noble heart! It is fortune and the goddess that are at fault.

ACHILLES: Child of Agamemnon, a happy man indeed some god meant to make me, if only I won you for my wife! I envy Greece one such as you, and you a land like Greece. These are fine words you have spoken, and worthy of your country; you have given up striving against heaven’s will, that overpowers you, and have correctly judged the proper course that necessity requires. All the more do I long to have you as my bride now that I have seen into your soul; for you are truly [1410] noble. Look now, I want to do you service and to win you for my house. It will cause me pain, Thetis be my witness, if I do not fight the Greeks and save you. Consider; death is a grim and fearful thing!

IPHIGENIA: I say this without hesitation. Tyndareus’ daughter has done enough to make men fight and kill one another for her beauty’s sake; do not die on my account, sir, or take another’s life, but allow me to save Greece, if it is in my power. [1420]

ACHILLES: Ah, noble spirit!69 I can no longer argue against you, as this is your decision. Your sentiments are noble ones; why should a man not admit the truth? Nevertheless you may perhaps change your mind about this. So, to assure you of my intentions, let me speak them now: I will go and put my weapons near the altar, as I intend not to allow your death but to prevent it. You may well make use of my offer when you see the blade near your throat. I will not allow you to die through your impetuousness. I will go with these weapons to [1430] the goddess’s temple and be on the look-out for your arrival.

[Exit ACHILLES and his escort.]

IPHIGENIA: Mother, why do you weep but say nothing?

CLYTEMNESTRA: My misery gives me reason for my heart to ache.

IPHIGENIA: Enough – do not turn me into a coward! Do as I ask in this.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Then speak; I will do you no wrong, child!

IPHIGENIA: Then do not cut off a lock of your hair or dress yourself in black clothes.

CLYTEMNESTRA: What do you mean, child? When I have lost you?

IPHIGENIA: But you have not! I am saved, and through me [1440] you shall have glory!

CLYTEMNESTRA: In what way? Should I not mourn your passing?

IPHIGENIA: By no means: for a tomb will not be raised for me.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Is it not customary to honour the dead with a tomb?

IPHIGENIA: My memorial shall be the altar of the goddess who is daughter of Zeus.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Well, I shall do as you ask, child: you are right.

IPHIGENIA: I shall be fortunate: I shall be the benefactor of Greece.

CLYTEMNESTRA: What report should I give your sisters?

IPHIGENIA: Do not dress them either in black garments.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Is there any word of love from you I should give the girls?

IPHIGENIA: Bid them farewell; and make sure you bring up [1450] Orestes here as a man!

CLYTEMNESTRA: You look at him for the last time – hold him tight!

IPHIGENIA [holding Orestes close]: Darling boy, you helped your dear sister as much as you could!

CLYTEMNESTRA: Is there anything I can do in Argos to please you?

IPHIGENIA: Do not hate my father70 – he is your husband.

CLYTEMNESTRA: A terrible course must he run because of you.

IPHIGENIA: Against his will, for the sake of Greece, he ended my life.

CLYTEMNESTRA: But he used treachery; he acted without honour and brought shame on Atreus.

IPHIGENIA: Who will come to take me there before they drag me by the hair?

CLYTEMNESTRA: I will be at your side …

IPHIGENIA: No, not you – that would not be right!

CLYTEMNESTRA: … holding on to your clothes!

IPHIGENIA: Mother, oblige me in this: stay here! This is the [1460] nobler course for me and for you. Let one of my father’s attendants here escort me to Artemis’ meadow, where I shall be sacrificed.

[IPHIGENIA begins to move away from CLYTEMNESTRA.]

CLYTEMNESTRA: O my child, are you going?

IPHIGENIA: Yes, and never shall I come back.

CLYTEMNESTRA: You will leave your mother?

IPHIGENIA: Yes, as you see; we do not deserve this.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Wait – don’t abandon me!

IPHIGENIA: I forbid you to shed tears. [CLYTEMNESTRA sinks to the ground. IPHIGENIA turns to the CHORUS:] And you, young women, sing with good omen for my fortune the paean to Artemis,71 daughter of Zeus! Let the Greeks be told to keep holy silence! Let the rites commence with the sacred baskets, and the fire blaze up with the purifying barley-meal. And let [1470] my father walk round the altar from left to right. I go to give deliverance and victory to the Greeks!

[IPHIGENIA sings her last words and the CHORUS respond in song.]

Lead me on, the sacker of cities, of Ilium and of the Phrygians! Give me garlands to hang round me and bring – here is my hair to crown – fresh water for the lustral basins! Weave in the dance round her altar, round her temple, honouring Artemis, Lady Artemis the [1480] blessed! For with the blood of my sacrifice, if it must be, will I wash away the bidding of her oracle!

O holy, holy Mother, I will not give you my own tears: at the [1490] shrine is no place for tears. Ho, young women, ho! Join with me in singing the praise of Artemis who looks over the waters to Chalcis, where now in the narrow anchorage of Aulis because of me the timbers chafe with impatience. O Pelasgia, my motherland, and Mycenae, home of my youth

[1500] CHORUS: Do you call on the city of Perseus, that the Cyclopes’ hands raised with toil?

IPHIGENIA: … you reared me to be a light to Greece; I die with no complaint.

CHORUS: For glory will never leave you.

IPHIGENIA: I hail you, day that brings the light, and you, radiance of Zeus – a new life, a new state will be mine!

Farewell, welcome light!

[IPHIGENIA leaves with Agamemnon’s ATTENDANTS. CLYTEMNESTRA rises and goes inside.]

[1510] CHORUS: Hail her!72 See the sacker of cities, of Ilium and of the Phrygians, as she goes to be crowned with garlands on her head and sprinklings of lustral water, to stain the holy goddess’ altar with drops of flowing blood, when she is killed in all her loveliness and her throat cut! The dew-fresh water awaits you, and your father’s lustral bowls, [1520] and the army of the Greeks, eager to advance on Ilium’s city.

But let us celebrate the daughter of Zeus, Artemis, queen of the gods, so that a happy destiny may ensue. O Lady revered, whose wish it is to receive a human life in sacrifice, send the army of the Greeks on its way to the land of the Phrygians, to the treacherous city of Troy, and grant that Agamemnon through the might of spears may crown Greece with supreme glory, and set upon his own brows [1530] a fame that will never die!73


SECOND MESSENGER: Clytemnestra, daughter of Tyndareus, come out of the house, so that you may hear my words!


CLYTEMNESTRA: I come, hearing your voice. I am afraid in my misery and terror grips me. Are you here to bring me news of some fresh disaster to crown the present one?

MESSENGER: I wish to tell you about your daughter – wonderful and fearful news.

CLYTEMNESTRA: Then do not hesitate: speak at once!

MESSENGER: You shall learn it all, dear mistress, in plain terms. [1540] I shall tell it from the start, unless my memory stumbles anywhere and disturbs my tongue in the telling.74

When we reached the grove of Artemis, daughter of Zeus, with its flowery meadow, and brought your daughter to the mustering-point of the Greek army, at once a crowd of Greeks began to gather. When King Agamemnon saw the girl entering the grove for sacrifice, he heaved a sigh and, turning his head away, he shed tears, holding his robe in front of his eyes. [1550] She took her position next to her father and spoke as follows: ‘Father, here I am, as you asked. Willingly I give my body for my homeland, for all the land of Greece. Let them lead me to the altar of the goddess for sacrifice, if so it is ordained. As far as lies in me, I wish you all success. May your spears be crowned with victory and a safe return to your native land be yours! Therefore let no Greek lay hands upon me: without a word, and in good heart, I will offer up my throat.’ So much [1560] she said; and all who heard marvelled at the courage and virtue of the maiden.

Talthybius, whose office it was, stood forth and called for silence in the army, bidding the men guard their tongues. Then Calchas the prophet, drawing out a sharp knife from its sheath, placed it inside the gold-studded basket, and he put a garland on the girl’s head. The son of Peleus took the basket and, at the same time, the lustral bowl, and swiftly making a circuit of the goddess’ altar, he spoke: ‘O daughter of Zeus, slayer of wild beasts, spinner of your shining beams by kindly [1570] night,75 accept this sacrifice that we present to you – the army of the Greeks, together with King Agamemnon – the undefiled blood from the throat of a fair maiden. Grant that no harm may befall the fleet on its voyage, and that our spears may bring down in ruin the towers of Troy!’ The sons of Atreus and the whole army stood there, gazing at the ground. Then the priest, taking the knife, uttered a prayer and started to examine her throat for the point to strike. Bitter [1580] anguish was filling my heart,76 and I stood with head lowered.

Then suddenly there was a wonder to see. Every man heard distinctly the sound of the blow but, as to the girl, she disappeared – where to, no one knew. The priest cried out, and all the army echoed his shout, when they saw the unexpected portent sent by some god, past belief even for one who saw it: a deer was lying on the ground,77 gasping, a magnificent creature beautiful to the eye, whose blood was sprinkled all over the goddess’ altar. Then Calchas spoke – you can imagine [1590] with what joy: ‘You kings of this united army of Greeks, do you see this victim that the goddess has laid before her altar, this deer that runs the hills? She welcomes this offering as far more to her liking than the girl, so that her altar may not be defiled by noble blood. Gladly she has accepted this sacrifice, and she grants us a favourable voyage for launching our attack on Ilium. Therefore take courage, every mariner, and march off to your ship! This is the day we must leave Aulis’ hollow [1600] bay and sail over the Aegean sea.’ When the entire victim had been reduced to ashes by Hephaestus’ flames, he made the appropriate prayer, that the army should come home safe. Agamemnon sent me to tell you this news and to say what manner of fortune he has received from the gods, what undying renown he has won throughout Greece. I speak as one who was there and witnessed the event; your daughter has been wafted up to the gods – no doubt of it!

Forget your sorrow, then, and end your hostility toward [1610] your husband. The gods act in ways that mortals cannot foresee but they preserve those they love. This day has seen your daughter dead and alive.

CHORUS-LEADER: What joy to hear these words of the messenger! He says your child lives and dwells among the gods.

[CLYTEMNESTRA and the CHORUS now express their emotion in lyrics, in contrast with Agamemnon’s final words.]

CLYTEMNESTRA: My child,78 which god has stolen you? How should I address you? How say that this is not some idle tale told to comfort me, to put an end to my bitter grief for you?

CHORUS-LEADER: Here comes King Agamemnon, with this very story to tell you. [1620]


AGAMEMNON: Lady, our daughter’s fate should make us happy; she truly shares the company of the gods. Now you must take this new-born calf of ours79 and return home: the army looks to the voyage. Farewell; many a day it will be before I greet you again, returning from Troy. I wish you well.

[Exit AGAMEMNON; CLYTEMNESTRA returns into the house silently.]

CHORUS: In happiness, son of Atreus, go to the land of Phrygia, and in happiness return, having won from Troy, I pray, spoils most splendid!

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