The Story of Iphigenia in Aulis
King Agamemnon sat in his tent at Aulis, where the army of the Greeks was gathered together, being about to sail against the great city of Troy. And it was now past midnight; but the King slept not, for he was careful and troubled about many things. And he had a lamp before him, and in his hand a tablet of pine wood, whereon he wrote. But he seemed not to remain in the same mind about that which he wrote; for now he would blot out the letters, and then would write them again; and now he fastened the seal upon the tablet and then brake it. And as he did this he wept, and was like to a man distracted. But after a while he called to an old man, his attendant (the man had been given in time past by Tyndareus to his daughter, Queen Clytæmnestra), and said—
"Old man, thou knowest how Calchas the soothsayer bade me offer for a sacrifice to Artemis, who is goddess of this place, my daughter Iphigenia, saying that so only should the army have a prosperous voyage from this place to Troy, and should take the city and destroy it; and how when I heard these words I bade Talthybius the herald go throughout the army and bid them depart, every man to his own country, for that I would not do this thing; and how my brother, King Menelaüs, persuaded me so that I consented to it. Now, therefore, hearken to this, for what I am about to tell thee three men only know, namely, Calchas the soothsayer, and Menelaüs, and Ulysses, King of Ithaca. I wrote a letter to my wife the Queen, that she should send her daughter to this place, that she might be married to King Achilles; and I magnified the man to her, saying that he would in no wise sail with us unless I would give him my daughter in marriage. But now I have changed my purpose, and have written another letter after this fashion, as I will now set forth to thee,—'Daughter of Leda, send not thy child to the land of Euboea, for I will give her in marriage at another time .' "
"Aye," said the old man, "but how wilt thou deal with King Achilles? Will he not be wroth, hearing that he hath been cheated of his wife?"
"Not so," answered the King, "for we have indeed used his name, but he knoweth nothing of this marriage. And now make haste. Sit not thou down by any fountain in the woods, and suffer not thine eyes to sleep. And beware lest the chariot bearing the Queen and her daughter pass thee where the roads divide. And see that thou keep the seal upon this letter unbroken."
So the old man departed with the letter. But scarcely had he left the tent when King Menelaüs spied him and laid hands on him, taking the letter and breaking the seal. And the old man cried out—
"Help, my lord; here is one hath taken thy letter!"
Then King Agamemnon came forth from his tent, saying, "What meaneth this uproar and disputing that I hear?"
And Menelaüs answered, "Seest thou this letter that I hold in my hand?"
"I see it: it is mine. Give it to me."
"I give it not till I have read that which is written therein to all the army of the Greeks."
"Where didst thou find it?"
"I found it while I waited for thy daughter till she should come to the camp."
"What hast thou to do with that? May I not rule my own household?"
Then Menelaüs reproached his brother because he did not continue in one mind. "For first," he said, "before thou wast chosen captain of the host, thou wast all things to all men, greeting every man courteously, and taking him by the hand, and talking with him, and leaving thy doors open to any that would enter; but afterwards, being now chosen, thou wast haughty and hard of access. And next, when this trouble came upon the army, and thou wast sore afraid lest thou shouldst lose thy office, and so miss renown, didst thou not hearken to Calchas the soothsayer, and promise thy daughter for sacrifice, and send for her to the camp, making pretence of giving her in marriage to Achilles? And now thou art gone back from thy word. Surely this is an evil day for Greece, that is troubled because thou wantest wisdom."
Then answered King Agamemnon, "What is thy quarrel with me? Why blamest thou me if thou couldst not rule thy wife? And now to win back this woman, because forsooth she is fair, thou castest aside both reason and honour. And I, if I had an ill purpose, and now have changed it for that which is wiser, dost thou charge me with folly? Let them that sware the oath to Tyndareus go with thee on this errand. Why should I slay my child, and work for myself sorrow and remorse without end that thou mayest have vengeance for thy wicked wife?"
Then Menelaüs turned away in a rage, crying, "Betray me if thou wilt. I will betake myself to other counsels and other friends."
But even as he spake there came a messenger, saying, "King Agamemnon, I am come, as thou badest me, with thy daughter Iphigenia. Also her mother, Queen Clytæmnestra, is come, bringing with her her little son, Orestes. And now they are resting themselves and their horses by the side of a spring, for indeed the way is long and weary. And all the army is gathered about them, to see them and greet them. And men question much wherefore they are come, saying, 'Doth the King make a marriage for his daughter; or hath he sent for her, desiring to see her?' But I know thy purpose, my lord; wherefore we will dance and shout and make merry, for this is a happy day for the maiden."
But the King Agamemnon was sore dismayed when he knew that the Queen was come, and spake to himself, "Now what shall I say to my wife? For that she is rightly come to the marriage of her daughter who can deny? But what will she say when she knoweth my purpose? And of the maiden, what shall I say? Unhappy maiden whose bridegroom shall be death! For she will cry to me, 'Wilt thou kill me, my father?' And the little Orestes will wail, not knowing what he doeth, seeing he is but a babe. Cursed be Paris, who hath wrought this woe!"
And now King Menelaüs came back, saying that it repented him of what he had said, "For why should thy child die for me? What hath she to do with Helen? Let the army be scattered, so that this wrong be not done."
Then said King Agamemnon, "But how shall I escape from this strait? For the whole host will compel me to this deed?"
"Not so," said King Menelaüs, "if thou wilt send back the maiden to Argos."
"But what shall that profit," said the King; "for Calchas will cause the matter to be known, or Ulysses, saying that I have failed of my promise; and if I fly to Argos, they will come and destroy my city and lay waste my land. Woe is me! in what a strait am I set! But take thou care, my brother, that Clytæmnestra hear nothing of these things."
And when he had ended speaking, the Queen herself came unto the tent, riding in a chariot, having her daughter by her side. And she bade one of the attendants take out with care the caskets which she had brought for her daughter, and bade others help her daughter to alight, and herself also, and to a fourth she said that he should take the young Orestes. Then Iphigenia greeted her father, saying, "Thou hast done well to send for me, my father."
" 'Tis true and yet not true, my child."
"Thou lookest not well pleased to see me, my father."
"He that is a King and commandeth a host hath many cares."
"Put away thy cares awhile, and give thyself to me."
"I am glad beyond measure to see thee."
"Glad art thou? Then why dost thou weep?"
"I weep because thou must be long time absent from me."
"Perish all these fightings and troubles!"
"They will cause many to perish, and me most miserably of all."
"Art thou going a long journey from me, my father?"
"Aye, and thou also hast a journey to make."
"Must I make it alone, or with my mother?"
"Alone; neither father nor mother may be with thee."
"Sendest thou me to dwell elsewhere?"
"Hold thy peace: such things are not for maidens to inquire."
"Well, my father, order matters with the Phrygians, and then make haste to return."
"I must first make a sacrifice to the Gods."
" 'Tis well. The Gods should have due honour."
"Aye, and thou wilt stand close to the altar."
"Shall I lead the dances, my father?"
"O my child, how I envy thee, that thou knowest nought! And now go into the tent; but first kiss me, and give me thy hand, for thou shalt be parted from thy father for many days."
And when she was gone within, he cried, "O fair bosom and very lovely cheeks and yellow hair of my child! O city of Priam, what woe thou bringest on me! But I must say no more."
Then he turned to the Queen, and excused himself that he wept when he should rather have rejoiced for the marriage of his daughter. And when the Queen would know of the estate of the bridegroom, he told her that his name was Achilles, and that he was the son of Peleus by his wife Thetis, the daughter of Nereus of the sea, and that he dwelt in Phthia. And when she inquired of the time of the marriage he said that it should be in the same moon, on the first lucky day; and as to the place, that it must be where the bridegroom was sojourning, that is to say, in the camp. "And I," said the King, "will give the maiden to her husband."
"But where," answered the Queen, "is it your pleasure that I should be?"
"Thou must return to Argos, and care for the maidens there."
"Sayest thou that I must return? Who then will hold up the torch for the bride?"
"I will do that which is needful. For it is not seemly that thou shouldst be present where the whole army is gathered together."
"Aye, but it is seemly that a mother should give her daughter in marriage."
"But the maidens at home should not be left alone."
"They are well kept in their chambers."
"Be persuaded, lady."
"Not so: thou shalt order that which is without the house, but I that which is within."
But now came Achilles, to tell the King that the army was growing impatient, saying that, unless they might sail speedily to Troy, they would return each man to his home. And when the Queen heard his name—for he had said to the attendant, "Tell thy master that Achilles, the son of Peleus, would speak with him"—she came forth from the tent and greeted him, and bade him give her his right hand. And when the young man was ashamed (for it was not counted a seemly thing that men should speak with women) she said—
"But why art thou ashamed, seeing that thou art about to marry my daughter?"
And he answered, "What sayest thou, lady? I cannot speak for wonder at thy words."
"Often men are ashamed when they see new friends, and the talk is of marriage."
"But, lady, I never was suitor for thy daughter. Nor have the sons of Atreus said aught to me of the matter."
But the Queen was beyond measure astonished, and cried, "Now this is shameful indeed, that I should seek a bridegroom for my daughter in such fashion."
But when Achilles would have departed, to inquire of the King what this thing might mean, the old man that had at the first carried the letter came forth, and bade him stay. And when he had assurance that he should receive no harm for what he should tell them, he unfolded the whole matter. And when the Queen had heard it, she cried to Achilles, "O son of Thetis of the sea! help me now in this strait, and help this maiden that hath been called thy bride, though this indeed be false. 'Twill be a shame to thee if such wrong be done under thy name; for it is thy name that hath undone us. Nor have I any altar to which I may flee, nor any friend but thee only in this army."
Then Achilles made answer, "Lady, I learnt from Chiron, who was the most righteous of men, to be true and honest. And if the sons of Atreus govern according to right, I obey them; and if not, not. Know, then, that thy daughter, seeing that she hath been given, though but in word only, to me, shall not be slain by her father. For if she so die, then shall my name be brought to great dishonour, seeing that through it thou hast been persuaded to come with her to this place. This sword shall see right soon whether any one will dare to take this maiden from me."
And now King Agamemnon came forth, saying that all things were ready for the marriage, and that they waited for the maiden, not knowing that the whole matter had been revealed to the Queen. Then she said—
"Tell me now, dost thou purpose to slay thy daughter and mine?" And when he was silent, not knowing, indeed, what to say, she reproached him with many words, that she had been a loving and faithful wife to him, for which he made her an ill recompense slaying her child.
And when she had made an end of speaking, the maiden came forth from the tent, holding the young child Orestes in her arms, and cast herself upon her knees before her father, and besought him, saying, "I would, my father, that I had the voice of Orpheus, who made even the rocks to follow him, that I might persuade thee; but now all that I have I give, even these tears. O my father, I am thy child; slay me not before my time. This light is sweet to look upon. Drive me not from it to the land of darkness. I was the first to call thee father; and the first to whom thou didst say 'my child.' And thou wouldst say to me, 'Some day, my child, I shall see thee a happy wife in the home of a rich husband.' And I would answer, 'And I will receive thee with all love when thou art old, and pay thee back for all the benefits thou hast done unto me.' This I indeed remember, but thou forgettest for thou art ready to slay me. Do it not, I beseech thee, by Pelops thy grandsire, and Atreus thy father, and this my mother, who travailed in childbirth of me, and now travaileth again in her sorrow. And thou, O my brother, though thou art but a babe, help me. Weep with me; beseech thy father that he slay not thy sister. O my father, though he be silent, yet, indeed, he beseecheth thee. For his sake, therefore, yea, and for mine own, have pity upon me, and slay me not."
But the King was sore distracted, knowing not what he should say or do, for a terrible necessity was upon him, seeing that the army could not make their journey to Troy unless this deed should first be done. And while he doubted came Achilles, saying that there was a horrible tumult in the camp, the men crying out that the maiden must be sacrificed, and that when he would have stayed them from their purpose, the people had stoned him with stones, and that his own Myrmidons helped him not; but rather were the first to assail him. Nevertheless, he said that he would fight for the maiden, even to the utmost; and that there were faithful men who would stand with him and help him. But when the maiden heard these words, she stood forth and said, "Hearken to me, my mother. Be not wroth with my father, for we cannot fight against fate. Also we must take thought that this young man suffer not, for his help will avail nought, and he himself will perish. Therefore I am resolved to die; for all Greece looketh to me; for without me the ships cannot make their voyage, nor the city of Troy be taken. Thou didst bear me, my mother, not for thyself only, but for this whole people. Wherefore I will give myself for them. Offer me for an offering; and let the Greeks take the city of Troy, for this shall be my memorial for ever."
Then said Achilles, "Lady, I should count myself most happy if the Gods would grant thee to be my wife. For I love thee well, when I see thee how noble thou art. And if thou wilt, I will carry thee to my home. And I doubt not that I shall save thee, though all the men of Greece be against me."
But the maiden answered, "What I say, I say with full purpose. Nor will I that any man should die for me, but rather will I save this land of Greece."
And Achilles said, "If this be thy will, lady, I cannot say nay, for it is a noble thing that thou doest."
Nor was the maiden turned from her purpose though her mother besought her with many tears. So they that were appointed led her to the grove of Artemis, where there was built an altar, and the whole army of the Greeks gathered about it. But when the King saw her going to her death he covered his face with his mantle; but she stood by him, and said, "I give my body with a willing heart to die for my country and for the whole land of Greece. I pray the Gods that ye may prosper, and win the victory in this war, and come back safe to your homes. And now let no man touch me, for I will offer my neck to the sword with a good heart."
And all men marvelled to see the maiden of what a good courage she was. Then the herald Talthybius stood in the midst and commanded silence to the people; and Calchas the soothsayer put a garland about her head, and drew a sharp knife from his sheath. And all the army stood regarding the maiden and the priest and the altar.
Then there befell a marvellous thing. For Calchas struck with his knife, for the sound of the stroke all men heard, but the maiden was not there. Whither she had gone no one knew; but in her stead there lay gasping a great hind, and all the altar was red with the blood thereof.
And Calchas said, "See ye this, men of Greece, how the goddess hath provided this offering in the place of the maiden, for she would not that her altar should be defiled with innocent blood. Be of good courage, therefore, and depart every man to his ship, for this day ye shall sail across the sea to the land of Troy."
But how it fared with the maiden may be read in the story of "Iphigenia among the Taurians."