Tragedies of Euripides (Way)/Iphigeneia at Aulis
IPHIGENEIA AT AULIS.
When the hosts of Hellas were mustered at Aulis beside the narrow sea, with purpose to sail against Troy, they were hindered from departing thence by the wrath of Artemis, who suffered no favouring wind to blow. Then, when they enquired concerning this, Kalchas the prophet proclaimed that the anger of the Goddess would not be appeased save by the sacrifice of Iphigeneia, eldest daughter of Agamemnon, captain of the host. Now she abode yet with her mother in Mycenæ; but the king wrote a lying letter to her mother, bidding her send her daughter to Aulis, there to be wedded to Achilles. All this did Odysseus devise, but Achilles knew nothing thereof. When the time drew near that she should come, Agamemnon repented him sorely. And herein is told how he sought to undo the evil, and of the maiden's coming, and how Achilles essayed to save her, and how she willingly offered herself for Hellas' sake, and of the marvel that befell at the sacrifice.
Agamemnon, captain of the host.
Old Servant of Agamemnon.
Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon, husband of Helen.
Klytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon.
Iphigeneia, daughter of Agamemnon.
Achilles, son of the sea-goddess Thetis.
Orestes, infant son of Agamemnon, attendants, and guards of the chiefs.
Scene:—In the Greek Camp at Aulis, outside the tent of Agamemnon.
IPHIGENEIA AT AULIS.
Night. A lamp burning in Agamemnon's tent. Old Servant waiting without. Agamemnon appears at entrance of tent.
Ancient, before this tent come stand.
Old Servant (coming forward).
I come. What purpose hast thou in hand,
Agamemnon, my king?
And wilt thou not hasten?
For the need of mine eld scant sleep provideth—
This eld o'er mine eyelids like vigilant sentry is placed. 5
What star in the heaven's height yonder rideth?
Sirius: nigh to the Pleiads seven
He is sailing yet through the midst of heaven.
Sooth, voice there is none, nor slumberous cheep
Of bird, nor whisper of sea; and deep 10
Is the hush of the winds on Euripus that sleep.
Yet without thy tent, Agamemnon my lord,
Why dost thou pace thus feverishly?
Over Aulis yonder is night's peace poured:
They are hushed which along the walls keep ward.
Come, pass we within.
I envy thee,
Ancient, and whoso unperilled may pace
Life's pathway unheeded and unrenowned:
But little I envy the high in place.
Yet the life of these is glory-crowned. 20
Ah, still with the glory is peril bound.
Sweetly ambition tempteth, I trow;
Yet is it neighbour to sore disquiet.
For the Gods' will clasheth with thy will now,
Wrecking thy life: by men that riot
With divers desires, whom ye cannot content,
Now is the web of thy life's work rent.
Nay, in a king I love not this repining.
Atreus begat thee, Agamemnon, not
Only to bask in days all cloudless-shining: 30
Needs must be joy and sorrow in thy lot.
Mortal thou art: though marred be thy designing,
Still to fulfilment is the Gods' will brought.
Thou the star-glimmer of thy lamp hast litten,
Writest a letter—in thine hand yet grasped,—
Then thou erasest that which thou hast written,
Sealest, and breakest bands as soon as clasped;
Castest to earth the pine-slip, ever streaming 40
Tears from thine eyes; nor lacketh anything
Of madness in thy gestures aimless-seeming.
What is thy grief, thy strange affliction, king?
Come, let me share thy story: to the loyal
Thou wilt reveal it, to the true and tried
Whom, at thy bridal, with the dower royal
Tyndareus sent to wait upon thy bride.
Three daughters Leda, child of Thestius, bare,
Phœbê, and Klytemnestra mine own wife, 50
And Helen. Wooing this last, princes came
In fortune foremost in all Hellas-land.
With fearful threatenings breathed they murder, each
Against his rivals, if he won her not.
Then sore perplexed was Tyndareus her sire, 55
How, giving or refusing, he should 'scape
Shipwreck: and this thing came into his mind,
That each to each the suitors should make oath,
And clasp right hands, and with burnt sacrifice
Should pour drink-offerings, and swear to this:— 60
Whose wife soever Tyndareus' child should be,
Him to defend: if any from her home
Stole her and fled, and thrust her lord aside,
To march against him, and to raze his town,
Hellene or alien, with their mailed array. 65
So when they had pledged them thus, and cunningly
Old Tyndareus had by craft outwitted them,
He let his daughter midst the suitors choose
Him unto whom Love's sweet winds wafted her.
She chose—O had she never chosen him!— 70
Menelaus. Then from Phrygia he who judged
To Sparta came, his vesture flower-bestarred
Gleaming with gold, barbaric bravery,
Loved Helen, and was loved, stole her and fled 75
To Ida's steadings, when from home afar
Menelaus was. Through Hellas frenzy-stung
He sped, invoking Tyndareus' ancient oath,
Claiming of all their bond to help the wronged.
Thereat up sprang the Hellenes spear in hand, 80
Donned mail of fight, and to this narrow gorge
Of Aulis came, with galleys and with shields,
And many a horse and chariots many arrayed.
And me for Menelaus' sake they chose
For chief, his brother. Would some other man 85
Might but have won the honour in my stead!
Now when the gathered host together came,
At Aulis did we tarry weather-bound.
Then the seer Kalchas bade in our despair
Slay Iphigeneia, her whom I begat, 90
To Artemis who dwelleth in this land ;
So should we voyage, and so Phrygia smite;
But if we slew her not, it should not be.
I, when I heard this, bade Talthybius
Dismiss the host with proclamation loud, 95
Since I would never brook to slay my child.
Whereat my brother, pleading manifold pleas,
To the horror thrust me. In a tablet's folds
I wrote, and bade therein my wife to send
Her daughter, as to be Achilles' bride, 100
Extolled therein the hero's high repute,
Said, with Achaia's host he would not sail
Except a bride of our house came to Phthia.
Yea, this I counted should persuade my wife,
This framing of feigned spousals for the maid. 105
This none Achaian knoweth with me, save
Kalchas, Odysseus, Menelaus. Now
That wrong I here revoke, and write the truth
Within this scroll, which in the gloom of night
Thou saw'st me, ancient, open and reseal. 110
Up, go, this letter unto Argos bear;
And what the tablet hideth in its folds,
All things here written, will I tell to thee,
For loyal to my wife and house art thou.
Speak, and declare, that the tale heard
Ring true beside the written word.
"This add I to my letter writ before: —
Daughter of Leda, do thou send
Thy daughter not unto the waveless shore
Of Aulis, where the bend 120
Of that sea-pinion of Euboæa lies
Gulf-shapen. Ere we celebrate
Our daughter's marriage-tide solemnities,
A season must we wait."
Yet, if Achilles lose his plighted spouse,
Will not his anger's tempest swell
Against thee and thy wife? Sure, perilous
Is this!—thy meaning tell.
His name, no more, Achilles lends,—hath known
Nought of a bride, nor aught we planned, 130
Nor how to him I have, in word alone,
Given my daughter's hand.
Fearfully, Agamemnon, was this done,
That thou shouldst bring thy child, O King,
Hither, named bride unto the Goddess' son,
Yet a burnt-offering!
Woe! I was all distraught:
I am reeling ruin-ward!
Speed thy foot, ancient, slacking nought
I speed, my lord. 140
Sit thee not down where the forest-founts leap,
Neither be bound by the spell of sleep.
Breathe not such doubt abhorred!
When thou comest where ways part, keenly then
Watch, lest a chariot escape thy ken,
Whose rolling wheels peradventure may bear
My daughter hitherward, even to where
Be the ships of the Danaan men.
For, if thou light on her escort-train,
Thou turn them aback, grasp, shake the rein: 150
To the halls Cyclopian speed them again.
Yea, this will I do.
From the gates forth go—
Yet how shall thy wife and thy daughter know
My faith herein, that the thing is so?
Keep thou this seal, whose impress lies
On the letter thou bearest. Away!—the skies
Already are grey, and they kindle afar
With the dawn's first flush, and the Sun-god's car.
Now help thou my strait!
[Exit Old Servant.
No man to the end is fortunate, 160
Happy is none:
I have come to the Aulian sea-gulf's verge,
To her gleaming sands,
I have voyaged Euripus' rushing surge
From the city that stands
Queen of the Sea-gate, Chalkis mine,
On whose bosom-fold
Arethusa gleameth, the fountain divine,—
Have come to behold 170
The Achaian array, and the heroes' oars
That the pine-keels speed
Of a thousand galleys to Troyland's shores,
Whom the two kings lead,—
Who with prince Menelaus the golden-haired,
As our own lords say,
And with King Agamemnon the high-born, fared
On the vengeance-way,
On the quest of her whom the herdman drew
From beside the river 180
Of whispering reeds, his sin-wage due,—
Aphrodite the giver,—
Promised, when into the fountain down
Spray-veiled she descended,
When with Hera and Pallas for beauty's crown
The Cyprian contended.
And through Artemis' grove of sacrifice
Hasting I came,
While swift in my cheeks did the crimson rise
Of my maiden shame:
For to look on the shields, on the tents agleam 190
With arms, was I fain,
And on thronging team upon chariot team.
There marked I twain,
The Oilid Aias and Telamon's child,
By the shifting maze of the draughts beguiled
Sat side by side
Protesilaus and he that was sprung
Of Poseidon's seed,
Palamedes: and there, by the strong arm flung
Of Diomede, 200
Did the discus leap, and he joyed therein;
And hard beside him
Was Meriones of the War-god's kin—
Men wondering eyed him.
And Laertes' son from the isle-hills far
Through the sea-haze gleaming;
And Nireus, of all that host of war
There was Achilles, whose feet are as winds for the storm-rush unreined:
Him I beheld who of Thetis was born, who of Cheiron was trained; 210
Clad in his armour he raced, over sand, over shingle he strained,
Matching in contest of swiftness his feet with a chariot of four,
Rounding the sweep of the course for the victory:— rang evermore
Shouts from Pherêtid Eumelus, and aye with the goad that he bore
Smote he his horses most goodly—I saw them, saw gold-glitter deck 220
Richly their bits; and the midmost, the car-yoke who bore on their neck,
Dappled were they, with a hair here and there like a snow-smitten fleck.
They that in traces without round the perilous turning-post swept,
Bays were they, spotted their fetlocks: Peleides beside them on-leapt:
Sheathed in his harness, unflagging by car-rail and axle he kept. 230
And I came where the host of the war-ships lies,—
A marvel past telling,—
To fill with the vision my maiden eyes
And my heart joy-swelling.
And there, on the rightward wing arrayed,
Was Phlia's Myrmidon battle-aid,
Fifty galleys swift for the war,
With the ranks of oars by their bulwarks swayed,
And high on their sterns in effigies golden
The Nereid Goddesses gleamed afar, 240
The sign by Achilles' host upholden.
Hard by, keels equal by tale unto these
Did the Argives gather;
With Talaüs' fosterling passed they the seas,
Mekisteus his father,—
And with Sthenelus, Kapaneus' son, at his side.
And there did the galleys of Attica ride
With the scion of Theseus, the next to the left,—
Ships threescore,—and the peerless pride
Of their blazonry was a winged car, bearing 250
Pallas, with horses of hooves uncleft,
A blessed sign unto folk sea-faring.
Bœotia's barks sea-plashing
Fifty there lay:
I marked their ensigns flashing.
Kadmus had they
Whose Golden Dragon shone
On each stern's garnison;
And Leïtus Earth's son
Led their array. 260
Galleys from Phocis came;
In Locrian barks, the same
By tale, went Thronium's fame
'Neath Aias' sway.
Thronged decks of five-score galleys:
As friend with friend, to take
Her, who the home-bonds brake 270
For alien gallant's sake,
There, ships of Pylos' king,
Gerenian Nestor, bring
The weird bull-blazoning
That Alpheus lent.
Gouneus, King of Ainian men,
Marshalled galleys two and ten:
Hard thereby the bulwarks tower
- Agamemnon, absorbed in his occupation within, has taken no note of the lapse of time. Now he suddenly recognises that the element of time is all-important, both that his messenger may leave the camp unperceived, and that the latter may be in time to stop Iphigeneia at a distance from Aulis. Hence (the stars being the night-clocks of the ancients) his question betrays his fear—"Is there yet time?" The servant's answer implies that the dawn is yet distant; and the king is further reassured as he observes that the first chirp of the waking bird has not broken the stillness, and that the winds, which probably blew adversely all day, and fell to a dead calm at night, gave no token of stirring. It has been objected that Sirius is not "near the Pleiads," since, though he is indeed in the next constellation but one to theirs, there is a considerable space of sky between them. But, when we remember that the stars were to the ancients the figures on the dial of the night, we observe that Sirius is the figure next before the Pleiads. He touches the western horizon about half an hour before them.
- ἄθραυστα (England).
- ὅποι (England).
- Adopting Nauck's arrangement and reading for 11. 149—152.
- See Andromache, 284—5.
- There is nowhere else any mention of an Adrastus in this connection. Hence others read ?de?f??, "his brother," others ?t?est??, "the dauntless."