Iphigenia at Aulis

by Euripides

Dramatis Personae

AGAMEMNON:  

ATTENDANT:  , an old man

Chorus of Women of Chalcis

Menelaus

Clytaemnestra

Iphigenia

Achilles


The sea-coast at Aulis. Enter AGAMEMNON and ATTENDANT:  .

AGAMEMNON

Old man, come hither and stand before my dwelling.

ATTENDANT

I come; what new schemes now, king Agamemnon?

AGAMEMNON

Thou shalt hear.

ATTENDANT

I am all eagerness. 'Tis little enough sleep old age allows me and keenly it watches o'er my eyes.

AGAMEMNON

What can that star be, steering his course yonder?

ATTENDANT

Sirius, still shooting o'er the zenith on his way near the Pleiads' sevenfold track.

AGAMEMNON

The birds are still at any rate and the sea is calm; hushed are the winds, and silence broods o'er this narrow firth.

ATTENDANT

Then why art thou outside thy tent, why so restless, my lord Agamemnon? All is yet quiet here in Aulis, the watch on the walls is not yet astir. Let us go in.

AGAMEMNON

I envy thee, old man, aye, and every man who leads a life secure, unknown and unrenowned; but little I envy those in office.

ATTENDANT

And yet 'tis there we place the be-all and end-all of existence.

AGAMEMNON

Aye, but that is where the danger comes; and ambition, sweet though it seems, brings sorrow with its near approach. At one time the unsatisfied claims of Heaven upset our life, at another the numerous peevish fancies of our subjects shatter it.

ATTENDANT

I like not these sentiments in one who is a chief. It was not to enjoy all blessings that Atreus begot thee, O Agamemnon; but thou must needs experience joy and sorrow alike, mortal as thou art. E'en though thou like it not, this is what the gods decree; but thou, after letting thy taper spread its light abroad, writest the letter which is still in thy hands and then erasest the same words again, sealing and re-opening the scroll, then flinging the tablet to the ground with floods of tears and leaving nothing undone in thy aimless behaviour to stamp thee mad. What is it troubles thee? what news is there affecting thee, my liege? Come, share with me thy story; to a loyal and trusty heart wilt thou be telling it; for Tyndareus sent me that day to form part of thy wife's dowry and to wait upon the bride with loyalty.

AGAMEMNON

Leda, the daughter of Thestius, had three children, maidens, Phoebe, Clytaemnestra my wife, and Helen; this last it was who had for wooers the foremost of the favoured sons of Hellas; but terrible threats of spilling his rival's blood were uttered by each of them, should he fail to win the maid. Now the matter filled Tyndareus, her father, with perplexity; at length this thought occurred to him; the suitors should swear unto each other and join right hands thereon and pour libations with burnt sacrifice, binding themselves by this curse, "Whoever wins the child of Tyndareus for wife, him will we assist, in case a rival takes her from his house and goes his way, robbing her husband of his rights; and we will march against that man in armed array and raze his city to the ground, Hellene no less than barbarian."

Now when they had once pledged their word and old Tyndareus with no small cleverness had beguiled them by his shrewd device, he allowed his daughter to choose from among her suitors the one towards whom the breath of love might fondly waft her. Her choice fell on Menelaus; would she had never taken him! Anon there came to Lacedaemon from Phrygia's folk the man who, legend says, adjudged the goddesses' dispute; in robes of gorgeous hue, ablaze with gold, in true barbaric pomp; and he, finding Menelaus gone from home, carried Helen off with him to his steading on Ida, a willing paramour. Goaded to frenzy Menelaus flew through Hellas, invoking the ancient oath exacted by Tyndareus and declaring the duty of helping the injured husband. Whereat the chivalry of Hellas, brandishing their spears and donning their harness, came hither to the narrow straits of Aulis with armaments of ships and troops, with many a steed and many a car, and they chose me to captain them all for the sake of Menelaus, since I was his brother. Would that some other had gained that distinction instead of me! But after the army was gathered and come together, we still remained at Aulis weather-bound; and Calchas, the seer, bade us in our perplexity sacrifice my own begotten child Iphigenia to Artemis, whose home is in this land, declaring that if we offered her, we should sail and sack the Phrygians' capital, but if we forbore, this was not for us. When I heard this, I commanded Talthybius with loud proclamation to disband the whole host, as I could never bear to slay daughter of mine. Whereupon my brother, bringing every argument to bear, persuaded me at last to face the crime; so I wrote in a folded scroll and sent to my wife, bidding her despatch our daughter to me on the pretence of wedding Achilles, it the same time magnifying his exalted rank and saying that he refused to sail with the Achaeans, unless a bride of our lineage should go to Phthia. Yes, this was the inducement I offered my wife, inventing, as I did, a sham marriage for the maiden. Of all the Achaeans we alone know the real truth, Calchas, Odysseus, Menelaus and myself; but that which I then decided wrongly, I now rightly countermand again in this scroll, which thou, old man, hast found me opening and resealing beneath the shade of night. Up now and away with this missive to Argos, and I will tell thee by word of mouth all that is written herein, the contents of the folded scroll, for thou art loyal to my wife and house.

ATTENDANT

Say on and make it plain, that what my tongue utters may accord with what thou hast written.

AGAMEMNON

"Daughter of Leda, in addition to my first letter I now send thee word not to despatch thy daughter to Euboea's embosomed wing, to the to the waveless bay of Aulis; for after all we wiltlelebrate our child's wedding at another time."

ATTENDANT

And how will Achilles, cheated of his bride, curb the fury of his indignation against thee and thy wife?

AGAMEMNON

Here also is a danger.

ATTENDANT

Tell me what thou meanest.

AGAMEMNON

It is but his name, not himself, that Achilles is lending, knowing nothing of the marriage or of my scheming or my professed readiness to betroth my daughter to him for a husband's embrace.

ATTENDANT

A dreadful venture thine king Agamemnon! thou that, by promise of thy daughter's hand to the son of the goddess, wert for bringing the maid hither to be sacrificed for the Danai.

AGAMEMNON

Woe is me! ah woe! I am utterly distraught; bewilderment comes o'er me. Away hurry thy steps, yielding nothing to old age.

ATTENDANT

In haste I go, my liege.

AGAMEMNON

Sit not down by woodland founts; scorn the witcheries of sleep.

ATTENDANT

Hush!

AGAMEMNON

And when thou passest any place where roads diverge, cast thine eyes all round,-taking heed that no mule-wain pass by on rolling wheels, bearing my daughter hither to the ships of the Danai, and thou see it not.

ATTENDANT

It shall be so.

AGAMEMNON

Start then from the bolted gates, and if thou meet the escort, start them back again, and drive at full speed to the abodes of the Cyclopes.

ATTENDANT

But tell me, how shall my message find credit with thy wife or child?

AGAMEMNON

Preserve the seal which thou bearest on this scroll. Away! already the dawn is growing grey, lighting the lamp of day yonder and the fire of the sun's four steeds; help me in my trouble.

Exit ATTENDANT.

None of mortals is prosperous or happy to the last, for none was ever born to a painless life.

Exit AGAMEMNON.

Enter CHORUS OF WOMEN OF CHALCIS.

CHORUS

To the sandy beach of sea-coast Aulis I came after a voyage through the tides of Euripus, leaving Chalcis on its narrow firth, my city which feedeth the waters of far-famed Arethusa near the sea, that I might behold the army of the Achaeans and the ships rowed by those god-like heroes; for our husbands tell us that fair-haired Menelaus and high-born Agamemnon are leading them to Troy on a thousand ships in quest of the lady Helen, whom herdsman Paris carried off from the banks of reedy Eurotas-his guerdon from Aphrodite, when that queen of Cyprus entered beauty's lists with Hera and Pallas at the gushing fount.

Through the grove of-Artemis, rich with sacrifice, I sped my course, the red blush mantling on my cheeks from maiden modesty, in my eagerness to see the soldiers' camp, the tents of the mail-clad Danai, and their gathered steeds. Two chieftains there I saw met together in council; one was Aias, son of Oileus; the other Aias, son of Telamon, crown of glory to the men of Salamis; and I saw Protesilaus and Palamedes, sprung from the son of Poseidon, sitting there amusing themselves with intricate figures at draughts; Diomedes too at his favourite sport of hurling quoits; and Meriones, the War-god's son, a marvel to mankind, stood at his side; likewise I beheld the offspring of Laertes, who came from his island hills, and with him Nireus, handsomest of all Achaeans; Achilles next, that nimble runner, swift on his feet as the wind, whom Thetis bore and Chiron trained; him I saw upon the beach, racing in full armour along the shingle and straining every nerve to beat a team of four horses, as he sped round the track on foot; and Eumelus, the grandson of Pheres, their driver, was shouting when I saw him. goading on his goodly steeds, with their bits of chased goldwork; whereof the centre pair, that bore the yoke, had dappled coats picked out with white, while the trace-horses, on the outside, facing the turning-post in the course, were bays with spotted fetlocks. Close beside them Peleus' son leapt on his way, in all his harness, keeping abreast the rail by the axle-box.

Next I sought the countless fleet, a wonder to behold, that I might fill my girlish eyes with gazing, a sweet delight. 'the warlike Myrmidons from Phthia held the right wing with fifty swift cruisers, upon whose sterns, right at the ends, stood Nereid goddesses in golden-effigy, the ensign of Achilles' armament. Near these were moored the Argive ships in equal numbers, o'er which Mecisteus' son, whom Taulaus his grandsire reared, and Sthenelus, son of Capaneus, were in command; next in order, Theseus' son was stationed at the head of sixty ships from Attica, having the goddess Pallas set in a winged car drawn by steeds with solid hoof, a lucky sight for mariners. Then I saw Boeotia's fleet of fifty sails decked with ensigns; these had Cadmus at the stern holding a golden dragon at the beaks of the vessels, and earth-born Leitus was their admiral. Likewise there were ships from Phocis; and from Locris came the son of Oileus with an equal contingent, leaving famed Thronium's citadel; and from Mycenae, the Cyclopes' town, Atreus' son sent a hundred wellmanned galleys, his brother being with him in command, as friend with friend, that Hellas might exact on her, who had fled her home to wed a foreigner. Also I saw upon Gerenian Nestor's prows twelve from Pylos the sign of his neighbor Alpheus, four-footed like a bull. Moreover there was a squadron of Aenianian sail under King and next the lords of Elis, stationed near'-them, whom all the people named Epeians; and Eurytus was lord of these; likewise he led the Taphian warriors with the white oar-blades, the subjects of Meges, son of Phyleus, who had left the isles of the Echinades, where sailors cannot land. Lastly, Aias, reared in Salamis, was joining his right wing to the left of those near whom he was posted, closing the line with his outermost ships-twelve barques obedient to the helm-as I heard and then saw the crews; no safe return shall he obtain, who bringeth his barbaric boats to grapple Aias. There I saw the naval armament, but some things I heard at home about the gathered host, whereof I still have a recollection.

Enter MENELAUS and ATTENDANT.

ATTENDANT As MENELAUS wrests a letter from him

Strange daring thine, Menelaus, where thou hast no right.

MENELAUS

Stand back! thou carriest loyalty to thy master too far.

ATTENDANT

The very reproach thou hast for me is to my credit.

MENELAUS

Thou shalt rue it, if thou meddle in matters that concern thee not.

ATTENDANT

Thou hadst no right to open a letter, which I was carrying.

MENELAUS

No, nor thou to be carrying sorrow to all Hellas.

ATTENDANT

Argue that point with others, but surrender that letter to me.

MENELAUS

I shall not let go.

ATTENDANT

Nor yet will I let loose my hold.

MENELAUS

Why then, this staff of mine will be dabbling thy head with blood ere long.

ATTENDANT

To die in my master's cause were a noble death.

MENELAUS

Let go! thou art too wordy for a slave.

ATTENDANT Seeing AGAMEMNON approaching

Master, he is wronging me; he snatched thy letter violently from my grasp, Agamemnon, and will not heed the claims of right.

Enter AGAMEMNON.

AGAMEMNON

How now? what means this uproar at the gates, this indecent brawling?

MENELAUS

My tale, not his, has the better right to be spoken.

AGAMEMNON

Thou, Menelaus! what quarrel hast thou with this man, why art thou haling him hence?

Exit ATTENDANT.

MENELAUS

Look me in the face! Be that the prelude to my story.

AGAMEMNON

Shall I, the son of Atreus, close my eyes from fear?

MENELAUS

Seest thou this scroll, the bearer of a shameful message?

AGAMEMNON

I see it, yes; and first of all surrender it.

MENELAUS

No, not till I have shewn its contents to all the Danai.

AGAMEMNON

What! hast thou broken the seal and dost know already what thou shouldst never have known?

MENELAUS

Yes, I opened it and know to thy sorrow the secret machinations of thy heart.

AGAMEMNON

Where didst thou catch my servant? Ye gods what a shameless heart thou hast!

MENELAUS

I was awaiting thy daughter's arrival at the camp from Argos.

AGAMEMNON

What right hast thou to watch my doings? Is not this a of shamelessness?

MENELAUS

My wish to do it gave the spur, for I am no slave to thee.

AGAMEMNON

Infamous! Am I not to be allowed the management of my own house?

MENELAUS

No, for thou thinkest crooked thoughts, one thing now, another formerly, and something different presently.

AGAMEMNON

Most exquisite refining on evil themes! A hateful thing the tongue of cleverness!

MENELAUS

Aye, but a mind unstable is an unjust possession, disloyal to friends. Now I am anxious to test thee, and seek not thou from rage to turn aside from the truth, nor will I on my part overstrain the case. Thou rememberest when thou wert all eagerness to captain the Danai against Troy, making a pretence of declining, though eager for it in thy heart; how humble thou wert then! taking each man by the hand and keeping open doors for every fellow townsman who cared to enter, affording each in turn a chance to speak with thee, even though some desired it not, seeking by these methods to purchase popularity from all bidders; then when thou hadst secured the command, there came a change over thy manners; thou wert no longer so cordial before to whilom friends, but hard of access, seldom to be found at home. But the man of real worth ought not to change his manners in the hour of prosperity, but should then show himself most staunch to friends, when his own good fortune can help them most effectually. This was the first cause I had to reprove thee, for it was here I first discovered thy villainy; but afterwards, when thou camest to Aulis with all the gathered hosts of Hellas, thou wert of no account; no! the want of a favourable breeze filled thee with consternation at the chance dealt out by Heaven. Anon the Danai began demanding that thou shouldst send the fleet away instead of vainly toiling on at Aulis; what dismay and confusion was then depicted in thy looks, to think that thou, with a thousand ships at thy command, hadst not occupied the plains of Priam with thy armies! And thou wouldst ask my counsel, "What am I to do? what scheme can I devise. where find one?" to save thyself being stripped of thy command and losing thy fair fame. Next when Calchas bade thee offer thy daughter in sacrifice to Artemis, declaring that the Danai should then sail, thou wert overjoyed, and didst gladly undertake to offer the maid, and of thine own accord-never allege compulsion!-thou art sending word to thy wife to despatch thy daughter hither on pretence of wedding Achilles. This is the same air that heard thee say it; and after all thou turnest round and hast been caught recasting thy letter to this effect, "I will no longer be my daughter's murderer." Exactly so! Countless others have gone through this phase in their conduct of public affairs; they make an effort while in power, and then retire dishonourably, sometimes owing to the senselessness of the citizens, sometimes deservedly, because they are too feeble of themselves to maintain their watch upon the state. For my part, I am more sorry for our unhappy Hellas, whose purpose was to read these worthless foreigners a lesson, while now she will let them escape and mock her, thanks to thee and thy daughter. May I never then appoint a man to rule my country or lead its warriors because his kinship! Ability what the general must have; since any man, with ordinary intelligence, can govern a state.

CHORUS

For brethren to come to words and blows, whene'er they disagree, is terrible.

AGAMEMNON

I wish to rebuke thee in turn, briefly, not lifting mine eyes too high in shameless wise, but in more sober fashion, as a brother; for it is a good man's way to be considerate. Prithee, why this burst of fury, these bloodshot eyes? who wrongs thee? what is it thou wantest? Thou art fain to win a virtuous bride. Well, I cannot supply thee; for she, whom thou once hadst, was ill controlled by thee. Am I then, a man who never went astray, to suffer for thy sins? or is it my popularity that galls thee? No! it is the longing thou hast to keep a fair wife in thy embrace, casting reason and honour to the winds. A bad man's pleasures are like himself Am I mad, if I change to wiser counsels, after previously deciding amiss? Thine is the madness rather in wishing to recover a wicked wife, once thou hadst lost her-a stroke of Heaven-sent luck. Those foolish suitors swore that oath to Tyndareus in their longing to wed; but Hope was the goddess that led them on, I trow, and she it was that brought it about rather then thou and thy mightiness. So take the field with them; they are ready for it in the folly of their hearts; for the deity is not without insight, but is able to discern where oaths have been wrongly pledged or forcibly extorted. I will not slay my children, nor shall thy interests be prospered by justice in thy vengeance for a worthless wife, while I am left wasting, night and day, in sorrow for what I did to one of my own flesh and blood, contrary to all law and justice. There is thy answer shortly' given, clear and easy to understand; and if thou wilt not come to thy senses, I shall do the best for myself.

CHORUS

This differs from thy previous declaration, but there is good in it-thy child's reprieve.

MENELAUS

Ah me, how sad my lot! I have no friends then after all.

AGAMEMNON

Friends thou hast, if thou seek not their destruction.

MENELAUS

Where wilt thou find any proof that thou art sprung from the same sire as I?

AGAMEMNON

Thy moderation, not thy madness do I share by nature.

MENELAUS

Friends should sympathize with friends in sorrow.

AGAMEMNON

Claim my help by kindly service, not by paining me.

MENELAUS

So thou hast no mind to share this trouble with Hellas?

AGAMEMNON

No, Hellas is diseased like thee according to some god's design.

MENELAUS

Go vaunt thee then on thy sceptre, after betraying thine own brother! while seek some different means and other friends.

Enter MESSENGER.

MESSENGER

Agamemnon, lord of all Hellenes! I am come and bring thee thy daughter, whom thou didst call Iphigenia in thy home; and her mother, thy wife Clytemnestra, is with her, and the child Orestes, a sight to gladden thee after thy long absence from thy palace; but, as they had been travelling long and far, they are now refreshing their tender feet at the waters of a fair spring, they and their horses, for we turned these loose in the grassy meadow to browse their fill; but I am come as their forerunner to prepare thee for their reception; for the army knows already of thy daughter's arrival, so quickly did the rumour spread; and all the folk are running together to the sight, that they may see thy child; for Fortune's favourites enjoy a worldwide fame and have all eyes fixed on them. "Is it a wedding?" some ask, "or what is happening? or has king Agamemnon from fond yearning summoned his daughter hither?" From others thou wouldst have heard: "They are presenting the maiden to Artemis, queen of Aulis, previous to marriage; who can the bridegroom be, that is to lead her home?"

Come, then, begin the rites-that is the next step-by getting the baskets ready; crown your heads; prepare the wedding-hymn, thou and prince Menelaus with thee; let flutes resound throughout the tents with noise of dancer's feet; for this is a happy day, that is come for the maid.

AGAMEMNON

Thou hast my thanks; now go within; for the rest it will be well, as Fate proceeds.

Exit MESSENGER.

Ah, woe is me! unhappy wretch, what can I say? where shall I begin? Into what cruel straits have I been plunged! Fortune has outwitted me, proving far cleverer than any cunning of mine. What an advantage humble birth possesses! for it is easy for her sons to weep and tell out all their sorrows; while to the high-born man come these same sorrows, but we have dignity throned o'er our life and are the people's slaves. I, for instance, am ashamed to weep, nor less, poor wretch, to check my tears at the awful pass to which I am brought. Oh! what am I to tell my wife? how shall I welcome her? with what face meet her? for she too has undone me by coming uninvited in this my hour of sorrow; yet it was but natural she should come with her daughter to prepare the bride and perform the fondest duties, where she will discover my villainy. And for this poor maid-why maid? Death, methinks, will soon make her his bride-how I pity her! Thus will she plead to me, I trow: "My father will thou slay me? Be such the wedding thou thyself mayst find, and whosoever is a friend to thee!" while Orestes, from his station near us, will cry in childish accents, inarticulate, yet fraught with meaning. Alas! to what utter ruin Paris, the son of Priam, the cause of these troubles, has brought me by his union with Helen!

CHORUS

I pity her myself, in such wise as a woman, and she a stranger, may bemoan the misfortunes of royalty.

MENELAUS Offering his hand

Thy hand, brother! let me grasp it.

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