| Stories from the Greek Tragedians|
|by Alfred J. Church|
|Thirteen strong, interesting tales from Greek tragedy, admirably retold by Alfred J. Church and retaining remarkably well the spirit of the originals. Includes the stories of Alcestis, Medea, Antigone, Philoctetes, Agamemnon, Iphigenia, Electra, and Orestes among others. Ages 11-14 |
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
 "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
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,
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
 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
"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
"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
"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
 "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
"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
"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
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
 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
 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
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
 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."
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