| 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 AMONG THE TAURIANS
 IT has been told in the story of King Agamemnon that
the Goddess Artemis, being wroth with him because he
had slain a hart which she loved, suffered not the
ships of the Greeks to sail till he had offered his
daughter Iphigenia for a sacrifice. But when the King
consented, and all things had been made ready for
slaying the maiden, the goddess would not that her
blood should be shed, but put a fair hind in her place,
and carried away the maiden to the land of the
Taurians, where she had a temple and an altar. Now on
this altar the King of the land was wont to sacrifice
any stranger, being Greek by nation, who was driven by
stress of weather to the place, for none went thither
 the name of the King was Thoas, which signifieth in the
Greek tongue, "swift of foot."
Now when the maiden had been there many years she
dreamed a dream. And in the dream she seemed to have
departed from the land of the Taurians and to dwell in
the city of Argos, wherein she had been born. And as
she slept in the women's chamber there befell a great
earthquake, and cast to the ground the palace of her
fathers, so that there was left one pillar only which
stood upright. And as she looked on this pillar, yellow
hair seemed to grow upon it as the hair of a man, and
it spake with a man's voice. And she did to it as she
was wont to do to the strangers that were sacrificed
upon the altar, purifying it with water, and weeping
the while. And the interpretation of the dream she
judged to be that her brother Orestes was dead, for
that male children are the pillars of a house, and that
he only was left to the house of her father.
Now it chanced that at this same time Orestes, with
Pylades that was his friend, came in a ship to the land
of the Taurians. And the cause of his coming was this.
After that he
 had slain his mother, taking vengeance for the death of
King Agamemnon his father, the Furies pursued him. Then
Apollo, who had commanded him to do this deed, bade
him go to the land of Athens that he might be judged.
And when he had been judged and loosed, yet the Furies
left him not. Wherefore Apollo commanded that he
should sail to the land of the Taurians and carry
there the image of Artemis and bring it to the land of
the Athenians, and that after this he should have rest.
Now when the two were come to the place, they saw the
altar that it was red with the blood of them that had
been slain thereon. And Orestes doubted how they might
accomplish the things for the which he was come, for
the walls of the temple were high, and the gates not
easy to be broken through. Therefore he would have fled
to the ship, but Pylades consented not, seeing that
they were not wont to go back from that to which they
had set their hand, but counselled that they should
hide themselves during the day in a cave that was hard
by the seashore, not near to the ship, lest search
should be made for them, and that by night they should
 the temple by a space that there was between the
pillars, and carry off the image, and so depart.
So they hid themselves in a cavern by the sea. But it
chanced that certain herdsmen were feeding their oxen
in pastures hard by the shore; one of these, coming
near to the cavern, spied the young men as they sat
therein, and stealing back to his fellows, said, "See
ye not them that sit yonder. Surely they are Gods;" for
they were exceeding tall and fair to look upon. And
some began to pray to them, thinking that they might be
the Twin Brethren or of the sons of Nereus. But another
laughed and said, "Not so; these are shipwrecked men
who hide themselves, knowing that it is our custom to
sacrifice strangers to our Gods." To him the others
gave consent, and said that they should take the men
prisoners that they might be sacrificed to the Gods.
But while they delayed, Orestes ran forth from the cave,
for the madness was come upon him, crying out,
"Pylades, seest thou not that dragon from hell; and that
who would kill me with the serpents of her mouth, and
 that breatheth out fire, holding my mother in her arms
to cast her upon me?" And first he bellowed as a bull
and then howled as a dog, for the Furies, he said, did
so. But the herdsmen, when they saw, this, gathered
together in great fear and sat down. But when Orestes
drew his sword and leapt, as a lion might leap, into
the midst of the herd, slaying the beasts (for he
thought in his madness that he was contending with the
Furies), then the herdsmen, blowing on shells, called
to the people of the land; for they feared the young
men, so strong they seemed and valiant. And when no
small number was gathered together, they began to cast
stones and javelins at the two. And now the madness of
Orestes began to abate, and Pylades tended him
carefully, wiping away the foam from his mouth, and
holding his garments before him that he should not be
wounded by the stones. But when Orestes came to
himself, and beheld in what straits they were, he
groaned aloud and cried, "We must die, O Pylades, only
let us die as befitteth brave men. Draw thy sword and
follow me." And the people of the land dared not to
stand before them; yet while
 some fled, others would cast stones at them. For all
that no man wounded them. But at the last, coming about
them with a great multitude, they smote the swords out
of their hands with stones, and so bound them and took
them to King Thoas. And the King commanded that they
should be taken to the temple, that the priestess might
deal with them according to the custom of the place.
ORESTES AND THE FURIES.
So they brought the young men bound to the temple. Now
the name of the one they knew, for they had heard his
companion call to him, but the name of the other they
knew not. And when Iphigenia saw them, she bade the
people loose their bonds, for that being holy to the
goddess they were free. And then—for she took the two
for brothers—she asked them, saying, "Who is your
mother, and your father, and your sister, if a sister
you have? She will be bereaved of noble brothers this
day. And whence come ye?"
To her Orestes answered, "What meanest thou, lady, by
lamenting in this fashion over us? I hold it folly in
him who must die that he should bemoan himself. Pity us
 know what manner of sacrifices ye have in this land."
"Tell me now, which of ye two is called Pylades?"
"Not I, but this my companion."
"Of what city in the land of Greece are ye? And are ye
brothers born of one mother?"
"Brothers we are, but in friendship, not in blood."
"And what is thy name?"
"That I tell thee not. Thou hast power over my body,
but not over my name."
"Wilt thou not tell me thy country?"
And when he told her that his country was Argos, she
asked him many things, as about Troy, and Helen, and
Calchas the prophet, and Ulysses; and at last she said,
"And Achilles, son of Thetis of the sea, is he yet
"He is dead, and his marriage that was made at Aulis is
of no effect."
"A false marriage it was, as some know full well."
"Who art thou that inquirest thus about matters in
"I am of the land of Greece, and was
 brought thence yet being a child. But there was a
certain Agamemnon, son of Atreus, what of him?"
"I know not. Lady, leave all talk of him."
"Say not so; but do me a pleasure, and tell me."
"He is dead."
"Woe is me! How died he?"
"What meaneth thy sorrow? Art thou of his kindred?"
" 'Tis a pity to think how great he was, and now he
"He was slain in a most miserable fashion by a woman.
But ask no more."
"Only this one thing. Is his wife yet alive?"
"Nay; for the son whom she bare slew her, taking
vengeance for his father."
"A dreadful deed, but righteous withal."
"Righteous indeed he is, but the Gods love him not."
"And did the King leave any other child behind him?"
"One daughter, Electra by name."
"And is his son yet alive?"
"He is alive, but no man more miserable,"
IPHIGENEIA AND ORESTES.
 Now when Iphigenia heard that he was alive, and knew
that she had been deceived by the dreams which she had
dreamt, she conceived a thought in her heart, and said
to Orestes, "Hearken now, for I have somewhat to say to
thee that shall bring profit both to thee and to me.
Wilt thou, if I save thee from this death, carry
tidings of me to Argos to my friends, and bear a tablet
from me to them? For such a tablet I have with me,
which one who was brought captive to this place wrote
for me, pitying me, for he knew that I caused not his
death, but the law of the goddess in this place. Nor
have I yet found a man who should carry this thing to
Argos. But thou, I judge, art of noble birth, and
knowest the city and those with whom I would have
communication. Take then this tablet, and thy life as a
reward; and let this man be sacrificed to the goddess."
Then Orestes made answer, "Thou hast said well, lady,
save in one thing only. That this man should be
sacrificed in my stead pleaseth me not at all. For I am
he that brought this voyage to pass; and this man came
with me that he might help me in my troubles.
Where-  fore it would be a grievous wrong that he should suffer in
my stead and I escape. Give then the tablet to him. He
shall take it to the city of Argos, and thou shalt have
what thou wilt. But as for me, let them slay me, if
" 'Tis well spoken, young man. Thou art come, I know,
of a noble stock. The Gods grant that my brother—for I
have a brother, though he be far hence—may be such as
thou. It shall be as thou wilt. This man shall depart
with the tablet, and thou shalt die."
Then Orestes would know the manner of the death by
which he must die. And she told him that she slew not
the victims with her own hand, but that there were
ministers in the temple appointed to this office, she
preparing them for sacrifice beforehand. Also she said
that his body would be burned with fire.
And when Orestes had wished that the hand of his sister
might pay due honour to him in his death, she said,
"This may not be, for she is far away from this strange
land. But yet, seeing that thou art a man of Argos, I
myself will adorn thy tomb, and pour oil of olives and
honey on thy ashes." Then she departed, that
 she might fetch the tablet from her dwelling, bidding
the attendants keep the young men fast, but without
But when she was gone, Orestes said to Pylades,
"Pylades, what thinkest thou? Who is this maiden? She
had great knowledge of things in Troy and Argos, and of
Calchas the wise soothsayer, and of Achilles and the
rest. And she made lamentation over King Agamemnon.
She must be of Argos."
And Pylades answered, "This I cannot say; all men have
knowledge of what befell the King. But hearken to this.
It were shame to me to live if thou diest. I sailed
with thee, and will die with thee. For otherwise men
will account lightly of me both in Argos and in Phocis,
which is my own land, thinking that I betrayed thee, or
basely slew thee, that I might have thy kingdom,
marrying thy sister, who shall inherit it in thy stead.
Not so: I will die with thee, and my body shall be
burnt together with thine."
But Orestes answered, "I must bear my own troubles.
This indeed would be a shameful thing, that when thou
seekest to help me, I
 should destroy thee. But as for me, seeing how the Gods
deal with me, it is well that I should die. Thou,
indeed, art happy, and thy house is blessed; but my
house is accursed. Go, therefore, and my sister, whom I
have given thee to wife, shall bear thee children, and
the house of my father shall not perish. And I charge
thee that when thou art safe returned to the city of
Argos, thou do these things. First, thou shalt build a
tomb for me, and my sister shall make an offering there
of her hair and of her tears also. And tell her that I
died, slain by a woman of Argos, that offered me as an
offering to her gods; and I charge thee that thou leave
not my sister, but be faithful to her. And now
farewell, true friend and companion in my toils; for
indeed I die, and Phœbus hath lied unto me, prophesying
OFFERINGS TO THE DEAD.
And Pylades sware to him that he would build him a
tomb, and be a true husband to his sister. After this
Iphigenia came forth, holding a tablet in her hand. And
she said, "Here is the tablet of which I spake. But I
fear lest he to whom I shall give it shall haply take
ac-  count of it when he is returned to the land. Therefore I
would fain bind him with an oath that he will deliver
it to them that should have it in the city of Argos."
And Orestes consented saying that she also should bind
herself with an oath that she would deliver one of the
two from death. So she sware by Artemis that she would
persuade the King, and deliver Pylades from death. And
Pylades sware on his part by Zeus, the father of
heaven, that he would give the tablet to those whom it
should concern. And having sworn it, he said, "But what
if a storm overtake me, and the tablet be lost, and I
only be saved?"
"I will tell thee what hath been written in the tablet;
and if it perish, thou shalt tell them again; but if
not, then thou shalt give it as I bid thee."
"And to whom shall I give it?"
"Thou shalt give it to Orestes, son of Agamemnon. And
that which is written therein is this: 'I THAT WAS SACRIFICED IN AULIS, EVEN IPHIGENIA, WHO AM ALIVE AND YET DEAD TO MY OWN PEOPLE, BID THEE—' "
But when Orestes heard this, he brake in,
 "Where is this Iphigenia? Hath the dead come back among
"Thou seest her in me. But interrupt me not.
'I BID THEE FETCH ME BEFORE I DIE TO ARGOS FROM A STRANGE LAND, TAKING ME FROM THE ALTAR THAT IS RED WITH THE BLOOD OF STRANGERS, WHEREAT I SERVE.'
And if Orestes
ask by what means I am alive, thou shalt say that
Artemis put a hind in my stead, and that the priest,
thinking that he smote me with the knife, slew the
beast, and that the goddess brought me to this land."
Then said Pylades, "My oath is easy to keep. Orestes,
take thou this tablet from thy sister."
Then Orestes embraced his sister, crying—for she turned
from him, not knowing what she should think—"O my
sister, turn not from me; for I am thy brother whom
thou didst not think to see."
And when she yet doubted, he told her of certain things
by which she might know him to be Orestes—how that she
had woven a tapestry wherein was set forth the strife
between Atreus and Thyestes concerning the golden
 lamb; and that she had given a lock of her hair at
Aulis to be a memorial of her; and that there was laid
in her chamber at Argos the ancient spear of Pelops,
her father's grandsire, with which he slew Œnomaüs, and
won Hippodamia to be his wife.
And when she heard this, she knew that he was indeed
Orestes, whom, being an infant and the latest born of
his mother, she had in time past held in her arms. But
when the two had talked together for a space, rejoicing
over each other, and telling the things that had
befallen them, Pylades said, "Greetings of friends
after long parting are well; but we must needs
consider how best we shall escape from this land of
But Iphigenia answered, "Yet nothing shall hinder me
from knowing how fareth my sister Electra."
"She is married," said Orestes, "to this Pylades, whom
"And of what country is he, and who is his father?"
"His father is Strophius the Phocian; and he is a
kinsman, for his mother was the
 daughter of Atreus, and a friend also such as none
other is to me."
Then Orestes set forth to his sister the cause of his
coming to the land of the Taurians. And he said, "Now
help me in this, my sister, that we may bear away the
image of the goddess; for so doing I shall be quit of
my madness, and thou wilt be brought to thy native
country, and the house of thy father shall prosper. But
if we do it not, then shall we perish altogether."
And Iphigenia doubted much how this thing might be
done. But at the last she said, "I have a device
whereby I shall compass the matter. I will say that
thou art come hither, having murdered thy mother, and
that thou canst not be offered for a sacrifice till
thou art purified with the water of the sea. Also that
thou hast touched the image, and that this also must be
purified in like manner. And the image I myself will
bear to the sea; for, indeed, I only may touch it with
my hands. And of this Pylades also I will say that he
is polluted in like manner with thee. So shall we three
win our way to the ship. And that this be ready it
will be thy care to provide."
 And when she had so said, she prayed to Artemis: "Great
goddess, that didst bring me safe in days past from
Aulis, bring me now also, and these that are with me,
safe to the land of Greece, so that men may count thy
brother Apollo to be a true prophet. Nor shouldst thou
be unwilling to depart from this barbarous land, and to
dwell in the fair city of Athens."
After this came King Thoas, inquiring whether they had
offered the strangers for sacrifice, and had duly burnt
their bodies with fire. To him Iphigenia made answer,
"These were unclean sacrifices that thou broughtest to
me, O King."
"How didst thou learn this?"
"The image of the goddess turned upon her place of her
own accord, and covered also her face with her hands."
"What wickedness, then, had these strangers wrought?"
"They slew their mother, and had been banished
therefore from the land of Greece."
"O monstrous! Such deeds we barbarians never do. And
now what dost thou purpose?"
 "We must purify these strangers before we offer them
for a sacrifice."
"With water from the river, or in the sea?"
"In the sea. The sea cleanseth away all that is evil
"Well, thou hast it here, by the very walls of the
"Aye, but I must seek a place apart from men."
"So be it; go where thou wilt; I would not look on
"The image also must be purified."
"Surely, if the pollution from these murderers of
their mother hath touched it. This is well thought of
Then she instructed the King that he should bring the
strangers out of the temple, having first bound them
and veiled their heads. Also that certain of his guards
should go with her, but that all the people of the city
should be straitly commanded to stay within doors, that
so they might not be defiled; and that he himself
should abide in the temple, and purify it with fire,
covering his head with his garments when the strangers
should pass by.
 "And be not troubled," she said, "if I seem to be long
doing these things."
"Take what time thou wilt," he said "so that thou do
all things in order."
So certain of the King's guards brought the two young
men from out of the temple, and Iphigenia led them
towards the place where the ship of Orestes lay at
anchor. But when they were come near to the shore, she
bade them halt nor come over near, for that she had
that to do in which they must have no part. And she
took the chain wherewith the young men were bound in
her hands, and set up a strange song as of one that
sought enchantments. And after that the guard sat where
she bade them for a long time, they began to fear lest
the strangers should have slain the priestess, and so
fled. Yet they moved not, fearing to see that which was
forbidden. But at the last with one consent they rose
up. And when they were come to the sea, they saw the
ship trimmed to set forth, and fifty sailors on the
benches having oars in their hands ready for rowing;
and the two young men were standing unbound upon the
shore near to the stern. And other sailors were
 ship by the cable to the shore that the young men might
embark. Then the guards laid hold of the rudder, and
sought to take it from his place, crying, "Who are ye
that carry away priestesses and the images of our
gods?" Then Orestes said, "I am Orestes, and I carry
away my sister." But the guards laid hold of Iphigenia;
and when the sailors saw this they leapt from the ship;
and neither the one nor the other had swords in their
hands, but they fought with their fists and their feet
also. And the sailors being strong and skilful, the
King's men were driven back sorely bruised and wounded.
And when they fled to a bank that was hard by and cast
stones at the ship, the archers standing on the stern
shot at them with arrows. Then—for his sister feared
to come further—Orestes leapt into the sea, and raised
her upon his shoulder and so lifted her into the ship,
and the image of the goddess with her. And Pylades
cried, "Lay hold of your oars, ye sailors, and smite
the sea, for we have that for the which we came to this
land." So the sailors rowed with aid their might; and
while the ship was in the harbour it went well with
them, but when it
 was come to the open sea a great wave took it, for a
violent wind blew against it, and drave it backwards to
And one of the guards when he saw this ran to King
Thoas and told him, and the King made haste and sent
messengers mounted upon horses, to call the men of the
land that they might do battle with Orestes and his
comrade. But while he was yet sending them there
appeared in the air above his head the Goddess Athené,
who spake, saying, "Cease, King Thoas, from pursuing
this man and his companions; for he hath come hither on
this errand by the command of Apollo; and I have
persuaded Poseidon that he make the sea smooth for him
And King Thoas answered, "It shall be as thou wilt, O
goddess; and though Orestes hath borne away his sister
and the image, I dismiss my anger, for who can fight
against the Gods?"
So Orestes departed and came to his own country and
dwelt in peace, being set free from his madness,
according to the word of Apollo.
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