Ancient Athenian Drama

Euripides: Iphigenia in Tauris

5th century BC, Ancient Greek.

He is a man whose soul is very dear to her but whose outward appearance is that of a stranger. A total stranger.

It is so curious to see this lady. And although the play is less than halfway through I can feel some inkling of what may be intended, as though an accumulation of hints is finally having its effect. She stands here, speaking with her brother Orestes but she has no idea who he is. To her he is just a stranger. He is a man whose soul is very dear to her but whose outward appearance is that of a stranger. A total stranger.

And more than this. She looks at him as a man who is shortly going to die, as a sacrifice to the goddess Artemis in a temple at which she is High Priestess, in the country of Tauris. She is at this moment quite happy that this should be so.

In another play, when Orestes stood before his sister Electra, plotting the murder of his mother Clytemnestra, Electra did not recognise him and he made no attempt to reveal his identity. Here, now, Orestes speaks with his sister Iphigenia and she, too, has no idea who he is. And Orestes it has been who, thinking that he was being surrounded by winged Furies, rampaged among a herd of ordinary cattle thrusting with his sword and killing these bovine phantoms to left and right!

Iphigenia was killed with a sacrificial knife while a thousand Greek ships lay waiting for a favourable wind to take them to Troy. But at the moment of her sacrifice she mysteriously vanished and in her place a deer, a hind, lay bleeding to death at the foot of the altar to the goddess Artemis. Iphigenia herself was taken by the gods, not to a heaven but to Tauris where, more than ten years later and in perhaps another curious circumstance that is not wholly arbitrary, she is now living a new life as a priestess to Artemis happily presiding over the sacrifice of wayward and trespassing Greeks – one of whom, and unbeknown to her, is her brother.

Story fragment retold from: Euripides: Iphigenia in Tauris. English translation, Internet Classics Archive.

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references

Euripides – Wikipedia

Iphigenia – Wikipedia

Euripides: Iphigenia in Tauris – English translation, Internet Classics Archive (download plain text version)

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