Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis, Agamemnon’s Guide to Childrearing

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Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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20 Responses

  1. Avatar RTod says:

    Rufus –
     
    I know zip about the ancient Greeks, so I am throwing this out looking for guidance, not offering up a solution:
     
    Were the Greeks’ feeling about women similar to other olde worlde cultures?  If so, does there need to be a motivation for Iphigenia?  What I mean is, is the lesson to be learned possibly that women should just do what their fathers say, because there is no real value to a daughter’s life anyway?  Put another way, would ancient Greeks understand that a woman sacrificing her life for her father was a big deal; or would they have seen it as a far different matter from a moral point of view if Agamemnon had been asked to sacrifice a son?Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to RTod says:

      Oh, I should probably re-state this, since there are plenty of newcomers here: I’m no classicist. I study Early Modern Europe, with a focus on France right before and right after the Revolution, so I’m maybe a bit helpful if there are questions about Chateaubriand, but maybe less so here. But that’s been a personal goal of this canon-blogging project: to get outside my comfort zone and learn more about topics that I know about as well as your average undergrad. Academia, for all the talk about ‘interdisciplinarity’, often works against or discourages such dabbling. I’m an admitted pisher and a dabbler! It’s just fun to explore.

      So, as far as I can tell, I think your suspicion is right- Iphigenia actually says as much- that the death of a daughter is no great tragedy and vastly outweighed by the deaths that might result otherwise, but also vastly outweighed by the death of a son. I’ve said before that Euripides has become my favorite of the Athenian tragedians, and it’s really because he does things like this- when she tells us how worthless her life is as a girl, I think we’re supposed to feel great sympathy for her, and I think the original audience was as well. Euripides’s plays are, at least to me, much more problematic and troubling than those of Aeschylus or Sophokles, which I think probably reflects the time in which he was writing. But his plays can be downright savage and unresolvable in a way that appeals to my tastes, probably reflecting the time in which I’m reading them.

      So, I don’t know if we’re to learn a lesson from her self-sacrifice, but I do think we’re supposed to be very aware that her society values her life less than they would a boy’s life and I think it’s supposed to make her death more troubling.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to RTod says:

      Here’s some discussion of how actual Classical cultures treated women: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/06/the-classical-approachReport

  2. Then somebody came alone later on and ruined the whole tale by deciding Iphigenia was saved at the last minute, whisked away, unbeknownst to her father and all the other mortals, by for some strange reason the goddess Athene, I think. She was later happily reunited with her beloved brother Orestes.
    I forget now the name of the playwright who wrote that particular later retelling of the myth. I think he got a job sometime later on writing for Marvel Comics.Report

    • Yeah, I don’t know about the modern ones. According to the myth, though, she was saved at the last minute by Artemis, who I think had her swapped for a fawn. This doesn’t happen in Euripides’s play, but there have been accounts of a missing final scene in which a messenger appears and tells us all that happened. Nobody’s found that scene and it might be a bit like E.T. coming back to life at the end. Nevertheless, Euripides did write another play earlier about Iphigenia, ‘Iphigenia in Tauris’, and that one is set years later, after Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon have been killed and Iphigenia is stuck on Tauris, where she has the ironic job of ritually sacrificing people who land on the island. So, clearly, that one sticks to the myth and Iphigenia was saved. You’ll notice that the plays in which Clytaemnestra kills Agamemnon for killing her daughter might not make a hell of a lot of sense in this version- but many accounts held that, yes, Artemis saved her, but in a way that her family did not know she was saved. Also, I would love to see a Marvel comics version of this story.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Tall and tan and young and lovely
    The girl called Iphigenia goes walking
    And when she passes,
    each one she passes goes – ah

    When she dies, she’s like a sacrifice
    That burns like a fire and chills just like ice
    That when she passes,
    each one she passes goes – ooh(ooh)Report

  4. Avatar Barry says:

    “Troy? Is her father’s betrayal too much to bear? I suspect the most likely reason is that classic Greek motivation of honor. Iphigenia will be remembered well for dying for her country; Greek heros always want to leave behind a good-looking corpse. Her heroism is ironic and an apt image of war as the sacrificial slaughter of the young by the old. It’s almost too much to bear, which was surely Euripides’s intention.”

    I like this – both the idea (of the playwright) of having a woman die for honr, and the idea of war as a sacrifice.Report

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