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

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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20 Responses

  1. 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

    • 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

      • RTod in reply to Rufus F. says:

        “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.”

        And indeed it does.  Good lord, I think I’m about to go actually read some Euripides.  For fun no less.

        Oh Rufus, what have you done?Report

        • Rufus F. in reply to RTod says:

          You all are just test subjects for pushing this stuff on undergrads.

          (Sadly, I haven’t found a complete version of the play online, or I’d have linked to it.)Report

          • Scott the mediocre in reply to Rufus F. says:

            google is your friend
            (can’t find a translation credit; seems OK on quick scan)
   (seems like an amateur translation, not so good though infinitely better than I could do)
            (OCR of the Buckley translation – all the text and notes, but in a hard to read format)

            • Rufus F. in reply to Scott the mediocre says:

              Thanks for that!

              Yeah, I usually recommend the MIT Internet Classics Library, and was thinking of linking to that for this one, but you’ll notice that it cuts off about 2/3rds of the way in- before Iphigenia even has any lines! I didn’t know what that was about.

              I also looked in Google Books- but you get a lot of late 19th century translations with lots of thees and thous, which reads weird.

              The second link there is okay, but it has the happy ending that I’m pretty sure is false.

              So, I’ll add the Buckley translation as a link, although I agree with you about the format being hard to read. And thanks again.Report

              • Scott the mediocre in reply to Rufus F. says:

                The text version at MIT is complete (or at least it goes to the end):
       (still no translation credit that I can find; style reads like late 19th/early 20th)

                it’s got the replacement with the hind/stag at the end

                the HTML looks like it was some sort of autoconverter that died in the middle of Clytaemnestra’s speech.

                regarding the second one, I didn’t look to the end – the translation so grated on my internal ear that I stopped. Sorry for the bogus link.

                what translation would you recommend (i.e. of the dead tree variety)?Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to Scott the mediocre says:

                It’s no problem. I think I’ll use the MIT text version. Usually I just read the Loeb Classical library translations, although a lot of people find them too dry and awkward. I like them. I know the Penn Greek Drama Series has covered this one and I really like their other translations, so I’d probably get that.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I’m maybe a bit helpful if there are questions about Chateaubriand,
        Besides white wine and shallots, what would you put in the marinade?Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to RTod says:

      Here’s some discussion of how actual Classical cultures treated women:

  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. 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. 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