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Friday, April 16, 2021

A to Z Challenge 2021 - O Is For Orpheus


Public Domain

The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is probably one of the best known of the Greek myths. 

Still, I’ll share it here with you, because there is more than Eurydice here - and there has been so much inspiration from the story, which I will also share. 

Orpheus was a king of Thrace. His mother was the Muse of epic poetry, Calliope, who taught her son. Apollo gave the boy his first lyre. She had another son, Linus, also a genius with a lyre, but he was killed accidentally by his klutzy pupil Heracles.

Orpheus’s music was so beautiful that it could get animals and birds to stop and listen, and even the trees danced. Shakespeare wrote this for his play Henry VIII

Orpheus with his lute made trees, 

And the mountain tops that freeze, 

Bow themselves when he did sing:

To his music plants and flowers 

Ever sprung; as sun and showers 

There had made a lasting spring. 

Every thing that heard him play, 

Even the billows of the sea, 

Hung their heads, and then lay by. 

In sweet music is such art, 

Killing care and grief of heart 

Fall asleep, or hearing, die.

I’d say the Bard of Avon describes the Bard of Greek Myth pretty well.

Did you know Orpheus was an Argonaut? He was very useful on that voyage, especially when the Argo passed the land of the Sirens. Odysseus had his crew plug their ears to avoid the fatal singers luring them on to shore, and had himself tied to the mast so her could listen without risking death himself.

None of that was necessary with the Argonauts; Orpheus just played them through. His music was so much more beautiful than theirs that nobody needed earplugs or tying up. He drowned them out.

Afterwards, he married the beautiful Eurydice. When she was killed by a snakebite, he grieved so much for her, he went to the Underworld to get her back.  His music charmed both the ferryman of the Styx river, Charon, and Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog of the realm of Hades, so that he got through. 

Hades was so touched by his music that he said, “Okay. You can take her back on one condition. Neither of you can look back till you reach the light.” I don’t think anyone has explained why, but there is always one deal breaker, whether in mythology or folk tales. Orpheus agreed and his wife followed him back towards the light. 

You know what happened next. Poor Orpheus. Poor Eurydice. 

But life goes on. And Orpheus’s did. Thrace was a pretty wild land, very committed to Dionysus, god of wine, whose followers were crazy women, the Maenads. They had a tendency to literally tear their victims apart in a fit of madness. And Orpheus, that follower of Apollo, was not popular. A bunch of Maenads ripped him apart, a very painful way to go.

His head was undamaged, though, and when it was thrown in the water, with his lyre, it floated away to Lesbos, still singing. There, it was given a shrine and did oracles for some time. The lyre was placed in the stars, becoming a constellation, Lyra. The Muses, his aunts, gathered up the rest of him and buried them. Orpheus became the subject of a mystery religion. The story of the head rather reminds me of the one in the Mabinogion, with the head of Bran the Blessed, which went right on talking to his followers for eighty years after his death.

He has inspired a lot of art, music and film. There was an opera by Gluck, and the delightfully funny operetta by Offenbach, which you can find on YouTube.

In that version, Eurydice is not keen on his music and is attracted by a handsome shepherd who is not what he seems, and runs off with him. Orpheus really doesn’t want to go after her, but is forced to go by Public Opinion. The can-can tune so familiar to all of us is a dance of the gods.

A 1959 film, Black Orpheus, tells the story set in Brazil, during the Rio Carnival. 

Finally for this post there is Sir Orfeo, a Middle English poem translated by, among others, Tolkien. That version is set in England, of course, Winchester to be specific, which the poet explains was called Thrace in those days. 

Eurydice, his Queen, is called Herodis, and is kidnapped by the King of Faerie, after sleeping under an “ympe tree”. The grieving Orfeo goes into the wilderness, leaving his kingdom in the charge of a steward. One day, he sees a Faerie hunt going by, with his wife among the riders. He manages to get into the Otherworld - the world of Faerie, which is also the Underworld. Outside the castle of the Faerie King, he sees people as they were when they died. Herodis is asleep under that tree. Inside, he plays movingly for the King, who offers him a wish. You can guess what he wishes. 

But this is where the ending changes. There is no condition attached and the lovers get back safely to Winchester - er, Thrace - where he leaves his wife in the town, while he goes to find out what has happened since he left.

He sees the steward ride by and the steward sees his harp. Orfeo is a bit shabby after all these years, so isn’t recognisable, but the steward says, “I see you’re a musician like my old master. For his sake, do come back to the castle and have something to eat.”

Back at the castle, Orfeo is entertained and the steward says, “That harp looks familiar, where did you get it?” 

Testing him, Orfeo says, “I found it with a dead body out in the wilderness.”

The steward bursts into tears, Orfeo now knows he is loyal and reassures him, then sends for his lovely Queen and everyone lives happily ever after.

Pity the myth didn’t end that way. 

See you on Monday, when P is for Prometheus!

Thursday, April 15, 2021

A to Z Blogging Challenge 2021 - N Is For Nausicaa And Narcissus


Public Domain

Who would have thought that washing clothes could be fun? A social occasion even? But this is what happens in the Odyssey when a bunch of girls go out to the river to do the laundry and run into a stranded hero. 

Not that it’s quite by chance. 

Nausicaa, daughter of the Phaeacian king, has a dream - or, rather, a Dream - in which she is told to get the laundry and go to the river to wash. The dream is from the goddess Athene, who wants to help Odysseus, and takes the form of Nausicaa’s best friend, Dynas. 

So, in the morning, Nausicaa and her friends go off down to the river, not far from the beach, with all the palace laundry in a cart driven by our heroine, plus a picnic lunch and wine packed by Nausicaa’s Mum, Queen Arete, and cheerfully wash everything in the river before settling down for lunch and playing ball while they wait for the clothes to dry.

See what I mean about washing clothes being fun? 

As they play games, a badly thrown ball wakes up the shipwrecked Odysseus, who stands and asks Nausicaa where he is and please, could he borrow some clothes to get into town. 

The Princess obliges, as well as feeding him and letting him get washed, and soon Odysseus is at the palace, where he is made welcome and tells the story of his adventures. Eventually the Phaeacians take him the rest of the way home and leave him on the beach at Ithaca with some gifts. 

Nausicaa is such a delightful teenager, complete with best friends, and gets on with everyone. It must be such a relief for Odysseus to finally meet some nice people and a young woman who isn’t trying to keep him as her lover. 

Robert Graves has suggested that not only did a woman probably write the Odyssey, because of all the domestic detail(Nausicaa’s mother is already busy weaving when she gets up in the morning and goes to ask her parents if she can go clothes washing), but that the author was Nausicaa. He wrote a novel about it, Homer’s Daughter.

The 1950s film Ulysses, with Kirk Douglas, is worth a watch.

Here it is on YouTube. 

It was a pleasant break to find our hero not being menaced by monsters or held prisoner by some goddess wanting him as a toy boy. But now, back to the standard Greek myth! The story of Narcissus! 

Narcissus. Public Domain

Narcissus is a beautiful young man who has never seen his reflection. His mother has had some advice from the seer Tiresias that Narcissus will live a good long life as long as he never sees himself.

Echo is a nymph with a pretty voice who got into trouble with Hera for distracting her with funny stories while Zeus was busy with other women. Hera lets her keep her voice, but only allows her to repeat what other people have said.

So - a woodland. A beautiful boy and a girl who is smitten with him, but can’t tell him so. And - fatally - a pool. No, nobody drowns. But fatal anyway.

Echo lets Narcissus see her. He gets annoyed with her for repeating him and he certainly isn’t interested in a romance. Flinging her aside, he turns to the pool. 

You probably heard this story in primary school and know what happens next, but I’ll say it anyway. The boy sees his reflection in the pool and, like a budgie in front of a mirror, falls deeply in love, thinking it’s someone else looking back at him. Unlike a budgie, he doesn’t get distracted, and keeps staring at himself till some god turns him into a flower. 

This is what we call a narcissus flower today, the humble daffodil. 

Public domain

Whether the flower was named for the myth or not, I don’t know, but we certainly use the term narcissist for someone who thinks more about himself than others and has no empathy for anyone else. I’m sure we can all think of someone who fits this description! 

As for poor sad Echo, she faded away till there was nothing left of her but her voice, still only able to repeat what someone else says.

Tomorrow we will meet Orpheus, a King of Thrace who went on the voyage of the Argo, but is best known for what happened to his wife... 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2021 - M Is For Medusa

 Today’s mythical person is the Gorgon Medusa, the lady with the snaky hair. You probably know that story about Perseus killing her, but did you know there were three Gorgons? Medusa and her sisters Stheno and Euryale were the daughters of sea gods Phorcys and Ceto, as were the three Graeae, the sisters with one eye and one tooth between them, who also come into the story of Perseus.

Public Domain

Two of the three Gorgons were immortal; Medusa was the poor sod who got stuck with mortality and so was the subject of young heroes trying their luck at slaying a monster.

In most stories Medusa was punished by Athene for having sex with Poseidon in her temple. Poseidon may have been getting back at Athene for winning the job of patron of Athens. It was rape, according to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, so not her fault, but Athene must have found it easier to get revenge on Medusa than Poseidon, so turned the beautiful girl into a monster with snakes for hair; anyone who looked into her face turned to stone. 

Her sisters were there at the time, so were also turned into monsters, but remember, they were immortal. 

Poor Medusa! Stuck with those snakes for hair and taking refuge in a cave, she surely wasn’t harming anyone where she was, but the same sort of young heroes who, centuries later, would be chasing dragons, came charging up to her cave to slay her and ended up as sculptures.

And lying there asleep, minding her own business, she wakes up to find another one of these heroes getting ready to lop her head off, and this time he has equipment to help him finish her, supplied by the gods, including Athene, who was responsible for her troubles in the first place! Furious? You bet! I would be too.

Medusa has been the inspiration for a lot of creativity. Did you know there is a Gorgon on the flag of Sicily, by the way? 

British horror film, The Gorgon, was made in 1964, starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, with a future Time Lord(Patrick Troughton)as a police inspector. The Gorgon of the title is in human form most of the time, in between turning into a snake-haired being turning people into stone. This Gorgon is called Megaera and is supposed to be a sister of Medusa.

There is a short story by an Aussie author in which Medusa is still around and making a living as a sculptor, though she cheats by taking men home, petrifying them and selling them as art works! 

The Medusa scene in the 1981 Clash Of The Titans is breathtakingly scary. It was stop motion master Ray Harryhausen’s last film and while the story was pretty silly, there is no doubt the Medusa scene is a classic to stand alongside the same artist’s skeleton scene in Jason And The Argonauts(which, by the way, is up on YouTube if you want to see it). Medusa is a snake herself, though with a human face and torso under the hissing snakes of her hair. It’s hard to believe she was ever beautiful or even human.

Here is a link to that scene on YouTube.

Look it up and enjoy. There is a 2010 remake, which has a cheeky reference in one scene to the original, and it’s fun, but nothing can beat the artistry of Ray Harryhausen.

Tomorrow, we meet Narcissus and Nausicaa! 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2021 - L Is For Lamia, Laomedon And Laocoon

 Today’s Greek myths involve some lesser known characters. Two of them are connected with the story of Troy, the other is a nursery bogey(and more). 

Lamia. Public Domain 

Lamia was, in the beginning, a beautiful woman, a Queen of Libya. She was so beautiful, in fact, that she scored Zeus for a lover. He gave her a party trick which enabled her to pull out her eyes and pop them back in. No idea why she wanted that particular super power, but there you are. It sounds a bit like St Lucy, a virgin Christian martyr who dealt with a particularly annoying suitor by pulling out her eyes and saying, “You like my eyes? There you are, have them!”

But Lamia was anything but a virgin or a martyr. She and her godly lover had several children. Predictably this affair annoyed Hera, who killed off all her children except Scylla(you know - the girl who was turned into a monster for stealing Circe’s boyfriend?). Personally I would have thought that it would make more sense to kill off Lamia, so Zeus couldn’t sleep with her any more, but gods don’t have a lot of logic in their make-up. As her revenge, Lamia started killing and eating other people’s children, and eventually became as ugly on the outside as on the inside, something to scare kids with - “Behave or I’ll call Lamia to eat you!” She must have been able to hide that, though, because she became an incubus, hanging around with the Empusae, daughters of Hecate, who seduced and vampirised young men. The Empusae were apparently easy to get rid of, if you knew what you were dealing with; you just had to be rude to them!

Public Domain

Laomedon was a king of Troy. At one stage, he needed walls built, and what was better than having them built by gods? As it happened, two of them were available. Poseidon and Apollo were in trouble with Zeus for getting on the wrong side of a quarrel with Hera and participating in an unsuccessful rebellion against Zeus. 

The problem was, Laomedon was cheap. Like an idiot, he didn’t pay them the agreed rate for building the walls, and, this being Greece, not the Norse myths, he didn’t have Loki to fix it for him.. Yet another idiot moral trying to cheat gods! Apollo sent a plague and Poseidon a sea monster, to which he had to sacrifice his daughter, Hesione(sound familiar?). She was rescued by Heracles, who jumped into the monster’s throat and spent three days struggling with it. The price was Laomedon’s immortal white horses. 

But even with his daughter safe, he still tried to cheat Heracles by fobbing him off with ordinary horses. A bit like promising Shadowfax and handing over Bill the pony instead. There are other versions of the story, but this one is how I see Laomedon.

Anyway, Troy suffered for his behaviour, with Heracles sacking it and killing Laomedon and all his sons except for Priam, who had argued  for honesty with the mares. So Priam was put on the throne, presumably to get the city back in shape, at least till the Trojan War ended it, and Hesione was taken away to Salamis, where she became the wife of Heracles’ good pal Telamon. That’s what happens when you try to cheat gods and demigods.

Laocoon and his sons. Public Domain 

Finally, for today, we will meet Laocoon. Laocoon was a priest of Apollo, who also had to take over the priesthood of Poseidon, which had been out of action for nine years while the war was going on. But the Greeks had built the Wooden Horse in hopes of ending the war their way, and put their heroes in it. And those gods were not on the side of the Trojans. 

There was a debate going on about whether or not they should take the Horse into the city. They had “captured” a Greek spy, Sinon, who spun them a plausible yarn about why it was there. Laocoon was highly suspicious. He stuck a spear into the Horse’s side, nearly skewering a Greek hero. He said he was going away to do a sacrifice to Poseidon and hoped that they would have the sense to burn it in the meantime. 

Again - Apollo and Poseidon were not on his side. He had annoyed them both. When he waded into the water, a couple of serpents wound themselves around him - and his sons - and killed them. 

I’m sure you can figure out what happened next. His death was so obviously a Sign! A Portent! Obviously the Horse had to go into the city. 

Mind you, Helen was also suspicious and took a look around, later that evening, calling out to the men she just knew were in there, mimicking their wives’ voices. She nearly succeeded, but they managed to keep quiet.

It’s not for nothing “Trojan Horse” is still used as a computer term and for anything else that sneaks in something you really don’t want there!  

Tomorrow, we will meet Medusa.

Monday, April 12, 2021

A To Z Blogging Challenge - K Is For Kassiopeia

 Today, I’m grabbing the chance to use the spelling most convenient to me. I could have spelt it with a C, the most common spelling, but then I’d have to think about another K word, and that might be Kassandra, whose name is also most commonly spelt with a C, anyway. 

Anyway, today’s focus is on a woman who was part of someone else’s story, that of Perseus, and her daughter, Andromeda’s.  

Public Domain. Notice that Pegasus is in there?

Kassiopeia is one of those Mums of Mythology who say something that upsets a god or more than one and pays for it. In fact, their kids usually pay for it. 

There is, for example, Niobe, a woman who bragged that she was much better off than Leto, the mother of Artemis and Apollo, because she had fourteen kids and Leto only had two. You can guess what happened next - Leto’s kids wiped them out. Niobe turned into a rock that kept weeping for them, ie a spring, but poetic.

There is the mother of Psyche in Lucius Apuleius’s charming novel The Golden Ass. She bragged that her girl was lovelier than Venus. And yes, was ordered to tie up Psyche where she could be carried off by a monster. Fortunately, the “monster” turned out to be Cupid, so that was okay, but Psyche went through a lot in a story not unlike the fairytale “East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon”.

Kassiopeia was the wife of Cepheus, the Ethiopian King of Joppa, which is now Jaffa, right near Tel Aviv. I’ve been there! 

For some reason, artists of the past never seem to paint her as black. And the role, in the original Clash Of The Titans,  was played by Sian Phillips. Oh, well.

She had some godly relatives, being the daughter of a sea nymph, so she may even have been related to the goddesses she offended, but then again, she had been living a normal mortal life and you just don’t tell everyone that your daughter is more beautiful than the Nereids, daughters of the sea god Nereus, even if she is! (One of them, by the way, was Thetis, mother of Achilles).

Next thing the people of Joppa knew, there was a flood, organised by Poseidon, to whom the girls complained, and it was not going to stop until a naked Andromeda was sacrificed to the sea monster which he also sent. 

So, the poor girl was stripped and tied to a rock to await her doom. But the young hero Perseus was flying overhead with his winged sandals, after killing the Gorgon, and immediately fell for her. 

If you think he was just helping out of kindness, think again. Perseus flew down to the distraught parents first, and offered to rescue their daughter provided they agreed to let him marry her and take her home to Greece with him. 

“Yes, yes, anything, just save her!” they scream.

So, Perseus flies up again and, according to the account I’ve read, instead of using Medusa’s head right away, cuts off the monster’s head, but stone was in there somewhere, after his heroic achievement, and he freed Andromeda and took her back to shore. 

At this point, Kassiopeia is not crazy about the idea of marrying her daughter to some flying stranger who wants to take her away, and anyway, she was actually betrothed to someone else. 

“Let’s get married now!” says Andromeda, who knows her mother very well, besides which, who’d want to stick around till the next idiocy that comes out of Kassiopeia’s mouth? 

The someone else turns up demanding his bride. Kassiopeia tells everyone that the agreement with Perseus was made under duress, so doesn’t count. She does have a point there, but there is a huge fight, during which Perseus uses Medusa’s head to wipe out 200 men, then flies off with his bride. 

The whole family ended up as constellations in the sky, but Kassiopeia is shown sometimes as upside down in her chair, to make her look ridiculous.

Public Domain

I mentioned that I was in Jaffa. That was years ago, but I saw the rock of Andromeda, though at the time I was told it was supposed to be the monster turned into stone; apparently that was taken to Rome! Still, it was fascinating to be right where it all happened. 

Come back tomorrow for some L people from the myths! 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2021 - J Is For Jason

Jason And Pelias. Public Domain

Today, we will be meeting Jason and the Argonauts. This one of
  the best-known stories of Greek myth. It’s one of the foundations of the quest story, but I’ll be keeping that part of the story for a post called Q Is For Quests. It has been filmed and written into a lot of fiction. 

I’ve already mentioned some of the novels - Medea by Kerry Greenwood, in which Jason is shown as an idiot and the story is seen from Medea’s viewpoint. Circe has a brief appearance at Circe’s island by Medea, who doesn’t pay attention to her aunt’s advice. Voyage With Jason by Ken Catran. Jason, by Henry Treece. In Mary Renault’s The King Must Die, Medea appears as King Aegeus’s lover, in Athens, and tries to poison Theseus. Aegeus stops the poison attempt when he sees a token that makes him realise Theseus is his son.

There is, of course, the classic Ray Harryhausen film Jason And The Argonauts, which is best known for its SFX, like the giant sea person who holds aside the Clashing Rocks for the Argo to pass, and the most famous scene, with the armed skeletons springing from the earth to fight Jason. If you haven’t seen it you are missing out.

So, what is the story? Young Jason is the son of Aeson, the King of Iolcus and his Queen. The throne is usurped by Aeson’s half-brother Pelias, who goes through the royal family like a hot knife through butter, but Jason’s Mum manages to smuggle him out to be brought up by the wise Centaur Cheiron, teacher of so many famous heroes of the myths. 

Pelias has had a prophecy that he will be killed by a man with one sandal, so when Jason turns up, muddy and with one sandal after stumbling in the stream and losing it, Pelias knows he has met his doom (Not quite true, actually, as we shall see). 

I don’t know if you have ever read the Dark Lord’s list, which goes through all the things the author would do if they were a Dark Lord, but here is one thing I would have done if I was Pelias: called the guards and had Jason killed on the spot. On the other hand, it never works that way in the myths, does it? So...Pelias instead asks Jason what he’d do if he had heard a prophecy of someone who was going to kill him, and the young man pipes up, “Oh, I’d send him off to Colchis, to retrieve the Golden Fleece! By the way, Sir, this is my kingdom, I’d like it back.”

“Okay,” says Pelias, “you can have the kingdom when you come back with the Golden Fleece.” 

This was the fleece of a magical ram that flew off with two kids on its back, saving them from bring sacrificed. It is now hanging up on a tree in far-off Colchis, the kingdom of Aeetes, Circe’s brother (Robert Graves tells us that’s in what is now Georgia). 

So, Jason commissions a ship, the Argo, by a guy called Argus, who goes with him on the adventure. 

Then he sends out a call for a company of heroes to go with him. There is quite an impressive array of people on that trip. I’ll go into more detail later, in my Q post, but there are fifty of them, including one woman, Atalanta, she of the golden apples fame, Heracles and his squire Hylas, Orpheus the musician. Calais and Zetes, the sons of Boreas, the North Wind, have wings. There is even one trans crew member, Caeneus the Lapith, who used to be a woman! I think that that they were all heroes in their own right who were gathered for this story, a bit like Arthur’s men in Culhwch and Olwen

It might be interesting to wonder who missed out in the crew auditions...

So, our young heroes set off on their quest, sneak past Troy, which doesn’t let anyone past without paying a toll, have a number of adventures and eventually find themselves in Colchis, asking nicely for the Golden Fleece. Aeetes says no, very loudly, but hands out some impossible tasks anyway. 

At this point, they need the help of Aphrodite, who sends her son Eros aka Cupid(Roman name) to shoot the king’s daughter, Medea, a skilled sorceress, to make her fall for Jason. She does, but makes him swear by all the gods that he will marry her and no unfaithfulness, ever.

Jason and Medea, Waterhouse. Public Donain

The Golden Fleece is guarded by an unsleeping dragon, but Medea manages to put it to sleep anyway, and they grab the Fleece and head for the Argo

There are plenty more adventures on the way back, including killing off Medea’s brother, who has pursued them, and - eventually - Pelias. Here is where it’s not quite as prophesied. See, Pelias is not so easy to kill, and he has an army. One of Jason’s crew is Pelias’s son, who says, “No offence, Jason, but I’m not helping to kill my Dad.” 

“Leave it to me,” says Medea, and sneaks in disguised as an old lady, and suckers Pelias and his daughters into believing she can rejuvenate him with some Celtic style cauldron, by cutting him into pieces. Yuk! 

At this point, Jason wins the fight, but he isn’t getting his kingdom back after that stunt. He hands it over to another son of Pelias and travels on. 

They go to Corinth, where it turns out that Medea is the rightful heir to the throne and they settle down to rule, with lots of kids. This could be happily ever after, except... it turns out that Medea poisoned the last king. Jason loses his nerve and divorces her, to marry a girl called Glauce. Medea reminds him of his vow, and that strictly speaking, it’s her kingdom, not his. He says the people like him better anyway, so tough.

Big mistake. She kills her rival with a very Morgan Le Fay-style flaming cloak and crown, then flies off in a chariot pulled by dragons, leaving behind her many children. The story of her killing two is only one version of the story, but considering how many people she did kill, those two can be left out. 

Interestingly, after a few more adventures, Medea settled down happily with a new husband and had an afterlife in Elysium. 

As for Jason, he ended up in exile, unpopular and homeless. He was killed by the falling prow of the Argo, under which he was spending the night.

What a way for a questing hero to end, eh? A bit sad. 

Tomorrow, I’ll take you into the middle of another adventure, in which you will meet a Queen and mother called Kassiopeia. 

See you then! 

Friday, April 09, 2021

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2021 - I Is For Iphigenia


Iphigenia by Jacques Louis David. Public Domain

In an earlier post, I mentioned Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia, who was lured to Aulis to be sacrificed to Artemis, to get her Dad and his army a favourable wind to Troy. There are Greek tragedies about it and a film by Michael Cacoyannis, released in 1977.

I saw that at the cinema when it came out. It was in Greek, with English sub titles, with Irene Papas as Clytemnestra. Incidentally, she also played the role of  Helen in an English language film of Euripides’ The Trojan Women, along with Katherine Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave and Genevieve Bujold, in 1971. 

This one was based on Iphigenia At Aulis, also by Euripides, but changed. It is implied that it’s the priests of Artemis, not Artemis herself, who are responsible for the young woman’s death, as revenge for her father killing a sacred deer. At the end of the film, the wind starts blowing before the sacrifice. Agamemnon realises and starts running for the altar to stop it - too late. 

First, though, before the sacrifice begins, Iphigenia makes a dramatic speech about how if someone has to die, it may as well be her, thinking of the mothers of all those soldiers who may die in the war. Young Achilles declares that although it was a lie about marrying him that got her there, he’d be glad to have her for a wife. 

A woman sitting behind me at the cinema burst into tears during that speech and had to leave, presumably to cry it out somewhere else.

That is the story we know best, but there is another. In this other version of the story, the goddess whisks her away in a cloud just in time and takes her to Tauris, where she is appointed High Priestess of Artemis. Sounds like a happy ending, doesn’t it? 

Iphigenia At Tauris. Public Domain

Not quite. In Tauris, they have the charming custom of sacrificing shipwrecked travellers and other arrivals to the goddess. And her High Priestess has to supervise the procedure. Poor Iphigenia is not keen on human sacrifice, but hasn’t much choice. 

Back home in Greece, her brother Orestes is still being pestered by the Erynnes, who have not accepted the gods’ verdict. He is told by an oracle to head to Tauris and fetch back a rather grim wooden  statue of Artemis held in the temple there, and then he will be free of those scary avengers. With his friend Pylades he follows orders. Reaching Tauris, our heroes are caught and taken to be sacrificed. Fortunately, brother and sister recognise each other in time. Iphigenia fetches the statue from its shelf and persuades the local king that these people are quite unfit for sacrifice till they and the statue are purified in the sea and that the people should stay home till it’s over, to avoid pollution. They escape in Orestes’ ship.

This is where it starts to get confusing, and more about the statue than the people. There is one scene where they arrive at an island run by the priest Chryses, whose daughter Chryseis was taken as loot by Agamemnon in the Iliad. She has a son, the younger Chryses, who thinks he is a demigod son of Apollo, but no, he’s the son of Agamemnon, as you might expect after what was done to his mother. When he realises Orestes is his half brother, he joins our heroes to fight off the pursuers from Tauris, instead of handing  them over.

The statue does eventually get back to Greece, but is carried here, there and everywhere before ending up in Sparta, where it apparently received human sacrifices for a long time before a Spartan king replaced them with flogging boys for their blood. The Spartan boys turned it into a macho thing to see who could take the most blows. That, I think, is history rather than myth. 

Orestes was finally free of the Erynnes and Pylades married Electra and the three siblings returned to Mycenae to reclaim their kingdom. That did rather mean getting rid of Aegisthus’s son, who was running the city, but still, it’s as happy an ending as we’re going to get here, though there were more adventures. 

I’ll leave it to you to look them up. 

Monday, we will be meeting Jason of Argonaut fame.