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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. 


Debra She Who Seeks said...

What a soap opera! And jeez, was there a Greek movie of that era that Irene Papas was NOT in?

Sue Bursztynski said...

She got a LOT of work, yes, Debra! And not only in Greek movies. Trojan Women was an English language Hollywood movie. She also played Zipporah, the wife of Moses, in the Burt Lancaster version. 🙂 and yes, very much a soapie, agreed! 😉

Iain Kelly said...

I think this is the first of your posts where I am completely unfamiliar with the character and the story. Thanks for the introduction!

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

I wrote a poem about Iphinegia among the Taureans back in high school or college, if I remember correctly. Not very good, I'm sure, but I did find the scenario interesting.
Black and White: I for Isles

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Iain! I’m glad to have been able to introduce you to a myth unfamiliar to you! You will certainly know Monday’s myth, which is about Jason.

Hi Stu! Are you an actor or producer, then? How interesting to know! I hope you get your production. It’s such a powerful story, isn’t it?

Hi Anne! Do you still have that poem somewhere? You are very good at other things, such as art, so even if the poem was not much good, you still have plenty of stuff that is. I should add, we all have something we wrote way back when that we find embarrassing, I know I do. I wrote a dreadful play about the Trojan War, myself, in Year 12. 😁

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

I always felt sorry for Iphigenia, whether she died or not.

The Multicolored Diary

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Zalka! Yes, she was hard done by. Imagine being tricked by your father, who wants to kill you! And for what? A bit of wind!

Melanie Crouse said...

Sue, this was a great story. I'm also new to this story. I'm learning so many things from following you this month in the A-Z Challenge.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi, Mr,snide, so glad you’re enjoying this! I’ll be interested to see what you think of the next post, on Jason!

Melanie Atherton Allen said...

Wow, another really interesting post. And another story that I only knew pieces of.

I liked the thing about the woman leaving the cinema to go have a cry somewhere.

Operation Awesome said...

Fascinating to come across a story I've not come across before. I thought I knew all the Greek myths and legends, but I guess I'm wrong.

Olga Godim said...

Love Greek myths. So much blood!

Jayashree Srivatsan said...

I have come across stories and movies about human sacrifice and the premise is either a tribal group in a jungle or a dark sorcerer trying to appease dark spirits to get some special powers.... I love Greek myths but the names are sometimes so confusing !

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Melanie A! Oddly, I was about to burst into tears, but the other woman beat me to it and I stopped. A very sad scene!

Hi Awesome! I don’t think we ever know it all. I’m sure there are plenty of stories I haven’t come across. It makes it all thr more fun to discover them, doesn’t it? Glad you are enjoying!

Hi Olga! Mythology does tend to have lots of blood and violence in it, and I’m including our own; I tell people who ask that what I like about the Biblevisxall the sex and violence. 😉

Hi Jayashree! If you read Robert Graves’ book The Greek Myths, you’ll find plenty of human sacrifice in the notes, mainly about the Sacred King, who was killed off after a few years on the throne, to make way for a younger man who would keep the land fertile. That was the real world behind the myths.

Debs Carey said...

OK, that one was packed so full of detail that my poor brain is quite exhausted.

A-Zing from Fiction Can Be Fun
Normally found at Debs Despatches

AJ Blythe said...

Wow, that must have been one heck of a speech to affect someone so much they had to leave the cinema!

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Drama, drama, drama. I know the Greeks are credited with gifting the world with comedy and tragedy -- and now we can add soap operas to that!

Ronel visiting for the A-Z Challenge with an A-Z of Faerie: Different Imps in Folklore

Guillaume said...

I loved Moses the Lawgivee with Burt Lancaster. Script of... Anthony Burgess.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Oh, yes, Guillaume! A wonderful mini series, not only an amazing cast but the author of A Clockwork Orange writing the script, Ennio Morricone doing the score. Even the novelisation was by Thomas Keneally of Schindler’s List fame!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Yep, Ronel, there was a lot of soap going on in the myths. Agreed!

Oh, wow, Stuart! Most impressive!