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Iphigenia in Greek myth

August 21, 2008

From James Hall’s Dictionary of Subjects & Symbols in Art.

Iphigenia.(Met.12:25-28). In Greek mythology the daughter of Agamemnon, King of Mycenae. Her father led the Greek forces against Troy. The expedition was at first prevented from sailing by unfavourable winds, so Agamemnon consulted a seer, Calchas. He was told that, because he had killed a stag sacred to Diana, he must propitiate the goddess by sacrificing his daughter to her. Iphigenia accepted her fate out of patriotic motives. According to some, at the last moment Diana substituted a stag for the human victim and carried Iphigenia away to be her priestess. However that may be, the winds changed and the Greeks were able to sail. The scene is an altar before which Iphigenia swoons, or sits resigned and calm. A grey bearded priest, robed and cowled, makes ready while an acolyte brings faggots or a vessel. Agamemnon is present in helmet and armour. Diana and the stag hover in a cloud overhead, unseen by the others.

Hall, J., Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, John Murray Ltd., London, 1989, ISBN 0 7195 4147 6, p.162.


From Who’s Who in the Ancient World by Betty Radice.

In origin possibly a local goddess identified with Artemis, but in classical mythology the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. She was summoned to Aulis when the Greek fleet was waiting to set sail for Troy to be sacrificed to Artemis, who was sending contrary winds – why Artemis demanded this is never made clear. In the version referred to in Aeschylus’s Agamemnon she is killed, and her death adds to Clytemnestra’s motive for killing her husband. Euripides followed another tradition in which Artemis carried her off at the crucial moment; this can be assumed from his last, unfinished Iphigenia in Aulis. In his Iphigenia in Tauris she is a priestess of Artemis among the Taurians (in the Crimea) and officiates at the local rite of sacrificing to Artemis any stranger who is captured. Her brother Orestes and his friend Pylades are brought to her, there is a classic recognition scene, and a dramatic escape. More than one Greek temple later claimed to possess the image of the goddess she carried away with her. Both plays were followed by Gluck in his operas Iphigénie en Aulide and Iphigénie en Tauride. Racine explored Agamemnon’s appalling dilemma in his Iphigenie; Goethe created an idealized heroine in his Iphigenie auf Tauris.

Radice, B., Who’s Who in the Ancient World, Penguin Books Ltd., London, 1973, ISBN 0-14-051055-9, p.142.

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