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Iphigenia.

From Myths and Legends of all nations
by Logan Marshall
Age suitability 8 Plus.

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King Agamemnon sat in his tent at Aulis, where the army of the Greeks was gathered together, being about to sail against the great city of Troy. And it was now past midnight; but the king slept not, for he was careful and troubled about many things. And he had a lamp before him and in his hand a tablet of pine wood, whereon he wrote. But he seemed not to remain in the same mind about that which he wrote; for now he would blot out the letters, and then would write them again; and now he fastened the seal upon the tablet and then brake it. And as he did this he wept and was like to a man distracted. But after a while he called to an old man, his attendant (the man had been given in time past by Tyndareus to his daughter, Queen Clytæmnestra) and said: "Old man, thou knowest how Calchas the soothsayer bade me offer for a sacrifice to Artemis, who is goddess of this place, my daughter Iphigenia, saying that so only should the army have a prosperous voyage from this place to Troy, and should take the city and destroy it; and how when I heard these words I bade Talthybius the herald go throughout the army and bid them depart, every man to his own country, for that I would not do this thing; and how my brother, King Menelaüs, persuaded me so that I consented to it. Now, therefore, hearken to this, for what I am about to tell thee three men only know, namely, Calchas the soothsayer, and Menelaüs, and Ulysses, king of Ithaca. I wrote a letter to my wife the queen, that she should send her daughter to this place, that she might be married to King Achilles; and I magnified the man to her, saying that he would in no wise sail with us unless I would give him my daughter in marriage. But now I have changed my purpose and have written another letter after this fashion, as I will now set forth to thee: '_Daughter of Leda, send not thy child to the land of Eubœa, for I will give her in marriage at another time._'"



"Aye," said the old man, "but how wilt thou deal with King Achilles? Will he not be wroth, hearing that he hath been cheated of his wife?" "Not so," answered the king, "for we have indeed used his name, but he knoweth nothing of this marriage. And now make haste. Sit not thou down by any fountain in the woods, and suffer not thine eyes to sleep. And beware lest the chariot bearing the queen and her daughter pass thee where the roads divide. And see that thou keep the seal upon this letter unbroken." So the old man departed with the letter. But scarcely had he left the tent when King Menelaüs spied him and laid hands on him, taking the letter and breaking the seal. And the old man cried out: "Help, my lord; here is one hath taken thy letter!" Then King Agamemnon came forth from his tent, saying, "What meaneth this uproar and disputing that I hear?" And Menelaüs answered, "Seest thou this letter that I hold in my hand?" "I see it: it is mine. Give it to me." "I give it not till I have read that which is written therein to all the army of the Greeks." "Where didst thou find it?" "I found it while I waited for thy daughter till she should come to the camp." "What hast thou to do with that? May I not rule my own household?" Then Menelaüs reproached his brother because he did not continue in one mind. "For first," he said, "before thou wast chosen captain of the host, thou wast all things to all men, greeting every man courteously, and taking him by the hand, and talking with him, and leaving thy doors open to any that would enter; but afterwards, being now chosen, thou wast haughty and hard of access. And next, when this trouble came upon the army, and thou wast sore afraid lest thou shouldst lose thy office and so miss renown, didst thou not hearken to Calchas the soothsayer, and promise thy daughter for sacrifice, and send for her to the camp, making pretence of giving her in marriage to Achilles? And now thou art gone back from thy word. Surely this is an evil day for Greece, that is troubled because thou wantest wisdom."



Then answered King Agamemnon: "What is thy quarrel with me? Why blamest thou me if thou couldst not rule thy wife? And now to win back this woman, because forsooth she is fair, thou castest aside both reason and honor. And I, if I had an ill purpose and now have changed it for that which is wiser, dost thou charge me with folly? Let them that sware the oath to Tyndareus go with thee on this errand. Why should I slay my child and work for myself sorrow and remorse without end that thou mayest have vengeance for thy wicked wife?" Then Menelaüs turned away in a rage, crying, "Betray me if thou wilt. I will betake myself to other counsels and other friends." But even as he spake there came a messenger, saying, "King Agamemnon, I am come, as thou badest me, with thy daughter Iphigenia. Also her mother, Queen Clytæmnestra, is come, bringing with her her little son Orestes. And now they are resting themselves and their horses by the side of a spring, for indeed the way is long and weary. And all the army is gathered about them to see them and greet them. And men question much wherefore they are come, saying. 'Doth the king make a marriage for his daughter; or hath he sent for her, desiring to see her?' But I know thy purpose, my lord; wherefore we will dance and shout and make merry, for this is a happy day for the maiden." But the King Agamemnon was sore dismayed when he knew that the queen was come, and spake to himself, "Now what shall I say to my wife? For that she is rightly come to the marriage of her daughter, who can deny? But what will she say when she knoweth my purpose? And of the maiden, what shall I say? Unhappy maiden whose bridegroom shall be death! For she will cry to me, 'Wilt thou kill me, my father?' And the little Orestes will wail, not knowing what he doeth, seeing he is but a babe. Cursed be Paris, who hath wrought this woe!"



And now King Menelaüs came back, saying that it repented him of what he had said, "For why should thy child die for me? What hath she to do with Helen? Let the army be scattered, so that this wrong be not done." Then said King Agamemnon, "But how shall I escape from this strait? For the whole host will compel me to this deed?" "Not so," said King Menelaüs, "if thou wilt send back the maiden to Argos." "But what shall that profit," said the king; "for Calchas will cause the matter to be known, or Ulysses, saying that I have failed of my promise; and if I fly to Argos, they will come and destroy my city and lay waste my land. Woe is me! in what a strait am I set! But take thou care, my brother, that Clytæmnestra hear nothing of these things." And when he had ended speaking, the queen herself came unto the tent, riding in a chariot, having her daughter by her side. And she bade one of the attendants take out with care the caskets which she had brought for her daughter, and bade others help her daughter to alight and herself also, and to a fourth she said that he should take the young Orestes. Then Iphigenia greeted her father, saying, "Thou hast done well to send for me, my father."



"'Tis true and yet not true, my child." "Thou lookest not well pleased to see me, my father." "He that is a king and commandeth a host hath many cares." "Put away thy cares awhile and give thyself to me." "I am glad beyond measure to see thee." "Glad art thou? Then why dost thou weep?" "I weep because thou must be long time absent from me." "Perish all these fightings and troubles!" "They will cause many to perish, and me most miserably of all." "Art thou going a journey from me, my father?" "Aye, and thou also hast a journey to make." "Must I make it alone, or with my mother?" "Alone; neither father nor mother may be with thee." "Sendest thou me to dwell elsewhere?" "Hold thy peace: such things are not for maidens to inquire." "Well, my father, order matters with the Phrygians and then make haste to return." "I must first make a sacrifice to the gods." "'Tis well. The gods should have due honor." "Aye, and thou wilt stand close to the altar." "Shall I lead the dances, my father?" "O my child, how I envy thee, that thou knowest naught! And now go into the tent; but first kiss me and give me thy hand, for thou shalt be parted from thy father for many days." And when she was gone within, he cried, "O fair bosom and very lovely cheeks and yellow hair of my child! O city of Priam, what woe thou bringest on me! But I must say no more."

       



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