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Iphigenia.

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

Start of Story

Now when the maiden had been there many years she dreamed a dream. And in the dream she seemed to have departed from the land of the Taurians and to dwell in the city of Argos, wherein she had been born. And as she slept in the women's chamber there befell a great earthquake, and cast to the ground the palace of her fathers, so that there was left one pillar only which stood upright. And as she looked on this pillar, yellow hair seemed to grow upon it as the hair of a man, and it spake with a man's voice. And she did to it as she was wont to do to the strangers that were sacrificed upon the altar, purifying it with water and weeping the while. And the interpretation of the dream she judged to be that her brother Orestes was dead, for that male children are the pillars of a house, and that she only was left to the house of her father. Now it chanced that at this same time Orestes, with Pylades that was his friend, came in a ship to the land of the Taurians. And the cause of his coming was this. After that he had slain his mother, taking vengeance for the death of King Agamemnon his father, the Furies pursued him. Then Apollo, who had commanded him to do this deed, bade him go to the land of Athens that he might be judged. And when he had been judged and loosed, yet the Furies left him not. Wherefore Apollo commanded that he should sail for the land of the Taurians and carry thence the image of Artemis and bring it to the land of the Athenians, and that after this he should have rest.



Now when the two were come to the place, they saw the altar that it was red with the blood of them that had been slain thereon. And Orestes doubted how they might accomplish the things for the which he was come, for the walls of the temple were high and the gates not easy to be broken through. Therefore he would have fled to the ship, but Pylades consented not, seeing that they were not wont to go back from that to which they had set their hand, but counseled that they should hide themselves during the day in a cave that was hard by the seashore, not near to the ship, lest search should be made for them, and that by night they should creep into the temple by a space that there was between the pillars, and carry off the image, and so depart. So they hid themselves in a cavern by the sea. But it chanced that certain herdsmen were feeding their oxen in pastures hard by the shore; one of these, coming near to the cavern, spied the young men as they sat therein, and stealing back to his fellows, said, "See ye not them that sit yonder. Surely they are gods;" for they were exceeding tall and fair to look upon. And some began to pray to them, thinking that they might be the Twin Brethren or of the sons of Nereus. But another laughed and said, "Not so; these are shipwrecked men who hide themselves, knowing that it is our custom to sacrifice strangers to our gods." To him the others gave consent and said that they should take the men prisoners that they might be sacrificed to the gods.



But while they delayed, Orestes ran forth from the cave, for the madness was come upon him, crying out, "Pylades, seest thou not that dragon from hell; and that who would kill me with the serpents of her mouth, and this again that breatheth out fire, holding my mother in her arms to cast her upon me?" And first he bellowed as a bull and then howled as a dog, for the Furies, he said, did so. But the herdsmen, when they saw this, gathered together in great fear and sat down. But when Orestes drew his sword and leapt, as a lion might leap, into the midst of the herd, slaying the beasts (for he thought in his madness that he was contending with the Furies), then the herdsmen, blowing on shells, called to the people of the land; for they feared the young men, so strong they seemed and valiant. And when no small number was gathered together, they began to cast stones and javelins at the two. And now the madness of Orestes began to abate, and Pylades tended him carefully, wiping away the foam from his mouth and holding his garments before him that he should not be wounded by the stones. But when Orestes came to himself and beheld in what straits they were, he groaned aloud and cried, "We must die, O Pylades, only let us die as befitteth brave men. Draw thy sword and follow me." And the people of the land dared not to stand before them; yet while some fled, others would cast stones at them. For all that no man wounded them. But at the last, coming about them with a great multitude, they smote the swords out of their hands with stones, and so bound them and took them to King Thoas. And the king commanded that they should be taken to the temple, that the priestess might deal with them according to the custom of the place.



So they brought the young men bound to the temple. Now the name of the one they knew, for they had heard his companion call to him, but the name of the other they knew not. And when Iphigenia saw them, she bade the people loose their bonds, for that being holy to the goddess they were free. And then--for she took the two for brothers--she asked them, saying, "Who is your mother and your father and your sister, if a sister you have? She will be bereaved of noble brothers this day. And whence come ye?" To her Orestes answered, "What meanest thou, lady, by lamenting in this fashion over us? I hold it folly in him who must die that he should bemoan himself. Pity us not; we know what manner of sacrifices ye have in this land." "Tell me now, which of ye two is called Pylades?" "Not I, but this my companion." "Of what city in the land of Greece are ye? And are ye brothers born of one mother?" "Brothers we are, but in friendship, not in blood." "And what is thy name?" "That I tell thee not. Thou hast power over my body, but not over my name." "Wilt thou not tell me thy country?" And when he told her that his country was Argos, she asked him many things, as about Troy, and Helen, and Calchas the prophet, and Ulysses; and at last she said, "And Achilles, son of Thetis of the sea, is he yet alive?" "He is dead and his marriage that was made at Aulis is of no effect." "A false marriage it was, as some know full well." "Who art thou that inquirest thus about matters in Greece?"



"I am of the land of Greece and was brought thence yet being a child. But there was a certain Agamemnon, son of Atreus; what of him?" "I know not. Lady, leave all talk of him." "Say not so; but do me a pleasure and tell me." "He is dead." "Woe is me! How died he?" "What meaneth thy sorrow? Art thou of his kindred?" "'Tis a pity to think how great he was, and now he hath perished." "He was slain in a most miserable fashion by a woman, but ask no more." "Only this one thing. Is his wife yet alive?" "Nay; for the son whom she bare slew her, taking vengeance for his father." "A dreadful deed, but righteous withal." "Righteous indeed he is, but the gods love him not." "And did the king leave any other child behind him?" "One daughter, Electra by name." "And is his son yet alive?" "He is alive, but no man more miserable." Now when Iphigenia heard that he was alive and knew that she had been deceived by the dreams which she had dreamt, she conceived a thought in her heart and said to Orestes, "Hearken now, for I have somewhat to say to thee that shall bring profit both to thee and to me. Wilt thou, if I save thee from this death, carry tidings of me to Argos to my friends and bear a tablet from me to them? For such a tablet I have with me, which one who was brought captive to this place wrote for me, pitying me, for he knew that I caused not his death, but the law of the goddess in this place. Nor have I yet found a man who should carry this thing to Argos. But thou, I judge, art of noble birth and knowest the city and those with whom I would have communication. Take then this tablet and thy life as a reward, and let this man be sacrificed to the goddess."

       



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