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From Myths and Legends of all nations
Start of Story
by Logan Marshall
Age suitability 8 Plus.
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
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
"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
"Only this one thing. Is his wife yet alive?"
"Nay; for the son whom she bare slew her, taking vengeance for his
"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."