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From Myths and Legends of all nations
Start of Story
by Logan Marshall
Age suitability 8 Plus.
And Iphigenia doubted much how this thing might be done. But at the
last she said, "I have a device whereby I shall compass the matter. I
will say that thou art come hither, having murdered thy mother, and
that thou canst not be offered for a sacrifice till thou art purified
with the water of the sea. Also that thou hast touched the image, and
that this also must be purified in like manner. And the image I myself
will bear to the sea; for, indeed, I only may touch it with my hands.
And of this Pylades also I will say that he is polluted in like manner
with thee. So shall we three win our way to the ship. And that this be
ready it will be thy care to provide."
And when she had so said, she prayed to Artemis: "Great goddess, that
didst bring me safe in days past from Aulis, bring me now also, and
these that are with me, safe to the land of Greece, so that men may
count thy brother Apollo to be a true prophet. Nor shouldst thou be
unwilling to depart from this barbarous land and to dwell in the fair
city of Athens."
After this came King Thoas, inquiring whether they had offered the
strangers for sacrifice and had duly burnt their bodies with fire. To
him Iphigenia made answer, "These were unclean sacrifices that thou
broughtest to me, O King."
"How didst thou learn this?"
"The image of the goddess turned upon her place of her own accord and
covered also her face with her hands."
"What wickedness, then, had these strangers wrought?"
"They slew their mother and had been banished therefor from the land
"O monstrous! Such deeds we barbarians never do. And now what dost
"We must purify these strangers before we offer them for a sacrifice."
"With water from the river, or in the sea?"
"In the sea. The sea cleanseth away all that is evil among men."
"Well, thou hast it here, by the very walls of the temple."
"Aye, but I must seek a place apart from men."
"So be it; go where thou wilt; I would not look on things forbidden."
"The image also must be purified."
"Surely, if the pollution from these murderers of their mother hath
touched it. This is well thought of in thee."
Then she instructed the king that he should bring the strangers out of
the temple, having first bound them and veiled their heads. Also that
certain of his guards should go with her, but that all the people of
the city should be straitly commanded to stay within doors, that so
they might not be defiled; and that he himself should abide in the
temple and purify it with fire, covering his head with his garments
when the strangers should pass by. "And be not troubled," she said,
"if I seem to be long doing these things."
"Take what time thou wilt," he said, "so that thou do all things in
So certain of the king's guards brought the two young men from out of
the temple, and Iphigenia led them towards the place where the ship
of Orestes lay at anchor. But when they were come near to the shore,
she bade them halt nor come over-near, for that she had that to do in
which they must have no part. And she took the chain wherewith the
young men were bound in her hands and set up a strange song as of one
that sought enchantments. And after that the guards sat where she bade
them for a long time, they began to fear lest the strangers should
have slain the priestess and so fled. Yet they moved not, fearing to
see that which was forbidden. But at the last with one consent they
rose up. And when they were come to the sea, they saw the ship trimmed
to set forth, and fifty sailors on the benches having oars in their
hands ready for rowing; and the two young men were standing unbound
upon the shore near to the stern. And other sailors were dragging the
ship by the cable to the shore that the young men might embark. Then
the guards laid hold of the rudder and sought to take it from its
place, crying, "Who are ye that carry away priestesses and the images
of our gods?" Then Orestes said, "I am Orestes, and I carry away my
sister." But the guards laid hold of Iphigenia; and when the sailors
saw this they leapt from the ship; and neither the one nor the other
had swords in their hands, but they fought with their fists and their
And as the sailors were strong and skilful, the king's men
were driven back sorely bruised and wounded. And when they fled to a
bank that was hard by and cast stones at the ship, the archers
standing on the stern shot at them with arrows. Then--for his sister
feared to come farther--Orestes leapt into the sea and raised her upon
his shoulder and so lifted her into the ship, and the image of the
goddess with her. And Pylades cried, "Lay hold of your oars, ye
sailors, and smite the sea, for we have that for the which we came to
this land." So the sailors rowed with all their might; and while the
ship was in the harbor it went well with them, but when it was come
to the open sea a great wave took it, for a violent wind blew against
it and drove it backwards to the shore.
And one of the guards when he saw this ran to King Thoas and told him,
and the king made haste and sent messengers mounted upon horses, to
call the men of the land that they might do battle with Orestes and
his comrade. But while he was yet sending them, there appeared in the
air above his head the goddess Athene, who spake, saying, "Cease, King
Thoas, from pursuing this man and his companions; for he hath come
hither on this errand by the command of Apollo; and I have persuaded
Poseidon that he make the sea smooth for him to depart."
And King Thoas answered, "It shall be as thou wilt, O goddess; and
though Orestes hath borne away his sister and the image, I dismiss my
anger, for who can fight against the gods?"
So Orestes departed and came to his own country and dwelt in peace,
being set free from his madness, according to the word of Apollo.