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For other uses, see Iphigenia (disambiguation).
François Perrier's "The Sacrifice of Iphigenia" (17th century), depicting Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia.

Iphigenia (/ɪfɨɨˈn.ə/; Ancient Greek: Ἰφιγένεια, Iphigeneia) is a daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra in Greek mythology,[1] whom Agamemnon is commanded to kill as a sacrifice to allow his ships to sail to Troy. In Attic accounts,[2] her name means "strong-born", "born to strength", or "she who causes the birth of strong offspring."[3]

Post-Homeric Greek myth[edit]

The Achaean (Greek) fleet was preparing to go to war against Troy and had amassed in Aulis. While there, Agamemnon, the leader of the expedition, killed a deer in a grove sacred to the goddess Artemis. She punished him by becalming the winds so that the fleet could not sail to Troy. The seer Calchas revealed that in order to appease Artemis, Agamemnon must sacrifice his eldest daughter, Iphigenia. Agamemnon at first refused, but, under pressure from the other commanders eventually agreed.[4]

Odysseus and Diomedes are sent to bring Iphigenia, under the pretext of a marriage to Achilles. She and her mother, Clytemnestra, arrive in Aulis only to discover it was a ruse. Achilles is incensed that his name was used. His efforts to intervene are unsuccessful.[4]

Whether or not she was actually sacrificed depends on the source. According to Hyginus' Fabulae, Iphigenia was not sacrificed.[4] Some sources claim that Iphigenia was taken by Artemis to Tauris in Crimea on the moment of the sacrifice, and that the goddess left a deer[5] or a goat (the god Pan transformed) in her place. The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women called her Iphimede (Ἰφιμέδη)[6] and told that Artemis transformed her into the goddess Hecate.[7] Antoninus Liberalis said that Iphigenia was transported to the island of Leuke, where she was wedded to immortalized Achilles under the name of Orsilochia.

Iphigenie (1862) by Anselm Feuerbach

In EuripidesIphigenia at Aulis, Agamemnon regrets his decision and tries to send another letter telling them not to come; however, Menelaus intercepts the letter and they argue. Clytemnestra arrives at Aulis with Iphigenia and the infant Orestes. Agamemnon tries to convince Clytemnestra to go back to Argos, but Clytemnestra insists on staying for the wedding. When she sees Achilles, Clytemnestra mentions the marriage, however Achilles appears to be unaware of it, and she gradually learns the truth. Achilles vows to help prevent the murder of Iphigenia even after the Greeks throw stones at him. After Iphigenia and Clytemnestra mourn together, Iphigenia makes the noble decision to die in honor and by her own will and asks Achilles not to stop the men. When Iphigenia is brought to the altar to be slain she willingly allows herself to be sacrificed. As Iphigenia is about to be slain a deer is put in her place.

Euripides’ character of Iphigenia holds many complex meanings that stem from her decision to willingly sacrifice herself. There are several possible reasons for Iphigenia’s decision. The first is that Iphigenia wants to please her father and protect the family name. Not only does Iphigenia want to please her father, but she also forgives him for making the decision to sacrifice her. The second reason is that Iphigenia sees this as a patriotic cause. Iphigenia realizes that if she dies, then the men can sail to Troy and win and protect their own women. If the men did not get to Troy to defeat the Trojans then all the Greek women would be raped and possibly killed. Thus, Iphigenia sees her death as saving hundreds of women. A third reason for Iphigenia’s choice could be a more selfish reason. Iphigenia wants to be remembered with honor through her self-sacrifice, unlike how Helen of Troy is viewed. While the concept of glory is mostly seen in the men who fight, here it is seen in Iphigenia. A final possible reason is that Iphigenia sees bad in her father and now has nothing to live for.

In Euripides’ other story about Iphigenia, Iphigenia in Tauris, the play takes place after the sacrifice and after Orestes has killed Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. In order for Orestes to escape the persecutions of the Erinyes for killing his mother, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Orestes has been ordered by Apollo to go to Tauris.[8] While in Tauris Orestes is to carry off the xoanon (carved wooden cult image) of Artemis which had fallen from heaven, and bring it to Athens. When Orestes arrives at Tauris with Pylades, son of Strophius and intimate friend of Orestes, the pair are at once captured by the Tauri, among whom the custom is to sacrifice all Greek strangers to Artemis. The priestess of Artemis is Iphigenia, and it is her duty to perform the sacrifice. Iphigenia and Orestes don’t recognize each other. Iphigenia finds out from Orestes, who is still concealing his identity, that Orestes is alive. Iphigenia then offers to release Orestes if he will carry home a letter from her to Greece. Orestes refuses to go, but bids Pylades to take the letter while Orestes will stay to be slain. After a conflict of mutual affection, Pylades at last yields, but the letter brings about recognition between brother and sister, and all three escape together, carrying with them the image of Artemis. After their return to Greece, and having been saved from dangers by Athena, she orders Orestes to take the Xoanon to the town of Halae where he is to build a temple for Artemis Tauropolos. At the annual festival to be held there in honor of Artemis, a single drop of blood must be drawn from the throat of a man to commemorate Orestes's near-sacrifice. Iphigenia is sent by Athena to the sanctuary of Artemis in Brauron where she is to be the priestess until she dies there. According to the Spartans, however, the image of Artemis was transported by them to Laconia, where the goddess was worshipped as Artemis Orthia.

These close identifications of Iphigenia with Artemis have encouraged some scholars to believe that she was originally a hunting goddess whose cult was subsumed by the Olympian Artemis.

Among the Taurians[edit]

The people of Tauris/Taurica facing the Euxine Sea[9] worshipped the maiden goddess Artemis. Some very early Greek sources in the Epic Cycle affirmed that Artemis rescued Iphigenia from the human sacrifice her father was about to perform, for instance in the lost epic Cypria, which survives in a summary by Proclus:[10] "Artemis, however, snatched her away and transported her to the Tauroi, making her immortal, and put a stag in place of the girl upon the altar." The goddess swept the young princess off to Tauris where she became a priestess at the Temple of Artemis.

The earliest known accounts of the death of Iphigenia are included in Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis and Iphigenia in Tauris, both Athenian tragedies of the fifth century BCE set in the Heroic Age. In the dramatist's version, the Taurians worshipped both Artemis and Iphigenia in the Temple of Artemis at Tauris.

Other variations of the death of Iphigenia include her being rescued at her sacrifice by Artemis and transformed into the goddess Hecate.[11] Another example includes Iphigenia’s brother, Orestes, discovering her identity and helping him steal an image of Artemis.[12] The reason for many discrepancies in the telling of the myth is because playwrights such as Euripides modified the stories about Iphigenia to make them more palatable for the audiences and make sequels using the same characters or that the Ancient Greeks were more open to possibility in stories than we, with our Christian attachment to heirarchy and fidelity are.

Many traditions arose from the sacrifice of Iphigenia. One prominent version is credited to the Spartans. Rather than sacrificing virgins, they would whip the male victim in front of a sacred image of Artemis. However, most tributes to Artemis inspired by her sacrifice, were more traditional. Taurians especially performed sacrifices of bulls and virgins in honour of Artemis.[13]


Iphianassa (Ἰφιάνασσα) is the name of one of Agamemnon's three daughters in Homer's Iliad (ix.145, 287)[14] The name Iphianassa may be simply an older variant of the name Iphigenia. "Not all poets took Iphigenia and Iphianassa to be two names for the same heroine," Kerenyi remarks,[15] "though it is certain that to begin with they served indifferently to address the same divine being, who had not belonged from all time to the family of Agamemnon."

Cymon and Iphigenia[edit]

"Cymon and Iphigenia" redirects here. For the painting by Frederic Leighton, see Cymon and Iphigenia (painting).
Cymon and Iphigenia c. 1884 by Frederic Leighton

The episode of Iphigenia and Cymon that inspired such painters as Benjamin West (1773), John Everett Millais (1848) and Frederic Leighton (1884) is not a Greek myth, but a novella taken from Boccaccio's Decameron and developed later by the poet and dramatist John Dryden.

The tale was intended to demonstrate the power of love. As Iphigenia sleeps in a grove by the sea, a noble, but coarse and unlettered Cypriot youth, Cymon, seeing Iphigenia's beauty, falls in love with her. Cymon, by the power of love, becomes an educated and polished courtier.

Modern interpretations[edit]

In Sacrifice, the second volume of Eric Shanower's Age of Bronze comic book series, the substitution of a deer for Iphigenia is a pious lie invented by Odysseus to comfort the grieving Clytemnestra. However, it does not work and Clytemnestra angrily curses the whole Achaean army, wishing they all die in the war.[16]

Sheri S. Tepper's The Gate to Women's Country contains a similar idea, with a play named Iphigenia at Ilium running through the novel as a leitmotif. Within the novel, the ghost of Iphigenia tells Achilles that all the poets lied. Iphigenia says that she did not die willingly, nor was a hind sent to take her place. Iphigenia also realizes that these myths no longer have any power over her. Achilles then attempts to claim her as his wife, however, she reminds him that "women are no good to you dead".

In Glyn Iliffe's Gates of Troy, Iphigenia is in fact the daughter of Eperitus, a friend and bodyguard of Odysseus, who slept with Clytemnestra during the courtship of Helen.

There is also speculation that Iphigenia was actually the daughter of Helen and Theseus.[1]

In Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles, Iphigenia comes to Aulis under the belief that she is to marry Achilles. Instead she is unwillingly sacrificed to appease Artemis.

The full (rarely used) name of the fictional private investigator V. I. Warshawski, created by Sara Paretsky, is Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski. In the 1985 novel Killing Orders, third in the series, the protagonist identifies herself with the character of Greek myth, and recognizes a traumatic event of her childhood with the act of Iphigenia's sacrifice.

Adaptations of the Iphigenia story[edit]


  1. ^ a b Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 27 (online text) Iphigenia is called a daughter of Theseus and Helen, raised by Clytemnestra.
  2. ^ Pausanias, 2.21.6; a scholium on Aristophanes' Lysistrata l.645, asserts that it was not at Aulis but at Brauron in Attica that she was apparently sacrificed (noted in Karl Kerenyi, The Heroes of the Greeks 1959:238 and note 599).
  3. ^ Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, s.v. "Iphigenia" and Rush Rehm, The Play of Space (2002, 188). Karl Kerenyi, aware of Iphigenia's obscure pre-history as an autonomous goddess rather than a mere marriageable girl in the house of Agamemnon, renders her name "she who governs births mightily" (Kerenyi 1959:331).
  4. ^ a b c "Iphigenia", Mortal women of the Trojan War, Stanford University
  5. ^ "When his wife had sent Iphigenia, Agamemnon placed her on the altar and was about to sacrifice her when Artemis spirited her off to the Taurians, where she set her up as her own priestess; she put a deer on the altar in the girl’s place. In addition, according to some, she made Iphigenia immortal." Pseudo-Apollodorus, Epitome of the Library 3.21.
  6. ^ This fragmentary passage (fr. 23(a)17–26), found among the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, has been restored to its proper place in the Ehoeae, the Hesiodic Catalogue, in modern times; the awkward insertion of eidolon — the image of Iphimede — and lines where Artemis saves her are considered a later interpolation by Friedrich Solmsen, "The Sacrifice of Agamemnon's Daughter in Hesiod's' Ehoeae" The American Journal of Philology 102.4 (Winter 1981), pp. 353-358.
  7. ^ this doesn't appear in any of the surviving passages of the Hesiodic catalogue but is attested for it by Pausanias, 1.43.1.
  8. ^ Tauris is now the Crimea.
  9. ^ Taurica (Greek: Ταυρίς, Ταυρίδα, Latin: Taurica) also known as the Tauric Chersonese and Chersonesus Taurica, was the name of Crimea in Antiquity.
  10. ^ Epicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, ed. G. Kinkel, p. 19
  11. ^ Hesiod, The Catalogues, TRANS. by H. G. Evelyn-White, fragment 71
  12. ^ Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris
  13. ^ Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, London: Penguin, 1955; Baltimore: Penguin pgs 73-75: “Iphigenia Among the Taurians”
  14. ^ The three are Chrysothemis, Laodice (the double of Electra) and Iphianassa. In Iliad ix, the embassy to Achilles is empowered to offer him one of Agamemnon's three daughters, implying that Iphianassa/Iphigenia is still living, as Friedrich Solmsen 1981:353 points out.
  15. ^ Kerenyi 1959:331, noting Sophocles, Elektra 157. Kerenyi clearly distinguishes between parallel accounts of Iphigenia. "It is possible in the Cypria Agamemnon was given four daughters, Iphigenia being distinguished from Iphianassa", Friedrich Solmsen remarks, (Solmsen 1981:353 note 1) also noting the scholium on Elektra 157.
  16. ^ Shanower, Eric (2004). Age of Bronze: Sacrifice. Berkley, California: Image Comics. ISBN 1-58240-399-6. 
  17. ^ Mee, Charles L. "Iphigenia 2.0". Retrieved December 9, 2012. 

Modern sources[edit]

  • Bonnard, A. (1945) Iphigénie à Aulis, Tragique et Poésie, Museum Helveticum, Basel, v.2, p. 87-107
  • Croisille, J-M (1963) Le sacrifice d'Iphigénie dans l'art romain et la littérature latine, Latomus, Brussels, v. 22 p. 209-225
  • Decharme, P. "Iphigenia" In: C. d'Auremberg and E. Saglio, Dictionnaire des Antiquités Grecques et Romaines v.3 (1ère partie), p. 570-572 (1877-1919)
  • Graves, Robert (1955) The Greek Myths, Penguin, London, pp73–75
  • Jouan, F. (1966) "Le Rassemblement d'Aulis et le Sacrifice d'Iphigénie", In: ______, Euripide et les Légendes des Chants Cypriens, Les Belles Lettres, Pris, pp. 73–75
  • Kahil, L. (1991) "Le sacrifice d'Iphigénie" In: 'Mélanges de l'École Française de Rome', Antiquité, Rome, v. 103 p. 183-196
  • Kerenyi, Karl (1959) The Heroes of the Greeks, Thames and Hudson, London and New York, pp. 331–36 et passim
  • Kjelleberg, L. (1916) "Iphigenia" In: A.F. Pauly and G. Wissowa, Real-Encyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, J.B. Metzler, Stuttgart, v. 9, pp. 2588–2622
  • Lloyd-Jones, H. (1983) "Artemis and Iphigenia", Journal of Hellenic Studies 103, p. 87-102
  • Peck, Harry (1898) "Iphigenia" in Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, Harper and Brothers, New York
  • Séchen, L. (1931) "Le Sacrifice d'Iphigénie", Revue des Études Grecques, Paris, pp. 368–426
  • West, M.L. (1985) The Hesiodic Catlogue of Women, The Clarendon Press, Oxford

External links[edit]