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Sacrifice of Iphigenia. Antique fresco from Pompeii, probably a copy of a painting by Timanthes.
François Perrier's The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (17th century), depicting Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia

In Greek mythology, Iphigenia (/ɪfɪɪˈn.ə/; Ancient Greek: Ἰφιγένεια, Iphigéneia, [iːpʰiɡéneː.a]) was a daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra, and thus a princess of Mycenae.

In the story, Agamemnon offends the goddess Artemis on his way to the Trojan War by hunting and killing one of Artemis' sacred stags. She retaliates by preventing the Greek troops from reaching Troy unless Agamemnon kills his eldest daughter, Iphigenia, at Aulis as a human sacrifice. In some versions, Iphigenia dies at Aulis, and in others, Artemis rescues her.[1] In the version where she is saved, she goes to the Taurians and meets her brother Orestes.[2]


"Iphigenia" means "strong-born," "born to strength," or "she who causes the birth of strong offspring."[3]


Iphianassa (Ἰφιάνασσα) is the name of one of Agamemnon's three daughters in Homer's Iliad (ix.145, 287)[4] 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,[5] "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."

In mythology[edit]

In Greek mythology, Iphigenia appears as the Greek fleet gathers in Aulis to prepare for war against Troy. Here, Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks, hunts and then kills a deer in a grove sacred to the goddess Artemis.[6] Artemis punishes Agamemnon by acting upon the winds, so that Agamemnon's fleet cannot sail to Troy. Calchas the seer tells Agamemnon that to appease Artemis, he must sacrifice his eldest daughter, Iphigenia. At first he refuses but, pressured by the other commanders, agrees.[6][7]

Mosaic, 5th-century CE. From left to right: Iphigenia, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon.

Iphigenia and her mother Clytemnestra are brought to Aulis, under the pretext that Achilles will marry the girl. They discover the truth. In some versions of the story, Iphigenia remains unaware of her imminent sacrifice until the last moment. She believes until the moment of her death that she is being led to the altar to be married.

In some versions, such as Hyginus' Fabulae, Iphigenia is not sacrificed.[7] Some sources claim that Iphigenia was taken by Artemis to Tauris (in Crimea) at the moment of the sacrifice, the goddess having left a deer in her stead,[8] or else a goat (actually the god Pan) in her place. The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women called her Iphimede (Ἰφιμέδη)[9] and told that Artemis transformed her into the goddess Hecate.[10] Antoninus Liberalis said that Iphigenia was transported to the island of Leuke, where she was wedded to immortalized Achilles under the name Orsilochia.

In Aeschylus's Agamemnon, the first play in the Oresteia, the sacrifice of Iphigenia is given as one reason for Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus to plan to murder Agamemnon.

In EuripidesIphigenia at Aulis, it is Menelaus who convinces Agamemnon to heed the seer Calchas's advice. After Agamemnon sends a message to Clytemnestra informing her of Iphigenia's supposed marriage, he immediately regrets his decision and tries to send another letter telling them not to come. Menelaus intercepts the letter and he and Agamemnon argue. Menelaus insists that it is Agamemnon's duty to do all he can to aid the Greeks. 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; Achilles, however, appears to be unaware of it, and she and Iphigenia gradually learn the truth. Achilles, angry that Agamemnon has used him in his plot, vows to help prevent the murder of Iphigenia. Iphigenia and Clytemnestra plead with Agamemnon to spare his daughter's life. Achilles informs them that the Greek army, eager for war, has learned of the seer's advice and now demand that Iphigenia be sacrificed. If Agamemnon refuses, it is likely they will turn on him and kill him and his family. Iphigenia, knowing she is doomed, decides to be sacrificed willingly, reasoning that as a mere mortal, she cannot go against the will of a goddess. She also believes that her death will be heroic, as it is for the good of all Greeks. Iphigenia exits, and the sacrifice takes place offstage. Later, Clytemnestra is told of her daughter's purported death—and how at the last moment, the gods spared Iphigenia and whisked her away, replacing her with a deer.

Iphigenia as a priestess of Artemis in Tauris sets out to greet prisoners, amongst which are her brother Orestes and his friend Pylades; a Roman fresco from Pompeii, 1st century AD

Euripides’ other play about Iphigenia, Iphigenia in Tauris, takes place after the sacrifice, and after Orestes has killed Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Apollo orders Orestes—to escape persecution by the Erinyes for killing his mother, Clytemnestra, and her lover—to go to Tauris.[11] 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 immediately captured by the Tauri, who have a custom of sacrificing all Greek strangers to Artemis. Iphigenia is the priestess of Artemis, and it is her duty to perform the sacrifice. Iphigenia and Orestes don't recognize each other (Iphigenia thinks her brother is dead—a key point). Iphigenia finds out from Orestes, who is still concealing his identity, that Orestes is alive.

Scene from the tragedy Iphigenia in Tauris by Euripides. In the center Orestes, on the left Pylades, on the right Iphigeneia. Antique fresco from Pompeii

Iphigenia then offers to release Orestes if he will carry home a letter from her to Greece. Orestes refuses to go, and bids Pylades to take the letter while Orestes will stay to be slain. After a conflict of mutual affection, Pylades at last yields, and the letter makes brother and sister recognize each other, and all three escape together, carrying with them the image of Artemis. After they return to Greece—having been saved from dangers by Athena along the way—Athena 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 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. Athena sends Iphigenia to the sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron where she is to be the priestess until she dies. According to the Spartans, however, they carried the image of Artemis to Laconia, where the goddess was worshipped as Artemis Orthia.

These close identifications of Iphigenia with Artemis encourage some scholars to believe that she was originally a hunting goddess, whose cult was subsumed by the Olympian Artemis.[12]

Among the Taurians[edit]

Orestes and Iphigéneia stealing the statue of Diana Taurique.

The people of Tauris/Taurica facing the Euxine Sea[13] 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:[14] "Artemis ... snatched her away and transported her to the Tauroi, making her immortal, and put a stag in place of the girl [Iphigenia] 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 purported death of Iphigenia are included in Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis and Iphigenia in Tauris, both Athenian tragedies of the fifth century BC 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 variants include her being rescued at her sacrifice by Artemis and transformed into the goddess Hecate.[15] Another example includes Iphigenia's brother, Orestes, discovering her identity and helping him steal an image of Artemis.[16] Possible reasons for key discrepancies in the telling of the myth by playwrights such as Euripides are to make the story more palatable for audiences and to allow sequels using the same characters.[citation needed]

Many traditions arose from the sacrifice of Iphigenia. One prominent version is credited to the Spartans. Rather than sacrificing virgins, they would whip a male victim in front of a sacred image of Artemis. However, most tributes to Artemis inspired by the sacrifice were more traditional. Taurians especially performed sacrifices of bulls and virgins in honour of Artemis.[17][unreliable source?]

Among the Etruscans[edit]

The myth was retold in classical Greece and Italy, and it became most popular in Etruria, especially in Perusia.[18] In the second and first centuries BC the Etruscans adorned their cremation-urns with scenes from the sacrifice.[19] The most common scene: "Iphigenia, a little girl, is held over the altar by Odysseus while Agamemnon performs the aparchai. Clytemnestra stands beside Agamemnon and Achilles beside Odysseus and each one begs for the life of Iphigenia." This version is closest to the myth as the Romans told it.[20]

In Homer[edit]

The sacrifice of Iphigenia is not explicitly mentioned by Homer, although scholars argue that it is presupposed by Agamemnon's criticism of Calchas at Iliad 1.105-108; Nelson has developed this suggestion further by arguing that the story of Iphigenia's sacrifice lies allusively behind the opening scenes of the Iliad: "both the debate over Chryseis and her eventual return to her father replay and rework the sacrifice story."[21] He has highlighted six key elements that are shared by each story:

  1. Agamemnon offends a deity and is punished.
  2. Calchas discloses divine displeasure and proposes a solution: Agamemnon must give up a prized woman from his possession.
  3. Achilles loses a potential bride.
  4. Odysseus collects and brings this woman to her father by the altar.
  5. Sacrifice is performed at the altar.
  6. After the sacrifice, the Greeks receive a favorable wind from the offended deity and sail to Troy.

In Lucretius[edit]

The sacrifice of Iphigenia appears in the ancient Roman didactic poem De rerum natura by Lucretius as a criticism of religion. Anticipating that his poem will seem sacrilegious, Lucretius attacks the virtue of religion by recounting the story of Iphigenia, which he considers a cruel story of a parent "making his child a sacrificial beast" on her wedding day. Lucretius concludes "such are the crimes to which Religion leads."[22]

Adaptations of the story[edit]

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (1757) by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Iphigenia in Tauris (1893) by Valentin Serov
Pylades and Orestes Brought as Victims before Iphigenia, by Benjamin West, 1766

In popular culture[edit]

Iphigenie (1862) by Anselm Feuerbach

Game of Thrones character Shireen Baratheon was sacrificed to a god by her father her father, which some critics compared to Iphigenia.[27] Amanda Marcotte, of Slate, similarly writes: "Every beat of the Greek myth is the same as Stannis's story: The troops are stuck and starving and the general, Agamemnon, must sacrifice his own daughter to turn the fates to their favor. The mother begging for mercy, the disapproving second-in-command who can do nothing to stop it, the daughter who says she will do whatever it takes to help—it's all a clear echo."[28]

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.[29]

Sheri S. Tepper's The Gate to Women's Country contains a similar theme, with a play named Iphigenia at Ilium running through the novel as a leitmotif.

In Downton Abbey, Lord Robert Crawley compares Lavinia Swire to Iphigenia in her being used by Cora Crawley to marry Matthew Crawley as a means to avoid complications for Lady Mary Crawley.

In 1843, botanist Kunth published Iphigenia, which is a plant genus in the family Colchicaceae and it was named after Iphigenia.[30][31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nelson, Thomas J. (2022). "Iphigenia in the Iliad and the Architecture of Homeric Allusion". TAPA. 152: 55–101. doi:10.1353/apa.2022.0007. S2CID 248236106.
  2. ^ Evans (1970), p. 141
  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. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ a b Siegel, Herbert (1981). "Agamemnon in Euripides' "Iphigenia at Aulis"". Hermes. 109 (3): 257–65. JSTOR 4476212.closed access
  7. ^ a b "Mortal women of the Trojan War: Iphigenia". Stanford University. Archived from the original on July 15, 2014.
  8. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Epitome of the Library 3.21.
  9. ^ 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. 353–58.
  10. ^ this doesn't appear in any of the surviving passages of the Hesiodic catalogue but is attested for it by Pausanias, 1.43.1.
  11. ^ Tauris is now the Crimea.
  12. ^ J. Donald Hughes, "Goddess of Conservation." Forest and Conservation History 34.4 (1990): 191–97.
  13. ^ Taurica (Greek: Ταυρίς, Ταυρίδα, Latin: Taurica) also known as the Tauric Chersonese and Chersonesus Taurica, was the name of Crimea in Antiquity.
  14. ^ Epicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, ed. G. Kinkel, p. 19
  15. ^ Hesiod, The Catalogues, TRANS. by H. G. Evelyn-White, fragment 71
  16. ^ Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris
  17. ^ Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, London: Penguin, 1955; Baltimore: Penguin pp. 73–75: "Iphigenia Among the Taurians"
  18. ^ George Dennis (1848). The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria. Vol. 2. London: John Murray., 463
  19. ^ Pilo, Chiara; Giuman, Marco (2015). "Greek Myth on Etruscan Urns from Perusia: the sacrifice of Iphigenia". Etruscan Studies. 18 (2): 97–125. doi:10.1515/etst-2015-0016. hdl:11584/241492. S2CID 193632035.
  20. ^ Helen Evangeline Devlin (1914). The Development and Treatment of the Iphigenia Myth in Greek and Roman Literature. University of Wisconsin., page 24
  21. ^ Nelson, Thomas J. (2022). "Iphigenia in the Iliad and the Architecture of Homeric Allusion". TAPA. 152: 55–101. doi:10.1353/apa.2022.0007. S2CID 248236106.
  22. ^ Titus Lucretius Carus (1916). Of the Nature of Things. Translated by William Ellery Leonard.
  23. ^ Mee, Charles L. "Iphigenia 2.0". Retrieved December 9, 2012.
  24. ^ "Metamorphoses". Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  25. ^ "Metamorphoses". Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  26. ^ "554. Iphigeneia. Walter Savage Landor. 1909–14. English Poetry II: From Collins to Fitzgerald. The Harvard Classics".
  27. ^ Kornhaber, Spencer (11 June 2015). "The Most Disturbing Thing About the Shireen Scene on 'Game of Thrones'". The Atlantic.
  28. ^ Marcotte, Amanda (9 June 2015). "Don't Be So Shocked by the Deaths on Game of Thrones: The Show Is a Classical Tragedy" – via Slate.
  29. ^ Shanower, Eric (2004). Age of Bronze: Sacrifice. Berkeley, California: Image Comics. ISBN 1-58240-399-6.
  30. ^ "Iphigenia". Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  31. ^ Kunth KS, Enumeratio Plantarum Omnium Hucusque Cognitarum, vol. 4, p. 212. 1843

Modern sources[edit]

  • Bonnard, A. (1945) Iphigénie à Aulis, Tragique et Poésie, Museum Helveticum, Basel, v.2, pp. 87–107
  • Croisille, J-M (1963) Le sacrifice d'Iphigénie dans l'art romain et la littérature latine, Latomus, Brussels, v. 22 pp. 209–25
  • Decharme, P. "Iphigenia" In: C. d'Auremberg and E. Saglio, Dictionnaire des Antiquités Grecques et Romaines v.3 (1ère partie), pp. 570–72 (1877–1919)
  • Evans, Bergen (1970). Dictionary of Mythology. New York: Dell Publishing. ISBN 0-440-20848-3.
  • Graves, Robert (1955) The Greek Myths, Penguin, London, pp. 73–75
  • 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 pp. 183–96
  • 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. 2588–622
  • Lloyd-Jones, H. (1983) "Artemis and Iphigenia", Journal of Hellenic Studies 103, pp. 87–102
  • Nelson, T.J. (2022) ‘Iphigenia in the Iliad and the Architecture of Homeric Allusion’, TAPA 152, 55-101.
  • 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]