Euripides, Iphigenia in Taurus



Euripides’ play Iphigenia in Tauris (a.k.a. Iphigenia Among the Taurians), coming maybe from 414 b.c.e., is not truly tragic for a tragedy. It begins with Iphigenia (whose name means “strong-born one”) mentioning her lineage: Tantalus begot Pelops begot Atreus begot Menelaus and Agamemnon. Iphigenia is Agamemnon’s daughter, sacrificed by him for Troyward winds many years ago, after Odysseus convinced her she would be marrrying Achilles. Homer, who often shows reluctance to recount stories regarding the murder of kin, has nothing of this.

But, explains Iphigenia, Artemis replaced her at the altar with a deer and whisked her away to “uncouth” Tauris (116) to serve as her High Priestess, primarily a matter of sacrificing foreigners. Iphigenia has had an ominous dream suggesting to her the death of her brother Orestes, whom we know killed his mother Clytemnestra to avenge her murder of the father Agamemnon when he returned from the Trojan War (butchered in his bathtub).

Lo, Orestes and his friend Pylades have just arrived on shore; Apollo has sent him here to steal Artemis’ statue and bring it to Attica. As Iphigenia kvetches with a Chorus of maidens, a herdman brings news of these new foreign arrivals, saying that one is named Pylades and the other went into a fit a lunacy. The captives are brought to Iphigenia and a tense exchange ensues — neither sibling knows the identity of the other at first (a type of dramatic tension Euripides likes to exploit). Iphigenia is willing to cut a deal: one sacrifice if the other carries a letter to her home in Argos. During negotiations it emerges that she indeed is Iphigenia and Orestes reveals his identity. They recall tapestries (148) and discuss events since their childhood parting.

Iphigenia wants to help Orestes and to leave this place. Orestes idiotically suggests they kill the king, since apparently he’s learned nothing. Instead, Iphigenia proposes that she insist on a cleansing ritual before sacrifice, since Orestes is, after all, a matricidal maniac. She can insist that the statue of the goddess also be cleansed. She succeeds in convincing King Thoas that “The sea is the absorbent of all evil” (165). Iphigenia, Orestes, and Pylades make their escape to sea. The other maidens delay the soldier’s ability to report the news to the King. When he does, Athena appears, explains her siding with the escapees, tells that she has had Poseidon assure them a smooth voyage, and ends the ritual sacrifices. Thoas accepts the deus ex machina changes, unwilling to defy a god.

Works Cited

Euripides. Iphigenia Among the Taurians. Heracles and Other Plays. Trans. John Davie. NY: Penguin Books, 2002. 47-94, 246-256.

Euripides. Iphigenia in Tauris. Trans. Witter Bynner. Greek Tragedies. Volume 2. Ed. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960. 111-179.

Powell, Barry. Classical Myth. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2001.


Orpheus: Greek Plays