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Iphigenia among the Taurians
By Euripides, Anne Carson
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 2013 Anne Carson
All rights reserved.
IPHIGENIA AMONG THE TAURIANS
Characters IPHIGENIA, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra; priestess of Artemis
ORESTES, son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra
PYLADES, friend of Orestes
CHORUS of captive Greek women
THOAS, king of the Taurians
MESSENGER, a servant of Thoas
Scene: The entrance to the temple of Artemis in the land of the Taurians, with a large, bloodstained altar in front of it.
(Enter Iphigenia from the temple.)
Pelops son of Tantalus came to Pisa on swift horses
and married Oenomaus' daughter
who begot Atreus.
Atreus begot Menelaus and Agamemnon.
Agamemnon begot me.
5 I am Iphigenia, daughter of the daughter of Tyndareus.
My father killed me—
at Euripus where stiff breezes
spin the salt-blue sea in spirals,
for Helen's sake
a sacrifice to Artemis in famous Aulis—
or so people think.
10 For at Aulis Agamemnon
had assembled a thousand ships,
a Greek expedition to take the crown of Troy.
He wanted the Greeks to avenge Helen's rape
and gratify Menelaus.
What befell him was the disaster of windlessness.
He resorted to divination
15 and Calchas said this:
"Agamemnon, commander of this Greek army,
not one ship will cast off from this shore
until Artemis receives your own girl
as a sacrifice.
20 You made a vow once
to Artemis Lightbringer to offer up
the finest fruit of that year
and that year
your wife bore a child in the house—"
that "finest fruit" was me!
"Her you must kill."
So Odysseus planned it:
25 they got me from my mother on pretext of marrying Achilles.
And I came to Aulis—sad day for me!
Lifted high above the altar I was right on the verge of death
when Artemis snatched me,
put a deer in my place.
30 Sent me clear through the air to the land of the Taurians: here!
The land is barbarian, so is the king—Thoas
(his name means "swift" and he is).
The goddess put me here in her temple as priestess.
35 And there's a ritual
beautiful in name only,
that Artemis finds pleasing—well,
I won't say more. She terrifies me.
The fact is, by a law of the city older than me
I sacrifice any Greek man who comes here.
40 That is, I start things off. Others do the killing.
Inside the temple.
We don't talk about this.
New strange dreams came in the night.
I shall tell them—it might bring relief.
45 In my dream it seemed I'd gone from this land to live in Argos.
I was lying asleep in a room of girls
when the earth gave a jolt.
I fled, stood outside, saw the cornice falling
and the whole roof collapse to the ground in a heap.
50 One pillar remained of our ancestral home:
I saw it grow blonde hair and speak a human voice.
Then putting my stranger-killing skills to use
I began sprinkling water
as on one about to die.
And I was weeping.
55 Here's how I read this dream:
Orestes is dead, it was him I sprinkled with water.
Boys are the pillars of a house, are they not,
and anyone I consecrate does die.
60 So I want to offer libations to my brother.
He and I are far apart
but this at least I can do. I'll go with my women—Greeks given me by the king.
For some reason they're not here yet.
65 I shall go into the temple—that's where I live.
(Exit Iphigenia into the temple. Enter Orestes and Pylades from the side.)
Look, be careful. Might be someone on the path.
Yes, I'm peering in every direction.
Pylades, does this look to you like the goddess' temple,
70 the one we sailed here from Argos to find?
Yes it does, Orestes.
And this is the altar, wet with Greek blood?
The top of it anyway is bloodstained red.
And do you see spoils hanging from the top?
75 Spoils from foreigners who died here.
But I think I should take a good look around.
O Phoebus, what is this net you have led me into?
Your oracle bid me avenge my father's blood
by killing my mother
but relays of Furies
80 came hounding me from my land
and after I'd run lap after lap on their turning track
I came to you, asked how to find my way out
of wheeling madness and pain.
85 You told me to go to the Taurian land
where your sister Artemis has her altars
and steal a statue of the goddess
that (people say) fell from the sky to this temple here.
90 Take it by cunning or take it by luck, no matter the risk,
and give it to Athens.
That's all you said.
If I do this, I breathe free.
I obeyed you, I came here.
To a land unknown and inhospitable.
95 But, Pylades, tell me, what should we do?
You're my partner in this.
You see those high encircling walls?
Should we mount ladders?
But won't we be seen? Or force the bolts with crowbars?
But we know of no crowbars.
100 And if we're caught opening the gates
or devising a way in, we're dead.
Let's just run for it, before we get killed—
we can use the same boat we came on.
To run is unacceptable. We're not like that.
105 And the oracle of god must be respected.
Let's quit this temple and go hide in the caves
where the dark seawater washes in.
We'll keep our distance from the ship
in case someone sees it, reports us and has us arrested.
110 And as soon as the eye of night darkens
we must nerve ourselves to steal that statue from the temple
any way we can.
115 Good men find the nerve for ordeals, cowards are nothing.
You're right, yes, we should hide out somewhere.
120 It won't be my fault if the god's oracle goes unfulfilled.
We will find the nerve!
Young men have no excuse shirking hard work!
(Exit Orestes and Pylades to one side. Enter the Chorus of captive Greek women from the other side.)
125 O you who dwell by the Clashing Rocks and the Hostile Sea!
child of Leto, wild as mountains,
to your court, to your gold columns I come,
130 a pure holy girl on pure holy feet,
serving the one who holds your holy key,
I who have lost the towers and walls of Greece rich in horses,
135 lost the groves and grasslands of Europe,
lost the halls of my father,
here I am.
Tell me your news, tell me your troubles.
Why have you brought me, brought me to the temple,
O child of the man
who came against the towers of Troy
with a glorious fleet of a thousand ships
140 and ten thousand glorious men?
(Enter Iphigenia from the temple.)
IPHIGENIA [singing in this lyric interchange with the Chorus, who continue to sing in reply]
145 I'm oppressed by the pain of lament,
by lyreless unmusical music,
Ruin comes at me.
I grieve for my brother—
150 such a vision I saw in the night just past.
I am lost.
Our house is no more.
155 Our family gone.
What sorrows swept Argos!
O god, you god,
who rob me of my only brother
by sending him down to death.
For him I pour out these libations
160 and a mixing bowl to wet the earth—
milk of mountain cows,
wine of Bacchus,
honey of yellow bees,
these I pour.
165 They comfort the dead.
Now hand me that vessel of gold,
libation for the god of death.
170 O child of Agamemnon under the ground,
these are for you.
I'll not be bringing bright locks of hair to crown your tomb,
I'll not be bringing tears.
175 I am far far away from our homeland, yours and mine,
and the people there think I am butchered and dead.
I'll sing you antiphonies,
180 the rough raw noise of Asian songs,
dirges for the dead—
185 what Hades sings—the opposite of paeans.
Pity the house of Atreus!
Gone is its light, its scepter.
190 Gone is the pomp of all those brilliant kings.
Trouble rushes on trouble.
One day in a whirl of winged horses
the Sun changed course
and turned his holy face away.
195 Then sorrow upon sorrow came to the house of the golden lamb,
killing on killing, grief on grief:
200 from all that ancient Tantalid wrong
punishment unfolds now.
And the god is zealous against you.
From the beginning my luck was unlucky.
205 Right from my mother's womb, that first night,
the Fates wove an absolute education for me.
210 I was the firstborn of Leda's poor daughter,
victim of a father's atrocity,
an offering that brought no joy.
215 They rode me in chariots over Aulis' sands—
Pity me—I was no bride! Bride of Achilles,
Now I live as a stranger in a barren house by the Hostile Sea.
220 I've no marriage, no children, no city, no loved ones.
208 Once the Greeks wooed me.
221 I no longer sing songs for Hera at Argos,
I no longer weave Athenas and Titans
to the hum of the loom.
225 No, I work in blood—making death for strangers
who cry out for pity, who shed tears for pity.
230 I give not a thought to them now.
It's my brother I weep, killed in Argos.
Him I left a mere infant,
a baby, a young thing, a tendril in his mother's hands,
at his mother's breast:
235 the rightful scepter-bearing king of Argos, Orestes.
(Enter Herdsman from the side.)
But look, here comes a herdsman
heading up from the shore with news for you.
Child of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra,
listen to my strange report.
IPHIGENIA [now speaking]
240 What strange report?
New arrivals—two young men—have come to our land.
Their boat escaped the dark-blue Clashing Rocks.
What a welcome contribution to our goddess!
245 Get your holy water ready and your consecrations.
Where are they from? What do they look like?
Greeks. That's all I know.
You heard no names?
One called the other Pylades.
250 What about his companion?
Didn't hear, don't know.
Where did you catch them?
Down by the edge of the Hostile Sea.
What are herdsmen doing down by the sea?
255 Bathing our oxen in salt water.
Go back to the question
where you caught them and how.
This I want to know.
It's been a long time since the goddess' altar ran red with Greek
260 Well, we were driving our oxen into the water that flows
out through the Clashing Rocks.
There was a cleft drilled through by the beat of the sea
where purplefishers shelter.
Here one of us caught sight of two young men.
265 He came back on tiptoe and said
"Look—gods sitting there!"
Another (a pious fellow) lifted his hands to pray:
270 "Son of sea goddess Leucothea, protector of ships,
lord Palaemon, be gracious—
whether those are the twin sons of Zeus there
or some sweet offspring of Nereus
who bore the fifty dancing daughters!"
275 Then a bold skeptical fellow laughed at the prayers
and said it was two shipwrecked sailors
sitting terrified in the cleft—"no doubt they've heard we slaughter
This made sense to most of us.
We decided to take them for the goddess to sacrifice
as per usual.
280 one of the strangers came out of the cave. He stood.
He tossed his head up and down, howling aloud,
trembling to the tips of his fingers
and staggering in fits.
He cried out like a hunter, "See that one, Pylades?
285 And there, that snake of hell—look, she's itching to kill me,
her horrible snakes are mouthing out at me.
And this one's belching fire and death and thrashing her wings,
she's got a stone shaped like my mother in her arms—
290 she's going to hurl it!
Help, she'll kill me! Where can I run?"
Yet those shapes were not visible.
Only voices of cows and dogs were answering him.
And we for our part, expecting him to die any minute,
295 sat crouched in silence.
But he drew his sword, leapt among the cattle like a lion
and began laying about him, his blade striking flank and rib,
fantasizing he was driving off the Furies.
300 The sea bloomed red with blood.
seeing the slaughter of the cows
everyone began to arm himself
and we blew conches to summon the locals
305 (figuring cowherds were no match for these strong young foreigners).
We soon had a crowd.
But the stranger let go the pulse of his frenzy
and dropped to the ground.
Foam dripped off his chin.
We all set to work on him, pelting and pounding,
310 while the other man kept trying to wipe off the foam
and shield his friend's body with his cloak,
warding off wounds
and ministering to his friend every way he could.
Now the stranger
all of a sudden sane
315 jumped up.
Saw the tide of foes falling on them and groaned.
But we did not slack off, kept pitching rocks from this side and that.
320 Then we heard this awful exhortation:
"Pylades, we're about to die. Let's die brilliantly!
Draw your sword and follow me!"
At sight of their swords we fled back to the ravines
325 and as each one fled, others pressed forward
bombarding the strangers.
And if these were pressed back
the ones retreating pelted them with stones.
Yet here was the amazing thing:
so many hands throwing—not one hit the victims!
330 Anyway, in the end, however unheroically, we won the day.
Surrounded them and knocked the swords from their hands with rocks.
They sank to their knees exhausted.
We brought them to our king,
who took one look and dispatched them here
335 for you to wash and sacrifice.
Lady, these strangers are exactly the sort of victims
you should pray for.
Execute them and Greece will really be paying you back
for your own murder,
paying the price for that slaughter at Aulis.
340 Amazing story!—whoever this man is
who's come from Hellas to the Hostile Sea.
Okay, off you go.
Bring the strangers back with you
and we'll attend to sacred duties here.
(Exit Herdsman to the side.)
O my poor breaking heart,
345 once you were kind and compassionate to strangers;
you always spared them a kindred tear when they were Greeks.
But dreams have ensavaged me.
350 Whoever you are, you'll find me ill-disposed.
This is the truth, it's clear to me, ladies:
our own bad luck does not make us benevolent
toward those who are worse off.
And the thing is,
no breeze of Zeus has ever come here,
355 no ship brought Helen through the Clashing Rocks
with her Menelaus
to pay back what they did to me—
they murdered me!—
to make an Aulis here for that Aulis there
where the Danaans laid their hands on me
as if I were a sacrificial calf
360 and my own father was the sacrificing priest!
I cannot forget those evils!
How many times did I fling my hands at his face crying,
"Father, you marry me to degradation!
365 While you're killing me here
my mother and her women in Argos
are singing wedding songs!
Our house fills with music of pipes
as I die at your hands!
Achilles, it seems, was Hades' son, not Peleus'—
370 you gave me him as a husband
and steered me into a wedding of blood.
It was just a filthy trick!"
And I did not lift my little brother in my arms—
who now is dead!
I did not kiss my sister; no, I
kept my face in veils for I was blushing—
375 I believed I was going to Peleus' house
and put off many an embrace till later,
thinking I'd come back to Argos again.
if you are dead, what a fine patrimony you forfeit!
380 As for the sophistry of the goddess, I condemn it.
She who drives from her altar
anyone who touches blood or childbirth or corpses,
who calls them polluted,
this same goddess revels in human sacrifice!
385 Impossible the wife of Zeus is mother to such folly!
Nor do I credit that story of Tantalus' banquet—
how the gods happily digested a meal of his son.
The people here are murderous themselves,
this is my opinion,
390 so they ascribe base behavior to their deity.
No god is evil, I do not believe it.
Deep deep blue roads of ocean
where the gadfly out of Argos
395 crossed the Hostile Sea
from Asia to Europe,
who are these men who left behind the clear Eurotas
400 green with reeds
or the holy streams of Dirce
to come to this implacable country
405 where the altars and temples of Zeus' daughter
are doused with human blood?
Excerpted from Iphigenia among the Taurians by Euripides, Anne Carson. Copyright © 2013 Anne Carson. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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