The Plot of Iphigeneia at Aulis

Before the play begins: The background of Iphigeneia at Aulis is the Trojan War. It all starts at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis (Achilles’ parents) — Thetis is divine, so they invite all the gods and goddesses, except Strife. She decides to ruin the party by tossing in a golden apple that says “To the fairest.” Three goddesses — Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite — claim it, and Zeus picks Paris, a prince of Troy, to judge who gets the apple. Hera promises him power, Athena promises him wisdom, but he chooses Aphrodite, who promises him the most beautiful woman in the world — Helen. The problem is that she’s already married to Menelaus of Sparta. Paris takes Helen to Troy anyway, and Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon call together an army of Greeks to sail to Troy to bring Helen back.

As the play begins. . . The scene is in front of Agamemnon’s tent at the port of Aulis, where the Greeks are waiting to sail. We learn that Agamemnon has sent for his daughter, Iphigeneia, telling her she will marry the Greek hero Achilles. But the real reason he has invited her is to kill her as a sacrifice to the goddess Artemis, who is preventing the wind from filling the sails of the Greek ships. Agamemnon sends his servant, the Old Man, with a letter telling Iphigeneia not to come, but Menelaus intercepts the letter and accuses Agamemnon of betraying the Greeks. The brothers argue until a Messenger arrives to announce that Iphigeneia and her mother Clytemnestra have already arrived at Aulis. Agamemnon welcomes them, but he can’t bring himself to tell the truth, and the women still believe they are in camp to celebrate a wedding. A chorus of tourist women, in camp to admire the soldiers, witness their discussions and consider the fates of women in war. Clytemnestra greets Achilles as her future son-in-law, and an embarrassing confusion ensues until the Old Man explains to them what Agamemnon’s true intentions are. Achilles promises to protect Iphigeneia if they can’t persuade Agamemnon to change his mind. Clytemnestra confronts Agamemnon, and Iphigeneia begs him for her life, but he fears the wrath of the army and does not relent. Achilles reports that the army is clamoring for Iphigeneia’s sacrifice, but he will still protect her if it comes to that. Iphigeneia then changes her mind and her heart and decides that the best thing to do is to go willingly to her sacrifice, for the sake of the Greek army and the honor of Greek women. Achilles admires her nobility and goes to join the army and witness the sacrifice. Having told her mother not to grieve for her, Iphigeneia, with the help of the chorus, begins the rituals for Artemis and departs to her death. A new Messenger appears and reports a miracle. Iphigeneia had bravely gone to the altar and Agamemnon had wielded the knife, but when he struck, his daughter had disappeared, replaced with a deer. In her grief, Clytemnestra doesn’t know whether to believe the story.