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Iphigenia in Aulis | Study Guide


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Iphigenia in Aulis | Character Analysis



When Calchas informs Agamemnon he must sacrifice his daughter to Artemis, the king concocts a ruse. He tricks his wife, Clytemnestra, into preparing Iphigenia to marry the famous Greek warrior Achilles. He sends a letter asking Clytemnestra to send Iphigenia to Aulis. That night, however, he regrets his decision and sends a messenger to tell her Iphigenia should not come after all. When his brother intercepts the letter, the original plan goes ahead. By then, though, Agamemnon has realized he has no choice. The army will insist on the sacrifice, and it is his duty as king and commander to ensure the fleet sails on to Troy. Despite initially wavering, Agamemnon remains steadfast after coming to that decision. Nevertheless, he suffers greatly as a father, heightening the tension between personal and public duty.


Iphigenia has always been a daddy's girl. Her love for her father shows in her joyous greeting when she first arrives in Aulis. When she begs for her life, she bases her argument on how much they love one another. Yet when she sees the thousands of Greek soldiers who clamor for her sacrifice so they can make war on Troy, she changes her mind. She realizes that public duty must come before her personal desire to live. Each soldier in the Greek army is ready to die for Greece. She can do no less.


Clytemnestra (spelled Clytaemnestra in some editions) first appears as a dutiful, loving wife and mother. She is secure in her marriage and excels in fulfilling her spousal duties. However, when she learns Agamemnon has tricked her and means to sacrifice their daughter to Artemis so the Greek army can sail to Troy, everything changes. She loses her faith in Agamemnon and in the gods. She accuses her husband of caring more about his public persona as king and commander than about his family. She asks him to imagine how she and his other daughters might react to Iphigenia's murder and suggests they might even take revenge. Even when it appears Iphigenia may have been saved by the gods at the last minute, Clytemnestra cannot be convinced. Unlike her husband and daughter, she feels the state must take second place to family.


Achilles is among the most heroic Greek warriors and seems nearly immortal. Raised to value honor above all else, he considers Agamemnon's phony promise of his hand in marriage to be binding. To him Iphigenia is already his bride. Still worse, using his name in the scheme has deeply offended him. Had he known of the goddess's demands, he would gladly have lent his name to the plan. However, as it is, Achilles is ready to defend Iphigenia to the death. Still, since he can't be injured, this is not the sacrifice it appears to be. Achilles is steadfast. Yet he always seeks the path that will make him appear most honorable. Thus, his honor comes across as self-serving.


Menelaus tended to be an absentee husband, and during one of his long absences, his wife, Helen, ran off with the Trojan prince, Paris. This is the reason the Greek army is now intent on laying waste to Troy. Both Agamemnon and Clytemnestra accuse Menelaus of waging war just to retrieve his unfaithful wife. Clytemnestra goes so far as to ask why Menelaus doesn't sacrifice his own daughter. When Agamemnon tries to avoid sacrificing Iphigenia, Menelaus calls Agamemnon a traitor to both Greece and his own brother. However, when Agamemnon breaks down in tears, Menelaus relents. Still, by then it is too late. Iphigenia has arrived in Aulis, and soon the army will be demanding her death. Menelaus appears to be the caring brother. Yet perhaps his brotherly concern only arises when it can no longer stand in the way of his getting what he wants.

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