Iphigenia in Aulis | Study Guide

Euripides

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Iphigenia in Aulis | Plot Summary

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Summary

Prologos and Parodos

Iphigenia at Aulis takes place before Agamemnon's tent in the port of Aulis, where Greek forces have gathered before sailing to make war on Troy.

Just before dawn Agamemnon calls his aged attendant to him. The fleet is stranded because there is no wind, and Calchas, the seer, has told Agamemnon the goddess Artemis has stilled the winds. The fleet can sail only if he sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to the goddess. At Menelaus's insistence, Agamemnon wrote Clytemnestra, asking her to send Iphigenia to Aulis to marry Achilles—a ruse Agamemnon invented. However, he has since changed his mind. He gives his attendant a second letter telling Clytemnestra the wedding has been postponed and Iphigenia should not come to Aulis.

The chorus—a group of married women from Chalcis, a neighboring city—arrives. It recalls how Artemis promised Helen to Paris and talks excitedly about the handsome warriors and majestic ships assembled at Aulis.

Episode 1 and Stasimon 1

Menelaus accosts Agamemnon's attendant and rips the letter from his hands. Agamemnon arrives, and the two brothers argue. By refusing to sacrifice Iphigenia, Menelaus claims, Agamemnon has betrayed both Greece and his own brother. Agamemnon argues Menelaus is being selfish by putting his desire for Helen above the welfare of Agamemnon's family. The brothers are still fighting when a messenger arrives to say Iphigenia, Clytemnestra, and Orestes have arrived. Agamemnon breaks down in tears. Seeing this, Menelaus relents. However, Agamemnon now says he no longer has a choice; he must sacrifice Iphigenia. The army is bound to learn sacrificing Iphigenia would release the ships. When they do, they will kill her if he does not—and with her, him and the rest of his family.

The women of the chorus sing a song comparing the calm of marriage and the potential disruption of love, recalling how Paris and Helen fell in love, which has led Greece to attack Troy. When they see Clytemnestra and Iphigenia approaching, they welcome them kindly.

Episode 2 and Stasimon 2

Clytemnestra and Iphigenia greet Agamemnon affectionately. He cannot hold back his tears and must make excuses for his emotions. After Iphigenia leaves, Clytemnestra asks Agamemnon about Achilles and the wedding preparations. He tells her to return home to their other daughters and leave him to deal with the wedding. Clytemnestra refuses, saying a daughter's wedding is a mother's job. Agamemnon is distraught.

The chorus anticipates the horrors that will befall Troy when the Greek army gets there. The men will be slaughtered, and the bereaved Trojan women will blame Helen.

Episode 3 and Stasimon 3

Clytemnestra runs into Achilles outside Agamemnon's tent and introduces herself as his future mother-in-law, but Achilles doesn't know what she's talking about. The attendant joins them and explains Calchas's prophecy: the Greek ships will remain stranded by lack of wind unless Agamemnon sacrifices Iphigenia. Clytemnestra is horrified and begs Achilles to help her daughter. Achilles is outraged because his name was used to trick Iphigenia and her mother. He admits, though, if he'd been consulted, he would have allowed his name to be used; he owes as much to his fellow Greek soldiers. As it is, he considers himself engaged to Iphigenia and promises on pain of death to save the girl's life. He and Clytemnestra make a plan. First, she will try to change Agamemnon's mind by appealing to his duty as a husband and father. If that doesn't work, Achilles will step in and reason with him.

The chorus first celebrates Achilles's birth then laments Iphigenia's fate.

Episode 4 and Stasimon 4

Clytemnestra and Iphigenia tell Agamemnon they know he plans to sacrifice his daughter. Ashamed, he admits everything. Clytemnestra accuses him of putting his public duties ahead of his family's welfare and suggests someone else's daughter might have been sacrificed instead. Iphigenia begs her father not to kill her. She reminds him of how they used to plan her future and tells him how much she wants to live. Miserable, Agamemnon says he has no choice. If he doesn't go through with the sacrifice, the army will rise up, sacrifice her, and kill their entire family. What's more, it's his duty to protect Greece from the Trojan barbarians. Distraught, he leaves.

Achilles arrives, followed by thousands of angry soldiers insisting on the sacrifice. He swears he will fight them all to protect Iphigenia. However, seeing the army's determination, Iphigenia changes her mind. She realizes all these men are ready to die for Greece and says she cannot do less. This sacrifice, she says, is her "enduring moment." Impressed by her nobility, Achilles goes to stand near the altar. If she changes her mind at the last minute, he says, he will still fight for her. Iphigenia asks her mother not to mourn her and not to hate Agamemnon. She sends her mother away and says she is ready.

The chorus describes the preparations for the sacrifice and calls Artemis "a murdering goddess." It asks the goddess to send the army to Troy and crown Agamemnon with "deathless fame."

Exodos

A messenger tells Clytemnestra and the chorus about the sacrificial ritual. Agamemnon, he says, was in tears, but Iphigenia comforted him. The army watched in silence as the ritual began. Before the priest could "strike" with his knife, though, there was a loud sound. Suddenly Iphigenia was gone, and a deer lay bleeding out at the foot of the altar. Calchas announced the goddess had accepted the deer as a sacrifice and the fleet would sail today. The messenger assures Clytemnestra Iphigenia "flew away to the gods." Clytemnestra, however, wonders if his story is just a lie to make her feel better. Agamemnon arrives, confirms the messenger's story, and says goodbye to his wife and son. The chorus wishes him success in Troy and a safe return.

Iphigenia in Aulis Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 The Greek fleet can sail only if Iphigenia is sacrificed.

Rising Action

2 Agamemnon asks Iphigenia to come to Aulis to marry Achilles.

3 He changes his mind but realizes the army will insist.

4 Clytemnestra and Iphigenia arrive for the wedding.

5 Offended at being used, Achilles vows to save Iphigenia.

6 Clytemnestra and Iphigenia beg but can't move Agamemnon.

Climax

7 Seeing the army pursuing Achilles, Iphigenia agrees to die.

Falling Action

8 A messenger says Iphigenia vanished, replaced by a deer.

Resolution

9 Clytemnestra still has doubts; Agamemnon says goodbye.

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