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Iphigenia in Aulis | Study Guide


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Iphigenia in Aulis | Symbols


The dominant symbols in Iphigenia at Aulis are taken from the natural world, which is appropriate because in Greek mythology the goddess Artemis is closely associated with nature. In the play Artemis controls the wind, demands Iphigenia be sacrificed—thereby removing her from the light—and accepts the deer as a suitable sacrifice.


The changeable whim of the gods is a frequent topic in Euripides's plays. In Iphigenia at Aulis the whim of the gods—or fickle fate—is represented by the wind. As the play begins, the wind is, as Agamemnon tells his attendant, "hushed" and silent. As a result the fleet cannot sail. Calchas has told Agamemnon it is Artemis who has chosen to still the wind. Only if she receives a sacrifice will she release the wind the Greek army needs to sail to Troy.


In Iphigenia at Aulis characters often refer to "the light" when speaking of life, which it symbolizes. In Episode 1, for example, Menelaus says to Agamemnon, "It is not just ... that thy children should die, while mine still see the light of day." In Episode 4 Iphigenia frequently refers to "the light." When begging her father not to go through with her sacrifice, she tells him "sweet is to look upon the light" and contrasts it with the afterlife "below," which was thought to be subterranean and therefore dark. She echoes Menelaus's words when she cries to Clytemnestra, "No more for me the light of day! No more the beams of yonder sun!" When she has changed her mind and resolved to die, she mentions the symbol again: "Better a single man should see the light than ten thousand women."

The Deer

The deer that, according to the messenger, appeared in Iphigenia's place at her sacrifice represents mercy. Clytemnestra doubts the messenger's story and therefore doubts whether her daughter received mercy. Certainly, Iphigenia did not receive mercy from her father or from the Greek army, both of whom insisted on her death. If the messenger's account is true, only Artemis has shown mercy.

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