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Iphigenia, Ancient Greek Victim of Sacrifice

Iphigenia was the daughter of Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae in ancient Greece and Clytemnestra.

Hesiod, in his Catalog of Women, refers to her as Iphimede (Ἰφιμέδην). Of her he says, “(Clytemnestra bore beautiful ankled Iphimede in the halls…. The well-greaved Achaeans sacrificed Iphimede on the altar of golden-spindled noisy Artemis on the day when they were sailing on boats to Troy, to wreak vengeageance for the beautiful ankled Argive woman– a phantom: herself, the deer-shooting Arrow shooter had very easily saved and lovely ambrosia she dripped onto her head, so that her flesh would be steadfast forever.”

The name ‘Iphimede’ fits the story well. It means ‘strong measures’ from Indo-European yegwa-, ‘power’ and med- ‘to take appropriate measures’. The sacrifice of Iphigenia is the strongest possible method that could have been used to get their ships to sail from Aulis. The name ‘Iphigenia’ means ‘strong born’ from the Indo-European yegwa-, ‘power’ and gene- ‘beget’.

Theseus raped Helen and Iphigenia may have been the result.

Agamemnon was gathering an army at Aulis for the attack on Troy when he angered Artemis by killing an animal at her temple. Artemis caused the winds to become calm so the ships could not sail to Troy. The seer Calchas determined that Iphigenia must be sacrificed to appease Artemis. To get Iphigenia to come to Aulis she and her mother were deceived by telling them that she was to marry Achilles. When she arrived in Aulis she was quickly led
to the altar and sacrificed. But as the knife was about to enter her throat Artemis substituted a deer for her and took her to Tauris.

There is an old notion that marriage was the death of a maiden and birth of the married woman. This is one of the sources of the stories of the sacrifice of Iphigenia and Polyxenia. Both were supposedly virgins and both sacrificed. The odd thing is that Iphigenia was enticed to the sacrifice by the offer of marriage to Achilles, and Polyxenia was sacrificed to Achilles on his grave because he did not live to claim her in marriage. Both deaths, then, were substitutes
for marriage to Achilles.

Iphigenia had to die to guarantee the success of the expedition. As it was the expedition was to cost the lives of perhaps 100,000 men and women. Many died at sea to what the Greeks considered a peaceful death. Others died on the battlefield. Unfortunately, many died from disease due to the poor conditions of the battle camps. Few of these deaths, if any, guaranteed victory in the way that the death of Iphigenia did. In fact she died a heroine while the others died in in futility.

Sacrifice of Iphigenia

Robert Graves suggests that the story about Artemis being mad at Agamemnon may be a misinterpretation of the facts. Agamemnon may have battled a dragon and defeated the monster. Iphigenia may have been an emanation of the dragon upon defeat. She was not the victim but the object of the sacrifice and actually represented the presence of Artemis.

The fact that the fleet could not sail because there was no winds says a lot about the fleet. Homer only mentions oared galleys. Why would they need wind if they could be rowed? Perhaps the reason is the galleys carried the men but the supplies were in sailing ships. Even if the number of sailing ships equaled the number of oared galleys the sailing ships could have been towed. But evidently the number of sailing ships greatly exceeded the number of oared galleys.

Why would a girl be needed to bring back the wind? It was believed that the North wind impregnated mares. Is it possible that the girl would serve the same purpose. This would suggest that the festival referenced was originally a fertility festival.


Questions and Answers

Question: is what agammemnon doing is over his choice?

Answer: No. What Agamemnon does includes choices he has made but it also includes actions over which he has no control. Agamemnon chose to sacrifice his daughter only when he found that he must do it or not launch his army. His choice was to launch the army in spite of the fact he had to sacrifice his daughter in the process. He did not want to kill his daughter but he realized that her sacrifice was just one of many that would be required. Many
young men would also lose their lives.

Question: Was Theseus punished, by Paris, for raping Helen?

Answer: It is not clear that anyone thought it was a crime. But her
brothers, Castor and Pollux did not like it. They used force to get her back. But they did not confront Theseus because he was away in Hades of all places. When they found Helen in the care of Aethra, the mother of Theseus, they enslaved Aethra to Helen. She served as the slave of Helen for almost 30 years and was finally liberated at Troy. They may also have enslaved the sister of Perithous and the accomplice of Theseus. Maybe this was punishment for Theseus. The problem is that is was common practice for a man to “rape” a woman and make her his wife. This practice gave the woman to a strong man but obviously caused problems with the woman’s family.

In fact the first trial in Athens was about such a crime. Ares had killed a young man who he found raping his daughter, Alcippe. Poseidon insisted on a trial since the young man ‘Halirrhothius’ was his son. The trial was the first to be held in Athens and it was held on the top of the Areiopagus before a court of the gods. Aeres was exonerated and the trial system of Athens was founded on that spot. The decisions supports the notion that rape is a crime. An historical fiction about this incident can be found at click here.