(OLD SERVANT enters from offstage.)
OLD SERVANT: Klytemnestra, daughter of Tyndareus, come out and hear my message.
(KLYTEMNESTRA enters, with her baby ORESTES.)
KLYTEMNESTRA: I have heard you call, and here I am, full of sadness. I fear that you have brought me new sorrows to add to my current ones.
OLD SERVANT: No, I have come to tell you a strange and wonderful story about your daughter.
KLYTEMNESTRA: Go on, tell me at once.
OLD SERVANT: Beloved Queen, I will tell you everything, as clearly as I can. I will start from the beginning and continue on, unless my memory falters and I stumble as I speak.
We went to the grove of Artemis, daughter of Zeus, where flowers adorn the ground. The army, which had been ordered to assemble, crowded in around us. King Agamemnon saw the girl approach the grove, groaned, and turned his head, hiding his tears with his robe. But the girl stood next to her father and said “Father, I have come to you of my own free will. I give my body to my country, to all Achaea. Bring me to the altar, if that’s my fate. May you have luck, if I can give it. May you return home victorious. Do not take hold of me, my fellow Achaeans, I am brave enough to silently submit my throat.”
This is what she said, and everyone marveled aloud at the girl’s courage and nobility. From the midst of the crowd, Talthybius called for silence, as was his duty. Then Kalchas, the prophet, unsheathed a sharply honed knife, laying it in a golden basket. He set a wreath upon the girl’s head. Achilles, son of Peleus, took the basket and a basin of purifying water and walked quickly round the altar, saying “Artemis, daughter of Zeus, who brings death to wild beasts, who sends the bright orb of light through the night sky, accept this sacrifice that we Achaeans and Agamemnon offer you, this virgin blood from a pretty maiden’s neck. Grant us smooth sailing and grant our spears the power to take down the towers of Troy.”
As he spoke, the two sons of Atreus and all the army stood staring at the ground, and Kalchas took hold of the knife, looking close at the girl’s throat and pondering where to cut. I stood with a bowed head and a heavy heart.
(The OLD SERVANT pauses, holding back tears. Then, suddenly, he smiles.)
And then . . . a miracle! We clearly heard the blow strike, but the girl had vanished. Kalchas cried out, and the army echoed his cry of amazement at the unexpected sight, sent by the gods. It was something no one could have predicted or believed. There it was! A deer, huge and unmistakable, gasping its last breath, while its blood soaked the goddess’s altar. As you can imagine, Kalchas shouted with joy, saying “Achaean generals, do you see this sacrifice, this deer from the mountains, that the goddess has put upon her altar? She accepts this instead of the girl, instead of staining her altar with noble blood. She accepts it gladly and blesses our journey to attack Troy. Take heart, sailors, go to your ships, and get ready to leave the hollow bays of Aulis and cross the Aegean Sea!” Then, when Hephaistos’s flames had consumed the sacrifice, Kalchas spoke the appropriate prayers for the army’s safe return.
Agamemnon sent me to say this, to tell you how the gods have blessed her and how she has won undying fame throughout Achaea.
I was there and saw it myself. Your child . . . has flown to the gods. Put an end to your grief and your anger at your husband. There is no way to predict what the gods will do, but they do protect the ones they love. This day has seen your daughter dead. And brought back to life.
CHORUS: How wonderful to hear this message! He says the girl is still alive, among the gods!
KLYTEMNESTRA: Oh, my child. Which god has stolen you? How can I speak to you? Can I believe these foolish things I’m told to stop my bitter tears?
OLD SERVANT: King Agamemnon is coming. He will confirm the story.
(AGAMEMNON enters from offstage.)
AGAMEMNON: My wife, we should be happy for our daughter. She has the gods for company. But take our young calf here and go home. The soldiers are waiting to sail. Farewell. It will be a long time before I am able to greet you again, upon my return from Troy. I wish you well.
CHORUS: Rejoice, son of Atreus, you go to Troy. Rejoice. Some day you will return, bringing with you the spoils of war.