(KLYTEMNESTRA enters from the hut.)
KLYTEMNESTRA: I am looking for my husband. He has been gone for a long while. Inside, my daughter wails with sorrow at the news of her father’s plans.
(She spots AGAMEMNON)
It seems I have been speaking of a man who stands nearby. There is Agamemnon, soon to be condemned for his crimes against his child.
AGAMEMNON: Daughter of Leda, I am glad to find you here. I have something to say to you that I would prefer that the bride did not hear.
(KLYTEMNESTRA glares at him.)
KLYTEMNESTRA: What do you want to say?
(AGAMEMNON hesitates, seeing her.)
AGAMEMNON: No, call the child to me. The purifying water has been prepared, and the barley stands ready to be cast into the fire. The heifers, who must give their dark blood to Artemis before the wedding, are waiting to be slain.
KLYTEMNESTRA: What pretty words. But I have a harder time finding the words to praise your actions.
(She calls into the hut.)
Come here, my daughter. You know what your father intends.
(IPHIGENIA enters. She is crying.)
Here she is, obedient to you as always. Now, I will speak for us both.
AGAMEMNON: Why are you crying, my girl? Where is the joy I usually see when you look at me? Why do you stare at the ground and hide your face?
KLYTEMNESTRA: Answer my questions truthfully, my husband.
AGAMEMNON: There is no need to command me. You can ask your question.
KLYTEMNESTRA: Are you going to murder our daughter?
AGAMEMNON: What an awful suggestion! How dare you suspect me of such a vile thing?
KLYTEMNESTRA: Calm yourself. Just answer my question.
AGAMEMNON: Ask me a reasonable question and I will give you a reasonable answer.
KLYTEMNESTRA: This is my only question. I want to hear nothing from you except the answer.
AGAMEMNON: Oh gods, why is this my fate?
KLYTEMNESTRA: It is mine too, and hers, the same fate for us all.
AGAMEMNON: How have I wronged you?
KLYTEMNESTRA: How can you ask me that? If this is cleverness, then it is not so clever.
AGAMEMNON: I am lost. I have been betrayed.
KLYTEMNESTRA: I know everything. I know what you intend to do to me.
(AGAMEMNON sighs but does not answer.)
You confess it in your silence and your sighs. You don’t need to say anything.
AGAMEMNON: Then I won’t say anything. Why add a shameless lie to our misfortunes?
KLYTEMNESTRA: Then listen to me. I will speak plainly, not in riddles.
To begin with, you forced yourself on me, marrying me against my will after killing my husband. Your violence pushed my unborn babe out from my womb, and you threw his still body on the ground. When Kastor and Pollux, my twin brothers, came riding in to save me you went begging to my father, who allowed you to take me as your wife.
Yet I made peace with all that, and as your wife I have been blameless, as you yourself can attest. I have been faithful. When you enter your home I give you pleasure, when you are gone I add to your prosperity. Good wives like this are a rarity, while bad wives are in abundance. I bore you a son and three daughters. Now you will break my heart by taking one away from me. If someone asks you why you are planning to kill her, what will you say? Shall I give your answer for you? “So that Menelaus can have Helen back.” You will buy a wicked woman back with your own child’s life. You will trade someone you love for someone everyone hates.
Consider this: when you sail away to war, leaving me behind, what will be in my heart for all those years? I will see her empty chair, her empty bedroom, sit alone and weep. I will cry out “My child, your father murdered you with his own hands! It was he and no one else.” Will you want to return to a home where you have left us nothing but hatred? What reception will you expect from your daughters and from me? It will be the one you deserve. Do not force me to do something unspeakable, by doing something unspeakable to me.
Imagine yourself sacrificing your daughter. What prayers will you say? What is the blessing you will ask for while slicing your child’s throat? A homecoming whose horrors match your shameful departure? And what blessing do you think I will give you? I would have to think the gods fools if I prayed for a man who had slaughtered his own flesh.
Will you kiss your children, when you come back to Argos? No, you will have no right. Will any of your children be able to look at you, knowing you have put one of them to death? Have you even thought about this, or are you too busy thinking about being king and general? Why don’t you say this to your soldiers: “My countrymen, do you want to sail to Troy? Then let us all draw lots, and he who loses, his daughter will die.” At least that would be more just than simply offering up your own daughter on the altar. Or let Menelaus murder his daughter Hermione for her mother’s sake. This is his quarrel. But no, I must lose my child, even though I have been true to you, while my adulterous sister will find her daughter home safe in Sparta. Am I wrong in any way? If not, have the wisdom to spare our daughter.
- CHORUS LEADER: Listen to her, Agamemnon, you can join together and save your child, there’s no action more honorable. No one would say otherwise. -
[CHORUS LEADER: Listen to her, Agamemnon.
CHORUS A: She’s your daughter.
CHORUS B: There’s nothing more honorable than saving your daughter.]
IPHIGENIA: If I could speak as well as Orpheus, Father, if I could use words to inspire the rocks around us to rise up and follow me, if I had that same gift of persuasion I would use it. But I have only one talent, my tears. I offer them to you. It is all I can do.
(IPHIGENIA kneels in front of him. AGAMEMNON looks away.)
I bend before you like a branch bending towards the earth, pressing my body against your knees. This is the body that your wife gave birth to. Don’t send me to an early death. It is sweet to see the sun’s light. Do not force me down into the darkness of the Underworld.
I was the first child to call you father, the first you called your child. I was the first to sit upon your knee while you fondly kissed me. You used to say to me, “Will I see you one day, happy in your husband’s house, bringing honor to your family?” And I would say to you, as I pulled upon your beard, the same beard I now caress, “And what about you, Father? Will I welcome you into my house, when you are an old man, and take care of you in thanks for all the years that you took care of me?” I remember every word we said, but you have forgotten them, and now you are planning to end my life.
By Pelops, by your father Atreus, by my mother, who suffered the pain of my birth and suffers more pain now, I beg you to spare me. What do I have to do with the marriage of Paris and Helen? Why should I die because of them? Look at me, look me in the eyes and give me a kiss, give me that at least to remember when I die, if you are determined to remain deaf to my pleas.
CHORUS LEADER: Vile Helen, your marriage has brought such terrible strife to the House of Atreus.
AGAMEMNON: I love my children. I know when I should be moved to pity. I am not mad. I am forcing myself to do this terrible deed, because to not do it would be even more terrible. I have no choice. Look at this huge fleet of war ships, filled with soldiers covered in bronze. Yet they cannot sail towards glory on Troy’s plains, nor assault its famed towers, unless I offer you as a sacrifice. This is what Kalchas, the prophet, has demanded. Our soldiers are driven mad by their desire to sail to the land of those barbarians, to protect the wives throughout our country from abduction. If I refuse to obey the goddess, they will kill me, and both of you, and my daughters home in Argos. It is not Menelaus who has enslaved me. I am not compelled by him. It is our country, Achaea, who rules me. It is for her sake that I must sacrifice you. If you and I can win our country’s freedom, then we must. We must not let the barbarians carry off our wives.
(AGAMEMNON kisses IPHIGENIA and exits offstage.)
KLYTEMNESTRA: Oh you foreign women, oh my child, how my heart breaks at your death. Your father flees from you, having consigned you to Hades.
IPHIGENIA: Oh mother, mother! The very man who fathered me has now abandoned me. I curse the day I first saw you, Helen, for you have doomed me to die an unholy death at the hands of my unholy father. I wish that Aulis had never allowed in these bronze-beaked ships, intent on Troy, or that Zeus had not blown the wind that halts them here. For some, Zeus brings joy with his breath, filling their sails, for others he brings sadness, flaccid sails, and delay. What suffering, what terrible suffering we creatures who spend our brief moments on this earth must endure. It is our fate.
-CHORUS LEADER: Curse you, Helen, for the suffering you bring to this house. I pity you, Iphigenia, for your cruel fate. You do not deserve it.-
[CHORUS LEADER: Curse you, Helen, for the suffering you bring to this house.
CHORUS A: What a cruel fate.
CHORUS B: You don’t deserve it, Iphigenia.]
(IPHIGENIA looks offstage. The sound of men shouting is heard and slowly gets louder.)
IPHIGENIA:Mother, I see a man coming!
KLYTEMNESTRA: It is the son of a goddess, my girl, the man whom you came here to wed.
IPHIGENIA: I will have the servants help hide me.
KYLTEMNESTRA: Why do you want to hide, my child?
IPHIGENIA: I am ashamed of our ill-fated marriage.
KLYTEMNESTRA: There isn’t time to be ashamed, right now. Stay, you can’t afford to be overly modest. We must try our best.
ACHILLES: Unhappy daughter of Leda—
KYTEMNESTRA: You are right to call me unhappy.
ACHILLES: Do you hear the men’s terrible cries?
KLYTEMNESTRA: What are they shouting about?
ACHILLES: About your daughter.
KLYTEMNESTRA: That is a bad omen.
ACHILLES: They say she must be sacrificed.
KLYTEMNESTRA: There’s not a word of disagreement?
ACHILLES: They shouted threats at me.
KLYTEMNESTRA: What sort of threats?
ACHILLES: To stone me to death.
KLYTEMNESTRA: For trying to save my daughter?
ACHILLES: Yes, for that.
KLYTEMNESTRA: Who would have dared to attack you?
ACHILLES: Every one of them, together.
KLYTEMNESTRA: What about your own Myrmidon soldiers?
ACHILLES: They would have joined the attack. They would have led it.
KLYTEMNESTRA: Oh, my girl, there is no hope.
ACHILLES: They mocked me for being a slave to marriage.
KLYTEMNESTRA: What did you respond?
ACHILLES: I told them not to kill my future wife.
KLYTEMNESTRA: Yes, that’s your right.
ACHILLES: A wife who has been promised to me.
KLYTEMNESTRA: And brought to you from Argos.
ACHILLES: But I was drowned out by their shouts.
KLYTEMNESTRA: Mobs of men are horrible creatures.
ACHILLES: Nonetheless, I will stand by you.
KLYTEMNESTRA: Will you fight them on your own?
ACHILLES: A few loyal men will fight with me.
KLYTEMNESTRA: The gods will bless you for your efforts.
ACHILLES: Then I will be blessed.
KLYTEMNESTRA: So my daughter will not be sacrificed?
ACHILLES: Not if I can prevent it.
KLYTEMNESTRA: But will they come and try to take her?
ACHILLES: There will be thousands of them, led by Odysseus.
KLYTEMNESTRA: The son of Sisyphus?
ACHILLES: Yes, him.
KLYTEMNESTRA: Did he choose to do it, or was he chosen?
KLYTEMNESTRA: An awful choice, to participate in murder.
ACHILLES: I will stop him.
KLYTEMNESTRA: Will he try to drag her away, against her will?
ACHILLES: By her hair, I am sure.
KLYTEMNESTRA: What should I do, if he does?
ACHILLES: Cling on to her.
KLYTEMNESTRA: I will. She will not be killed, if that happens.
ACHILLES: It will happen.
IPHIGENIA: Mother, listen to me. You are wrong to be angry with your husband, I see that now. There is no point in fighting the inevitable. We thank you, stranger, for your offer of help, but we cannot allow you to face the wrath of the army. It will not help us, but it may harm you.
Listen to what I’ve been thinking, Mother. It seems clear to me that I must die. But I want to die gloriously, without a hint of dishonor. Consider what I’m saying, Mother. It is true. Our mighty country is looking to me, because those ships cannot sail to Troy and destroy it without my help. I can prevent those barbarians from ever again abducting our women. If they suffer for the abduction of Helen, whom Paris stole, they will not try to take our well-born wives again. My death will make sure of that. Achaea will be free, and my legendary name will be blessed for it.
I must not love my life too much. When I was born, I was born not just to you, but to our whole country. Innumerable soldiers and sailors are ready to fight courageously and die, because their country has been wronged. Should my one life stand in their way? Is that justice? Can we answer that?
Let me say one other thing. This man should not be forced to fight against our whole country for one woman’s sake. One man’s life is worth more than the lives of ten thousand women. If Artemis wants my body, who am I, a mortal, to oppose her? It’s not possible. Here is my life—I give it to my country. Sacrifice me, and take down Troy. That will be my everlasting monument, my children, my marriage, my reputation. We must rule the barbarians. The barbarians cannot rule us. They are slaves. We must be free.
CHORUS LEADER: What you have said is noble, maiden. There is a sickness in the gods who have given you this fate.
ACHILLES: Daughter of Agamemnon, if I could have won you as my wife, it would have been a blessing from the gods. I envy our country for having you, and you for having our country. Your words are beautiful, worthy of Achaea. You have given up your battle against the gods, realizing their power, and instead chosen the most beneficial and necessary path. But now that I have seen your noble nature, I want to be your husband even more. Listen. I want to save you and take you home with me. Thetis my mother, witness the pain I feel because I cannot fight every Achaean there is to save Iphigenia. Think again: death is a terrible thing.
IPHIGENIA: Let me speak plainly, without fear of what anyone will say in response. It is enough that Helen is causing bloodshed with her beauty. As for you, stranger, do not die on my behalf, and do not kill. Let me save my country, if I can.
ACHILLES: What a noble heart you have. There is nothing more for me to say. You have made your decision. You have made a heroic choice – it is the truth, why not say it? Yet in case you change your mind, I will make you an offer: I will keep my weapons near the altar and be ready to save you from death. You may be brave, but when you are confronted with a knife at your throat, you will accept my help. I will not allow you to die because of a moment’s recklessness. I will wait for you, armed, in the temple of the goddess.
(ACHILLES exits offstage.)
IPHIGENIA: Mother, why are you so silent and so sad?
KYLTEMNESTRA: The pain in my heart is all the reason I need.
IPHIGENIA: That is no reason. I am saved. I will honor your name.
KLYTEMNESTRA: What do you mean? Won’t I mourn for you?
IPHIGENIA: No. I will have no grave.
KLYTEMNESTRA: If you are sacrificed, you will have a tomb.
IPHIGENIA: The altar of the goddess, the daughter of Zeus, will be my tomb.
KLYTEMNESTRA: That is true, my daughter. I will do as you wish.
IPHIGENIA: I am lucky to be able to serve my country.
KLYTEMNESTRA: What will I tell your sisters?
IHPHIGENIA: Tell them not to mourn for me either.
KLYTEMNESTRA: Are there any final words of love you have for the girls?
IPHIGENIA: Tell them farewell. Tell them to raise Orestes to manhood.
KLYTEMNESTRA: In there anything in all Achaea I can do for you?
IPHIGENIA: Do not hate my father, your husband.
KLYTEMNESTRA: He will face a terrible future because of you.
IPHIGENIA: He did not want to bring me to my end. He did it for Achaea.
KLYTEMNESTRA: He used trickery, unworthy of his father.
IPHIGENIA: Who will lead me to the altar, so I am not dragged by my hair?
KLYTEMNESTRA: I will take you—
IPHIGENIA: No, you won’t. You shouldn’t.
KLYTEMNESTRA: I will. I will cling to your robe.
IPHIGENIA:No, listen to me. It will be better for both of us if I let one of my father’s servants lead me to Artemis’ meadow, where I will be killed.
(OLD SERVANT enters, from the hut.)
OLD SERVANT: Are you going from us, child?
IPHIGENIA: Yes. Never to return.
KLYTEMNESTRA: Will you leave your mother?
IPHIGENIA: As you see. Though you do not deserve it.
KLYTEMNESTRA: Don’t go! Don’t leave me!
IPHIGENIA: You must not weep.
(IPHIGENIA leads her mother KLYTEMNESTRA into the hut, then emerges alone. The OLD SERVANT takes her hand.)