It has been told in the story of King Agamemnon that the Goddess Artemis, being wroth with him because he had slain a hart which she loved, suffered not the ships of the Greeks to sail till he had offered his daughter Iphigenia for a sacrifice. But when the King consented, and all things had been made ready for slaying the maiden, the goddess would not that her blood should be shed, but put a fair hind in her place, and carried away the maiden to the land of the Taurians, where she had a temple and an altar. Now on this altar the King of the land was wont to sacrifice any stranger, being Greek by nation, who was driven by stress of weather to the place, for none went thither willingly. And the name of the King was Thoas, which signifieth in the Greek tongue, “swift of foot.”
Now when the maiden had been there many years she dreamed a dream. And in the dream she seemed to have departed from the land of the Taurians and to dwell in the city of Argos, wherein she had been born. And as she slept in the women’s chamber there befell a great earthquake, and cast to the ground the palace of her fathers, so that there was left one pillar only which stood upright. And as she looked on this pillar, yellow hair seemed to grow upon it as the hair of a man, and it spake with a man’s voice. And she did to it as she was wont to do to the strangers that were sacrificed upon the altar, purifying it with water, and weeping the while. And the interpretation of the dream she judged to be that her brother Orestes was dead, for that male children are the pillars of a house, and that he only was left to the house of her father.
Now it chanced that at this same time Orestes, with Pylades that was his friend, came in a ship to the land of the Taurians. And the cause of his coming was this. After that he had slain his mother, taking vengeance for the death of King Agamemnon his father, the Furies pursued him. Then Apollo, who had commanded him to do this deed, bade him go to the land of Athens that he might be judged. And when he had been judged and loosed, yet the Furies left him not. Wherefore Apollo commanded that he should sail for the land of the Taurians and carry there the image of Artemis and bring it to the land of the Athenians, and that after this he should have rest. Now when the two were come to the place, they saw the altar that it was red with the blood of them that had been slain thereon. And Orestes doubted how they might accomplish the things for the which he was come, for the walls of the temple were high, and the gates not easy to be broken through. Therefore he would have fled to the ship, but Pylades consented not, seeing that they were not wont to go back from that to which they had set their hand, but counselled that they should hide themselves during the day in a cave that was hard by the seashore, not near to the ship, lest search should be made for them, and that by night they should creep into the temple by a space that there was between the pillars, and carry off the image, and so depart.
So they hid themselves in a cavern by the sea. But it chanced that certain herdsmen were feeding their oxen in pastures hard by the shore; one of these, coming near to the cavern, spied the young men as they sat therein, and stealing back to his fellows, said, “See ye not them that sit yonder. Surely they are Gods;” for they were exceeding tall and fair to look upon. And some began to pray to them, thinking that they might be the Twin Brethren or of the sons of Nereus. But another laughed and said, “Not so; these are shipwrecked men who hide themselves, knowing that it is our custom to sacrifice strangers to our Gods.” To him the others gave consent, and said that they should take the men prisoners that they might be sacrificed to the Gods.
But while they delayed Orestes ran forth from the cave, for the madness was come upon him, crying out, “Pylades, seest thou not that dragon from hell; and that who would kill me with the serpents of her mouth, and this again that breatheth out fire, holding my mother in her arms to cast her upon me?” And first he bellowed as a bull and then howled as a dog, for the Furies, he said, did so. But the herdsmen, when they saw this, gathered together in great fear and sat down. But when Orestes drew his sword and leapt, as a lion might leap, into the midst of the herd, slaying the beasts (for he thought in his madness that he was contending with the Furies), then the herdsmen, blowing on shells, called to the people of the land; for they feared the young men, so strong they seemed and valiant. And when no small number was gathered together, they began to cast stones and javelins at the two. And now the madness of Orestes began to abate, and Pylades tended him carefully, wiping away the foam from his mouth, and holding his garments before him that he should not be wounded by the stones. But when Orestes came to himself, and beheld in what straits they were, he groaned aloud and cried, “We must die, O Pylades, only let us die as befitteth brave men. Draw thy sword and follow me.” And the people of the land dared not to stand before them; yet while some fled, others would cast stones at them. For all that no man wounded them. But at the last, coming about them with a great multitude, they smote the swords out of their hands with stones, and so bound them and took them to King Thoas. And the King commanded that they should be taken to the temple, that the priestess might deal with them according to the custom of the place.
So they brought the young men bound to the temple. Now the name of the one they knew, for they had heard his companion call to him, but the name of the other they knew not. And when Iphigenia saw them, she bade the people loose their bonds, for that being holy to the goddess they were free. And then—for she took the two for brothers—she asked them, saying, “Who is your mother, and your father, and your sister, if a sister you have? She will be bereaved of noble brothers this day. And whence come ye?”
To her Orestes answered, “What meanest thou, lady, by lamenting in this fashion over us? I hold it folly in him who must die that he should bemoan himself. Pity us not; we know what manner of sacrifices ye have in this land.”
“Tell me now, which of ye two is called Pylades?”
“Not I, but this my companion.”
“Of what city in the land of Greece are ye? And are ye brothers born of one mother?”
“Brothers we are, but in friendship, not in blood.”
“And what is thy name?”
“That I tell thee not. Thou hast power over my body, but not over my name.”
“Wilt thou not tell me thy country?”
And when he told her that his country was Argos, she asked him many things, as about Troy, and Helen, and Calchas the prophet, and Ulysses; and at last she said, “And Achilles, son of Thetis of the sea, is he yet alive?”
“He is dead, and his marriage that was made at Aulis is of no effect.”
“A false marriage it was, as some know full well.”
“Who art thou that inquirest thus about matters in Greece?”
“I am of the land of Greece, and was brought thence yet being a child. But there was a certain Agamemnon, son of Atreus, what of him?”
“I know not. Lady, leave all talk of him.”
“Say not so; but do me a pleasure, and tell me.”
“He is dead.”
“Woe is me! How died he?”
“What meaneth thy sorrow? Art thou of his kindred?”
“‘Tis a pity to think how great he was, and now he hath perished.”
“He was slain in a most miserable fashion by a woman. But ask no more.”
“Only this one thing. Is his wife yet alive?”
“Nay; for the son whom she bare slew her, taking vengeance for his father.”
“A dreadful deed, but righteous withal.”
“Righteous indeed he is, but the Gods love him not.”
“And did the King leave any other child behind him?”
“One daughter, Electra by name.”
“And is his son yet alive?”
“He is alive, but no man more miserable.”
Now when Iphigenia heard that he was alive, and knew that she had been deceived by the dreams which she had dreamt, she conceived a thought in her heart, and said to Orestes, “Hearken now, for I have somewhat to say to thee that shall bring profit both to thee and to me. Wilt thou, if I save thee from this death, carry tidings of me to Argos to my friends, and bear a tablet from me to them? For such a tablet I have with me, which one who was brought captive to this place wrote for me, pitying me, for he knew that I caused not his death, but the law of the goddess in this place. Nor have I yet found a man who should carry this thing to Argos. But thou, I judge, art of noble birth, and knowest the city and those with whom I would have communication. Take then this tablet, and thy life as a reward; and let this man be sacrificed to the goddess.”
Then Orestes made answer, “Thou hast said well, lady, save in one thing only. That this man should be sacrificed in my stead pleaseth me not at all. For I am he that brought this voyage to pass; and this man came with me that he might help me in my troubles. Wherefore it would be a grievous wrong that he should suffer in my stead and I escape. Give then the tablet to him. He shall take it to the city of Argos, and thou shalt have what thou wilt. But as for me, let them slay me, if they will.”
“‘Tis well spoken, young man. Thou art come, I know, of a noble stock. The Gods grant that my brother—for I have a brother, though he be far hence—may be such as thou. It shall be as thou wilt. This man shall depart with the tablet, and thou shalt die.”
Then Orestes would know the manner of the death by which he must die. And she told him that she slew not the victims with her own hand, but that there were ministers in the temple appointed to this office, she preparing them for sacrifice beforehand. Also she said that his body would be burned with fire.
And when Orestes had wished that the hand of his sister might pay due honour to him in his death, she said, “This may not be, for she is far away from this strange land. But yet, seeing that thou art a man of Argos, I myself will adorn thy tomb, and pour oil of olives and honey on thy ashes.” Then she departed, that she might fetch the tablet from her dwelling, bidding the attendants keep the young men fast, but without bonds.
But when she was gone, Orestes said to Pylades, “Pylades, what thinkest thou? Who is this maiden? She had great knowledge of things in Troy and Argos, and of Calchas the wise soothsayer, and of Achilles and the rest. And she made lamentation over King Agamemnon. She must be of Argos.”
And Pylades answered, “This I cannot say; all men have knowledge of what befell the King. But hearken to this. It were shame to me to live if thou diest. I sailed with thee, and will die with thee. For otherwise men will account lightly of me both in Argos and in Phocis, which is my own land, thinking that I betrayed thee, or basely slew thee, that I might have thy kingdom, marrying thy sister, who shall inherit it in thy stead. Not so: I will die with thee, and my body shall be burnt together with thine.”
But Orestes answered, “I must bear my own troubles. This indeed would be a shameful thing, that when thou seekest to help me, I should destroy thee. But as for me, seeing how the Gods deal with me, it is well that I should die. Thou, indeed, art happy, and thy house is blessed; but my house is accursed. Go, therefore, and my sister, whom I have given thee to wife, shall bear thee children, and the house of my father shall not perish. And I charge thee that when thou art safe returned to the city of Argos, thou do these things. First, thou shalt build a tomb for me, and my sister shall make an offering there of her hair and of her tears also. And tell her that I died, slain by a woman of Argos, that offered me as an offering to her Gods; and I charge thee that thou leave not my sister, but be faithful to her. And now farewell, true friend and companion in my toils; for indeed I die, and Phœbus hath lied unto me, prophesying falsely.”
And Pylades sware to him that he would build him a tomb, and be a true husband to his sister. After this Iphigenia came forth, holding a tablet in her hand. And she said, “Here is the tablet of which I spake. But I fear lest he to whom I shall give it shall haply take no account of it when he is returned to the land Therefore I would fain bind him with an oath that he will deliver it to them that should have it in the city of Argos.” And Orestes consented, saying that she also should bind herself with an oath that she would deliver one of the two from death. So she sware by Artemis that she would persuade the King, and deliver Pylades from death. And Pylades sware on his part by Zeus, the father of heaven, that he would give the tablet to those whom it should concern. And having sworn it, he said, “But what if a storm overtake me, and the tablet be lost, and I only be saved?”
“I will tell thee what hath been written in the tablet; and if it perish, thou shalt tell them again; but if not, then thou shalt give it as I bid thee.”
“And to whom shall I give it?”
“Thou shalt give it to Orestes, son of Agamemnon. And that which is written therein is this: ‘I THAT WAS SACRIFICED IN AULIS, EVEN IPHIGENIA, WHO AM ALIVE AND YET DEAD TO MY OWN PEOPLE, BID THEE—'”
But when Orestes heard this, he brake in, “Where is this Iphigenia? Hath the dead come back among the living?”
“Thou seest her in me. But interrupt me not ‘I BID THEE FETCH ME BEFORE I DIE TO ARGOS FROM A STRANGE LAND, TAKING ME FROM THE ALTAR THAT IS RED WITH THE BLOOD OF STRANGERS, WHEREAT I SERVE.’ And if Orestes ask by what means I am alive, thou shalt say that Artemis put a hind in my stead, and that the priest, thinking that he smote me with the knife, slew the beast, and that the goddess brought me to this land.”
Then said Pylades, “My oath is easy to keep. Orestes, take thou this tablet from thy sister.”
Then Orestes embraced his sister, crying—for she turned from him, not knowing what she should think—”O my sister, turn not from me; for I am thy brother whom thou didst not think to see.”
And when she yet doubted, he told her of certain things by which she might know him to be Orestes—how that she had woven a tapestry wherein was set forth the strife between Atreus and Thyestes concerning the golden lamb; and that she had given a lock of her hair at Aulis to be a memorial of her; and that there was laid in her chamber at Argos the ancient spear of Pelops, her father’s grandsire, with which he slew Œnomaüs, and won Hippodamia to be his wife.
And when she heard this, she knew that he was indeed Orestes, whom, being an infant and the latest born of his mother, she had in time past held in her arms. But when the two had talked together for a space, rejoicing over each other, and telling the things that had befallen them, Pylades said, “Greetings of friends after long parting are well; but we must needs consider how best we shall escape from this land of the barbarians.”
But Iphigenia answered, “Yet nothing shall hinder me from knowing how fareth my sister Electra.”
“She is married,” said Orestes, “to this Pylades, whom thou seest.”
“And of what country is he, and who is his father?”
“His father is Strophius the Phocian; and he is a kinsman, for his mother was the daughter of Atreus, and a friend also such as none other is to me.”
Then Orestes set forth to his sister the cause of his coming to the land of the Taurians. And he said, “Now help me in this, my sister, that we may bear away the image of the goddess; for so doing I shall be quit of my madness, and thou wilt be brought to thy native country, and the house of thy father shall prosper. But if we do it not, then shall we perish altogether.”
And Iphigenia doubted much how this thing might be done. But at the last she said, “I have a device whereby I shall compass the matter. I will say that thou art come hither, having murdered thy mother, and that thou canst not be offered for a sacrifice till thou art purified with the water of the sea. Also that thou hast touched the image, and that this also must be purified in like manner. And the image I myself will bear to the sea; for, indeed, I only may touch it with my hands. And of this Pylades also I will say that he is polluted in like manner with thee. So shall we three win our way to the ship. And that this be ready it will be thy care to provide.”
And when she had so said, she prayed to Artemis: “Great goddess, that didst bring me safe in days past from Aulis, bring me now also, and these that are with me, safe to the land of Greece, so that men may count thy brother Apollo to be a true prophet. Nor shouldst thou be unwilling to depart from this barbarous land, and to dwell in the fair city of Athens.”
After this came King Thoas, inquiring whether they had offered the strangers for sacrifice, and had duly burnt their bodies with fire. To him Iphigenia made answer, “These were unclean sacrifices that thou broughtest to me, O King.”
“How didst thou learn this?”
“The image of the goddess turned upon her place of her own accord, and covered also her face with her hands.”
“What wickedness, then, had these strangers wrought?”
“They slew their mother, and had been banished therefore from the land of Greece.”
“O monstrous! Such deeds we barbarians never do. And now what dost thou purpose?”
“We must purify these strangers before we offer them for a sacrifice.”
“With water from the river, or in the sea?”
“In the sea. The sea cleanseth away all that is evil among men.”
“Well, thou hast it here, by the very walls of the temple.”
“Aye, but I must seek a place apart from men.”
“So be it; go where thou wilt; I would not look on things forbidden.”
“The image also must be purified.”
“Surely, if the pollution from these murderers of their mother hath touched it. This is well thought of in thee.”
Then she instructed the King that he should bring the strangers out of the temple, having first bound them and veiled their heads. Also that certain of his guards should go with her, but that all the people of the city should be straitly commanded to stay within doors, that so they might not be defiled; and that he himself should abide in the temple, and purify it with fire, covering his head with his garments when the strangers should pass by.
“And be not troubled,” she said, “if I seem to be long doing these things.”
“Take what time thou wilt,” he said “so that thou do all things in order.”
So certain of the King’s guards brought the two young men from out of the temple, and Iphigenia led them towards the place where the ship of Orestes lay at anchor. But when they were come near to the shore, she bade them halt nor come over near, for that she had that to do in which they must have no part. And she took the chain wherewith the young men were bound in her hands, and set up a strange song as of one that sought enchantments. And after that the guard sat where she bade them for a long time, they began to fear lest the strangers should have slain the priestess, and so fled. Yet they moved not, fearing to see that which was forbidden. But at the last with one consent they rose up. And when they were come to the sea, they saw the ship trimmed to set forth, and fifty sailors on the benches having oars in their hands ready for rowing; and the two young men were standing unbound upon the shore near to the stern. And other sailors were dragging the ship by the cable to the shore that the young men might embark. Then the guards laid hold of the rudder, and sought to take it from his place, crying, “Who are ye that carry away priestesses and the images of our Gods?” Then Orestes said, “I am Orestes, and I carry away my sister.” But the guards laid hold of Iphigenia; and when the sailors saw this they leapt from the ship; and neither the one nor the other had swords in their hands, but they fought with their fists and their feet also. And the sailors being strong and skilful, the King’s men were driven back sorely bruised and wounded. And when they fled to a bank that was hard by and cast stones at the ship, the archers standing on the stern shot at them with arrows. Then—for his sister feared to come further—Orestes leapt into the sea, and raised her upon his shoulder and so lifted her into the ship, and the image of the goddess with her. And Pylades cried, “Lay hold of your oars, ye sailors, and smite the sea, for we have that for the which we came to this land.” So the sailors rowed with all their might; and while the ship was in the harbour it went well with them, but when it was come to the open sea a great wave took it, for a violent wind blew against it, and drave it backwards to the shore.
And one of the guards when he saw this ran to King Thoas and told him, and the King made haste and sent messengers mounted upon horses, to call the men of the land that they might do battle with Orestes and his comrade. But while he was yet sending them there appeared in the air above his head the Goddess Athené, who spake, saying, “Cease, King Thoas, from pursuing this man and his companions; for he hath come hither on this errand by the command of Apollo; and I have persuaded Poseidon that he make the sea smooth for him to depart.”
And King Thoas answered, “It shall be as thou wilt, O goddess; and though Orestes hath borne away his sister and the image, I dismiss my anger, for who can fight against the Gods?”
So Orestes departed and came to his own country and dwelt in peace, being set free from his madness, according to the word of Apollo.