Iphigenia in Tauris by Euripides.

Iphigenie by Anselm Feuerbach (1862).
Iphigenia in Tauris (Ἰφιγένεια ἐν Ταύροις) is another play by Euripides based on the Orestes myth, and it was written between 416 and 412 B.C. A brief recap: Iphigenia is the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, and the sister of Electra and Orestes (as well as others). In order to ensure a safe passage to Troy Agamemnon sacrificed Iphigenia to appease Artemis (whose Roman equivalent is Diana) having insulted her, and the story goes on (in, for example, The Orestia by Aeschylus and Electra by Euripides, both earlier) that Clytemnestra murdered Agamemnon in revenge, and was in turn murdered by her children Electra and Orestes. 

However in some stories Iphigenia was not sacrificed at all, and in Euripides' Iphigenia in Tauris, Iphigenia was saved by Artemis at the very last moment, Artemis replacing Iphigenia with a deer. She was then spirited away to Tauris (on the southern coast of Crimea inhabited by violent people who worhshipped Artemis) where she was made a priestess of Artemis and would ritually sacrifice foreign invaders. In her opening monologue Iphigenia recounts this and a dream she had of her brother Orestes, in which he dies.

Soon after, however, we see Orestes and Pylades (his close friend who accompanies him in the other Orestes stories) arrive. By this stage he has killed his mother and suffered the consequences (this is told in Aeschylus' The Eumenides). He has one more act of penance: to steal the statue of Artemis from the Tauri and return it to Athens. In the attempt they are caught and are taken to Iphigenia to be sacrificed; she doesn't recognise her brother, and furthermore following her dream she believes him to be dead anyway. However Iphegenia misses her family greatly and hates her life in Tauris, so as she prepares to sacrifice the two she tells them how she came to be there, then asks them of their history. Orestes refuses to share his name, but does tell her Agamemnon and Clytemnestra are dead and Orestes lives. Iphegenia then decides to free either Orestes or Pylades so that they may convey a letter home. In this exchange Orestes realises Iphigenia is his sister and manages to convince her of this fact.

To escape Iphigenia tells King Thoas, the king of Tauris, that the statue of Artemis has been polluted by the two Greeks and it must be ritually cleansed. The three use this opportunity to aboard Orestes ship, with the statue, and leave for Greece. When King Thoas attempts to capture and kill them they are helped by Athena and they go on to establish the worship of Artemis in Athens.

Iphigenia in Tauris is a beautiful play about friendship and love, and I enjoyed a happy ending to the bleak and bloody Orestes myth. Iphigenia is a strong character, sharp and cool, torn between missing her country and hating it for attempting to sacrifice her, and on top of that being made to sacrifice others having herself been saved from being sacrificed. It's a great and fascinating play. After this I'm looking forward to Orestes and Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides, the latter of which tells of how Iphigenia which tells the story leading up to her sacrifice. Those plays are however a few weeks away. Next week: Ion.

Iphigenia in Tauride found in Pompeii.

The Plays of Euripides

The Suppliants | Electra | Heracles | The Trojan Women | Iphigenia in Tauris 


  1. Great review, o! I find the Iphigenia story so aggravating and tragic... The idea of a father sacrificing his own child is so horrific, and I definitely enjoy Clytemnestra's revenge on Agamemnon in Aeschylus' play. It's interesting to see what happens when Iphigenia is saved rather than sacrificed!

    1. Thank you :) It's an amazing story and it's the first I've read that focuses on Iphigenia. The sacrifice does make Clytemnestra a more sympathetic character, I think. I love the whole story! The Orestes myth is probably my favourite of all Ancient Greek lit :)


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