45 pages 1 hour read


Iphigenia in Aulis

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 410

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Summary and Study Guide


Iphigenia in Aulis is an Attic, or Greek, tragedy composed by Euripides (circa 480-406 BCE). Attic tragedies were performed in Athens about the 5th century BC. The play has been translated and adapted for various media, from other plays to paintings, operas, novels, and films. This study guide refers to Charles R. Walker’s translation of the play from the third edition of the University of Chicago Press series The Complete Greek Tragedies (2013).

Plot Summary

In the prologue, Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae and the commander of the Greek expedition against Troy, summons the Old Man, who is enslaved, to his tent. The two discuss a letter that Agamemnon has been writing, culminating in a long monologue in which Agamemnon describes the story’s exposition. The beautiful Helen has abandoned her husband, Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus, to run off with the Trojan prince Paris. With Agamemnon’s help, Menelaus has mustered a large Greek army to get Helen back. Now, at the port of Aulis, the army is ready to sail, but there is no wind. The goddess Artemis has demanded that Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to her in exchange for wind to carry his fleet to Troy. Though he was Initially horrified, Agamemnon explains that he eventually agreed to sacrifice his daughter and wrote a letter to his wife Clytemnestra in which he asked her to send Iphigenia to Aulis under the pretext of marrying her to the hero Achilles. However, Agamemnon reveals that he has changed his mind about sacrificing his daughter and gives the Old Man a second letter to Clytemnestra in which he commands her to keep Iphigenia in Mycenae.

Agamemnon and the Old Man leave the stage and the Chorus, made up of women from the Euboean city of Chalcis, enter to sing their first choral song, the parodos. They say that they have come to see the mighty heroes camped at Aulis and give short descriptions of the various Greek leaders they find.

Menelaus and the Old Man come on stage. Menelaus has confiscated his brother’s letter from the Old Man, who is now trying hopelessly to retrieve it from him. Agamemnon enters from his tent, and he and Menelaus quarrel. Menelaus accuses him of abandoning his duty to the army; Agamemnon argues that it would be disgraceful to sacrifice his own daughter. A Messenger enters to announce that Iphigenia has just arrived at the camp with her mother Clytemnestra. Hearing this, Menelaus and Agamemnon reverse their stances: Menelaus pities his brother and seeks a way to avoid the sacrifice, but Agamemnon decides that it is too late to turn back now.

The brothers exit, and the Chorus sings the first stasimon, emphasizing the importance of moderation in love. Clytemnestra then makes a regal entrance with her daughter Iphigenia and her infant son Orestes. Agamemnon meets them and the family is briefly reunited. Hiding his intentions, Agamemnon leaves to prepare for the sacrifice while the Chorus sings the second stasimon on the war that the Greeks are bringing to Troy and the many deaths that will come with it.

Achilles enters. He is looking for Agamemnon. He has an awkward exchange with Clytemnestra, who greets him to his surprise as her future son-in-law. The situation is finally cleared up by the Old Man, who reveals to Clytemnestra and Achilles why Iphigenia has really been summoned to Aulis. Achilles takes pity and promises to do everything he can to help them. The Chorus sings of the lavish wedding of Achilles’ parents, the hero Peleus and the sea goddess Thetis.

When Agamemnon returns to his tent, Clytemnestra and Iphigenia beg him to reconsider, but Agamemnon refuses to be swayed and exits. Iphigenia laments her fate. Achilles returns and reveals that he was unable to persuade his men to protect her. Iphigenia delivers a long speech in which she decides that it would be glorious to die for the sake of Greece. Achilles praises her courage but vows to defend her if she changes her mind. With a final farewell, she exits to willingly be sacrificed. The Chorus commends Iphigenia to Artemis and exits with Clytemnestra.

In an epilogue, a Messenger enters and asks for Clytemnestra. He gives Clytemnestra a detailed account of the sacrifice, describing the preparations and Iphigenia’s bravery, before saying that at the last moment Artemis spirited Iphigenia away and substituted a deer in her place. Clytemnestra is skeptical of this report, but Agamemnon promptly enters to confirm the Messenger’s story. The characters all exit as the Chorus wishes Agamemnon success in his expedition to Troy.