The Trojan War

26 Origins of the War

Eris, a winged young woman, in an Archaic running pose. Her name is written below her figure.
Eris, black-figure kylix, ca. 550 BCE

Introduction

The Trojan War was a mythological war that may have been based on cultural memory of a war (or wars) that actually happened. Therefore, there are both mythological and “historical” explanations for its origins. I put “historical” in quotations because historiography (the writing of history) does not work the same way in the ancient world as it does today. They did not have the same standards for citing sources, and a good deal of speculation on the part of the author was generally allowed.

The Trojan War might accurately be described as one of those events where myth meets history. As discussed in chapter xx, the place where Troy was said to be, on the north western coast of modern day Turkey, was the site of a Mycenaean civilization, which flourished and declined at different points in archaic Greek history. But more importantly for the Greeks of the Classical period and later, the Trojan War was probably *the* defining event of their mythology. It marked the end of the Age of Heroes. The last generation of mythological heroes are the children of the Trojan War heroes (Orestes, the son of Agamemnon; Neoptolemus, son of Achilles; Hermione, the daughter of Helen). After that, we do not get any more stories about mythological heroes.


Mythological Origins

The Judgement of Paris

Paris sits in front of Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena. Various animals, cupids, and other figures watch the scene.
The Judgment of Paris, Roman mosaic ca. 150 CE Louvre Museum)

The mythological origin of the Trojan War begins with an event called The Judgement of Paris. During the wedding of Peleus and Thetis (the parents of the hero Achilles), which was a huge event, attended by all the major and minor gods, the goddess of discord, Eris, decided to spread some mischief. Due to her propensity for causing strife, she had deliberately not been invited to the wedding. To get her revenge on the guests, she took a beautiful golden apple. Writing, “For the Fairest” on it, she threw the apple into the crowd of wedding guests. The apple fell at the feet of three Olympian goddesses, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite.

The goddesses argued over which of them was the most beautiful and who should get the apple. In order to settle the dispute, they decided to pick a neutral arbiter. They settled on the Trojan prince, Paris. Appearing before the mortal man, each goddess made her case for the apple, offering Paris a reward in exchange for choosing them. Hera offered him rule over all the land in Asia; Athena promised to make him the wisest man and strongest general in the world; and Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful woman in the world for his wife.

Paris was most enticed by Aphrodite and her offer to marry him to the most beautiful woman in the world. However, the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta, the daughter of Zeus and the mortal queen Leda, was already married to a man named Menelaus.

On a diplomatic mission of the Trojans to Sparta, Aphrodite caused Helen and Paris to fall in mutual love with each other. According to some versions of the story, Helen left with Paris voluntarily, abandoning her husband and young daughter; in others, Paris took her away forcefully. In any case, this event sparked the Trojan War.

 

Lucian, Dialogues of the Gods, “The Judgement of Paris” (trans. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Oxford, adapted by L. Zhang)

Greek satire, 2nd century CE

Lucian, a Greek writer from the 2nd century CE, imagines a satyrical dialogue between the goddesses and Paris. Here it is Zeus who decides on the Trojan prince as arbiter of the dispute.

 

ZEUS:

, take this apple, and go with it to Phrygia; on the Gargaran peak of you will find ‘s son, the herdsman. Give him this message: ‘, because you are handsome, and wise in the things of love, commands you to judge between the Goddesses, and say which is the most beautiful. And the prize shall be this apple.’—Now, you three, there is no time to be lost: away with you to your judge. I will have nothing to do with the matter: I love you all exactly alike, and I only wish you could all three win. If I were to give the prize to one of you, the other two would hate me, of course. In these circumstances, I am ill qualified to be your judge. But this young Phrygian to whom you are going is of the royal blood—a relation of ‘s,—and at the same time a simple countryman; so that we need have no hesitation in trusting his eyes.

APHRODITE:

As far as I am concerned, , Momus[1] himself might be our judge; I should not be afraid to show myself. What fault could he find with me? But the others must agree too.

HERA:

Oh, we are under no alarm, thank you,—though your admirer should be appointed. But will do; whoever is.

ZEUS:

And my little ; have we her approval? Nay, never blush, nor hide your face. Well, well, maidens will be shy; it is a delicate subject. But there, she nods consent. Now, off with you; and mind, the ones who lose must not be angry at the judge; I will not have the poor lad harmed. Only one can win the prize of beauty.

HERMES:

Now for Phrygia. I will show the way; keep close behind me, ladies, and don’t be nervous. I know well: he is a charming young man; a great appreciator of women, and an admirable judge of beauty. You can depend on him making the right choice.

APHRODITE:

I am glad to hear that; I ask for nothing better than a fair judge.—Has he a wife, , or is he a bachelor?

HERMES:

Not exactly a bachelor.

APHRODITE:

What do you mean?

HERMES:

I believe there is a wife, as it were; a good enough sort of girl—a native of those parts—but sadly a country bumpkin! I fancy he does not care very much about her.—Why do you ask?

APHRODITE:

I just wanted to know.

ATHENA:

Now, , that is not fair. No whispering with .

HERMES:

It was nothing, ; nothing about you. She only asked me whether was a bachelor.

ATHENA:

What business is that of hers?

HERMES:

None that I know of. She meant nothing by the question; she just wanted to know.

ATHENA:

Well, and is he?

HERMES:

Why, no.

ATHENA:

And does he care for military glory? Does he have ambition? Or is he a simple shepherd?

HERMES:

I couldn’t say for certain. But he is a young man, so it is to be presumed that distinction on the field of battle is among his desires.

APHRODITE:

There, you see; I don’t complain; I say nothing when you whisper with her. is not so particular as some people.

HERMES:

asked me almost exactly the same as you did; so don’t be cross. It will do you no harm, my answering a simple question.—Meanwhile, we have left the stars far behind us, and are almost over Phrygia. There is : I can make out the peak of Gargarum quite plainly; and if I am not mistaken, there is himself.

HERA:

Where is he? I don’t see him.

HERMES:

Look over there to the left, : not on the top, but down the side, by that cave where you see the herd.

HERA:

But I don’t see the herd.

HERMES:

What, don’t you see them coming out from between the rocks,—where I am pointing, look—and the man running down from the crag, and keeping them together with his staff?

HERA:

I see him now; if that is him.

HERMES:

Oh, that is . But we are getting near; it is time to land and walk. He might be frightened, if we were to descend upon him so suddenly.

HERA:

Yes; very well. And now that we are on the earth, you might go on ahead, , and show us the way. You know the country, of course, having been here so often to see ; or so I have heard.

APHRODITE:

Your sneerings are wasted on me, .

HERMES:

Come; I’ll lead the way myself. I spent some time on , while was courting . Many times I have been sent here to keep watch over the boy; and when at last the eagle came, I flew by his side, and helped him with his lovely burden. This is the very rock, if I remember; yes, was playing on his pipe to his sheep, when down swooped the eagle behind him, and tenderly, oh, so tenderly, caught him up in those talons, and with the turban in his beak bore him off, the frightened boy straining his neck to see his captor. I picked up his pipes—he had dropped them in his fright and—ah! Here is our judge, close at hand. Let us accost him.—Good morning, shepherd!

PARIS:

Good morning, youngster. And who may you be, having come out this far? And these ladies? They are too lovely to be wandering on the mountain-side.

HERMES:

‘These ladies,’ good , are , , and ; and I am , with a message from . Why so pale and tremulous? Compose yourself; nothing is wrong. appoints you the judge of their beauty. ‘Because you are handsome, and wise in the things of love’ (so runs the message), ‘I leave the decision to you; and for the prize,—read the inscription on the apple.’

PARIS:

Let me see what it is about. ‘For the fair,’ it says. But, my lord , how shall a mortal and a rustic man like myself be the judge of such unparalleled beauty? This is no sight for a shepherd’s eyes; let the fine city folk decide on such matters. As for me, I can tell you which of two goats is the fairer beast; or I can judge between heifer and heifer;—that is my trade. But here, where all are beautiful alike, I know not how a man may leave looking at one, to look upon another. Where my eyes fall, there they fasten,—for there is beauty: I move them, and what do I find? More loveliness! I am fixed again, yet distracted by neighbouring charms. I bathe in beauty: I am enthralled: ah, why am I not all eyes like ? I would say that the only fair award is to give the apple to all three. Then again: one is the wife and sister of ; the others are his daughters. Take it where you will, it is a hard matter to judge.

HERMES:

So it is, . At the same time—‘ orders! There is no way out of it.

PARIS:

Well, please point out to them, , that the losers must not be angry with me; the fault will be in my eyes only.

HERMES:

That is quite understood. And now to work.

PARIS:

I must do what I can; there is no help for it. But first let me ask,—am I just to look at them as they are, or must I go into the matter thoroughly?

HERMES:

That is for you to decide, in virtue of your office. You have only to give your orders; it is as you think best.

PARIS:

As I think best? Then I will be thorough.

HERMES:

Get ready, ladies. Now, Mr. Judge.—I will look the other way.

HERA:

I approve of your decision, . I will be the first to submit myself to your inspection. You shall see that I have more to boast of than white arms and large eyes: not a single part of me is not beautiful.

PARIS:

, will you also prepare?

ATHENA:

Oh, ,—make her take off that girdle, first; there is magic in it; she will bewitch you. For that matter, she has no right to come so dressed up and with her face painted,—just like a courtesan! She should show herself unadorned.

PARIS:

They are right about the girdle, madam; it must go.

APHRODITE:

Oh, very well, : then take off that helmet, and show your head bare, instead of trying to intimidate the judge with that waving plume. I suppose you are afraid the colour of your eyes may be noticed, without their formidable surroundings.

ATHENA:

Oh, here is my helmet.

APHRODITE:

And here is my girdle.

HERA:

Now then.

PARIS:

God of wonders! What loveliness is here! Oh, rapture! How exquisite these maiden charms! How dazzling the majesty of Heaven’s true queen! And oh, how sweet, how enthralling is ‘s smile! This is too much, too much happiness.—But perhaps it would be good for me to view each in detail; for as yet I doubt, and know not where to look; my eyes are drawn all ways at once.

APHRODITE:

Yes, that will be best.

PARIS:

Withdraw then, you and ; and let remain.

HERA:

So be it; and when you have finished your scrutiny, you have next to consider, how you would like the present which I offer you. , give me the prize of beauty, and you shall be lord of all Asia.

PARIS:

I will take no presents. Withdraw. I shall judge as I think right. Approach, .

ATHENA:

Behold. And, , if you will say that I am the fairest, I will make you a great warrior and conqueror, and you shall always win, in every one of your battles.

PARIS:

But I have nothing to do with fighting, . As you see, there is peace throughout all Lydia and Phrygia, and my father’s rule is uncontested. But never mind; I am not going to take your present, but you shall have fair play. You can robe again and put on your helmet; I have seen. And now for .

APHRODITE:

Here I am; take your time, and examine carefully; let nothing escape your vigilance. And I have something else to say to you, handsome . Yes, you handsome boy, I have long had an eye on you; I think you must be the handsomest young fellow in all Phrygia. But it is such a pity that you don’t leave these rocks and crags, and live in a town; you will lose all your beauty in this desert. What have you to do with mountains? What satisfaction can your beauty give to a lot of cows? You ought to have been married long ago; not to any of these local dull women, but to some Greek girl; an , perhaps, or a Corinthian, or a Spartan; , now, is a Spartan, and such a pretty girl—quite as pretty as I am—and so susceptible to charm! Why, if she once caught sight of you, she would give up everything, I am sure, to go with you, and a most devoted wife she would be. But you have heard of , of course?

PARIS:

No, ma’am; but I would like to hear all about her now.

APHRODITE:

Well, she is the daughter of , the beautiful woman, you know, whom visited in the disguise of a swan.

PARIS:

And what is she like?

APHRODITE:

She is fair, as might be expected from the swan, soft as down (she was hatched from an egg, you know), and such a lithe, graceful figure; and only think, she is so much admired, that there was a war because ran away with her; and she was a mere child then.[2] And when she grew up, the very first men in Greece were suitors for her hand, and she was given to , who is descended from .—Now, if you like, she shall be your wife.

PARIS:

What? When she is married already?

APHRODITE:

Tsk, child, you are a simpleton: I know what to do.

PARIS:

I would like to know too.

APHRODITE:

You will set out for Greece on a tour of inspection: and when you get to Sparta, will see you; and for the rest—her falling in love, and going back with you—that will be my affair.

PARIS:

But that is what I cannot believe,—that she will forsake her husband to cross the seas with a stranger, a barbarian[3].

APHRODITE:

Trust me for that. I have two beautiful children, and Desire [ ]. They shall be your guides. will assail her in all his might, and compel her to love you: Desire [ ] will encompass you about, and make you desirable and lovely as himself; and I will be there to help. I can get the to come too, and between us we shall prevail.

PARIS:

How this will end, I know not. All I do know is that I am in love with already. I see her before me—I sail for Greece, I am in Sparta—I am on my homeward journey, with her at my side! Ah, why is none of it true?

APHRODITE:

Wait. Do not fall in love yet. You have first to secure my interest with the prize for your bride, by your award. The union must be graced with my victorious presence: your marriage-feast shall be my feast of victory. Love, beauty, wedlock; all these you may purchase at the price of that apple.

PARIS:

But perhaps after the award you will forget all about me?

APHRODITE:

Shall I swear?

PARIS:

No; but promise once more.

APHRODITE:

I promise that you shall have as wife; that she shall follow you, and make her home; and I will be present with you, and help you in all.

PARIS:

And bring , and Desire [ ], and the ?

APHRODITE:

Assuredly; and Passion [ ] and as well.

PARIS:

Take the apple: it is yours.

 

Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Text/LucianDialoguesGods1.html#0

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia

Menelaus was not going to let Helen go without a fight. Many years prior, when all the heroes of Greece had been vying for Helen’s hand in marriage, her mortal father, King Tyndareus told the suitors that he would choose Helen’s husband. But before he did, he made the suitors swear an oath to defend whomever he chose against the attacks of any other men. Menelaos, together with his brother Agamemnon, king of Argos and husband to Clytemnestra, Helen’s mortal sister, called on the heroes of Greece to honour the oath that they had sworn. The brothers went around Greece, gathering all the greatest kings and warriors.

But when the armies had all assembled at Aulis, the port city in Boeotia, the winds died down and they were not able to set sail for Greece. The reason was that Agamemnon had killed a deer in a grove that was sacred to the goddess Artemis. The goddess let him know that he would only get the winds to sail to Troy if he sacrificed his eldest daughter, Iphigenia. Agamemnon made the sacrifice, and the Greeks got the winds to sail to Troy.

 

Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis (trans. G. Bell and Sons, adapted by L. Zhang, T. Mulder, and P. Rogak)

Greek tragedy, ca. 405 BCE

Iphigenia in Aulis was one of Euripides’ last plays. It dramatizes the events at Aulis prior to the Greek armies setting sail for Troy under the command of Agamemnon. As the play opens, Agamemnon explains the reasons for the gathering of the armies at Aulis– the abduction of Helen and the oaths of the suitors. He explains that the armies have been detained at Aulis due to bad weather and that the only way to alleviate the curse is through the sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigenia. So he has sent a letter to his wife, Clytemnestra, telling her to send the girl to Aulis, lying to her that she is to be married to the hero Achilles.

 

[content warning for the following source: sexual assault (700-705), ]
AGAMEMNON:

, the daughter of Thestius, had three children, girls, [50] Phoebe, my wife, and ; the best of the favored sons of Hellas [Greece] came to woo ; but each and every one of them threaten their rivals with violence if he should fail to win her in marriage. [55] Now the situation perplexed , her father, whether to give her or not and how he might best succeed. This thought occurred to him: the suitors should swear to each other and join right hands and pour libations [60] with burnt-sacrifice, binding themselves by this curse: whoever wins the child of for wife, they will assist that man, in case a rival takes her from his house and goes his way, robbing her husband of his rights; and march against that man in armed array and raze his city to the ground, [65] no less than barbarian. Now when they had once pledged their word and old cleverly managed the situation at hand with his wit, he allowed his daughter to choose from among her suitors the one towards whom the sweet breezes of might carry her. [70] Her choice fell on ; would she had never taken him! Then there came to Lacedaemon [Sparta] from the Phrygians the man who, legend says, judged the goddesses’ dispute [ ];[4] in robes of gorgeous hue, ablaze with gold, in true barbaric pomp; [75] and he, finding gone from home, carried off, as mutually desired, to his home on . Furious, flew through Hellas, invoking the ancient oath exacted by and declaring the duty of helping the injured husband.

[80] And so the , brandishing their spears and donning their harness, came here to the narrow straits of Aulis armed with ships and troops, with many horses and chariots, and they chose me to captain them all for the sake of , [85] since I was his brother. If only some other had gained that distinction instead of me! But after the army was gathered and came together, we still remained at Aulis due to the unending poor weather. We asked , the seer, for the reason behind this [90] and he answered that we should sacrifice my own child to , whose home is in this land, and we would sail and sack the Phrygians’ capital [if we sacrificed her, but if we did not, these things would not happen]. When I heard this, I commanded Talthybius [95] with loud proclamation to disband the whole army, as I could never bear to slay my daughter. Then, my brother, bringing every argument to bear, persuaded me at last to face the crime; so I wrote in a folded scroll and sent to my wife, [100] bidding her send our daughter to me on the pretence of wedding , magnifying his exalted rank and saying that he refused to sail with the , unless a bride of our lineage should go to Phthia. Yes, this was the incentive I offered my wife, [105] [inventing, as I did, a fake marriage for the girl. Of all the we alone know the real truth, , , and myself; but that which I then decided wrongly, I now rightly rescind  again in this scroll, which you, old man, have found me [110] opening and resealing beneath the shade of night. Up now and away with this missive to Argos, and I will tell you by word of mouth all that is written here, the contents of the folded scroll, for you are loyal to my wife and house.] Old man, come here and stand before my home.

OLD MAN:

I come; what new plans now, king ?

AGAMEMNON:

Will you hurry?

OLD MAN:

I am hurrying. Old age allows me little sleep, [5] and keenly it watches over my eyes.

AGAMEMNON:

What star is that, steering its course there?

OLD MAN:

Sirius [star], still shooting over its zenith on his way near the ‘ sevenfold track.

AGAMEMNON:

The birds are still at any rate [10] and the sea is calm, hushed are the winds, and silence broods over the Euripus [strait].

OLD MAN:

Then why are you outside your tent, why so restless, my lord ? All is yet quiet here in Aulis, [15] the watch on the walls is not yet astir. Let us go in.

AGAMEMNON:

I envy you, old man, yes, and every man who leads a life secure, unknown and unrenowned; but little I envy those in office.

OLD MAN:

[20] And yet it is there that we place the be-all and end-all of existence

AGAMEMNON:

Yes, but that is where the danger comes; and ambition, sweet though it seems, brings sorrow with its near approach. At one time the unsatisfied claims of the gods [25] upset our life, at another the numerous petulant wants of our subjects shatter it.

OLD MAN:

I do not like these sentiments in one who is a chief. It was not to only enjoy good things in life that [30] before you, ; but you must experience joy and sorrow alike, as you are a mortal. Even though you do not like it, this is what the gods decree. But you, after letting your candle spread its light abroad, [35] write the letter which is still in your hands and then erase the same words again, sealing and reopening the tablet, then flinging it to the ground with floods [40] of tears, and leaving nothing undone in your aimless behavior to stamp you mad. What is it that troubles you? What news is there affecting you, king? Come, share with me your story; [45] you will be telling it to a loyal and trusty heart; for sent me that day to form part of your wife’s dowry and to wait upon the bride with loyalty.

AGAMEMNON:

[115] “Daughter of , in addition to my first letter, I am sending you word —.”

OLD MAN:

Carry on speaking, and make it clear, that what my tongue says lines up with what you have written.

AGAMEMNON:

“Not to dispatch your daughter to [120] Euboea’s deep-gulfed wing, to the waveless bay of Aulis, for after all we will celebrate our child’s wedding at another time.”

OLD MAN:

And how will , cheated of his bride, [125] curb the fury of his indignation against you and your wife? Here also is a danger. Make clear what you are saying.

AGAMEMNON:

It is his name, not himself, that is lending, knowing nothing of the marriage or of my plans [130] or my professed readiness to betroth my daughter to him for a husband’s embrace.

OLD MAN:

A dreadful venture yours, king , you that, by promise of your daughter’s hand to the son of the goddess, [135] were bringing the maid here to be sacrificed for the Danaids [ ].

AGAMEMNON:

Ah me! I am utterly distraught; alas! Bewilderment comes over me. Away! Hurry your steps, [140] yielding nothing to old age.

OLD MAN:

I will hurry, king.

AGAMEMNON:

Do not sit down by woodland fountains; scorn the witcheries of sleep.

OLD MAN:

Hush!

AGAMEMNON:

And when you pass any place where roads diverge, [145] cast your eyes all round, taking heed that no mule-wagon escape you, passing by on rolling wheels, bearing my child to the ships of the Danaids [ ].

OLD MAN:

It will be so.

AGAMEMNON:

Start then from the bolted gates, [150] and if you meet the escort, start them back again, and drive at full speed to the abodes of the .[5]

OLD MAN:

But tell me, how shall your wife or child trust my message?

AGAMEMNON:

[155] Preserve the seal which you bear on this tablet. Away! Already the dawn is growing grey, lighting the lamp of day and the fire of the sun’s four steeds; [160] help me in my trouble.

Exit Old man.

No mortal is prosperous or happy to the last, for no one was ever born to a painless life.

Exit .

CHORUS:

To the sandy beach [165] of sea-coast Aulis I have come after a voyage through the tides of narrow Euripus, leaving Chalcis, my city which feeds the waters [170] of far-famed Arethusa [spring] near the sea, so that I might behold the army of the and the ships rowed by those godlike heroes; for our husbands tell us [175] that fair-haired and high-born are leading them to on a thousand ships in quest of , whom the shepherd [180] carried off from the banks of reedy Eurotas [river], his gift from , when that queen of Cyprus entered beauty’s contest with and at the gushing fountain.

[185] Through the grove of , rich with sacrifice, I sped my course, my cheek stained with red from maiden modesty, in my eagerness to see the soldiers’ camp, [190] the tents of the mail-clad Danaids [ ], and their crowd of horses. I saw two meeting together in council; one was , son of Oileus; the other , son of , crown of glory to the men of Salamis; [195] and I saw Protesilaus and Palamedes, sprung from the son of , sitting there amusing themselves with intricate figures at checkers; too [200] at his favorite sport of hurling quoits; and Meriones, ‘ son, a marvel to mankind, stood at his side; likewise I beheld the son of [ ], who came from his island hills, and with him Nireus, [205] handsomest of the Achaeansno post.

next, that nimble runner, swift on his feet as the wind, whom bore and trained, I saw [210] upon the beach, racing in full armor along the shingle, and straining every nerve to beat a team of four horses, [215] as he sped round the track on foot; and Eumelus, the grandson of Pheres, their driver, was shouting when I saw him, goading on his lovely steeds, [220] with their bits of chased gold-work; the center pair, that bore the yoke, had dappled coats picked out with white, while the tracehorses, on the outside, facing the turning-post in the course, [225] were bays with spotted fetlocks. Close beside them ‘ son leapt on his way, in all his harness, keeping abreast [230] the rail by the axle-box.

Next I sought the countless fleet, a wonder to behold, that I might fill my girlish eyes with gazing, a sweet delight. [235] The warlike from Phthia held the right wing with fifty swift cruisers, upon whose sterns, right at the ends, stood goddesses [240] in gold, the standard of ‘ troops.

Near these were moored the ships in equal numbers, over which Mecisteus’ [245] son [Euryalas], whom brought up by Talaus, his grandfather, and Sthenelus, son of , were in command; next in order, ‘ son [ Acamas ] was stationed at the head of sixty ships from Attica, having the goddess [250] set in a winged chariot drawn by steeds with solid hoof, a lucky sight for mariners.

Then I saw Boeotia’s fleet of fifty sails [255] decked with standards; these had at the stern holding a golden dragon at the beaks of the vessels, and earth-born Leitus [260] was their admiral. And there were ships from Phocis; and from Locris came the son of Oileus with an equal contingent, leaving famous Thronion’s citadel.

[265] And from , the ‘ town, ‘ son sent a hundred well-manned ships, and was with him in command, as friend with friend, [270] that Hellas might exact vengeance on the one who had fled her home to wed a foreigner. Also I saw upon Gerenian ‘s prows from Pylos [275] the standard of his neighbour Alpheus, four-footed like a bull.

Moreover there was a squadron of twelve Aenianian sail under King Gouneus; and then near them [280] the lords of Elis, whom all the people named Epeians; and Eurytus was lord of these; Iikewise he led the Taphian warriors with the white oar-blades, the subjects of Meges, [285] son of Phyleus, who had left the isles of the Echinades, where sailors cannot land.

Lastly, , reared in Salamis, [290] was joining his right wing to the left of those near whom he was posed, closing the line with his outermost ships, twelve vessels obedient to the helm, as I heard and then [295] saw the crews; the one who brings his barbaric boats to grapple shall obtain no safe return. There I saw [300] the navy, but some things I heard at home about the gathered army, of which I still have a recollection.

OLD MAN:

(As Menelaus tries to snatch a letter from him) You are strangely daring, , where you have no right.

MENELAUS:

Stand back! You are far too loyal to your master.

OLD MAN:

[305] The very insult that you have for me is to my credit.

MENELAUS:

You shall regret it, if you meddle in matters that do not concern you.

OLD MAN:

You had no right to open a letter, which I was carrying.

MENELAUS:

No, nor you to be carrying sorrow to all Hellas.

OLD MAN:

Argue that point with others, but surrender that letter to me.

MENELAUS:

[310] I will not let go.

OLD MAN:

Nor will I let loose my hold.

MENELAUS:

Why then, this staff of mine will be dabbling your head with blood before long.

OLD MAN:

To die in my master’s cause would be a noble death.

MENELAUS:

Let go! You speak too much for a slave.

OLD MAN:

(Seeing Agamemnon approaching) Master, he is wronging me; he snatched [315] your letter violently from my grasp, , and will not heed the claims of right.

AGAMEMNON:

Ah! What is this uproar at the gates, this indecent brawling?

MENELAUS:

My tale, not his, has the better right to be spoken.

AGAMEMNON:

You, ! What quarrel do you have with this man, why are you dragging him here?

Exit Attendant.

MENELAUS:

[320] Look me in the face! May that be the prelude to my story.

AGAMEMNON:

Will I, the son of , close my eyes from fear?[6]

MENELAUS:

Do you see this tablet, the bearer of a shameful message?

AGAMEMNON:

I see it, yes; now, you first of all surrender it.

MENELAUS:

No, not till I have shown its contents to all the army.

AGAMEMNON:

[325] What! Have you broken the seal and know already what you should never have known?

MENELAUS:

Yes, I opened it and despite your wishes, know the secret machinations of your heart.

AGAMEMNON:

Where did you get it? O gods! What shameless heart you have!

MENELAUS:

I was awaiting your daughter’s arrival at the camp in Argos.

AGAMEMNON:

What right have you to spy on my actions ? Is this not proof of shamelessness?

MENELAUS:

[330] My simple wish to do it was my motivations, for I am no slave to you.

AGAMEMNON:

Infamous! Am I not to be allowed the management of my own house?

MENELAUS:

No, for you think crooked thoughts, one thing now, another formerly, and something different presently.

AGAMEMNON:

Most exquisite refining on evil themes! What a hateful thing a clever tongue is!

MENELAUS:

Yes, but an unstable mind is an unjust possession, disloyal to friends. [335] Now I am anxious to test you, and do not seek from rage to turn aside from the truth, nor will I on my part overstrain the case. Do you remember when you were all eagerness to captain the Danaids [ ] against , making a pretence of declining, though eager for it in your heart; how humble you were then, taking each man by the hand [340] and keeping open doors for every fellow-townsman who cared to enter, affording each in turn chance to speak with you, even though some did not wish it, seeking by these methods to purchase popularity from all bidders? Then when you had secured the command, there came a change over your manners; you were no longer so cordial as before to former friends, [345] but hard to reach, seldom found at home. But a man of real worth should not change his mannerism in the hour of prosperity, but should then show himself most dependable to friends, when his own good fortune can help them most effectively.

This was the first cause I had to scold you, for it was here I first discovered your villainy; [350] but afterwards, when you came to Aulis with all the gathered hosts of Hellas, you were of no account; no! The want of a favorable breeze filled you with anxiety at the chance dealt out by the gods. Then the Danaids [ ] began demanding that you should send the fleet away instead of wasting time at Aulis; what dismay and confusion was then depicted in your looks, to think that you, with a thousand [355] ships at your command, had not occupied the plains of Priam with your armies! And you would ask my counsel, “What am I to do? What plan can I devise, where can I find one?”—to save yourself from being stripped of your command and losing your fair fame. Next when bade you offer your daughter in sacrifice to , declaring that the Danaids [ ] should then sail, you were overjoyed, [360] and gladly undertook to offer the girl, and of your own accord—you were never forced—you are sending word to your wife to despatch your daughter here on pretence of wedding . And after all you turn round and have been caught casting your letter to this effect: “I will no longer be my daughter’s murderer.” Exactly so! [365] This is the same air that heard you say it. Countless others have done the same; they make an effort while in power, and then retire dishonourably, sometimes owing to the senselessness of the citizens, sometimes deservedly, because they are too feeble of themselves to maintain their watch upon the state. [370] For my part, I am more sorry for our unhappy Hellas, whose purpose was to teach these worthless foreigners a lesson, while now she will let them escape and mock her, thanks to you and your daughter. May I never appoint a man to rule my country or lead its warriors because of his courage! Sense is what the general must have; [375] since any man, with ordinary intelligence, can govern a state.

CHORUS LEADER:

For brothers to come to words and blows, whenever they disagree, is terrible.

AGAMEMNON:

I wish to rebuke you in turn, briefly, not lifting my eyes too high shamelessly, but in more sober fashion, [380] as a brother; for it is a good man’s way to be considerate. Tell me, why this burst of fury, these bloodshot eyes? Who wrongs you? What is it you want? Are you longing to have a virtuous wife? Well, I cannot provide one for you because when you had her, you did not exercise good control over her.  Am I then, a man who never did anything wrong, to suffer for your sins? [385] Or is it my popularity that annoys you? No! It is the longing you have to keep a beautiful woman in your embrace, casting reason and honour to the winds. A bad man’s pleasures are like himself. Am I mad, if I change to wiser counsels, after previously deciding amiss? You are the mad one in wishing to get back [390] a wicked wife, once you had lost her—which was honestly a stroke of heavenly luck. Those foolish suitors swore that oath to in their longing to wed; but Hope was the goddess that led them on, I think, and she it was that brought it about rather than you and your strength. So take the field with them; they are ready for it in the folly of their hearts; for the deity is not without insight, but is able to discern [395] where oaths have been wrongly pledged or forcibly extorted. I will not slay my children, nor will your interests be prospered by justice in your vengeance for a worthless wife, while I am left wasting, night and day, in sorrow for what I did to one of my own flesh and blood, contrary to all law and justice. [400] Here is your answer shortly given, clear and easy to understand; and if you will not come to your senses, I will do the best for myself.

CHORUS LEADER:

This differs from your previous declaration, but there is good in it, your child’s survival.

MENELAUS:

Ah me, how sad is my life! I have no friends after all.

AGAMEMNON:

[405] Friends you have, if you do not seek their destruction.

MENELAUS:

Where will you find any proof that you are sprung from the same father as I?

AGAMEMNON:

It is your moderation, not your madness, that I share by nature.

MENELAUS:

Friends should sympathize with friends in sorrow.

AGAMEMNON:

Claim my help by kindly service, not by paining me.

MENELAUS:

[410] So you have no mind to share this trouble with Hellas?

AGAMEMNON:

No, Hellas is diseased like you, according to some god’s design.

MENELAUS:

Go boast of your scepter, after betraying your own brother! While I will seek some different means and other friends.

MESSENGER:

(Entering hurriedly) , lord of Hellas! [415] I have come and bring you your daughter, whom you call in your home; and her mother, your wife , is with her, and the child , a sight to gladden you after your long absence from your home; [420] but they had been travelling long and far, they are now resting their tender feet at the waters of a fair spring, they and their horses, for we turned these loose in the grassy meadow to browse their fill. But I have come as their forerunner to prepare you for their reception; [425] for the army knows already of your daughter’s arrival, so quickly did the rumour spread; and all the people are running together to the sight, that they may see your child; for ‘s favorites enjoy world-wide fame and have all eyes fixed on them. [430] Some say: “Is it a wedding, or what is happening? Or has king summoned his daughter here because he missed her?” From others you would have heard: “They are presenting the maiden to , queen of Aulis, before her marriage; who is the bridegroom who will lead her home?”

[435] Come, then, begin the rites, that is the next step, by getting the baskets ready; crown your heads—you too, lord ; prepare the wedding hymn; let flutes sound throughout the tents with noise of dancer’s feet; for this is a happy day, that has come for the maid.

AGAMEMNON:

[440] You have my thanks; now go within; for the rest it will be well, as proceeds.

Exit Messenger.

Ah, woe is me! Unhappy wretch, what can I say? Where shall I begin? To what cruel straits have I been plunged! A god has outwitted me, proving far more clever [445] than any cunning of mine. What an advantage humble birth possesses! For it is easy for her sons to weep and tell out all their sorrows; while when these same sorrows come to the high-born man, dignity [450] rules over our life and we are the people’s slaves. I, for instance, am ashamed to weep, and no less ashamed, poor wretch, to check my tears at the dreadful choice to which I have to make.

Enough; what am I to tell my wife? [455] how will I welcome her? What expression should I meet her with? For she too has undone me by coming uninvited in my hour of sorrow; yet it was only natural she would come with her daughter to prepare the bride and perform the fondest duties, where she will discover my villainy. [460] And for this poor girl—why girl? , it seems, will soon make her his bride—how I pity her! Thus will she plead to me, I think: “My father, will you slay me? May you yourself make such a marriage, and whoever is a friend to you!” [465] While , from his station near us, will cry in childish accents, inarticulate, yet fraught with meaning. Alas! To what utter ruin , the son of , the cause of these troubles, has brought me by his union with !

CHORUS LEADER:

I pity her myself, as a woman who is a stranger [470] may grieve for the misfortunes of royalty.

MENELAUS:

(Offering his hand) Your hand, brother! Let me grasp it.

AGAMEMNON:

I give it; yours is the victory, mine the sorrow.

MENELAUS:

By our reputed grandsire and our father, [475] I swear to tell you the truth from my heart, without any covert purpose, but only what I think. The sight of you in tears made me pity you, and in return I shed a tear for you myself; I withdraw from my former proposals, [480] ceasing to be a cause of fear to you; yes, and I will put myself in your present position; and I counsel you, do not slay your child or prefer my interests to yours; for it is not just that you should grieve, while I am glad, or that your children should die, while mine still see the light of day. [485] What is it, after all, I seek? If I am set on marriage, could I not find a bride as choice elsewhere? Was I to lose a brother—the last I should have lost—to win a , getting bad for good? I was mad, impetuous as a youth, until I perceived, [490] on closer view, what slaying children really meant. Moreover I am filled with compassion for the hapless maiden, doomed to bleed that I may wed, when I reflect that we are kin. What has your daughter to do with ?

[495] Let the army be disbanded and leave Aulis; dry those streaming eyes, brother, and do not provoke me to tears. Whatever concern you have in oracles that affect your child, let it be none of mine; into your hands I resign my share. [500] A sudden change, you’ll say, from my dread proposals? A natural course for me; affection for my brother caused the change. These are the ways of a man not devoid of virtue, to pursue on each occasion what is best.

CHORUS LEADER:

A generous speech, worthy of , the son of ; [505] you do not shame your ancestry.

AGAMEMNON:

I thank you, , for this unexpected suggestion; it is an honourable proposal, worthy of you. Sometimes love, sometimes the selfishness of their families, causes a quarrel between brothers; I loathe [510] a relationship of this kind which is bitterness to both. But it is useless, for circumstances compel me to carry out the murderous sacrifice of my daughter.

MENELAUS:

How so? Who will compel you to slay your own?

AGAMEMNON:

The whole army here assembled.

MENELAUS:

[515] Not if you send her back to Argos.

AGAMEMNON:

I might be able to do that unnoticed, but there will be another thing that I cannot.

MENELAUS:

What is that? You must not fear the mob too much.

AGAMEMNON:

will tell the army his oracles.

MENELAUS:

Not if he should die before that—an easy matter.

AGAMEMNON:

[520] The whole tribe of seers is a curse with its ambition.

MENELAUS:

Yes, and good for nothing and useless, when among us.

AGAMEMNON:

Has the thought, which is rising in my mind, no terrors for you?

MENELAUS:

How can I understand your meaning, unless you declare it?

AGAMEMNON:

The son of knows all.

MENELAUS:

[525] cannot possibly hurt us.

AGAMEMNON:

He was ever shifty by nature, siding with the mob.

MENELAUS:

True, he is enslaved by the love of popularity, a fearful evil.

AGAMEMNON:

Don’t you think, then, he will arise among the and tell them the oracles that delivered, [530] saying of me that I undertook to offer a victim, and after all am proving false? Then, when he has carried the army away with him, he will bid the to slay us and sacrifice the girl; and if I escape to Argos, they will come and destroy the place, [535] razing it to the ground, Cyclopean walls and all. That is what I fear. Woe is me! To what troubles the gods have brought me! Take one precaution for me, , as you go through the army, that does not learn this, [540] until I have taken my child and devoted her to death, that my struggle may be attended with the fewest tears. (Turning to the Chorus) And you, foreign women, keep silent.

Exit .

CHORUS:

Happy are they who find the goddess come in moderate might, sharing with self-restraint [545] in ‘s gift of marriage and enjoying calm and rest from frenzied passions, where the Love-god [ ], golden-haired, stretches his charmed bow with twin arrows, [550] and one is aimed at happiness, the other at life’s confusion. O lady Cypris [ ], queen of beauty! Far from my bridal bed do I ban that god. Let delight in moderation [555] and pure desires bless me, and may I have a share in love, but shun excess!

Men’s natures vary, and their habits differ, [560] but virtue is always manifest. Likewise the training that comes from education leads greatly to virtue; for not only is modesty wisdom, but it has also the rare grace [565] of seeing by its better judgment what is right; whereby a glory, ever young, is shed over life by reputation. A great thing it is to hunt virtue, for women when they love [570] secretly; while in men, an inborn sense of order, shown in countless ways, adds to a city’s greatness.

You came, O , to the place where you were reared to herd the cows [575] among the white heifers of Ida, piping in foreign strain and breathing on your reeds an echo of the Phrygian airs played. Full-uddered cows were browsing at the spot [580] where that verdict between goddesses was awaiting you—the cause of your going to Hellas to stand before the ivory palace, kindling love in ‘s [585] entranced eyes and feeling its flutter in your own breast; from which the fiend of strife brought Hellas with her spear and ships to the towers of .

CHORUS OF ARGIVE MEN:

[590] Oh! Great is the joy of the great. Behold , the king’s child, my lady, and , the daughter of ; how proud their lineage! [595] how high their pinnacle of fortune! These mighty ones, whom wealth attends, are very gods in the eyes of less favored folk.

CHORUS:

Let us stand here, maidens of Chalcis, and lift the queen from her chariot [600] to the ground without stumbling, supporting her gently in our arms, with kind intent, that the renowned daughter of , just arrived, may feel no fear; strangers ourselves, let us avoid anything that may disturb [605] or frighten the strangers from Argos.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

I take this as a lucky omen, your kindness and auspicious greeting, and have good hope that it is to a happy marriage [610] I conduct the bride. (To attendants) Take from the chariot the dowry I am bringing for my daughter and carry it to the tent carefully.

My daughter, leave the horse-drawn chariot, planting your careful footstep delicately. (To the Chorus) [615] Young women, take her in your arms and lift her from the chariot, and let one of you give me the support of her hand, that I may leave my seat in the carriage with fitting grace. Some of you stand at the horses’ heads; [620] for the horse has a timid eye, easily frightened; here, take this child , son of , baby as he still is.

What! Sleeping, little one, tired out by your ride in the chariot? Awake to bless your sister’s wedding; for you, my gallant boy, [625] will get by this marriage a kinsman gallant as yourself, the ‘s [ ‘ ] godlike offspring [ ]. Come here to your mother, my daughter, , and seat yourself beside me, and stationed near show my happiness to these strangers; [630] yes, come here and welcome the father you love so dearly.

IPHIGENIA:

Do not be angry with me, mother, if I run from your side and throw myself on my father’s chest.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

Hail! My honoured lord, king ! We have obeyed your commands and have come.

IPHIGENIA:

[635] [O my father! I long to outrun others and embrace you after this long while;] for I yearn to see your face; do not be angry with me.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

You may do so, daughter; for of all the children I have borne, you have always loved your father best.

IPHIGENIA:

(Throwing herself into Agamemnon’s arms) [640] How happy am I to see you after such a long time.

AGAMEMNON:

And I, your father, to see you; your words do equal duty for both of us.

IPHIGENIA:

All hail, father! You did well in bringing me here to you.

AGAMEMNON:

I do not know whether to say yes or no to that, my child.

IPHIGENIA:

Ah! How worried you look, in spite of your joy at seeing me.

AGAMEMNON:

[645] A man has many cares when he is king and general too.

IPHIGENIA:

Be mine, all mine today; do not turn to moody thoughts.

AGAMEMNON:

Why so I am, all yours today; I have no other thought.

IPHIGENIA:

Then smooth your knitted brow, unbend and smile.

AGAMEMNON:

See! My child, my joy at seeing you is even as it is.

IPHIGENIA:

[650] Then why do you  have tears streaming from your eyes?

AGAMEMNON:

Yes, for long is the absence from each other, that awaits us.

IPHIGENIA:

I do not know, dear father, I do not know what you are speaking of.

AGAMEMNON:

You are moving my pity all the more by speaking so sensibly.

IPHIGENIA:

Then I will speak nonsense, if that will cheer you up.

AGAMEMNON:

[655] Alas! This silence is too much. You have my thanks.

IPHIGENIA:

Stay with your children at home, father.

AGAMEMNON:

That is my wish! But to my sorrow I may not

IPHIGENIA:

Curse the wars and woes of !

AGAMEMNON:

Indeed, as I am cursed, let others be cursed as well.

IPHIGENIA:

[660] How long you were absent in the bays of Aulis!

AGAMEMNON:

Yes, and there is still a hindrance to my sending the army forward.

IPHIGENIA:

Where do men say the Phrygians live, father?

AGAMEMNON:

In a land where I wish , the son of , never had lived.

IPHIGENIA:

It is a long voyage you are bound on, father, after you leave me.

AGAMEMNON:

[665] You will meet your father again, my daughter.

IPHIGENIA:

Ah! If only it was alright for you to take me with you!

AGAMEMNON:

You too have a journey to make to a place where you will remember your father.

IPHIGENIA:

Will I sail there with my mother or alone?

AGAMEMNON:

All alone, without father or mother.

IPHIGENIA:

[670] What! Have you found me a new home, father?

AGAMEMNON:

Enough of this! It is not for girls to know such things.

IPHIGENIA:

Please hurry home from , father, as soon as you have triumphed there.

AGAMEMNON:

There is a sacrifice I have first to offer here.

IPHIGENIA:

Yes, it is your duty to heed religion with aid of holy rites.

AGAMEMNON:

[675] You will witness it, for you will be standing near the libations.

IPHIGENIA:

Am I to lead the dance around the altar then, father?

AGAMEMNON:

I count you happier than myself because you know nothing. Go inside—it is wrong for maidens to be seen—after you have given me your hand and a kiss, [680] on the eve of your lengthy journey far from your father’s side. Breast, cheek, and golden hair! Ah, what an awful burden and the Phrygians’ city have become upon us! I can speak no more; the tears come welling to my eyes, the moment I touch you. [685] Go into the house.

Exit . turns to .

I beg your pardon, daughter of , if I showed excessive grief at the thought of giving my daughter to ; for though we are sending her to taste bliss, still it wrings a parent’s heart, when he, the father who has toiled so hard for them, [690] commits his children to the homes of strangers.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

I am not so senseless; but I think I will go through this as well, when I lead the girl from the chamber to the sound of the marriage hymn; so I do not chide you; but custom will combine with time to make the pain grow less. [695] As for him, to whom you have betrothed our daughter, I know his name, it is true, but want to learn his lineage and the land of his birth.

AGAMEMNON:

There was one , the daughter of .

CLYTEMNESTRA:

Who married her? Some mortal or a god?

AGAMEMNON:

, and she bore , the prince of Oenone [700] What son of secured his father’s halls?

AGAMEMNON:

, who married the daughter of [ ].

CLYTEMNESTRA:

With the god's consent, or when he had taken her by force?

AGAMEMNON:

betrothed her, and her guardian gave consent.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

Where did he marry her? In the billows of the sea?

AGAMEMNON:

[705] In 's home, at sacred 's foot.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

What! The abode ascribed to the race of ?

AGAMEMNON:

It was there the gods celebrated the marriage feast of .

CLYTEMNESTRA:

Did or his father train ?

AGAMEMNON:

brought him up, to prevent him from learning the ways of the wicked.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

[710] Ah! Wise the teacher, still wiser the one who gave his son.

AGAMEMNON:

Such is the future husband of your daughter.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

A blameless lord; but what city in Hellas is his?

AGAMEMNON:

He dwells on the banks of the river Apidanus, in the borders of Phthia.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

Will you take our daughter there?

AGAMEMNON:

[715] He who takes her to himself will see to that.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

Happiness attend the pair! Which day will he marry her?

AGAMEMNON:

As soon as the full moon comes to give its blessing

CLYTEMNESTRA:

Have you already offered the goddess a sacrifice to usher in the girl's marriage?

AGAMEMNON:

I am about to do so; that is the very thing I was engaged in.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

[720] And then will you celebrate the marriage feast afterwards?

AGAMEMNON:

Yes, when I have offered a sacrifice required by the gods of me.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

But where am I to prepare the feast for the women?

AGAMEMNON:

Here beside our gallant ships.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

Could be better! But still I must; good come of it for all that!

AGAMEMNON:

[725] Do you know what to do, lady? Then obey me.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

In what matter? For I always obey you.

AGAMEMNON:

Here, where the bridegroom is, I will—

CLYTEMNESTRA:

Which of my duties will you perform in the mother's absence?

AGAMEMNON:

Give your child away with the help of Danaids [ ].

CLYTEMNESTRA:

[730] And where am I to be then?

AGAMEMNON:

Go to Argos, and take care of your unwedded daughters.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

And leave my child? Then who will raise her bridal torch?

AGAMEMNON:

I will provide the proper wedding torch.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

That is not the custom; but you think lightly of these things.

AGAMEMNON:

[735] It is not good for you to be alone among a soldier-crowd.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

It is good that a mother should give her own child away.

AGAMEMNON:

Yes, and that those girls at home should not be left alone.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

They are well guarded in their quarters.

AGAMEMNON:

Obey.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

No, by the goddess-queen of Argos [ ]! [740] Go, manage matters out of doors; but in the house it is my place to decide [what is proper for maidens at their wedding].

AGAMEMNON:

Woe is me! I have failed; I am disappointed in my hope, anxious as I was to get my wife out of sight; foiled at every point, [745] I form my plots and subtle schemes against my best-beloved. But I will go, in spite of all, with the priest, to inquire about what the goddess desires, fraught with ill-luck as it is to me, and with trouble to Hellas. He who is wise should keep in his house [750] a good and useful wife or none at all.

CHORUS:

The ' gathered army will come in arms aboard their ships to with its silver eddies, [755] to , the plain of beloved by ; where , I am told, wildly tosses her golden tresses, wreathed with crown of green laurel, [760] whenever the god's resistless prophecies inspire her.

And on the towers of and round her walls shall Trojans stand, when sea-borne troops [765] with brazen shields row in on shapely ships to the channels of the , eager to take , the sister of that heavenly pair [ the ] whom begot, from , and bear her back to Hellas by toil [770] of shields and spears.

The son of , encircling Pergamus [Pergamon], the Phrygians' town, with murderous war [775] around her stone-built towers, dragging ’ head backward to cut his throat and sacking the city from roof to base, shall be a cause of many tears to ’s daughters and[780] wife. And , the daughter of , shall weep in bitter grief because she left her lord husband. Never may there appear to me or to my children's children [785] what happened to wealthy Lydian ladies and Phrygia's brides as at their looms they converse: [790] “Tell me, who will pluck me away from my ruined country, tightening his grasp on lovely tresses till my tears flow? It is all because of you, the offspring of the long-necked swan; if indeed it is a true report [795] that bore you to a winged bird, when transformed himself there, or whether, in the tablets of the poets, fables have carried these tales to men's ears [800] idly, out of season.”

ACHILLES:

Where is Achaea's general? Which of his servants will announce to him that , the son of , is at his gates seeking him? For this delay at the Euripus is not the same for all of us; [805] there are some, for instance, who, being still unwed, have left their houses desolate and are idling here upon the beach, while others are married but without children; so strange the longing for this expedition that has fallen on their hearts by the will of the gods. [810] My own just plea I must declare, and whoever else has any wish will speak for himself. Though I have left Pharsalia and , still I linger here because of these light breezes at the Euripus, restraining my , while they are always pressing on me, [815] saying: “Why are we wasting our time here, ? How many more days to the start for ? Do something if you still intend to go or lead home your men, and do not wait for the indesion of these Atridae [ sons of ].”

CLYTEMNESTRA:

Hail to you, son of the goddess! I heard your voice [820] from within the tent and came forth.

ACHILLES:

By the goddess ! Who is this lady I see, so richly endowed with beauty's gifts?

CLYTEMNESTRA:

No wonder you do not know me, seeing I am one you have never before set eyes on; I praise your reverent address to .

ACHILLES:

[825] Who are you, and why have you come to the troops of the Danaids [ ]—you, a woman, to a fenced camp of men?

CLYTEMNESTRA:

I am the daughter of ; my name is ; and my husband king .

ACHILLES:

Well and shortly answered on all important points, [830] but it is shameful for me to stand talking to women.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

Stay; why seek to escape? Give me your hand, a prelude to a happy marriage.

ACHILLES:

What is it you say? I give you my hand? To lay a finger where I have no right, I could never meet 's eye.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

[835] The best of rights you have, seeing it is my child you will wed, O son of the sea-goddess, daughter of .

ACHILLES:

What wedding do you speak of? Words fail me, lady; have your wits gone astray and are you inventing this?

CLYTEMNESTRA:

All men are naturally shy in the presence of new relations, [840] when these remind them of their wedding.

ACHILLES:

Lady, I have never courted your daughter, nor have the sons of ever mentioned marriage to me.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

What can it mean? Your turn now to marvel at my words, for yours are very strange to me.

ACHILLES:

[845] Hazard a guess; that we can both do in this matter; for it may be we are both correct in our statements.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

What! Have I suffered such indignity? The marriage I am courting has no reality it seems; I am of it.

ACHILLES:

Someone perhaps has made a mockery of you and me; [850] pay no heed to it; make light of it.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

Farewell; I can no longer face you with unfaltering eyes, after being made a liar and suffering undeservedly.

ACHILLES:

It is “farewell” I bid you too, lady; and I go within the tent to seek your husband.

OLD MAN:

(Calling through the tent door) [855] Stranger of the race of , stay awhile! Ho there! I mean you, O goddess-born, and you, daughter of .

ACHILLES:

Who is it calling through the half-opened door? What fear his voice betrays!

OLD MAN:

A slave; of that I am not proud, for fortune does not permit it.

ACHILLES:

Whose slave are you? Not mine; for mine and 's goods are separate.

OLD MAN:

[860] I belong to this lady who stands before the tent, a gift to her from , her father.

ACHILLES:

I am waiting; tell me, if you will, why you have stopped me.

OLD MAN:

Are you really all alone here at the door?

ACHILLES:

To us alone will you address yourself; come forth from the king's tent.

OLD MAN:

(Coming out) O and my own foresight, preserve whom I love!

ACHILLES:

[865] That speech will save them in the future; those words carry weight.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

You do not need to delay to touch my right hand, if there is anything that you would say to me.

OLD MAN:

Well, you know my character and my devotion to you and your children.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

I know you have grown old in the service of my house.

OLD MAN:

Likewise you know it was in your dowry king received me.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

[870] Yes, you came to Argos with me, and have been mine this long time past.

OLD MAN:

True; and I bear all goodwill to you, less to your husband.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

Come, come, unfold whatever you have to say.

OLD MAN:

Her father, he that begot her, is on the point of slaying your daughter with his own hand.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

How? What did you say, old man? You are mad.

OLD MAN:

[875] Severing with a sword the hapless girl's white throat.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

Ah, alas for me! Has my husband gone mad?

OLD MAN:

No; he is sane, except where you and your daughter are concerned; there he is mad.

CLYTEMNESTRA:

What is his reason? What vengeful fiend impels him?

OLD MAN:

Oracles, at least so says, in order that the army may start—

CLYTEMNESTRA:

[880] Where? Alas for me, and for the one her father is going to kill!

OLD MAN:

To the halls of Dardanus, that may recover .

CLYTEMNESTRA:

So 's return then was fated to aff


  1. Personification of satire
  2. See chapter 22, Plutarch Parallel Lives Part 10, and Pseudo-Apollodorus Bibliotheca E.1.23.
  3. The ancient Greeks used the term "barbarian" to refer to non-Greeks in general.
  4. See chapter 33
  5. The Cyclopes were known for their building, and were credited in myth with having built the walls of Mycenae and Tiryns.
  6. The Greek Ἀτρεύς (Atreus) means "fearless," and so Agamemnon here makes a play on words.

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Mythoi Koinoi by Tara Mulder is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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