Close Reading of Iphigenia’s Death

The play starts with the watchman speaking about how he awaits the arrival of the king of Argos, Agamemnon who is fighting Troy to recapture Helen, and then rushes to find Queen Clytemnestra, when he sees the beacon of fire signaling Troy’s fall. The Chorus then enters and explains the story of the war and then recount the terrible story of when the Greek fleet was trapped by horrible winds, and  Agamemnon learned that the winds were sent by Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. Agamemnon was forced to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, as the Chorus sings:

“Yes, he had the heart

to sacrifice his daughter,

to bless the war that avenged a woman’s loss. . .

Her father called his henchmen on

on with a prayer.

“Hoist her over the altar

like a yearling, give it all your strength!

She’s fainting!–lift her.

Sweep her robes around her,

but slip this strap in her gentle curving lips . . .

Here, gag her hard, a sound will curse the house…” (223-236)

The Chorus describes in detail her pitiful cries for mercy as her father’s men cut her throat. Iphigenia cries for her father to save her, but he tells his men to “slip [a] strap around her… gag her.” Agamemnon goes on to compare her to “a yearling” and orders his men to throw her over the altar. He treats her as any other animal he would have hunted. Her emotions mean nothing to him, even as she begins to faint and he feels her soul being sucked out of her body. Aeschylus paints a portrait of Iphigenia’s violated innocence as he describes her cry for help, which Agamemnon continues to ignore. Compared to the pride he would get after he won the war, this action was nothing to him. “She strains to call their name” depicts the pathetic portrayal of women in the view of the men, living in a society where misogyny places a huge roll, even in plays for entertainment. Since the story telling takes place on the lower level of the tiered stage, it depicts the worthlessness of the act of sacrifice to Agamemnon. It shows how insignificant his daughter was to him; however, it goes on to place sympathy in the audience’s heart for Clytemnestra’s act of revenge.

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