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Iphigenia (pronounced /ɪfɨdʒɨˈnaɪə/; Greek Ἰφιγένεια, Ifigeneia) is a daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra in Greek mythology. In Attic accounts,[1] Iphigenia is sometimes called a daughter of Theseus and Helen raised by Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. The name means "strong-born", though more literally "born to strength".[2]


Post-Homeric Greek myth

Artemis punished Agamemnon after he killed a deer in a sacred grove and boasted he was the better hunter. On his way to Troy to participate in the Trojan War, Agamemnon's ships were suddenly motionless, as Artemis stopped the wind in Aulis. The soothsayer Calchas revealed an oracle that appeased Artemis, so that the Achaean fleet could sail. This much is in Homer, who does not discuss the aspect of this episode in which other writers explain that the only way to appease Artemis was to sacrifice Iphigenia to her. According to the earliest versions he did so, but other sources claim that Iphigenia was taken by Artemis to Tauris in Crimea to prepare others for sacrifice, and that the goddess left a deer[3] or a goat (the god Pan transformed) in her place. The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women called her Iphimede/Iphimedeia (Ἰφιμέδεια)[4] and told that Artemis transformed her into the goddess Hecate.[5] Antoninus Liberalis said that Iphigenia was transported to the island of Leuke, where she was wedded to immortalized Achilles under the name of Orsilochia.

Iphigenie (1862) by Anselm Feuerbach

According to Euripides' Iphigenia in Tauris, Iphigenia features in the story of her brother, Orestes. In order to escape the persecutions of the Erinyes for killing his mother Clytemnestra and her lover, he has been ordered by Apollo to go to Tauris[6] carry off the xoanon (carved wooden cult image) of Artemis which had fallen from heaven, and bring it to Athens. He has repaired to Tauris with Pylades, son of Strophius and intimate friend of Orestes, but the pair are at once imprisoned by the Tauri, among whom the custom is to sacrifice all Greek strangers to Artemis. The priestess of Artemis, whose duty it is to perform the sacrifice, offers to release Orestes if he will carry home a letter from her to Greece; he refuses to go, but bids Pylades take the letter while he himself will stay and be slain. After a conflict of mutual affection, Pylades at last yields, but the letter brings about recognition between brother and sister, and all three escape together, carrying with them the image of Artemis. Here the play ends. After their return to Greece, Orestes takes possession of his father's kingdom of Mycenae and Argos and Iphigenia leaves the image in the temple of Artemis in Brauron, Attica, where she remains as priestess of Artemis Brauronia. According to the Spartans, however, the image of Artemis was transported by them to Laconia, where the goddess was worshipped as Artemis Orthia.

These close identifications of Iphigenia with Artemis have encouraged some scholars to believe that she was originally a hunting goddess whose cult was subsumed by the Olympian Artemis.

Among the Taurians

The people of Tauris/Taurica facing the Euxine Sea[7] worshipped the maiden goddess Artemis. Some very early Greek sources in the Epic Cycle affirmed that Artemis rescued Iphigenia from the human sacrifice her father was about to perform, for instance in the lost epic Cypria, which survives in a summary by Proclus:[8] "Artemis, however, snatched her away and transported her to the Tauroi, making her immortal, and put a stag in place of the girl upon the altar." The goddess swept the young princess off to Tauris where she became a priestess at the Temple of Artemis.

The earliest known accounts of the death of Iphigenia are included in Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis and Iphigenia in Tauris, both Athenian tragedies of the fifth century BCE set in the Heroic Age. In the dramatist's version, the Taurians worshipped both Artemis and Iphigenia in the Temple of Artemis at Tauris.

Other variations of the death of Iphigenia include her being rescued at her sacrifice by Artemis and transformed into the goddess Hecate. Another example includes Iphigenia’s brother Orestes discovering her identity and helping him steal an image of Artemis. The reason for many discrepancies in telling of the myth is playwrights such as Euripides modified the stories about Iphigenia to make them more palatable for the audiences and make sequels using the same characters.

Many traditions arose from the sacrifice of Iphigenia; one prominent one by the Spartans. Rather than sacrificing virgins, they would whip the victim in front of a sacred image of Artemis, until an erotic reaction occurred and he ejaculated, fertilizing the land with blood and semen. However, most tributes to Artemis inspired by her sacrifice, were mere sacrifices themselves. Taurians especially performed sacrifices of bulls and virgins in honour of Artemis.[9]


Iphianassa (Ἰφιάνασσα) is the name of one of Agamemnon's three daughters in Homer's Iliad (ix.145, 287)[10] The name Iphianassa may be simply an older variant of the name Iphigenia. "Not all poets took Iphigenia and Iphianassa to be two names for the same heroine," Kerenyi remarks,[11] "though it is certain that to begin with they served indifferently to address the same divine being, who had not belonged from all time to the family of Agamemnon."

Cymon and Iphigenia c. 1884 by Frederic Leighton

Cymon and Iphigenia

The episode of Iphigenia and Cymon that inspired such painters as Benjamin West (1773), John Everett Millais (1848) and Frederic Leighton (1884) is not a Greek myth, but a novella taken from Boccaccio's Decameron and developed later by the poet and dramatist John Dryden.

The tale intended to demonstrate the power of love. As Iphigenia sleeps in a grove by the sea, a noble but coarse and unlettered Cypriot youth, Cymon, seeing Iphigenia's beauty, falls in love with her and, by the power of love, becomes an educated and polished courtier.

A modern viewpoint

In Eric Shanower's Age of Bronze vol. 2, "Sacrifice", (ISBN 1-58240-399-6), the substitution of a deer for Iphigenia was a pious lie invented by Odysseus to comfort the grieving Clytemnestra. It did not work: she angrily cursed the whole Achaean army, wishing they would all die in the war, the violent men who had been clamoring for the blood of her daughter.

Sheri S. Tepper's The Gate to Women's Country contained a similar idea, with a play named Iphigenia at Ilium running through the novel as a leitmotif. Within the novel, the ghost of Iphigenia tells Achilles that all the poets lied; she did not die willingly, and nor was a hind sent to take her place. Iphigenia also realises that these myths no longer have any power over her; when Achilles attempts to claim her as his wife, she reminds him that "women are no good to you dead".

In Glyn Iliffe's Gates of Troy, Iphigenia is in fact the daughter of Eperitus, a friend and bodyguard of Odysseus, who slept with Clytamnestra during the courtship of Helen.

Some modern sources

  • Bonnard, A. Iphigénie à Aulis. Tragique et Poesie. Museum Helveticum, Basel, v. 2, p. 87-107, 1945.
  • Croisille, J.-M. Le sacrifice d’Iphigénie dans l’art romain et la littérature latine. Latomus, Brussels, v. 22, p. 209-225, 1963.
  • Decharme, P. "Iphigenia." In: c. d'Aremberg, and E Saglio, Dictionnaire des Antiquités Grecques et Romaines, v. 3 (1ère partie), p. 570-572, (1877-1919).
  • Jouan, F. "Le Rassemblement d’Aulis et le Sacrifice d´Iphigénie." In: _______, Euripide et les Légendes des Chants Cypriens. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, pp 259-298, 1966.
  • Kahil, L. "Le sacrifice d’Iphigénie." In: 'Mélanges de l’École Française de Rome'. Antiquité, Rome, v. 103, p. 183-196, 1991.
  • Kerenyi, Karl, The Heroes of the Greeks (New York/London:Thames and Hudson) 1959, pp 331-36 et passim
  • Graves, Robert (1955), The Greek Myths, London: Penguin, pgs 73-75: (Iphigenia Among the Taurians)
  • Kjellberg, L. "Iphigenia." In: A.F. Pauly and G. Wissowa Real-Encyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, v. 9, 1916, pp. 2588-2622.
  • Lloyd-Jones, H. '"Artemis and Iphigenia" Journal of Hellenic Studies 103 (1983) pp 87-102.
  • Peck, Harry. "Iphigenia.' in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1898.
  • Séchen, L. "Le Sacrifice d’Iphigénie" Révue des Études Grecques, Paris, pp 368-426, 1931.
  • Shanower, E. Age of Bronze: Sacrifice, 2005.
  • West, M.L. The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985.

Some adaptations of the Iphigenia story


  1. ^ Pausanias, 2.21.6; a scholium on Aristophanes' Lysistrata l.645, asserts that it was not at Aulis but at Brauron in Attica that she was apparently sacrificed (noted Kerenyi 1959:238 and note 599).
  2. ^ Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, s.v. "Iphigenia". Karl Kerenyi, aware of Iphigenia's obscure pre-history as an autonomous goddess rather than a mere marriageable girl in the house of Agamemnon, renders her name "she who governs births mightily" (Kerenyi, The Heroes of the Greeks [1959:331]).
  3. ^ "When his wife had sent Iphigenia, Agamemnon placed her on the altar and was about to sacrifice her when Artemis spirited her off to the Taurians, where she set her up as her own priestess; she put a deer on the altar in the girl’s place. In addition, according to some, she made Iphigenia immortal." Pseudo-Apollodorus, Epitome of the Library 3.21.
  4. ^ This isolated fragmentary passage, found among the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, has been restored to its proper place in Ehoeae, the Hesiodic Catalogue, in modern times; the awkward insertion of eidolon — the image of Iphimede — and lines where Artemis saves her are considered a later interpolation by Friedrich Solmsen, "The Sacrifice of Agamemnon's Daughter in Hesiod's' Ehoeae" The American Journal of Philology 102.4 (Winter 1981), pp. 353-358.
  5. ^ this doesn't appear in any of the surviving passages of the Hesiodic catalogue but is attested for it by Pausanias, 1.43.1.
  6. ^ Tauris is now the Crimea.
  7. ^ Taurica (Greek: Ταυρίς, Ταυρίδα, Latin: Taurica) also known as the Tauric Chersonese and Chersonesus Taurica, was the name of Crimea in Antiquity.
  8. ^ Epicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, ed. G. Kinkel, p. 19
  9. ^ Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, London: Penguin, 1955; Baltimore: Penguin pgs 73-75: “Iphigenia Among the Taurians”
  10. ^ The three are Chrysothemis, Laodice (the double of Electra) and Iphianassa. In Iliad ix, the embassy to Achilles is empowered to offer him one of Agamemnon's three daughters, implying that Iphianassa/Iphigenia is still living, as Friedrich Solmsen 1981:353 points out.
  11. ^ Kerenyi 1959:331, noting Sophocles, Elektra 157. Kerenyi clearly distinguishes between parallel accounts of Iphigenia. "It is possible in the Cypria Agamemnon was given four daughters, Iphigenia being distinguished from Iphianassa", Friedrich Solmsen remarks, (Solmsen 1981:353 note 1) also noting the scholium on Elektra 157.

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

IPHIGENEIA, or Iphianassa, in Greek legend, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytaem(n)estra. Agamemnon had offended Artemis, who prevented the Greek fleet from sailing for Troy, and, according to the soothsayer Calchas, could be appeased only by the sacrifice of Agamemnon's daughter. According to some accounts the sacrifice was completed, according to others Artemis carried away the maiden to be her priestess in the Tauric Chersonese [[[Crimea]]] and substituted for her a hind. In this new country it was her duty to sacrifice to the goddess all strangers; and as her brother Orestes came to search for her and to carry off to Attica the image of the goddess, she was about to sacrifice him, when a happy recognition took place. These legends show how closely the heroine is associated with the cult of Artemis, and with the human sacrifices which accompanied it in older times before the Hellenic spirit had modified the barbarism of this borrowed religion. Orestes and Iphigeneia fled, takini with them the image; at Delphi they met Electra, the sister of Orestes, who having heard that her brother had been sacrificed by the Tauric priestess, was about to tear out the eyes of Iphigeneia. The brother and sister returned to Mycenae; Iphigeneia deposited the image in the deme of Brauron in Attica, where she remained as priestess of Artemis Brauronia. Attica being one of the chief seats of the worship of Artemis, this explains why Iphigeneia is sometimes called a daughter of Theseus and Helen, and thereby connected with the national hero. The grave of Iphigeneia was shown at Brauron and Megara. According to other versions of the legend, when saved from sacrifice Iphigeneia was transported to the island of Leuke, where she was wedded to Achilles under the name of Orsilochia (Antoninus Liberalis 27); or she was transformed by Artemis into the goddess Hecate (Pausanias _i. 43.1). According to the Spartans, the image of Artemis was transported by Orestes and Iphigeneia to Laconia, where the goddess was worshipped as Artemis Orthia, the human sacrifices originally offered to her being abolished by Lycurgus and replaced by the flogging of youths (diamastigosis, Pausan. iii. 16). At Hermione, Artemis was worshipped under the name of Iphigeneia, thus showing the heroine in the last resort to be a form of that goddess (Pausanias ii. 35.1). Originally, Iphigeneia, the "mighty born," is probably merely an epithet of Artemis, in which the notion of a priestess of the goddess had its origin. Iphigeneia is a favourite subject in Greek literature. She is the heroine of two plays of Euripides, and of many other tragedies which have been lost (see also Pindar, Pythia xi. 23; Ovid, Metam. xii. 27). In ancient vase paintings she is frequently met with; and the picture by Timanthes representing Agamemnon hiding his face at her sacrifice was one of the famous works of antiquity (Pliny, Nat. Hist. xxxv. 10).

See M. Jacobson, De fabulis ad Iphigeniam pertinentibus (1888); R. Forster, Iphigenie (1898); H. W. Stoll in Roscher's Lexikon der Mythologie; and P. Decharme in Daremberg and Saglio's Dictionnaire des antiquites.

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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Proper noun




  1. Alternative spelling of Iphigenia.


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