Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Classics

Euripides’ Iphigenia among the Taurians, translated by Anne Carson


Iphigenia among the Taurians by Euripides (newly translated by Anne Carson)

From the Introduction:

The date of this play is uncertain, but approximately 414 BCE is a fairly safe guess.

The story involves two important variants on the legend of the House of Atreus: the transportation of Iphigenia to the Tauric Chersonese on the northern coast of the Black Sea to serve as a priestess of Artemis; and the last wanderings of Orestes, which unite him with his lost sister. These variants are clearly explained in the text, at lines 1–41 and 940–78, respectively.

Iphigenia among the Taurians is technically a tragedy, that is, a serious play in elevated poetical language presented on the occasion when tragedies were produced. But in the modern sense of the term it is not “tragic.” It has often been called “romantic comedy,” of a type also exemplified in Euripides’ Helen, his Ion, and many lost plays by various Greek dramatists. It is not merely a matter of the happy ending. Other tragedies have that. But here the emphasis is, even more than usually, on plot, on the how rather than the why of the story. Danger hovers; there is excitement, and pathos, but no catastrophe; the first climax comes in recognition, the second in escape. The plot is excellent indeed, and the mechanism of the recognition scene is brilliantly contrived; in Aristotle’s view, it was one of the finest tragedies ever written.


A snippet:


IPHIGENIA, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra; priestess of Artemis

ORESTES, song of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra

PYLADES, friend of Orestes

CHORUS of captive Greek women


THOAS, king of the Taurians

MESSENGER, a servant of Thoas



Scene: The entrance to the temple of Artemis in the land of the Taurians, with a large, bloodstained altar in front of it. (Enter Iphigenia from the temple.)


Pelops son of Tantalus came to Pisa on swift horses
and married Oenomaus’ daughter
who begot Atreus.
Atreus begot Menelaus and Agamemnon.
Agamemnon begot me.
I am Iphigenia, daughter of the daughter of Tyndareus.
My father killed me—
at Euripus where stiff breezes
spin the salt-blue sea in spirals,
for Helen’s sake
a sacrifice to Artemis in famous Aulis—
or so people think.
For at Aulis Agamemnon
had assembled a thousand ships,
a Greek expedition to take the crown of Troy.
He wanted the Greeks to avenge Helen’s rape
and gratify Menelaus.
What befell him was the disaster of windlessness.
He resorted to divination
and Calchas said this:
“Agamemnon, commander of this Greek army,
not one ship will cast off from this shore
until Artemis receives your own girl
as a sacrifice.
You made a vow once
to Artemis Lightbringer to offer up
the finest fruit of that year
and that year
your wife bore a child in the house—”
that “finest fruit” was me!
“Her you must kill.”
So Odysseus planned it:
they got me from my mother on prextext of marrying Achilles.
And I came to Aulis—sad day for me!
Lifte high above the altar I was right on the verge of death
when Artemis snatched me,
put a deer in my place.
Sent me clear through the air to the land of the Taurians: here!
The land is barbarian, so is the king—Thoas
(his name means “swift” and he is).
The goddess put me here in here temple as priestess.
And there’s a ritual
beautiful in name only,
that Artemis finds pleasing—well,
I won’t say more. She terrifies me.
The fact is, by a law of the city older than me
I sacrifice any Greek man who comes here.
That is, I start things off. Others do the killing.
Inside the temple.
We don’t talk about this.

New strange dreams came in the night.
I shall tell them—it might bring relief.
In my dream it seemed I’d gone from this land to live in
I was lying asleep in a room of girls
when the earth gave a jolt.
I fled, stood outside, saw the cornice falling
and the whole roof collapse to the ground in a heap.
One pillar remained of our ancestral home:
I saw it grow blonde hair and speak a human voice.
Then putting my stranger-killing skills to use
I began sprinkling water
as on one about to die.
And I was weeping.
Here’s how I read this dream:
Orestes is dead, it was him I sprinkled with water.
Boys are the pillars of a house, are they not,
and anyone I consecrate does die.
So I want to offer libations to my brother.
He and I are far apart
but this at least I can do.
I’ll go with my women—Greeks given me by the king.
For some reason they’re not here yet.
I shall go into the temple—that’s where I live.


For more on Iphigenia among the Taurians, part of the newly revised Greek Tragedies 2, click here.