Writings / Drama

Euripides’s Iphigenia at Aulis

(Adapted from a literal translation by Roger Beck)
Nicolas Billon

Dawn.
AGAMEMNON’s tent in the Greek camp at Aulis.
The OLD MAN, a few paces away, appears to be sleeping.


Old Man

I do not sleep much anymore.
At my age, the body understands the value of every waking moment.
Sleep is the luxury of youth and kings.
I am neither, though I serve one—King Agamemnon, who leads the Greek army against
Troy.

But we are not yet at Troy. We are at Aulis, meeting point of the Greek fleet of a thousand
ships, and three times that number of men.
Trysts are serious business to those in power, it seems.
Though perhaps it is not a King’s honour that ignites the soldiers so much as Troy’s
treasures, Troy’s gold, Troy’s women.

When the armies arrived, the air was thick with their fervour, their lust for battle.
But several weeks have passed and the only thing the air is thick with now is the stench of overflowing pits and that unmistakable whiff of mutiny.

Aulis was chosen as the staging point because it is here that the winds blow most fiercely in the Aegean... Yet listen!

Nothing.

The Gods will not muster even a breeze upon this place, and the fleet remains ashore,
impotent...

AGAMEMNON enters, holding a letter.

Agamemnon

Come here, Old Man.

Old Man

Yes, my King.

Agamemnon

Hurry!

Old Man

I am!

Agamemnon

We are on the shore of the Euripus, and there isn’t even the faint whisper of wind.

Old Man

All is still. Why do you pace, my King? Let us return to sleep.

Agamemnon

I envy you, Old Man. I envy any man who’s reached the end of his life without encountering danger, without glory, unknown. Those who have made a name for themselves, I envy less.

Old Man

Yet that is where the good life lies.

Agamemnon

Is it? Fame is a tricky thing, at times sweet, at time bitter... To satisfy the whims of men and Gods can wear out the strongest of men.

Old Man

I cannot approve this attitude in a man of distinction. You were born a mortal, my King, so you must know both joy and grief—whether you want to or not, it is the will of the Gods. Tell me, my King, why do you turn that letter in your hand like one who’s turned mad? I have been your servant for many years now. What troubles you?

Agamemnon

Leda and Tyndareus had three daughters: Phoebe, my wife Clytemnestra, and Helen. Of Helen’s beauty, you need no description. It brought every suitor from every corner of Greece to Tyndareus’s palace, in the hope of wooing her. Tyndareus made every suitor swear an oath to aid the man whose wife Helen became, if anyone—Greek or barbarian—were to violate the marriage and take her from her home. Every suitor, confident to be chosen her husband, swore on their honour to raze the city of any violator. Tyndareus then let Helen choose the suitor she thought would suit her best... And she chose—I curse the day! —Menelaus.

And when Paris came to Greece, and accepted my brother’s hospitality one night, and took Helen the next, Menelaus wasted no time in calling upon those who’d sworn the oath—and Greece answered the call, choosing me to lead the army. Would someone else had received this honour instead of me!

But here we are, stranded at Aulis by the Gods. Why have they abandoned us? Why must they test those they love best? That is the question we put to the priest Calchas—and his answer was unequivocal: the Gods demand a sacrifice to Artemis. And the name he spoke next was Iphigenia, my daughter—this was whom the Gods required, the price Greece must pay for passage to Troy.
“Disband the army,” I said, “For King Agamemnon is not so reckless as to kill his own flesh and blood.” But Menelaus and crafty Odysseus put forward every sort of argument and persuaded me to go through with this folly. I sent for my daughter, under the pretext that she was to marry brave Achilles.

My judgment was amiss. To set things right, Old Man, I have written a new letter, which I urge you to deliver to Argos with great haste. I’ll tell you what’s written inside, for you’re trusted by my wife and myself.

Old Man

Speak, my King, so what I say conforms to what you’ve written.

Agamemnon

My instructions have changed: do not send our daughter to Aulis. We will celebrate her wedding on another occasion.

Old Man

Very well.

My King, won’t Achilles raise a storm of anger when he discovers the loss of his bride?

Agamemnon

Achilles knows nothing of our plans. I used his name, but not his confidence.

Old Man

That is a fearsome thing you’ve dared, my King, to join your daughter in mock marriage to the son of a Goddess.

Agamemnon

Perhaps I have gone mad—at the very least, my judgment was compromised. Go! Go! Do not tarry another moment on these shores!

Old Man

I go, my King!

Agamemnon

Do not sit, or sleep, or even slow down.

Old Man

I won’t!

Agamemnon

If you meet my daughter’s escort along the way, turn them back—do not allow them onwards, on your life!

Old Man

Understood.

Agamemnon

Hurry!
Here, here is my seal—take it with you in case they doubt your words. Go! (OLD MAN exits.)
No mortal man is blessed from birth to death. But why such grief now?

AGAMEMNON returns inside his tent.

About The Author

Author

Nicolas Billon is a Toronto dramatist and dramaturge.

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