When last we left our heroes, they were heading off to beat those women-snatching Trojans into a good ol’ foreign pulp. Yup, Helen had escaped, and because she was the only woman for Menelaus, the entire nation of Greeks (newly formed) were going after her.
There was trouble on the way to Troy. See, Agamemnon had become a super powerful King, and now that he was ruling over all these other Kings, he felt like he wasn’t beholden to anyone. This was called hubris, and inevitably meant that you were about to run afoul of some god. Agamemnon had it coming in spades.
Sure enough, he went a-hunting and shot this deer in a grove that was sacred to Artemis. She was livid. I mean, Agamemnon’s father had already tried to pull the wool over her eyes, so this was the last straw.
As punishment, she changed the winds so that all the ships got stuck in the port at Aulis. Since there were one thousand ships, all bursting with warrior types, it was a recipe for disaster. Imagine if your wagon train in Oregon Trail got stuck, and you weren’t allowed to hunt for food! Eventually, Agamemnon consulted his seer, and learned he would have to sacrifice his oldest daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the gods.
THE SACRIFICE OF IPHIGENIA
Agamemnon balked at this prospect long enough to make everyone hangry. After enough death glares and demeaning side eye from his warrior buddies, he bit the bullet and got with the divine program. Stomach gurgling, he scribbled a hasty note and sent it along to Clytemnestra, who was chilling back in Argos with the kids.
Fantastic, albeit surprising, news! Did you know that Achilles is not, as we had believed, 100% totally homosexual? That’s right, he’s a straight man. In fact, he just told me that this whole time he’s only stayed away from women because he’s so very much in love with our own Iphigenia. Isn’t that great? He wants to marry her right away, since we’re going off to war and all.
If you could just send her to Aulis in her fanciest saffron gown, we can hold the ceremony. It doesn’t have to be anything special, no need to come yourself. He says he won’t budge an inch father along the voyage without sealing the deal so time is of the essence.
Put those tears away, my love, this will bring our little girl great honor. She’s well on her way to becoming a warrior’s window, just as we’ve always hoped! And with the brilliant Achilles no less! I had written him off as playing for the other team when he started hanging around with that Patroclus fellow.
Iphigenia arrived at Aulis with her mother, Clytemnestra, who had assumed iron-clad authority over all plans wedding. While Iphigenia was being anointed with sacred oil and prepared for the matrimonial rites, Cly decided to go snooping around for the groom-to-be. She found him on his ship, in some state of undress, with his friend Patroclus.
“Achilles! I’m so excited, I never though I’d see the day when you would wed, but here we are.”
“Oooh, there’s going to be a wedding? And you’ve come to ask advice on centerpieces, I’m sure. Well, I’ve got some ideas, let me just – “
“Don’t play jokes on me, silly, you know I was born without a sense of humor. Agie’s written me to tell about how you’ve been pining over our Iphigenia and couldn’t wait a moment more to tie the knot. Oh! And I’ve brought the loveliest heirlooms to use as rings…”
“Cly, darling. You must be confused. You know I adore you and all your lovely children, but me? Married? To… a woman?”
As Patroclus slid his hand comfortably up Achilles’s thigh, Clytemnestra’s face contorted into a mask of horror.
“Do you mean to tell me you don’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about?”
“Why, that’s exactly right, honey. Have some ouzo? You look terrible! Come, sit down and tell us all about whatever that horrid husband of yours has done.”
While Clytemnestra was busy drowning her sorrows and blubbering, Iphigenia was finishing up her sacred preparations. When she had donned her flamboyant, yet still elegant, saffron robes, her father came in, presumably to lead her up to the matrimonial alter.
Tears in his eyes, Agamemnon spoke with his daughter for the last time, assuring her that she was indeed about to be married, and not at all sacrificed for any reason. She was beginning to have doubts. Instead of handsome Achilles, she had spotted a man wearing a black hood standing at the alter.
Thinking it was even odder that this particular marriage ceremony had her laying prostrate on a concrete slab, with a knife held above her throat, Iphigenia squeezed her father’s hand for comfort. Then, as the holy dagger plunged into her jugular, she quickly (albeit not painlessly) died of blood loss. Fortunately, the color contrast of the blood on her robes was spectacular, and the gods were appeased.
Poor Cly still had no clue what was going on, but was getting a spirited pep talked from Achilles and his beau. With a little liquid courage, she vowed to confront Agamemnon right then and there for all the times he had deceived her. Achilles and Patroclus came with, for moral support.
Unfortunately, when they came upon the King, they walked right into the high point of the whole grisly affair. There was Iphigenia, quite dead, pale arm dangling over the stone slab, and Agamemnon standing over her.
For his part, it should be said that he was indeed upset, but when his wife walked up, he felt he really ought to keep it together. Wouldn’t do to be perceived as weak at this crucial juncture. So he wiped away his tears, and put on the cold mask of remorseless killer, to make it easier on the old lady.
Clytemnestra didn’t know what to do at first. She was a bit tipsy, and a lot shocked. Falling onto her knees, she released a blood-curdling ululation. Achilles and Patroclus glared daggers at Agamemnon, and bundled the hysterical Queen away. They kept her on a steady diet of cocktails for the next week or so while the gods sorted the whole wind thing out.
Eventually, Clytemnestra got sent home, while the rest of the troops went off to Troy to fight in the war. You can find an account of the last year in this decade long engagement in Homer’s Iliad, one of the more important works in Western Literature. SPOILER ALERT: Troy loses.
Tune in next time for, Clytemnestra Gets Even! Featuring: Ancient social media platforms, the invention of gaslighting, and a musical number!