Sacrifice of Iphigenia. Antique fresco from Pompeii, probably a copy of a painting by Timanthes.
François Perrier's The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (17th century), depicting Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia

In Greek mythology, Iphigenia (/ɪfɪɪˈn.ə/; Ancient Greek: Ἰφιγένεια, Iphigéneia, [iːpʰiɡéneː.a]) was a daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra, and thus a princess of Mycenae.

In the story, Agamemnon offends the goddess Artemis on his way to the Trojan War by hunting and killing one of Artemis' sacred stags. She retaliates by preventing the Greek troops from reaching Troy unless Agamemnon kills his eldest daughter, Iphigenia, at Aulis as a human sacrifice. In some versions, Iphigenia dies at Aulis, and in others, Artemis rescues her.[1] In the version where she is saved, she goes to the Taurians and meets her brother Orestes.[2]


"Iphigenia" means "strong-born," "born to strength," or "she who causes the birth of strong offspring."[3]


Iphianassa (Ἰφιάνασσα) is the name of one of Agamemnon's three daughters in Homer's Iliad (ix.145, 287)[4] 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,[5] "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."

In mythology

In Greek mythology, Iphigenia appears as the Greek fleet gathers in Aulis to prepare for war against Troy. Here, Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks, hunts and then kills a deer in a grove sacred to the goddess Artemis.[6] Artemis punishes Agamemnon by acting upon the winds, so that Agamemnon's fleet cannot sail to Troy. Calchas the seer tells Agamemnon that to appease Artemis, he must sacrifice his eldest daughter, Iphigenia. At first he refuses but, pressured by the other commanders, agrees.[6][7]

Mosaic, 5th-century CE. From left to right: Iphigenia, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon.

Iphigenia and her mother Clytemnestra are brought to Aulis, under the pretext that Achilles will marry the girl. They discover the truth. In some versions of the story, Iphigenia remains unaware of her imminent sacrifice until the last moment. She believes until the moment of her death that she is being led to the altar to be married.

In some versions, such as Hyginus' Fabulae, Iphigenia is not sacrificed.[7] Some sources claim that Iphigenia was taken by Artemis to Tauris (in Crimea) at the moment of the sacrifice, the goddess having left a deer in her stead,[8] or else a goat (actually the god Pan) in her place.

Euripides' description of her sacrifice is as follows:

"...we brought your child to the place where the Greek army had gathered, all together and all at once. When King Agamemnon saw his daughter proceeding to the altar to her death, he heaved a deep sigh and turned his head to one side and wept. He covered his eyes with his robe. But the young girl stood beside her father who had given her life and said: 'Fathers, as you bid me, I am here. I give my body, freely on behalf of my country, for all the land of Greece. Lead me to the altar. There, if that is the gods' will, sacrifice me. May this gift from me bring you success. May you win the crown of victory and win thereafter a glorious homecoming. And no, do not let any man lay his hands upon me. In peace and in good heart I offer you my throat.' So she spoke, and all stood by in wonder at the courage, yes, the virtue of her words. Then Talthybius, for so he was commanded, stood before the assembled army and ordered them to watch and keep holy silence. The Calchas, the prophet, took from its sheath a sharp knife and put it in a basket studded with gold. And upon the young girl's head he put a garland. Achilles, son of Peleus, circled the altar of the goddess, basket in hand, and upon her he sprinkled holy water and he said, 'Artemis, daughter of Zeus, slayer of wild beasts, you that spin the silver light at night, receive this sacrifice which we offer to you. We the Greek army and King Agamemnon offer to you the pure blood that flows from a virgin's throat. Grant our ships an untroubled journey. Grant that our spears will sack the towers of Troy.' The priest seized the knife and offered a prayer as he looked for a place to plunge the knife's point. My soul was deeply troubled and in pain. I stood by, head lowered. Suddenly, it was a miracle: everyone had heard the sound of the knife – but no one could see where in the world the young maiden had disappeared to. The priest cried out. The army echoed his cry, and then they saw the miracle, impossible to believe even as it happened before their eyes. There on the ground lay a deer, gasping for breath. She was a full-grown deer, beautiful, and the altar of the goddess was dripping with her blood. Then Calchas spoke – imagine the joy! – 'Leaders of this the Greek army, do you see this victim that the goddess has laid upon her own alter? This mountain deer? She accepts this offering with greater gladness than the child. For her altar will not now be stained with noble blood. She rejoices in the sacrifice. And she grants us fair sailing and success at Troy. Therefore, courage! To arms, to the ships! For on this day we must leave the hallow bay of Aulis and cross the Aegean Sea.' When the carcass had been reduced to ashes in Hephaestus's fire, Calchas offered a prayer for the safe homecoming of the army. Agamemnon sent me to tell you these things, to tell you of the good fortune he has received from the gods, and of the fame that is now his and will not die, I tell you what I saw. For I was there. There is no doubt your child has been taken to live amongst the gods."[9]

The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women called her Iphimede (Ἰφιμέδη)[10] and told that Artemis transformed her into the goddess Hecate.[11] Antoninus Liberalis said that Iphigenia was transported to the island of Leuke, where she was wedded to immortalized Achilles under the name Orsilochia.

Statue of Artemis rescuing Iphigenia, 1st century AD, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

In Aeschylus's Agamemnon, the first play in the Oresteia, the sacrifice of Iphigenia is given as one reason for Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus to plan to murder Agamemnon.

In Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis, it is Menelaus who convinces Agamemnon to heed the seer Calchas's advice. After Agamemnon sends a message to Clytemnestra informing her of Iphigenia's supposed marriage, he immediately regrets his decision and tries to send another letter telling them not to come. Menelaus intercepts the letter and he and Agamemnon argue. Menelaus insists that it is Agamemnon's duty to do all he can to aid the Greeks. Clytemnestra arrives at Aulis with Iphigenia and the infant Orestes. Agamemnon tries to convince Clytemnestra to go back to Argos, but Clytemnestra insists on staying for the wedding. When she sees Achilles, Clytemnestra mentions the marriage; Achilles, however, appears to be unaware of it, and she and Iphigenia gradually learn the truth. Achilles, angry that Agamemnon has used him in his plot, vows to help prevent the murder of Iphigenia. Iphigenia and Clytemnestra plead with Agamemnon to spare his daughter's life. Achilles informs them that the Greek army, eager for war, has learned of the seer's advice and now demand that Iphigenia be sacrificed. If Agamemnon refuses, it is likely they will turn on him and kill him and his family. Iphigenia, knowing she is doomed, decides to be sacrificed willingly, reasoning that as a mere mortal, she cannot go against the will of a goddess. She also believes that her death will be heroic, as it is for the good of all Greeks. Iphigenia exits, and the sacrifice takes place offstage. Later, Clytemnestra is told of her daughter's purported death—and how at the last moment, the gods spared Iphigenia and whisked her away, replacing her with a deer.

Iphigenia as a priestess of Artemis in Tauris sets out to greet prisoners, amongst which are her brother Orestes and his friend Pylades; a Roman fresco from Pompeii, 1st century AD

Euripides' other play about Iphigenia, Iphigenia in Tauris, takes place after the sacrifice, and after Orestes has killed Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. Apollo orders Orestes—to escape persecution by the Erinyes for killing his mother, Clytemnestra, and her lover—to go to Tauris.[12] While in Tauris, Orestes is to carry off the xoanon (carved wooden cult image) of Artemis, which had fallen from heaven, and bring it to Athens. When Orestes arrives at Tauris with Pylades, son of Strophius and intimate friend of Orestes, the pair are immediately captured by the Tauri, who have a custom of sacrificing all Greek strangers to Artemis. Iphigenia is the priestess of Artemis, and it is her duty to perform the sacrifice. Iphigenia and Orestes don't recognize each other (Iphigenia thinks her brother is dead—a key point). Iphigenia finds out from Orestes, who is still concealing his identity, that Orestes is alive.

Scene from the tragedy Iphigenia in Tauris by Euripides. In the center Orestes, on the left Pylades, on the right Iphigeneia. Antique fresco from Pompeii

Iphigenia then offers to release Orestes if he will carry home a letter from her to Greece. Orestes refuses to go, and bids Pylades to take the letter while Orestes will stay to be slain. After a conflict of mutual affection, Pylades at last yields, and the letter makes brother and sister recognize each other, and all three escape together, carrying with them the image of Artemis. After they return to Greece—having been saved from dangers by Athena along the way—Athena orders Orestes to take the Xoanon to the town of Halae, where he is to build a temple for Artemis Tauropolos. At the annual festival held there, in honor of Artemis, a single drop of blood must be drawn from the throat of a man to commemorate Orestes's near-sacrifice. Athena sends Iphigenia to the sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron where she is to be the priestess until she dies. According to the Spartans, however, they carried the image of Artemis to Laconia, where the goddess was worshipped as Artemis Orthia.

These close identifications of Iphigenia with Artemis encourage some scholars to believe that she was originally a hunting goddess, whose cult was subsumed by the Olympian Artemis.[13]

Among the Taurians

Orestes and Iphigéneia stealing the statue of Diana Tauria

The people of Tauris/Taurica facing the Euxine Sea[14] 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:[15] "Artemis ... snatched her away and transported her to the Tauroi, making her immortal, and put a stag in place of the girl [Iphigenia] 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 purported death of Iphigenia are included in Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis and Iphigenia in Tauris, both Athenian tragedies of the fifth century BC 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 variants include her being rescued at her sacrifice by Artemis and transformed into the goddess Hecate.[16] Another example includes Iphigenia's brother, Orestes, discovering her identity and helping him steal an image of Artemis.[17] Possible reasons for key discrepancies in the telling of the myth by playwrights such as Euripides are to make the story more palatable for audiences and to allow sequels using the same characters.[citation needed]

Many traditions arose from the sacrifice of Iphigenia. One prominent version is credited to the Spartans. Rather than sacrificing virgins, they would whip a male victim in front of a sacred image of Artemis. However, most tributes to Artemis inspired by the sacrifice were more traditional. Taurians especially performed sacrifices of bulls and virgins in honour of Artemis.[18]

Among the Etruscans

The myth was retold in classical Greece and Italy, and it became most popular in Etruria, especially in Perusia.[19] In the second and first centuries BC the Etruscans adorned their cremation-urns with scenes from the sacrifice.[20] The most common scene: "Iphigenia, a little girl, is held over the altar by Odysseus while Agamemnon performs the aparchai. Clytemnestra stands beside Agamemnon and Achilles beside Odysseus and each one begs for the life of Iphigenia." This version is closest to the myth as the Romans told it.[21]

In Homer

The sacrifice of Iphigenia is not explicitly mentioned by Homer, although scholars argue that it is presupposed by Agamemnon's criticism of Calchas at Iliad 1.105-108; Nelson has developed this suggestion further by arguing that the story of Iphigenia's sacrifice lies allusively behind the opening scenes of the Iliad: "both the debate over Chryseis and her eventual return to her father replay and rework the sacrifice story."[1] He has highlighted six key elements that are shared by each story:

  1. Agamemnon offends a deity and is punished.
  2. Calchas discloses divine displeasure and proposes a solution: Agamemnon must give up a prized woman from his possession.
  3. Achilles loses a potential bride.
  4. Odysseus collects and brings this woman to her father by the altar.
  5. Sacrifice is performed at the altar.
  6. After the sacrifice, the Greeks receive a favorable wind from the offended deity and sail to Troy.

In Lucretius

The sacrifice of Iphigenia appears in the ancient Roman didactic poem De rerum natura by Lucretius as a criticism of religion. Anticipating that his poem will seem sacrilegious, Lucretius attacks the virtue of religion by recounting the story of Iphigenia, which he considers a cruel story of a parent "making his child a sacrificial beast" on her wedding day. Lucretius concludes "such are the crimes to which Religion leads."[22]

Adaptations of the story

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (1757) by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Iphigenia in Tauris (1893) by Valentin Serov
Pylades and Orestes Brought as Victims before Iphigenia, by Benjamin West, 1766

In popular culture

This section possibly contains original research. Please improve it by verifying the claims made and adding inline citations. Statements consisting only of original research should be removed. (May 2016) (Learn how and when to remove this message)
Iphigenie (1862) by Anselm Feuerbach

Game of Thrones character Shireen Baratheon was sacrificed to a god by her father, which some critics compared to Iphigenia.[28] Amanda Marcotte, of Slate, similarly writes: "Every beat of the Greek myth is the same as Stannis's story: The troops are stuck and starving and the general, Agamemnon, must sacrifice his own daughter to turn the fates to their favor. The mother begging for mercy, the disapproving second-in-command who can do nothing to stop it, the daughter who says she will do whatever it takes to help—it's all a clear echo."[29]

In Sacrifice, the second volume of Eric Shanower's Age of Bronze comic book series, the substitution of a deer for Iphigenia is a pious lie invented by Odysseus to comfort the grieving Clytemnestra. However, it does not work and Clytemnestra angrily curses the whole Achaean army, wishing they all die in the war.[30]

Sheri S. Tepper's The Gate to Women's Country contains a similar theme, with a play named Iphigenia at Ilium running through the novel as a leitmotif.

In Downton Abbey, Lord Grantham compares Lavinia Swire to Iphigenia, being sacrificed by Lady Grantham to marry Matthew Crawley.

In 1843, botanist Kunth published Iphigenia, which is a plant genus in the family Colchicaceae and it was named after Iphigenia.[31][32]

In Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles, Iphigenia comes to Aulis under the belief that she is to marry Achilles. Instead, she is unwillingly sacrificed to appease Artemis.

The full (rarely used) name of the fictional private investigator V. I. Warshawski, created by Sara Paretsky, is Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski. In the 1985 novel Killing Orders, third in the series, the protagonist identifies herself with the character of Greek myth, and recognizes the similarity of a traumatic event of her childhood with the act of Iphigenia's sacrifice.

In the play Even Kins Are Guilty, by Keye Abiona, a Nigerian playwright of Yoruba origin, the king is deceived into sacrificing his only daughter by his half brother, who gave a false oracular prediction that it was necessary to win his crown back from an enemy kingdom. That same brother then poisoned the heart of the queen against her husband by telling her of the sacrifice (like Clytemnestra in the myth, she believed her daughter was taken away to marry a neighboring king). The duo then conspire to murder the king by means of poison, allowing the half brother to assume the throne. However, the young son of the late king finds out his uncle's treachery and murders him in the palace. He is however, prevented from murdering his own mother (unlike Orestes) by a well meaning Chief Otun, in order to avoid the spiritual repercussions of murdering parents in Yoruba tradition.

In the movie The Killing of a Sacred Deer starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell, the myth is drawn into a present-day thriller where the family of a surgeon is haunted because of his accidental killing of a patient years before. One after the other the surgeon's children are plagued with paralysis (a direct allusion to Agamemnon's immobile armies) and the surgeon's family is forced to sacrifice one of its members to atone for the accidental surgical killing. The myth is even directly invoked by the movie when the children's school administrator states that the daughter wrote a great essay on Iphigenia.

In the fictional book Mistress Wilding, by Rafael Sabatini, Sir Rowland Blake makes reference to Iphigenia (spelled Iphiginia in the book) as a metaphor for Ruth Westmacott sacrificing herself by agreeing to marry Anthony Wilding in an effort to prevent him from killing her brother in a duel.

See also


  1. ^ a b Nelson, Thomas J. (2022). "Iphigenia in the Iliad and the Architecture of Homeric Allusion". TAPA. 152: 55–101. doi:10.1353/apa.2022.0007. S2CID 248236106.
  2. ^ Evans (1970), p. 141
  3. ^ Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, s.v. "Iphigenia" and Rush Rehm, The Play of Space (2002, 188). 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 1959:331).
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ a b Siegel, Herbert (1981). "Agamemnon in Euripides' "Iphigenia at Aulis"". Hermes. 109 (3): 257–65. JSTOR 4476212.Closed access icon
  7. ^ a b "Mortal women of the Trojan War: Iphigenia". Stanford University. Archived from the original on July 15, 2014.
  8. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Epitome of the Library 3.21.
  9. ^ Euripides (1997). Rudall, Nicholas (ed.). Iphigenia in Aulis. Ivan R Dee. pp. 65–66. ISBN 1-56663-112-2.
  10. ^ This fragmentary passage (fr. 23(a)17–26), found among the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, has been restored to its proper place in the 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. 353–58.
  11. ^ this doesn't appear in any of the surviving passages of the Hesiodic catalogue but is attested for it by Pausanias, 1.43.1.
  12. ^ Tauris is now the Crimea.
  13. ^ J. Donald Hughes, "Goddess of Conservation." Forest and Conservation History 34.4 (1990): 191–97.
  14. ^ Taurica (Greek: Ταυρίς, Ταυρίδα, Latin: Taurica) also known as the Tauric Chersonese and Chersonesus Taurica, was the name of Crimea in Antiquity.
  15. ^ Epicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, ed. G. Kinkel, p. 19
  16. ^ Hesiod, The Catalogues, TRANS. by H. G. Evelyn-White, fragment 71
  17. ^ Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris
  18. ^ Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, London: Penguin, 1955; Baltimore: Penguin pp. 73–75: "Iphigenia Among the Taurians"
  19. ^ George Dennis (1848). The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria. Vol. 2. London: John Murray., 463
  20. ^ Pilo, Chiara; Giuman, Marco (2015). "Greek Myth on Etruscan Urns from Perusia: the sacrifice of Iphigenia". Etruscan Studies. 18 (2): 97–125. doi:10.1515/etst-2015-0016. hdl:11584/241492. S2CID 193632035.
  21. ^ Helen Evangeline Devlin (1914). The Development and Treatment of the Iphigenia Myth in Greek and Roman Literature. University of Wisconsin., page 24
  22. ^ Titus Lucretius Carus (1916). Of the Nature of Things. Translated by William Ellery Leonard.
  23. ^ Svich, Caridad. "Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart (a rave fable)". Retrieved February 13, 2023.
  24. ^ Mee, Charles L. "Iphigenia 2.0". Retrieved December 9, 2012.
  25. ^ "Metamorphoses". Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  26. ^ "Metamorphoses". Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  27. ^ "554. Iphigeneia. Walter Savage Landor. 1909–14. English Poetry II: From Collins to Fitzgerald. The Harvard Classics". 22 August 2022.
  28. ^ Kornhaber, Spencer (11 June 2015). "The Most Disturbing Thing About the Shireen Scene on 'Game of Thrones'". The Atlantic.
  29. ^ Marcotte, Amanda (9 June 2015). "Don't Be So Shocked by the Deaths on Game of Thrones: The Show Is a Classical Tragedy". Slate.
  30. ^ Shanower, Eric (2004). Age of Bronze: Sacrifice. Berkeley, California: Image Comics. ISBN 1-58240-399-6.
  31. ^ "Iphigenia". Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  32. ^ Kunth KS, Enumeratio Plantarum Omnium Hucusque Cognitarum, vol. 4, p. 212. 1843

Modern sources