Troy and Iphegenia at Aulis


Dictys and Dares:

Two Versions of Iphigenia at Aulis

Diane Thompson, NVCC, ELI

Dictys begins this story with Agamemnon, careless of the local religion, shooting a goat too near to the sacred grove of Diana. At first the entire Greek army is punished with plague for the sacrilege. Then a woman "full with the god" announces that the plague will not abate until the author of the sacrilegious deed sacrifices his eldest daughter in place of the goat. Agamemnon refuses to cooperate and is removed from his position of leader of the armies.

Ulysses takes false letters to Clytemnestra asking her to send Iphigenia as a bride for Achilles. Clytemnestra is deceived and sends her daughter. When Agamemnon sees Iphigenia come to the Greek camp, his response is to try to run away. Meanwhile, Ulysses and Menelaus, prepare Iphigenia for sacrifice.

But then the weather changes drastically--the climate turns to winter, the light leaves the sky, there are thunder, lightning and earthquakes. Amidst the terrible confusion a voice is heard from the grove of Diana which commands the Greeks to spare the girl, for the goddess pities her. Agamemnon will be punished by his wife for his deed after the war at Troy. Also, there is an animal in the grove, waiting to be sacrificed in place of the girl, and this will end the plague and calm the storms. The Greeks obey the voice, sacrifice the animal and free Iphigenia. The storms subside, summer returns, the army restores Agamemnon to leadership, the winds favor sailing, and the Greek army leaves Aulis.

Not only is this episode specific, it is complete. Dictys gives plenty of information about what caused an event, how it happened, and how it ended. He satisfies his readers, even if he does not enlighten them. Dictys, for all his false first person pose of an eyewitness to the Trojan war, has a narrative approach that is basically historical and rather like a chronicle. He tells the events as they unroll in time, with many a "meanwhile" to catch up on other news.

Dictys is matter-of-fact in his treatment of religious matters. The gods exist, are powerful, are capable of wrath if offended, as was Diana in her grove. However, except where humans offend the gods, the gods stay out of human affairs. Dictys does not offer a Christian view of events. Dictys is not disturbed by rituals, nor does he treat them as "pagan" or "barbaric." For example, he tells of a pre-war ritual in which the soldiers all plunge swords into the body of a pig. He neither condemns or praises such a practice, merely reports it. Dictys does not remove pagan elements from the Troy story for Christian reasons. However, in his version the gods are very distant from human beings and not relevant to harm or to help, except when directly offended, as when Agamemnon shoots Diana's goat, or later, when Agamemnon offends the priest of Apollo, Chryses, by refusing to return his daughter. Both of these offenses are promptly punished by plague attacking the Greek army, which ceases when Agamemnon makes restitution (the near-death of Iphigenia and the loss of Chryses' daughter).

When Dares tells of the sacrifice at Aulis, it makes far less sense than Dictys' version. Here the Greek navy is at Athens when "Since tempests held them back there, Calchas declared from augury that they should first return to Aulis and sacrifice to Diana. They set out and reached Aulis. Here Agamemnon placated Diana and then commanded his fellows to release the ships and go on to Troy." (Schlauch, 259).

Dares' version has no inexplicable events, so he omits the sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis, like he omits all pagan religious details. Dares' short narrative provides the necessary story-core for viewing the fall of Troy as caused by human beings acting irresponsibly in a secular world.

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© Diane Thompson: 11/10/1998; updated: 01/28/2011