18 January, 2008
The boats lay idle on the shore. The great war host of the Greeks was running out of time, for while an army sits and does not move, it consumes. Here at Aulis the food was running out. Patience was also in short supply. The Kings and Captains had brought their men under the command of Agamemnon in order to sail to Troy and sack the mighty city. Not only would they retrieve Helen and bring honour back to the House of Atreus, but the rich pickings of Ilium would be theirs. Alas the venture seemed doomed from the start. The fleet had been assembled, but a strange calm had descended on Aulis, and no ship was able to sail. So the men waited, and ate, and waited, and drank, and waited, and grew restless. While they were here they could not look after their homes. The great glory that had been promised to them looked very far off indeed.
Agamemnon looked at his army from a distance. He knew that this was the only chance he would ever have to lead the united forces of the Greeks against his Trojan enemies. For years he had forged alliances, made deals, built an interdependence amongst the kingdoms of the Aegean, and now, here, at the moment when his mighty campaign looked finally set to start he was painfully stopped. The priest Calchas had been summoned to interpret the will of the Gods, and the omens could not have been more bleak. Hubris was the cause said the ancient priest. Agamemnon had boasted once when he had shot a deer that he was more skilled than Artemis. Alas, such an idle boast had upset the Goddess Artemis who was vengeful and jealous. She calmed the winds and watched Agamemnon’s plans fall around him. She left him only one way to appease her. The priest Calchas broke the news to Agamemnon. In order for the fleet to sail, Agamemnon would have to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia.
Agamemnon refused. “What sort of Goddess could demand such a thing of a father. I cannot do this, I will not sacrifice my child!” But the days went by, then weeks, and still the dead calm remained. The army was restless and hungry, they had already eaten any food within several days of Aulis. The men grew bitter. “We are here with our sons ready to go into battle and die for Agamemnon. We leave behind our wives and daughters, alone without our protection, for Agamemnon. We are placing everything we have on the line for him, and yet he will not do the same? What sort of man is this that refuses the commands of a God?”
What could he do. To do nothing would lead to infighting amongst his own men, he knew now that his daughters sacrifice was the only way to save lives. Silently cursing Artemis he walked up to one of the High Places around Aulis, bringing his young daughter with him. None would see her again. When Agamemnon returned he brought the body of a young deer, but Iphigenia was nowhere in sight.
“My friends,” he said, “I went to the High Place with a steely knife and prepared my daughter for sacrifice to Artemis. But when I was there a miracle happened, for before my very eyes she was transformed into this deer. I plunged my blade in deep and offered the meat to Artemis. My task is done, we await the Gods will.”
None could be sure what had happened up in the mountain. None saw Iphigenia before the fleet set sail for Troy. But sure enough, on the very next day the winds started to blow…