Sacrifices TO Iphigenia and an Etymology for Her Name

Pausanias, 1.43.

“They also say that there is a hero-shrine to Iphigenia—for she died there, according to the Megarians.  But I have also heard another report circulated by the Arcadians and I know that Hesiod wrote in his Catalogue of Women that Iphigenia did not die, but thanks to Artemis is actually Hekate.  What Herodotus wrote agrees with these things—that some who live near Skythia sacrifice survivors of shipwrecks to a maiden and they say that the maiden is Agamemnon’s daughter.”

λέγουσι δὲ εἶναι καὶ ᾿Ιφιγενείας ἡρῷον· ἀποθανεῖν γὰρ καὶ ταύτην ἐν Μεγάροις. ἐγὼ δὲ ἤκουσα μὲν καὶ ἄλλον ἐς ᾿Ιφιγένειαν λόγον ὑπὸ ᾿Αρκάδων λεγόμενον, οἶδα δὲ ῾Ησίοδον ποιήσαντα ἐν καταλόγῳ γυναικῶν Ιφιγένειαν οὐκ ἀποθανεῖν, γνώμῃ δὲ ᾿Αρτέμιδος ῾Εκάτην εἶναι· τούτοις δὲ ῾Ηρόδοτος ὁμολογοῦντα ἔγραψε Ταύρους τοὺς πρὸς τῇ Σκυθικῇ θύειν παρθένῳ τοὺς ναυαγούς, φάναι δὲ αὐτοὺς τὴν παρθένον ᾿Ιφιγένειαν εἶναι τὴν ᾿Αγαμέμνονος.



“The temple is Artemis’ and the statue is made in a technique similar to our own.  A virgin serves in the temple—and she is there until she reaches the age of marriage. There is another statue inside which is very old. The people of Aigeira claim it is Iphigenia, Agamemnon’s daughter. If they are telling the truth, then the temple was built for Iphigenia in the beginning.”

᾿Αρτέμιδός τε ναὸς καὶ ἄγαλμα τέχνης τῆς ἐφ’ ἡμῶν· ἱερᾶται δὲ παρθένος, ἔστ’ ἂν ἐς ὥραν ἀφίκηται γάμου. ἕστηκε δὲ καὶ ἄγαλμα ἐνταῦθα ἀρχαῖον, ᾿Ιφιγένεια ἡ ᾿Αγαμέμνονος, ὡς οἱ Αἰγειρᾶταί φασιν· εἰ δὲ ἀληθῆ λέγουσιν οὗτοι, δῆλός ἐστιν ἐξ ἀρχῆς ᾿Ιφιγενείᾳ ποιηθεὶς ὁ ναός.


Etymologicum Magnum

“Iphigenia: Euphorion says she really is the daughter of Helen and Theseus and was secretly given to Klytemnestra. [The origin of her name] is that Helen gave birth [hupogeinato] to her after she was overcome by force [iphi] by Theseus.”

᾿Ιφιγένεια: Εὐφορίων αὐτὴν ἐτυμολογεῖ ῾Ελένης καὶ Θησέως· ὑποβλητὴν δὲ δοθῆναι Κλυταιμνήστρᾳ· οὕνεκα δή μιν ἶφι βιασαμένη ῾Ελένη ὑπεγείνατο Θησεῖ.

For the assertion that Iphigenia was Helen’s daughter, see an earlier post. In the Hesiodic passage mentioned here, Iphigenia is referred to as Iphimedê and is transformed by Artemis into Hekate.


And a somewhat related bit from Pindar:


Pindar, Pythian 11.22-32


“The pitiless woman. Was it Iphigeneia
Slaughtered on Euripus far from her homeland
Who made her raise her anger-heavy hand?
Or was it being tamed by long-nights in another’s bed
That led her to this? For young brides
This is the most hateful error, impossible to conceal
Because of other people’s tongues.
Your fellow-citizens are gossip-mongers.
For prosperity carries with it a proportional envy.
Whoever gasps near the ground moves unseen.
Atreus’ heroic son died
When he finally arrived home in famous Amyklai—
And he lost the prophet-girl too, after he destroyed
The burned homes of the Trojans for Helen”


νηλὴς γυνά. πότερόν νιν ἄρ’ ᾿Ιφιγένει’ ἐπ’ Εὐρίπῳ
σφαχθεῖσα τῆλε πάτρας
ἔκνισεν βαρυπάλαμον ὄρσαι χόλον;
ἢ ἑτέρῳ λέχεϊ δαμαζομέναν
ἔννυχοι πάραγον κοῖται; τὸ δὲ νέαις ἀλόχοις
ἔχθιστον ἀμπλάκιον καλύψαι τ’ ἀμάχανον
ἀλλοτρίαισι γλώσσαις·
κακολόγοι δὲ πολῖται.
ἴσχει τε γὰρ ὄλβος οὐ μείονα φθόνον·
ὁ δὲ χαμηλὰ πνέων ἄφαντον βρέμει.
θάνεν μὲν αὐτὸς ἥρως ᾿Ατρεΐδας
ἵκων χρόνῳ κλυταῖς ἐν ᾿Αμύκλαις,
Γ′ μάντιν τ’ ὄλεσσε κόραν, ἐπεὶ ἀμφ’ ῾Ελένᾳ πυρωθέντας
Τρώων ἔλυσε δόμους

8 thoughts on “Sacrifices TO Iphigenia and an Etymology for Her Name

  1. I heard the story of Iphigenia being the daughter of Helen-Theseus union too. I just recently ran into Proto Peloponnesian war myth, where Theseus, just a Bronze age minor ruler of Attica accumulates all sorts of myths, especially around the union or the abduction of (3) vegetation goddesses, i.e. Helen, Persephone (his buddy Pirithous wanted to abduct her and they go to the hades together, Herakles rescues only Theseus) and Ariadne. So, he transforms from a two bit minor Bronze age ruler from attica to a major hero tied to abduction of goddesses, with from dark to light, back to life implications, So, I am not sure what would be the implication of Iphigenia being the product of that union;;;

    From the Iliad,
    Then, when we reach Achaean Argos, wealthiest of all lands, you shall be his son-in-law, and he will show you like honor with his own dear son Orestes, who is being nurtured in all abundance. Agamemnon has three daughters, Chrysothemis, Laodike, and Iphianassa; you may take the one of your choice, freely and without gifts of wooing Hom. Il. 9.182

    This part really confuses me. No mention of Electra? Who is Iphianassa? He had Iphianassa and Iphigenia (whom he sacrificed)? How many kids did Agamemnon really have, with or without Clytemnestra?

  2. I posted this at HR25 DB and told them I would look up Theseus and Athens by Henry John Walker, published by Oxford U, but did not have the time. Maybe the book will explain.

  3. That second Pausanias quote really excites the “wildly over-speculating” part of me. I keep having thoughts running through my mind along the lines of “Could that really old statue he mentions date all the way back to the LBA? Could it have been a statue of the original goddess from whom we get Iphigenia?!”

    I know they’re fairly ridiculous thoughts, but there’s definitely a part of me that would love it if they were true. (Not that we’d have any way of knowing one way or the other…)

    1. I don’t think it is too ridiculous–think of the worship of an Alexandra in Laconia who only later gets assimilated to Kassandra and Agamemnon worship. This kind of thing must have happened more than once, right?

      (Or Helen as a spring/dawn goddess…)

  4. You probably know this article already.

    The Heroic Cult of Agamemnon
    Gina Salapata, Massey University, School of History, Philosophy and Classics, New Zealand,

    The Atrid Agamemnon received cult in two Peloponnesian towns, Mycenae and Amyklai, both of which claimed to have his grave. The conflicting reports about the location of his grave correspond to early variations in the literary tradition about the location of the murder of the king and his consort Kassandra. The Lakonian version of the legend and the cult associated with it may have been promoted by the Spartans when they aspired to become the sovereigns of the Peloponnese.
    Despite the heroic origins of Agamemnon, a persistent scholarly opinion assumes that the Spartans worshipped him as a manifestation of Zeus, a belief based on the reference of later literary sources to a cult of Zeus-Agamemnon. In this paper I aim to conclusively disprove the divine worship of Agamemnon in Lakonia and argue instead that he received heroic worship from the establishment of the sanctuary at Amyklai along with his consort Kassandra, known locally as Alexandra. The fusion of Zeus with Agamemnon was relatively late and probably the invention of the poet Lykophron.

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