The sacrifice of Iphigenia is a pivotal moment in the tale of the House of Atreus—it motivates Agamemnon’s murder and in turn the matricide of Orestes—and the Trojan War, functioning as it does as a strange sacrifice of a virgin daughter of Klytemnestra in exchange for passage for a fleet to regain the adulteress Helen, Iphigeneia’s aunt by both her father and mother. The account is famous in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and the plays Iphigenia at Aulis and Iphigenia among the Taurians by Euripides. Its earliest accounts, however, provide some interesting variations:
Hes. Fr. 23.13-30
“Agamemnon, lord of men, because of her beauty,
Married the dark-eyed daughter of Tyndareus, Klytemnestra.
She gave birth to fair-ankled Iphimede in her home
And Elektra who rivaled the goddesses in beauty.
But the well-greaved Achaeans butchered Iphimede
on the altar of thundering, golden-arrowed Artemis
on that day when they sailed with ships to Ilium
in order to exact payment for fair-ankled Argive woman—
they butchered a ghost. But the deer-shooting arrow-mistress
easily rescued her and anointed her head
with lovely ambrosia so that her flesh would be enduring—
She made her immortal and ageless for all days.
Now the races of men upon the earth call her
Artemis of the roads, the servant of the famous arrow-mistress.
Last in her home, dark-eyed Klytemnestra gave birth
after being impregnated by Agamemnon to Orestes,
who, once he reached maturity, paid back the murderer of his father
and killed his mother as well with pitiless bronze.”
This fragment presents what is possibly the earliest account of the tale of Iphigenia and contains the major elements: the sacrifice of Agamemnon’s daughter is tied to vengeance against Helen; the daughter is rescued by Artemis, made immortal and made her servant. [In some traditions she is either made immortal or made into a priestess of Artemis at Tauris]. Orestes kills the murderer of his father and his mother. Read More
Ever wondered why Helen left Menelaos or why her sister cheated on Agamemnon (other than the obvious)? Ancient poetry traced it back to a sin of their father
Schol. Ad Euripides’ Orestes 249
“Stesichorus says that when Tyndareus was sacrificing to the gods he overlooked Aphrodite. For this reason, the angry goddess made his daughters thrice and twice married deserters of husbands. The segment reads like this:
“Because when Tyndareus was sacrificing to all the gods
He neglected only the gentle-giving Kyprian
She was enraged and she made the daughters of Tyndareus
Twice and thrice married deserters of husbands.”
A fragment of Hesiod agrees with this (fr. 176):
Was enraged when she saw them: then she hung bad fame upon them.
After that, Timandra abandoned Ekhemos and left;
She went to Phyleus who was dear to the holy gods.
And so Klytemnestra abandoned shining Agamemnon
To lie alongside Aigisthos as she chose a lesser husband;
In the same way, Helen shamed the marriage-bed of fair Menelaos…”
This passage provides an explanation for why the daughters of Tyndareus—Helen and Klytemnestra—were unfaithful: it was Aphrodite’s game from the beginning because their father did not worship her correctly. A few interesting aspects here: first, Helen is “thrice-married” because after Paris dies, she marries Deiphobus (although some accounts associate her with Theseus too). Second, Hesiod’s fragmentary poems seems to be in the process of cataloging women who leave their husbands.
The first woman in the tale is Timandra, who, according to only this passage, was a third daughter of Tyndareus who left her husband Ekhemos, a king of Arcadia. They had a son together, named Leodocus before she eloped with Phyleus. In another fragment from Hesiod (fr. 23) we learn more about the family of Tyndareus and Leda:
“After climbing into the lush bed of Tyndareus
Well-tressed Leda, as fair as the rays of the moon,
Gave birth to Timandra, cow-eyed Klytemnestra,
And Phylonoe whose body was most like the immortal goddesses.
Her…the arrow bearing goddess
Made immortal and ageless for all days.”
Later on in the same fragment –after hearing about the marriage and children of Klytemnestra—we learn about Timandra:
“Ekhemos made Timandra his blooming wife,
The man who was the lord of all Tegea and Arcadia, wealthy in sheep,
A rich man who was dear to the gods.
She bore to him Laodakos, the horse-taming shepherd of the host,
After she was subdued by golden Aphrodite.”
This section of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women seems to be mentioning only Leda’s children with Tyndareus and not those possibly fathered by Zeus (Helen, Kastor, Polydeukes). But we hear nothing of the future of Leda’s attractive daughter Phylonoe (also spelled Philonoe) other than that Artemis made her immortal. The ancient sources? Nothing at all to explain this.
“But, so I may return to the matter”, he said, “I am not as smart as Themistocles was as to prefer the art of forgetting to the art of memory. And So I am thankful to that Simonides of Ceos who, as they say, first produced an art of memory. For they say that when Simonides was dining at the home of a wealthy aristocrat named Scopas in Thessaly and had performed that song which he wrote in his honor—in which there were many segments composed for Castor and Pollux elaborated in the way of poets. Then Scopas told him cruelly that he would pay him half as much as he had promised he would give for the song; if it seemed right to him, he could ask Tyndareus’ sons for the other half since he had praised them equally.
A little while later, as they tell the tale, it was announced that Simonides should go outside—there were two young men at the door who had been calling him insistently. He rose, exited, and so no one. Meanwhile, in the same space of time, the ceiling under which Scopas was having his feast collapsed: the man was crushed by the ruins a d died with his relatives. When people wanted to bury them they could not recognize who was where because they were crushed. Simonides is said to have shown the place in which each man died from his memory for their individual burials.
From this experience, Simonides is said to have learned that it is order most of all that brings light to memory. And thus those who wish to practice this aspect of the skill must select specific places and shape in their mind the matters they wish to hold in their memory and locate these facts in those places. It will so turn out that the order of the places will safeguard the order of the matters, the reflections of the facts will remind of the facts themselves, and we may use the places like wax and the ideas like letters written upon it.”
Sed, ut ad rem redeam, non sum tanto ego, inquit, ingenio quanto Themistocles fuit, ut oblivionis artem quam memoriae malim; gratiamque habeo Simonidi illi Cio quem primum ferunt artem memoriae protulisse. Dicunt enim cum cenaret Crannone in Thessalia Simonides apud Scopam fortunatum hominem et nobilem cecinissetque id carmen quod in eum scripsisset, in quo multa ornandi causa poetarum more in Castorem scripta et Pollucem fuissent, nimis illum sordide Simonidi dixisse se dimidium eius ei quod pactus esset pro illo carmine daturum: reliquum a suis Tyndaridis quos aeque laudasset peteret si ei videretur. Paulo post esse ferunt nuntiatum Simonidi ut prodiret: iuvenes stare ad ianuam duos quosdam qui eum magnopere evocarent; surrexisse illum, prodisse, vidisse neminem; hoc interim spatio conclave illud ubi epularetur Scopas concidisse; ea ruina ipsum cum cognatis oppressum suis interiisse; quos cum humare vellent sui neque possent obtritos internoscere ullo modo, Simonides dicitur ex eo quod meminisset quo eorum loco quisque cubuisset demonstrator uniuscuiusque sepeliendi fuisse; hac tum re admonitus invenisse fertur ordinem esse maxime qui memoriae lumen afferret. Itaque eis qui hanc partem ingeni exercerent locos esse capiendos et ea quae memoria tenere vellent effingenda animo atque in eis locis collocanda: sic fore ut ordinem rerum locorum ordo conservaret, res autem ipsas rerum effigies notaret, atque ut locis pro cera, simulacris pro litteris uteremur.
thanks to S. Raudnitz for reminding me of this passage too!
As a bonus, here’s Plato for the mind and wax:
Plato, Theaetetus 191a
Soc. “For the sake of argument, imagine that there is a single chunk of wax in our minds, for some it is bigger, for some smaller, and for one the wax is clearer, while for another it is more contaminated and rather inflexible; for others, in turn, the wax more pliable and even.”
Soc. Let us say that this is the gift of the Muses’ mother, Mnemosunê, and when we wish to recall something we have seen or heard or thought ourselves, we show this wax to our perceptions or thoughts and find the imprint, just as we find meaning in seal rings. Whatever is printed can be remembered and understood as long as its image persists. Whenever it is softened or cannot be recorded is forgotten and not understood.”
And Quintilian trying to turn our ability to fantasize into something more ‘productive’:
Quintilian’s Inst. Orat. 6.2
“The fictions I have been talking about pursue us when our minds are at rest as empty hopes or certain daydreams so that we imagine we are on a journey, sailing, fighting, talking to new people, or distributing wealth we do not have—and we seem not to be considering but to be doing these things. Couldn’t we transfer this vice of the mind to something useful?”
quod quidem nobis volentibus facile continget; nisi vero inter otia animorum et spes inanes et velut somnia quaedam vigilantium ita nos hae de quibus loquor imagines prosecuntur ut peregrinari navigare proeliari, populos adloqui, divitiarum quas non habemus usum videamur disponere, nec cogitare sed facere, hoc animi vitium ad utilitatem non transferemus [ad hominem]
And Plutarch on the importance of memory for education
Plutarch, The Education of Children (Moralia 9)
It is especially important to train and practice children’s memory: for memory is the warehouse of learning. This is why we used to mythologize Memory as the mother of the Muses, making it clear through allegory that nothing creates and nourishes the way memory does. This should be trained in both cases, whether children have a good memory from the beginning or are naturally forgetful. For we may strengthen the inborn ability and supplement the deficiency. The first group will be better than others; but the second will be better than themselves. This is why the Hesiodic line rings true: “If you add a little by little, and you keep doing it, soon you can have something great.”
Parents should also not forget that a skill of memory contributes its great worth not only to education but to life’s actions in general. For the memory of past events becomes an example of good planning for future actions.”
Earlier we posted about the ancient debate of whether or not the Kyklôpes only had a single eye. Here is a longer post about Homer’s depiction of their character and customs.
Homer, Odyssey 105–115
“From there we went on sailing, even though our hearts were pained,
To the land of the overbearing, lawless Kyklôpes
Who especially rely on the immortal gods
And do not grow plants or plow the land
But everything grows for them, unplanted and unplowed:
The grain, barley and vines which bear
Thick wine, and Zeus’ rain makes them grow.
They don’t have council-bringing assemblies nor laws,
But they inhabit the peaks of high mountains
In their hollow caves, and each governs his
Children and wives—they do not care for one another.”
Schol. ad Od. 9.106 31-58 (Some of which is attributed to Porphyry)
“Overbearing, lawless: The phrase has double significance: the great size of their bodies and the lawlessness of not following customs. For they say that “Each one governs his own children and wives”. For if they were lawless instead of unjust, how would he add “they rely on the gods”? But, then, someone might add how Polyphemos says “the Kyklôpes don’t care about aegis-bearing Zeus”. We should, of course, consider the proposal that it comes from Polyphemos, the flesh-eating, beast. Hesiod also says “[Zeus] made it right for fish, beast and birds to eat one another because they do not have justice. Justice he gave to men” [see below]. Thus he depicts only Polyphemos as arrogant and unjust, while the rest of the other Kyklôpes are righteous, just people who obey the gods. This is why the earth gives them crops of its own accord.”
“When he claims that the Kyklôpes are arrogant, lawless and abnormal, how can [the poet] claim that they have good things from the gods freely? We must concede that they are “overbearing” because of the excessive size of their bodies, that they are “lawless”, because that do now use an established law but govern through their individual private interest: “each governs his own children and wife”, which is a sign of lawlessness. And Antisthenes says that only Polyphemos is unjust. For this one is even dismissive of Zeus. Therefore, the rest are just. For this reason, the earth provides to them everything of its own accord. And it is their just task not to work it. But they face violence violently, for “they attacked them” just as the giants.” “and who ruled as king of the arrogant giants” and, the fact that Phaeacians were forced to move because they were harmed by them.”
“The Kyklôpes are just except for Polyphemos. The mention of their “overbearing” character is about their size; their “lawlessness” is due to the fact that they each privately govern their wives and children. How then did they also bring grief to the Phaeacians? It is because of the lawlessness of their state.”
“Perses, put these thoughts in your mind
And heed justice, banish force altogether.
Kronos’ son assigned this right to human beings—
It is permitted for the fish, beasts and winged birds
To eat one another, since they don’t have justice.
But Kronos’ son gave humans, which is the best thing by far.
For if someone who understands argues cases publicly,
Wide-browed Zeus will grant him good fortune…”
“I once heard someone saying—and I just now remembered it—that like is most hostile to like and the good is hostile to the good. Indeed, I believe that he furnished Hesiod as a witness, since he says that “a potter rivals a potter, a singer a singer, and a beggar a beggar” and he says that this is the same by necessity with everything else, especially when something is very similar, they are filled with envy, competitiveness, and enmity. But things that are unlike one another are filled with love.”
The Odyssey is somewhat preoccupied with Telemachus’ paternity and the means by which it might be established. As mentioned in an earlier post, Aristotle suggests that children who are not like their father are monstrous. The Odyssey is also preoccupied with monstrous bodies–the giant Kikones, the deformed (morally and physically) Kyklopes, the transformed sailors, the mutilated bodies of servants–and the transformation of Odysseus’ body because of trauma at sea, age, and the needs of disguise. The threat of finding a monster at home might also be implied…
Athena signals Telemachus’ positive identity from the beginning. But the boy himself is uncertain!
Homer, Odyssey 1.207-209
“…if in fact this great child is from the same Odysseus.
For you look terribly like that man in his beautiful eyes
and his head…”
“No one knows his own origin..” and elsewhere [we find] “they claim that that man is my father” (Od.4.387.) Similarly, Euripides says “a mother is a more dear parent than a father / for she knows the child is hers but he only thinks it” and Menander says, “no one knows from what man he is born / but we all suspect or believe it.” And some claim that Telemachus says these things because he was left when he was small.”
Later in the Odyssey, Nestor likens son to father (implicitly).
“..when shining Odysseus father was preeminent in all kinds of tricks, your father, if truly you are his son. And wonder overtakes me as I look at you
For your speeches, at least, are really fine—no one would expect
A younger man to utter such suitable things.”
In Sparta, Helen notes that Telemachus looks like, well, Telemachus even though she has never seen him! Menelaos agrees. The scholia get a little frustrated.
“For I do not think that anyone looks so suitable,
Neither a man nor a woman, and wonder overtakes me as I look at him,
How this one looks like the son of great-hearted Odysseus,
Telemachus, the one that man left just born in his household
When the Achaeans left for the sake of dog-faced me
And went to Troy, raising their bold war.”
“Fair Menelaos spoke to her and answered:
‘I was just thinking the same thing, wife, which you imagined.
For these are the same kind of feet and hands,
The look of the eyes and the hair on the head as that man.”
“These sort of feet are that man’s”: For likeness in bodies especially shows through in the extremities and the gaze. And however so much grows more slowly, that much provides more precise signs of recognition over time. This is why it is said “From feet to the head.”
The threat of children not looking like fathers is central to the fall of the race of iron. But it is couched within a general social collapse. In this case, ancient scholia turn to the abstract issue. In this case, a child dissimilar to parents would be a monstrum, but in the sense of an omen or a sign of a fallen generation. From this perspective the tension latent in Telemachus’ potential dissimilarity to his father is about stability of the last generation of epic heroes. The bastard sons of Odysseus and potential infidelity of Penelope signal, perhaps, the end of the race of heroes and a premature end to heroic epic.
Hesiod, Works and Days 180–185
“Zeus will destroy this race of mortal humans
Or they will perish when they are born with temples already grey.
Then a father will not be like his children, nor children at all like parents;
A guest will not be dear to a host, a friend not to a friend
And a relative will not be dear as in years before.”
“similar to”: the similarity is clearly the commonness, the conversation, and the affection. For affection (philia) develops from similarity. Altogether this expresses tragically the oncoming evils in life following this, the distrust between children and fathers, between guests and hosts, and among friends. Friendship is the third thing mentioned. Also: cognate, companionable, hospitable.”
Later, Aristotle channels some of the same cultural assumptions from a scientific perspective. Here the monstrum (greek teras) is an indication of deformity.
Aristotle, Generation of Animals, Book 4, 767b
“These causes are also of the same. Some [offspring] are born similar to their parents while others are not. Some are similar to their father; others are like their mother, applying both to the body as a whole and to each part. Offspring are more like their parents than their ancestors and more like their ancestors than passersby.
Males are more similar to their father and females are more similar to their mother. But some are not like any of their relatives, but are still akin to human beings while others are like not at all like humans in their appearance, but rather like some monster. For whoever is not like his parents is in some way a monster because nature has in these cases wandered in some way from the essential character.”
“In Orkhomenos there is a [sanctuary] for Dionysus, but the most ancient shrine if for the graces. They honor the stones most especially and they say that they fell for Eteokles from the sky. In my time there were cult images dedicated, which are also made of stone. Near them, there is a fountain worthy of visiting. People go down to eat to bring back water.
And you will also find the treasure-house of Minyas, which is a wonder beneath no others in Greece. It has been fashioned in the following way. It was built up from stone; it has a circular shape but it directs upward to a peak that is not very sharp. They claim that the stone at the very top is the keystone for the entire construction.
And there are the tombs of Minyas and Hesiod. People say that the bones of Hesiod were regained in this way. When a wasting plague was afflicting men and animals they sent messengers to the gods. They reported that the Pythia answered to them that they must bring the bones of Hesiod back from Naupactus to Orknomenos, and that there was no other cure for them. When they asked in turn where they might find these bones in Naupactus, then again the Pythia told them that a crow would inform them. So, they say that as the representatives were disembarking in Naupactus a stone close to the road and a bird on the stone appeared to them. There they discovered Hesiod’s bones in a fold in the rock. And these elegiac lines were written on the marker:
Although wheat-wealthy Ascra was his home, when he died
The land of the horse-whipping Minyans holds Hesiod’s bones.
His glory will rise to be the greatest in Greece
When men are judged by the standard of wisdom.
“Hesiodic old age”: A proverb for people who are really old. Pindar’s epigram also conveys something like this: “Goodbye, Hesiod, you were twice young and twice you found a grave—you who provided for mankind a measure for wisdom”
Aristotle, fragments of the Constitution of the Orkhomenians
“Hesiodic Old Age: Aristotle says in his Constitution of the Athenians that Hesiod was buried twice and received the following epigram: “Goodbye, Hesiod, you were twice young and twice you found a grave—you who provided for mankind a measure for wisdom”
Aristotle the philosopher, I think rather than the one who gathered together the Robes, says in his Constitution of the Athenians that Stesichorus the lyric poet was the son of Hesiod who was born from Klymenê, the daughter of Amphiphanes and the sister of Ganuktôr, a daughter of Phêgeus (Cf. Schol in Hes. Op. 268: Philokhoros says that Stesichorus was a son of Klumenê and Hesiod). Pindar also has this inscription….
Io. Tzetzes (cf. A. P. p. 505 sqq.) prolegg. comm. in
“Plutarch says that this happened at that time when the Thespiens were driving out the inhabitants and the Orkhomenians had asked that they be saved. This is why the god tasked the Orkomenians with returning Hesiod’s remains and interring them among them. Aristotle says the same thing when he writes about the Constitution of the Orkhomenians.”