(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

At Aulis, on the west coast of Euboea, part of Greece, the Greek host assembles for the invasion of Ilium. The war was declared to rescue Helen, wife of King Menelaus, after her abduction by Paris, a prince of Troy. Lack of wind, however, prevents the sailing of the great fleet.

While the ships lie becalmed, Agamemnon, commander of the Greek forces, consults Calchas, a seer. The oracle prophesies that all will go well if Iphigenia, Agamemnon’s oldest daughter, is sacrificed to the goddess Artemis. At first, Agamemnon is reluctant to see his daughter so destroyed, but Menelaus, his brother, persuades him that nothing else will move the weather-bound fleet. Agamemnon writes to Clytemnestra, his queen, and asks her to conduct Iphigenia to Aulis, his pretext being that Achilles, the outstanding warrior among the Greeks, will not embark unless he is given Iphigenia in marriage.

After dispatching the letter, Agamemnon has a change of heart; he believes that his continued popularity as coleader of the Greeks is a poor exchange for the life of his beloved daughter. In haste, he dispatches a second letter countermanding the first, but Menelaus, suspicious of his brother, intercepts the messenger and struggles with him for possession of the letter. When Agamemnon comes upon the scene, he and Menelaus exchange bitter words. Menelaus accuses his brother of being weak and foolish, and Agamemnon accuses Menelaus of supreme selfishness in urging the sacrifice of Iphigenia.

During this exchange of charge and countercharge, a messenger announces the arrival of Clytemnestra and Iphigenia in Aulis. The news plunges Agamemnon into despair; weeping, he regrets his kingship and its responsibilities. Even Menelaus is so affected that he suggests disbanding the army. Agamemnon thanks Menelaus but declares that it is too late to turn back from the course they elected to follow. Actually, Agamemnon is afraid of Calchas and Odysseus, and he believes that widespread disaffection and violence will break out in the Greek army if the sacrifice is not made. Some Chalcian...

(The entire section is 850 words.)