Iphigenia in Aulis

by Euripides

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Euripides's last known play, Iphigenia at Aulis, was likely written at some time between 410 BC and Euripides's death in 406 BC. The play won the first place prize at the Festival of Dionysus in Athens in 405 BC. The play was unfinished at the time of Euripides's death, and the ending of the play, particularly the messenger's speech recounting Iphigenia's miraculous escape from death, was likely added at a later time.

Like many of the ancient Greek tragic plays of the fifth century BC, Iphigenia at Aulis explores themes of the efficacy and futility of war, the nature of heroism, familial loyalty versus the common good, and the individual sin of pride (hubris) that leads to the downfall of many of the tragic heroes of these plays.

In Iphigenia at Aulis, Euripides criticizes and ridicules the patriotism and nationalism of the Greek people, especially that of their leaders, Agamemnon and his brother, Menelaus, and their pursuit of conquest and glory at all costs—even at the loss of thousands of innocent lives.

Agamemnon is portrayed by Euripides as weak, indecisive, dishonest, and cowardly. His pride drives him to agree to sacrifice the life of his own young daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the goddess Artemis, in order to obtain favorable winds to enable the becalmed Greek fleet to attack Troy.

Agamemnon's false heroism in betraying his daughter for his own pride and the glory of Greece is in direct contrast to Iphigenia's true heroism in her willingness to be sacrificed for her father and the greater good of the Greek people.

Menelaus is portrayed as duplicitous, and as complicit in Agamemnon's prideful decisions and deceptions. To assuage his own wounded ego, Menelaus rationalizes the loss of his wife, Helen (who willingly left him for Paris of Troy) as an excuse to go to war with Troy.

Through the actions of the "heroes" of the play, Euripides emphasizes the theme that war, other than a war of self-defense, is morally repugnant, and that the glory sought by the people of Greece and their leaders through war is wholly unjustifiable.

Through Iphigenia in Aulis Euripides also criticizes the unquestioning faith that the Greek people place in a goddess who demands the sacrifice of an innocent child to facilitate an indefensible war that will be fought for the sole purpose of restoring Menelaus's injured pride.

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