Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 678


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Iphigenia (IHF-uh-jih-NI-uh), the daughter of King Agamemnon, sister of Orestes and Electra, and a priestess of Artemis in Tauris. According to her opening monologue, Artemis took pity on her just as she was about to be sacrificed at Aulis, snatched her away from the priest’s knife, and left a deer in her place. Transported to the land of the barbarian Taurians, she became the priestess of Artemis; it is her duty to preside over the sacrificial murder of all strangers captured by the Taurians. She dislikes both her duties and the country, and her longing for Greece is one of the major themes of the play. After she has spoken the opening monologue, a herdsman brings news that two Greeks have been captured and that Iphigenia must make preparations for their sacrifice. They are Orestes, the brother Iphigenia believes dead, and his friend Pylades. After much questioning in which each is careful not to reveal his identity, brother and sister recognize each other. Orestes, seeking release from the Furies for the murder of his mother, has been ordered to bring the statue of Artemis and Tauris to Attica. Iphigenia devises a plan for escape and Thoas, the king of Tauris, accepts it: She will take Orestes, unfit for sacrifice because of his crime of matricide, and the statue, defiled by his presence, to be cleansed in the sea. The plan succeeds until a storm prevents the Greek ship from leaving the harbor. Just as Thoas is about to send soldiers to kill the Greeks, the goddess Athena appears, orders Thoas to desist from his pursuit, and instructs Iphigenia to establish a new temple to Artemis in Attica. Iphigenia will be its priestess. The characterization of Iphigenia is effective but does not reach great depths; her bitterness against those who would have sacrificed her at Aulis is easily overcome by her longing for Greece and her dislike of the barbarian sacrifices.


Orestes (oh-REHS-teez), the brother of Iphigenia. He arrives at Tauris to steal the statue of Artemis and thus gain release from the pursuit of the Furies. Their pursuit drives him to fits of temporary madness, and during one of these he is captured by the Taurians. When Iphigenia offers, before the recognition scene, to save one of the men if he will deliver a letter to Argos for her, Orestes insists that Pylades be saved. After the recognition, he follows Iphigenia’s plan of escape and Athena promises that he will be released from the Furies.


Pylades (PIHL-uh-deez), the faithful friend of Orestes and husband of Electra, sister of Iphigenia and Orestes. He is the apostle of common sense, in sharp contrast to Orestes’ restlessness. He saves Orestes from despair over the difficulty of his task when they arrive at Tauris, and he fights to defend his companion when they are attacked by the Taurians. He offers to die with Orestes rather than save himself by delivering Iphigenia’s letter; he still has hope that Apollo will save them.


Thoas (THOH-uhs), the king of Tauris. A foil to Greek cleverness, he is the simple-minded barbarian. Iphigenia has no difficulty in deceiving him, for he is convinced that Iphigenia hates all things Greek. He is consistently courteous and kind, and rather too gentle and pious to be the ruler of a people whose barbarity is so strongly emphasized.


Athena (uh-THEE-nuh), the goddess of wisdom. At the end of the play, she orders Thoas to give up his pursuit of the Greeks and to send the Chorus home. She has already asked Poseidon to still the waves. She also instructs Iphigenia in the construction of a new temple to Artemis.

The Chorus of temple maidens

The Chorus of temple maidens, exiles from Greece who long to return home. They agree to aid in Iphigenia’s escape by not revealing the plan to deceive Thoas. Athena instructs Thoas to send...

(The entire section contains 948 words.)

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Critical Essays