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The Death of Iphigenia
I closed my eyes and felt the warmth of the sun on my face. I breathed deeply, knowing that each breath of air brought me ever closer to my last. My mother’s weeping pierced my rapidly pumping heart. Soon, the soldiers would come to take me away, their boredom replaced by blood lust. Even little Orestes seemed to grasp the inescapable reality of my rapidly approaching death. How had things come to this? I wondered. What cruel twist of fate had brought me here to die? I was innocent, and they would cut my throat in order to punish an evil woman. Yes, I thought bitterly, I would die for Helen’s sake, the adulteress, the seductress, the traitor. Even now, I could hear the steady feet of marching soldiers, contrasting sharply with the frantic beating of my heart. I had nowhere to run, no mercy to turn to, I could only stand and wait.
Part of me wanted to weep, like my mother. My very soul was crying with the heartbreak of mortality, but part of me knew that if I were to do this, to die, I must be strong. I couldn’t change the fact that any minute I would be sacrificed so that the winds would blow, and carry the soldiers to Troy. But I would not have my death be remembered as that of a girl who was dragged in tears to the altar. I was resolved that if I could not live, I would die an honorable death, sacrificing myself so the Argive fleet could conquer Troy. Death would be my one victory. The soldiers had arrived. I could see them swarming down the hillside, chanting, Odysseus and Menelaus at their head. An entire army had come, cheering for my sacrifice, who was I to deny them? When they reached us the chanting stopped. They surrounded our enclosure and fell silent.
I stood up straight and dried my tears. Every part of my being was now screaming against my decision, but the calm of acceptance had entered my heart, and I was determined to do the only thing that I could: To die with honor and with courage. I hardened my resolve and tried to keep my voice from shaking. “Bring me my bridal veil.” I commanded with as much quiet composure as I could muster. The veil was brought.
Mother began to shake. Her name was Clytemnestra, and I loved her dearly. Her long hair was as black as a raven’s wing, and it framed a face that was graceful, dignified, and proud. But what I loved most about my mother’s appearance were her eyes. They were dark, liquid pools that sparkled with little flecks of gold, which softened beautifully when she was glad and flashed dangerously when she was angered. Now her eyes were only black, and as deep as despair itself.
I had always known her to be so composed and dignified and brave, but now she openly wept for my loss. I wanted to cringe at her tears. They were so unfamiliar to me, so different from the Mother that I knew. But who could blame her for her anguish? What loving mother can stand by and watch her thirteen year old daughter be slaughtered in the name of glory? Watching her sadness made me want to cry all over again, but instead I held back tears of my own and comforted her as best as I could.
“Mother, a moment from now I will die for my country, I cannot change that. But only I can decide how I will die, and I have decided to die with honor and with grace. I give my life to Greece. Death will be my marriage, my life, my one victory.” My mother stroked my face. “And what shall I tell your sister, when I arrive in Argos?” she asked, voice shaking, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Tell her that I died with honor, that I loved her. One day we shall meet in the Isles of the Blessed.” My voice cracked at the thought of Elektra in Argos, wishing that I could have said a better goodbye.
“Mother, I need you to help me. I need you to help me be strong.” She turned, bravely then, even though she shook, and held me as she always had.
“Mother,” I whispered. “Enough blood will be shed for Helen’s sake. Don’t kill Father in my name. He should not die because the gods chose me for the sacrifice. I forgive him, and so should you. And I love him. I love him more than he knows. He is my Father.”
“So young and yet so wise. So brave.”
“Will you do something else for me?”
“Don’t hide your beauty behind black robes. Don’t cut off your beautiful hair, I love it so. Mother, do not mourn for me. There is enough sadness in this world. Enough pain, enough war. If I die today it is because the gods willed it so.”
“The gods are cruel.”
“ The gods keep their motives to themselves it is said.”
I knelt, then, and hugged little Orestes. “Orestes, you must think of me and my sacrifice when you become king, you are too young to understand yet. Too young to understand how much I love you. Grow up to be a king that is kind and wise, and above all, be a king who worships the gods and has compassion for his people.” I could see the tears begin to water in his young eyes, and looked away. “Teach him to be brave, Mother. Teach him to be strong.”
My attendants came, holding aloft the bridal veil to my mother, that she could place it on my head. She did so, with shaking hands, and then pulled me into a tearful and solemn embrace.
“I will come with you.” She said.
“No mother, you must stay, I beg of you.”
“But at the very least let me carry your veil.” She pleaded.
“Stay. It is better that I go alone. For us both.” And I began to walk towards the altar. And the soldiers parted their ranks to let me pass. No longer did cheers of victory resonate among them, they were silent, as silent as death. My mother stepped out in front of me and wrapped her arms about me.
“Goodbye, my Iphigenia.” Her hand slipped into mine. As I began to walk away my fingers slid through hers like grains of sand. I forced myself to not look back.
And I continued down the path flanked by so many soldiers, the altar looming ever closer with each step I took. I was afraid. Would it hurt to die? Artemis, I prayed. Lend me your courage. Just when I felt I could go no further, my father, Agamemnon, took my hand and led me to the place where I was to be sacrificed. Calchas, the priest of Artemis, guided me up the steps to a slab of rock raised above the rest, a black obsidian knife in hand. Then the army gathered around it, chanting again. I could see my father’s anguished face among the generals; I squared my shoulders and held my head high, as my mother had taught me. I knelt on the cool stone as Calchas raised the obsidian blade above my head. I watched as Father turned away, and shut my eyes tight. I could almost feel the wind blowing against my skin and through my hair, whipping the folds of my chiton about me. “For Greece,” I shouted above the chanting army. “And for Glory!” And the knife fell...