Iphigenia

When I was a kid I became fascinated with Greek mythology. I mean who wouldn’t get swept up in all those great stories. I loved them. I read all the greats – Edith Hamilton, Robert Graves, etc. Some of my favorites were the ones surrounding the Trojan War. There were so many subplots and off-shoot stories. Kind of like a hit tv show today. I’ve read a lot of history about the north western part of Asia Minor. It seems that much of what we read in mythology is based on a real war there about 3000 years ago. Ilium came from Wilusa, which was the name of a large city in the area. Hittite texts mention it and kings like Pariamarados, Aleksandos and Urpalla, a son of Hattusillis. Even the bible mentions Pares.

            Helen was said to be the most beautiful woman in the world. But the myths rumor she may have had a child before she married or more likely was forced to marry Menelaus. The child, Iphigenia, was brought up by Clytemnestra but some myths say she was Helen’s daughter. I decided to take this idea and run with it. This is my result.

Iphigenia

            My brother is a fool. More than a fool, he is likely to be the death of us all. I told Father that he was too young and untried to be sent out as an ambassador. He has no judgment, no thought for tomorrow. Only the moment’s pleasure. He is willingly led wherever his prick wants to go. And it has led us into serious trouble.

            Although I had successfully kept Father from making a rash decision for a time, it was while I was visiting the king of Cilicia that Paris made his move. I returned to find that he had already taken ship to exchange greetings with the new Achaean rulers of Sparta and Mycenae. I railed at Father for this, more so than most rulers would allow, but he just sat there on his throne pouting like a truculent child. But he was besotted with Paris and could deny him nothing. The Council should have blocked such a blunder, but our brother Deiphobus conspired with him and kept them otherwise engaged while Paris convinced Father. I later accosted Deiphobus about why he had done such an outrageous thing. He simply said the fact that Paris wanted it and I didn’t was enough. Of all my brothers, he has the blackest heart. When I warned him of the danger he was playing with he accused me of being a naysayer and false prophet of doom like our sister Cassandra.

            I had originally asked to be sent on the mission to Sparta since I was acquainted with the royal family. I had fostered for two years in Queen Leda’s court as a young man. Father felt I was too emotionally involved, especially seeing as how the queen, her consort and two sons-in-law had been murdered by the Achaean usurpers. I had been good friends with Princess Clytemnestra’s husband, Broteas.

            I feel I was the only one who wasn’t surprised when Achaean envoys arrived shortly after my return seeking Paris, the Spartan queen and a treasure of gold and jewelry. They did not believe Father when he protested innocence of any knowledge of unlawful acts by his son. He said Paris was an honorable man and was offended that they would come to his court claiming otherwise. Getting no satisfaction the envoys sent messages back to their masters, but remained in court knowing Paris would eventually return. They were correct.

            Now he has compounded his crimes by bringing his stolen queen here, as if daring the Achaeans to come and take her back. He boldly sailed into our harbor, rolled off the ship in his gilded chariot and headed straight for the palace. He was followed more slowly by a curtained palanquin. There was considerable public buzz as to who might be within the conveyance. The general public was not yet aware of the claims of the envoys.

            When Paris escorted the queen into Father’s throne room total silence descended. Everyone was rapt at her sheer beauty. I felt as if the breath were knocked out of me. At over thirty years of age, more than twelve years since I had last seen her, she was as lovely as I remembered. Perhaps even more so.

            Helen, the Queen of Sparta, dazzled the room, wearing a simple white gown, and arrayed in all her royal jewelry. She had knelt before Father and then grasped his knees, requesting asylum. That was our doom. Father could not refuse sanctuary to another royal. And I was sure the Achaeans would not stop until they had her back.

***

            More than a week after they had arrived, I came upon the queen one afternoon. She was sitting in a small courtyard accessed only by the royal apartments. She was sitting on a cushion on a stone bench with a boy at her feet. He was plucking a lyre and singing a love ballad for her. I approached slowly not wanting to startle them. Helen noticed me.

            “Good afternoon, Lord Hector,” she said softly without turning toward me. “Niko, leave us.” The boy scampered away.

            “‘Lord Hector’?” I asked. “Is that how it is to be?”

            “I am not sure I know what you mean,” she said.

            “As close as we have been. What we’ve been to each other. You sit there and speak to me with such formality?”

            “Hector. Is that better? And dear Hector, what we were or had is in the past. It was another world. There is nothing and can be nothing between us now. I am the queen. I must do what I can for my people. I must have a warlord.”

            “Nothing between us? How can you say that? Did it mean nothing to you? Did I mean nothing to you?” This was not the avenue I meant to pursue. She was an adulterous wife. Her continued presence placed us all in danger. Still my tongue betrayed me by being ruled by my wounded pride.

            “Hector. Lord Hector. We could be nothing to each other. We had no future. We both knew it but were young and rebellious. You cannot be my warlord. Your future is in Troy.” I knew all this but my stubborn heart would not relent.

            “But, Paris? He’s only a boy. You are almost old enough to be his mother.” I couldn’t have spoken more ill-conceived words.

            “Don’t speak to me of age,” she hissed icily. “I am still beautiful. It is my only weapon and I use it as I must. Yes, Paris is young. But he is more of a man than his brother. His brother who sat idly by while my realm was overwhelmed by barbarians. While my family was murdered. His brother who had pledged his solemn oath to aid me if I were ever in need. Paris is honoring the debt you abandoned.”

            “Don’t say that Helen. That’s not the way it was. I am bound by my father. I cannot mobilize forces and go fight overseas without his permission and the permission of the Council. As a queen, you know that.”

            “I know that you, you and Urpalla and Merneptah and Piya all abandoned me. You all swore to support me. And when the barbarians poured in not a one of you came to my aid. I was left defenseless.”

            “What would you have had me do?”

            “You should only promise what you can deliver. As a prince, you should know that,” she turned my words back against me.

            “And why speak to me of what we had,” she continued. “Paris tells me you are married now.”  It’s true. Part of my mission to Cilicia was to bring back my bride, the king’s daughter.

            “That is a royal match. I feel nothing for her. You were the one who always set my heart aflame. I may be damned for coveting my brother’s wife, but I cannot help it.”

            “And I cannot be untrue to Paris. He is my consort now. He must be the one to help me regain my homeland. I must say, I wasn’t surprised that Piya never responded. That Scythian was always a pirate at heart. And Merneptah cannot be uprooted from his native land. Transplanted Egyptians seem to just wither away. And he may be Pharaoh yet. But I had hopes of you and Urpalla. Especially Prince Urpalla. With the might of the Hittite Empire behind us, we could have swept the field. And as a younger son, he could have been my consort. I told him as much.”

            “The Hittites are in a time of eclipse. They are fighting the Mitanni and the barbarian Kaskans. The king must have determined that he could not spare his son and troops. I also hear some of your Achaeans have turned pirate and are fighting at Miletus. That’s just a third front the Hittites are having to defend.”

            “I care not who else is being attacked. I must have troops to defend my title. I am sovereign of Sparta, not that upstart barbarian. Do you even know what they did to us? Without enough soldiers my mother was required to capitulate to avoid a blood bath. Menelaus and Agamemnon were merciless. The consort Tyndareus, the only father I have ever known, was brutally executed right before my mother’s eyes. I can still hear her screams in my nightmares. When she refused to cooperate sufficiently, Menelaus himself ran her through with his sword. I held her in my arms as her life’s blood poured from her body. I have never known such hate as I hold for that dog. They also seized Clytemnestra and murdered her husband, Broteas. I remember you and he were great friends when you were at Sparta. Did none of this move you to action? Do you have no heart?”

            “Helen, I told you…”

            “And Agamemnon ruthlessly took Clytemnestra as his wife, giving her no time to grieve the loss of her husband. He also killed her little son, just a toddler. What kind of barbarian kills innocent children? Thankfully, Iphigenia was spared.”

            “Iphigenia?”

            “Clytemnestra’s daughter. She’s just now flowering into womanhood.”

            “I remember Clytemnestra was a great beauty, like you. I imagine her daughter follows the mother,” I said hoping to change the subject. Helen would not be redirected.

            “The worst was when Menelaus made me his wife. He proclaimed himself king of Sparta and made me his chattel. No matter that he married me. Every time he came to my bed it was rape. He is a brutal, brutal man. Not gentle as you were.” I visibly shuddered at the thought of delicate Helen in the hands of such a barbaric monster.

            “Paris has promised to build an army and throw the Achaeans out of Sparta forever. I will take my rightful place as ruler of my queendom, with Paris at my side. And in due time, Iphigenia will succeed me.”

            “Clytemnestra’s daughter? Surely you will have your own. Has Menelaus not gotten you with child?”

            “Pah. The girlchild Hermione? She is an ungainly creature, taking after her father. No half-barbarian will ever rule Sparta. Iphigenia is thrice royal.”

            “But Broteas was of northern barbarian stock.”

            “Oh Hector, you were always so slow to put things together. Iphigenia is my daughter. I have hidden her with Clytemnestra for her own protection. I will reveal her when I retake my throne. Even her name is prophetic. It means mother of a new race. She is the best of what this world has. Spartan, Trojan and Hittite. As I said, thrice royal.”

            My head was swirling. I didn’t understand.  “Trojan? Hittite?”

            “Your mother is a Hittite princess, no? Remember I said Iphigenia is just coming into womanhood. She has just passed twelve years.”

            “That’s when I was leaving Sparta. You mean she…you…we?”

            “Yes, dear Hector. You spoke of what we had. She is the expression of that. Our daughter will build a new dynasty that will be like none have ever seen. I feel sure of it.”

***

            My sister is no fool. Many men have sought to bend her to their will. But like the sapling that sways in the wind, she is unbroken. She knows how to play the long game. She bides her time and when the moment is right, strikes like a serpent.

            As young girls we were the beautiful princesses. Oh, how the men danced around us, vying for our favor. Yes, men are all alike; after one thing. All the attention and flattery was designed to one end. To encourage us to lift our skirts and give them control of our bodies.

            Mother brought the Hittite prince Urpalla to foster in our court. Mating him with Helen would have been a brilliant match. With the unparalleled might of the Hittite Empire behind us, Sparta would be forever secure. Unfortunately, Helen had other ideas. She was a girl and dazzled by the beauty of Hector. He was a handsome lad, sure enough. But Helen could not be his mate. Hector, as heir to Priam, was destined to remain in Troy. Helen, as Queen of Sparta had her duties here.

            And all the boys were in love with her, even my Broteas. Even though I know men find me beautiful, she was simply dazzling. She required of her suitors one oath. If she were ever in peril, they would come to her aid. Urpalla and Hector eagerly agreed, each hoping to earn a place in her bed. Merneptah agreed simply because the man he loved above all others, Urpalla, had agreed. The same for Piya. He esteemed Hector as the best man he had ever known and would follow him anywhere.

            It is sad that when that time came, when the barbarians came flooding in, none of her sworn protectors was to be seen. No one heeded our frantic pleas. To prevent the senseless slaughter of our people mother surrendered. I remember that horrific day. I was so frightened. We sat in the megaron waiting the coming of the victors. Mother sat upon her throne with the great bronze sword of state across her lap, ready to be laid at Menelaus and Agamemnon’s feet. Tyndareus stood stoicly at her side. He knew his life was forfeit. Mother feared he would be tortured and urged him to fall on his sword, but he refused. He said if he denied Menelaus the pleasure of killing him, he feared what Menelaus might do to Mother. No more noble man than Tyndareus ever walked this earth. Helen, Timandra and I sat on smaller seats on the other side of Mother. My Broteas stood behind me and Timandra’s husband behind her. I remember the slap, slap sound of the leather sandals as they approached our room. My heart raced and my breath came in short gasps. They stormed into the room, rudely dressed, unkempt, the epitome of barbarian. Mother stood and took a few steps forward, knelt and held up the sword horizontally in the sign of surrender. The broader of the two men who appeared to be leaders strode forward and whipped the sword from Mother’s hands, swishing it around as if testing it for battle. Then he looked down at Mother. He grabbed her by the chin forcing her to look up at him. Tyndareus went stiff but didn’t move.

            “So what do you think, brother,” he said to the man beside him. I later learned this was Menelaus and his brother, Agamemnon.

            “A bit old, no good in bed I’d say.”

            “Oh, I don’t know. She shows signs that she was pretty in her day. The old girl might know a trick or two. Maybe I’ll make her my concubine. That will make me king of Sparta. And give me access to these three lovelies sitting beside the throne. Yes, indeed.” He roughly pushed Mother aside and stomped his way toward us. He yanked Helen up off her throne and pressed her into himself.

            “Yes, I think I’ll take this one.” He roughly kissed her. This was more than Tyndareus could take. He moved toward Menelaus, but the Achaean was quick and had the bronze sword of state pointed at Tyndareus’ chest before he could touch him. He dropped Helen and moved toward Tyndareus forcing him to back away.

            “Do you have a problem with me, boy?” Menelaus sneered. He continued forcing Tyndareus to back away. I could see his eyes. There was a murderous gleam in them that spoke to me of insanity.

            “Any man who would throw down his sword is no man. What are you, the palace catamite? You are nothing but a coward and deserve a coward’s death.” With that he thrust his sword into Tyndareus’ belly.

            “No!” Mother screamed and tried to dash toward him, but Agamemnon caught hold of her and held her fast. Tyndareus collapsed to the bright tile floor, his blood smearing over the yellow and green designs.  He clasped one hand over the wound but blood flowed through his fingers. He used the other hand to prop himself up. His face twisted in pain. We watched aghast as Mother loudly sobbed and Tyndareus slowly died. Sneering, Menelaus bent down and wiped the bronze sword clean on Tyndareus’ tunic. We were all then roughly seized and herded out of the room. I never saw my dear Broteas again. Days later Agamemnon informed me that he had been executed along with our son Pelops. This news ripped a scream from my throat and tore a hole in my heart. My darling boy was only four years old. How could they murder an innocent child? He also informed me that I was now his wife. He can call it marriage, but it was nothing but brutal rape.

            But now the tide is turning. When Paris appeared Helen devised a new plan. If our sworn protectors would not come to us, we would take the battle to them. She knew that if she eloped with the treasury that Menelaus would have to come after her or become a laughing stock. He had no hope of taking Troy. All the Achaean armies together could not take Troy. Even if they could, Troy is backed by the Hittite Empire. Once Menelaus has destroyed his army on the plain of Troy, Paris and Helen will pursue him back to Sparta. She has vowed to hang his head over the gate to the city.

            Even now the various warlords are meeting in Aulis, massing for their attack. Agamemnon has chosen an inopportune time to mar our plan. He has requested I send my daughter Iphigenia to Aulis. He has arranged for her to wed Prince Achilles of Macedonia. He wishes to wed the girl he thinks is my daughter to some upstart barbarian princeling. I’ll not have it. But before becoming too concerned I discussed it with our royal sibyl. She eased my mind by saying Achilles is fated to die at Troy. I will instruct Iphigenia in how to take an herbal tonic to prevent conception until Achilles has sailed to Troy. She will be prepared for a proper marriage once we retake our homeland. With a light heart, she and I set off for Aulis.  

***

            My brother is a fool. He thinks he is in love with Clytemnestra. Bah! Love is a concept for women and young boys just discovering the pleasures of their bodies. A man’s lust changes with time and so do the women who please him. No man must be shackled to some woman after his fancy for her is gone. Promises made in the heat of desire may be dismissed once the bloom is past. Men lust after their concubines and mistresses. They use them and then cast them off when they no longer desire them. Wives are for political purposes. If they are comely, as with Helen, so much the better. But Agamemnon has always been weak. And Clytemnestra leads him around by his prick like a lovesick puppy. He can’t even see how she manipulates him. He believes that Iphigenia is her daughter. I have long since uncovered the information revealing her true identity. And Helen has some silly dream of removing me from my throne and replacing me with a mere slip of a girl. It is time I put this out of her mind. Helen must be brought to heel and take her place to sit silently by my throne and please me in my bed as long as I wish. It is a wife’s duty.

            To put my plan into motion I sent a delicately wrought golden tripod to Calchas once we were established at Aulis and all was prepared. A freak storm was delaying our activities. There was murmuring that the gods were not in support of our endeavor. Such talk needed to be checked. The priest was the one to do it.

 I was not surprised when he called upon me the next evening.

            “The temple of Apollo thanks you for your generous gift, my lord. The house of Atreus is well known for the favor the god shines upon them,” he said, quite pompously as if orating before a crowd.

            “The god has indeed shown us favor. I owe him my success in war. I am a very wealthy king and nothing is too good for my god and his priest,” I placed a slight emphasis on the “and”. “You are trying to serve one of the greatest Olympians here from a rude tent. Let me provide a house so you may be comfortable in this wet and cold climate. I have my men working on it already.”

            “You are too gracious, my lord,” he exclaimed.

            “As I said, nothing is too good. As with the immortals, those who catch my favor prosper.” By this point he was well aware that I desired something from him.

            “The temple, as always, will represent the house of Atreus before the face of Apollo.”

            “I fear we have injured the god in his guise of the sun. Phoebus has hidden his face from us for days now and the men grow restless. I fear we have sinned and must root it out.”

            “I will slaughter a lamb this very night and read the auguries. If Apollo is angry perhaps he will enlighten us. Do you know if you or the other kings have done anything impious?”

            “Yes, I believe so, though it grieves me to admit it. My beloved brother, Agamemnon, was hunting with his men some days ago. It was reported to me that he may have compared his hunting skill to that of Artemis herself. We know that she is jealous of her skill. Remember how she punished Orion. And she is sister to Phoebus Apollo. I fear the auguries will reveal this,” I said with sorrow in my voice.

            “Dear lord, I will intercede with Apollo. He will hear my voice. I will read the auguries and he will tell me what he and Artemis desire us to do.”

            “Yes, do that. But please do it privately. I don’t want to make the men uneasy until we know what we must do.”

            “Of course, my lord. I will be discreet.” He bowed himself out of my tent. Now I only needed to wait.

            I found Calchas begging admission to my tent early the next morning.

            “My lord, it was as you had surmised. Apollo is affronted for his beloved sister that your brother has upset her so. The auguries leave no doubt. You must definitely have a close connection to the gods to be able to discern that without divination. I am most impressed.”

            “Well done, my good priest. Now, how do we bring ourselves back into their good graces?” Calchas searched my face as if trying to divine the answer there. Seeing no clues he began carefully.

            “In such cases as these, the god needs propitiation. No holocausts of oxen but only true sacrifice will appease an angry deity. Perhaps a treasure of great value given to the temple for the use of the gods.” I could see Calchas’ greed starting to creep out.

            “But Agamemnon is nearly as wealthy as me. No treasure of gold and jewels will cause him sacrifice. I would think Artemis wants him to feel pain to assure her he is remorseful. I have an idea. Perhaps as he has taken a stag which is a child of Artemis, she wants a child of his. He has a daughter.”

            “His daughter, my lord?”

            “Yes, Iphigenia. Actually his step-daughter. Perhaps Artemis wishes to take what Agamemnon loves.”

            “Yes. A royal princess would be a fine addition to the nunnery of Artemis. I can send immediately for the abbess in Thebes to come take her in hand. I assume you would want the exchange here, so Lord Agamemnon can participate in the rite.” I have to admit Calchas was covering his disappointment rather well. I will have to reward that.

            “No, I think you misunderstand me, my priest. Having his daughter put away in service to the gods would not give Agamemnon any lasting pain. I imagine Artemis wishes the ultimate sacrifice. Remember she is a vicious, bloody goddess, reveling in rituals of pain, blood and gore. Perhaps this is what she wants. Hmm, my priest?” Calchas was speechless for a few moments. Human sacrifice was rare in modern times.

            “For such a momentous sacrifice I must consult more auguries. This is not a step to be taken lightly. I presume the daughter is a virgin?” At my nod he continued, “Then that will be powerful magic, sure to appease such elemental deities as the children of Leto.”

            “I’m sure you will find an answer, my good priest. And I feel guilty consuming all your time on this. I’ll have my man bring by a gift this afternoon to compensate you.”

            “No need, my lord. Service to my king and my god is enough.” Calchas knew the banter.

            “Nonsense, it will be done today. Now, off with you.”

            Calchas bowed himself out. No doubt all of whatever auguries he came up with would unanimously require the sacrifice of Iphigenia to appease Artemis. Yes. Calchas deserves a fitting gift. Perhaps a cup of gold.

            Calchas and I sprung it upon Agamemnon in front of all the kings. Cachas first determined for us that Apollo denied his face on behalf of his sister. The elements of the weather would be against us until she was appeased. More auguries performed before the kings revealed further that the only atonement acceptable was the sacrifice of a virgin. There was muttering among the kings as this was an ancient practice, in fact it had been banned in some places. Once all the kings were convinced, Calchas masterfully developed the myth of Agamemnon’s blasphemy and duty to provide a daughter. I knew Agamemnon would offer up Iphigenia over his blood daughter Electra. He acquiesced before the kings. But he railed at me later. He said I should have worked this out in private with him, that we could have found another child besides his own daughter.

            “The goddess wants what the goddess wants, my brother. Do not compound your blasphemy.”

            Under my direction Agamemnon sent a message to Clytemnestra that she and Iphigenia should attend him in Aulis. He said he had contracted a marriage for her with the young prince Achilles. The boy was an untried warrior from a backward region, but still it was a royal match.

            Agamemnon was a further fool to think I would not suspect his duplicity. My men captured his secret messenger with instructions for his wife that the marriage was a ruse and she should flee with the children to Egypt. He will have to pay for his disloyalty. Yes, he will be the one we require to slice open Iphigenia’s neck. I will teach him who is the better brother and rid Helen of her delusions in one bloody act. This will establish me for once and all as the preeminent Achaean king. And taking Troy will make me the richest king in the world. Who knows where my fate may then lead me. Perhaps to destroy the Hittites. Or to place the double crown of Pharaoh upon my head. There are wars to be fought, women to be taken and thrones to be seized. But first to place a chain of gold around Calchas’ neck. He has been loyal and the collar will make him forever my dog.

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