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Hero Tales

Page: 26

IPHIGENIA

After nearly ten years of preparation, the princes and warriors of Greece gathered their ships and men together at Aulis, ready to make war upon Troy. A thousand dark-hulled vessels were moored in the harbor; and a hundred thousand brave men were on board, ready to follow their leaders whithersoever they should order.

Chief of all that host was mighty Agamemnon, king of men. He was clad in flashing armor, and his mind was filled with overweening pride when he thought how high he stood among the warriors, and that his men were the goodliest and bravest of all that host.

Next to him was Menelaus, silent and discreet, by no means skilled above his fellows, and yet, by reason of his noble heart, beloved and honored by all the Greeks; and it was to avenge his wrongs that this mighty array of men and ships had been gathered together.

Odysseus came next, shrewd in counsels, earnest and active. He moved among the men and ships, inspiring all with zeal and courage.

There, also, was young Achilles, tall and handsome, and swift of foot. His long hair fell about his shoulders like a shower of gold, and his gray eyes gleamed like those of the mountain eagle. By the shore lay his trim ships—fifty in all—with thousands of gallant warriors on board.

One day it chanced that Agamemnon, while hunting, started a fine stag, and gave it a long chase among the hills and through the wooded dells, until it sought safety in a grove sacred to Artemis, the huntress queen. The proud king knew that this was a holy place, where beasts and birds might rest secure from harm; yet he cared naught for what Artemis had ordained, and with his swift arrows he slew the panting deer.

Then was the huntress queen moved with anger, and she declared that the ships of the Greeks should not sail from Aulis until the king had atoned for his crime. A great calm rested upon the sea, and not a breath of air stirred the sails at the mast-heads of the ships.

Day after day and week after week went by, and not a speck of cloud was seen in the sky above, and not a ripple on the glassy face of the deep. All the ships had been put in order, new vessels had been built, the warriors had burnished their armor and overhauled their arms a thousand times; and yet no breeze arose to waft them across the sea. And they began to murmur, and to talk bitterly against Agamemnon and the chiefs.

At last Agamemnon sent for Calchas, the soothsayer, and asked him in secret how the anger of the huntress queen might be appeased. And the soothsayer with tears and lamentations answered that in no wise could it be done save by the sacrifice to Artemis of the king's daughter, Iphigenia.

Then the king cried aloud in his grief, and declared that though Troy might stand forever, he would not do that thing; and he bade a herald go through the camp, and among the ships by the shore, and bid every man depart as he chose to his own country. But before the herald had gone from his tent, behold, his brother, Menelaus, stood before him with downcast eyes and saddest of hearts.


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