Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 135

After two years of preparation the Greek fleet and army assembled in the port of Aulis in Boeotia. Here Agamemnon in hunting killed a stag which was sacred to Diana, and the goddess in return visited the army with pestilence, and produced a calm which prevented the ships from leaving the port. Calchas the soothsayer thereupon announced that the wrath of the virgin goddess could only be appeased by the sacrifice of a virgin on her altar, and that none other but the daughter of the offender would be acceptable. Agamemnon, however reluctant, yielded his consent, and the maiden Iphigenia was sent for under the pretence that she was to be married to Achilles. When she was about to be sacrificed the goddess relented and snatched her away, leaving a hind in her place, and Iphigenia enveloped in a cloud was carried to Tauris, where Diana made her priestess of her temple.

Tennyson, in his Dream of Fair women, makes Iphigenia thus describe her feelings at the moment of sacrifice, the moment represented in our engraving:

  "I was cut off from hope in that sad place,
  Which yet to name my spirit loathes and fears;
  My father held his hand upon his face;
  I, blinded by my tears,

  "Still strove to speak; my voice was thick with sighs,
  As in a dream. Dimly I could descry
  The stern black-bearded kings, with wolfish eyes,
  Waiting to see me die.

  "The tall masts quivered as they lay afloat,
  The temples and the people and the shore;
  One drew a sharp knife through my tender throat
  Slowly, and nothing more."

The wind now proving fair the fleet made sail and brought the forces to the coast of Troy. The Trojans came to oppose their landing, and at the first onset Protesilaus fell by the hand of Hector. Protesilaus had left at home his wife Laodamia, who was most tenderly attached to him. When the news of his death reached her she implored the gods to be allowed to converse with him only three hours. The request was granted. Mercury led Protesilaus back to the upper world, and when he died a second time Laodamia died with him. There was a story that the nymphs panted elm trees round his grave which grew very well till they were high enough to command a view of Troy, and then withered away, while fresh branches sprang from the roots.

Wordsworth has taken the story of Protesilaus and Laodamia for the subject of a poem. It seems the oracle had declared that victory should be the lot of that party from which should fall the first victim to the war. The poet represents Protesilaus, on his brief return to earth, as relating to Laodamia the story of his fate:

  "The wished-for wind was given; I then revolved
  The oracle, upon the silent sea;
  And if no worthier led the way, resolved
  That of a thousand vessels mine should be
  The foremost prow impressing to the strand,
  Mine the first blood that tinged the Trojan sand.