Hero Tales

Page: 30

At that moment Achilles entered. He had come in haste from the tents beside the shore, and he spoke in hurried, anxious accents.

"Behold," said he, "a great tumult has arisen in the camp; for Calchas has given out among the men that you refuse to do what Artemis has bidden, and that hence these delays and troubles have arisen. And the rude soldiers are crying out against you, and declaring that the maiden must die. When I would have stayed their anger, they took up stones to stone me—my own warriors among the rest. And now they are making ready to move upon your tent, threatening to sacrifice you also with your daughter. But I will fight for you to the utmost, and the maiden shall not die."

As he was speaking, Calchas entered, and, grasping the wrist of the pleading maiden, lifted her to her feet. She looked up, and saw his stony face and hard cold eyes; and turning again to Agamemnon, she said, "O father, the ships shall sail, for I will die for thee."

Then Achilles said to her, "Fair maiden, thou art by far the noblest and most lovely of thy sex. Fain would I save thee from this fate, even though every man in Greece be against me. Fly with me quickly to my long-oared ship, and I will carry thee safely away from this accursed place."

"Not so," answered Iphigenia: "I will give up my life for my father and this land of the Greeks, and no man shall suffer for me."

Then the pitiless priest led her through the throng of rude soldiers to the grove of Artemis, wherein an altar had been built. But Achilles and Agamemnon covered their faces with their mantles, and stayed inside the tent.

As the maiden took her place upon the altar, the king's herald stood up, and bade the warriors keep silence; and Calchas put a garland of sweet-smelling flowers about the victim's head.

"Let no man touch me," said the maiden, "for I offer my neck to the sword with right good will, that so my father may live and prosper."

In silence and great awe, the warriors stood around, while Calchas drew a sharp knife from its scabbard. But, lo! as he struck, the maiden was not there; and in her stead, a noble deer lay dying on the altar. Then the old soothsayer cried out in triumphant tones, "See, now, ye men of Greece, how the gods have provided for you a sacrifice, and saved the innocent daughter of the king!" And all the people shouted with joy; and in that self-same hour, a strong breeze came down the bay, and filled the idle sails of the waiting ships.

"To Troy! to Troy!" cried the Greeks; and every man hastened aboard his vessel.

How it was that fair Iphigenia escaped the knife; by whom she was saved, or whither she went—no one knew. Some say that Artemis carried her away to the land of the Taurians, where she had a temple and an altar; and there is a story that, long years afterward, her brother Orestes found her there, and led her back to her girlhood's home, even to Mycenae. But whether this be true or not, I know that there have been maidens as noble, as loving, as innocent as she, who have given up their lives in order to make this world a purer and happier place in which to live; and these are not dead, but live in the grateful memories of those whom they loved and saved.