Iphianassa sat by the south window of her room. She could see her two sisters down by the palace gate. Electra paced back and forth. Chrysothemis stood just inside the entrance, holding libations for their father.
Her father. Agamemnon. Their father.
Although she was too far to hear, she knew what they were saying. Electra was bitter, possessed by a boiling resentfulness, fueled by an obsession over their father’s murder and their mother’s treachery. Chrysothemis , although she haunted the palace with a cold disdainfulness, was deeply afraid. Iphianassa had a completely different point of view. After all, it was she who her mother had saved.
After a long debate Chrysothemis left Electra and went to the grove of Agamemnon’s grave.
Iphianassa loved her two sisters and dreamed of returning to the happy times of their youth; to a time when their lives were not overshadowed by the murder of their father and when their mother was just their mother and not the consort to their tyrannical great uncle, Aegisthus.
Clytemnestra entered Iphianassa’s room, walked over to stand by her, and glanced out the window.
“My dearest daughter. Why are you so sad?”
Iphianassa, tears welling in her eyes, look up at her mother.
She could find no words to answer her mother’s question. Her gaze lingered, always amazed at the softness and beauty of her mothers face, and then she looked away.
Clytemnestra put a hand on her shoulder.
“What is troubling you? It is your meddling sister? I will put a stop to her scheming soon enough. She doesn’t think I know the dark plans she devises.”
“Oh, mother, no. Please. Don’t we suffer enough?” Her heart burned with what she was unable to say.
Clytemnestra didn’t seem to hear her. She stared out the window watching Electra who still paced by the gate.
“Suffer? Who suffers? I protect you. I will always protect you. I protected you from your brutal father. I continue to protect you from your ungracious sisters. I even protect you from the Gods.”
Clytemnestra turned and looked into Iphianassa’s eyes. Iphianassa didn’t understand what she saw. Was it hate? Fear? Insanity?
“Mother. My sisters, your daughters, they don’t know. Why don’t you tell them? Why not let them know the truth of your goodness?”
“Tell them? No. We cannot tell anyone. Only you, Artemis, and I know what occurred and it must remain that way.”
“But mother, Electra doesn’t understand. What if she seeks to act on her words?”
“Electra? She cannot do anything. Nobody will help her. Certainly not Chrysothemis. She is far too comfortable with her rich living. I take good care of the both of them, even though they show no gratitude.”
Clytemnestra stepped away, crossing her arms over her chest.
“I am a good mother.” She growled.
Iphianassa shrunk back. As much as she loved her mother, she feared her.
Clytemnestra stepped closer to Iphianassa.
“Your father was a brutal man. He went to war, leaving his kingdom so he could seize back my unhappy sister who ran off with that prince from Troy. And then he returns with that wench, Cassandra, and their bastard sons.
“Dear child, do you have any idea what would have happened if he had seen you here. His rage would have been horrible. Don’t you see? I protect my children.”
Iphianassa looked at her mother, whose gaze had turned back out the window where Electra still could be seen by the gate. She thought about her mother’s words. When Agamemnon returned from Troy, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus killed him, Cassandra, and their two sons. This revenge was claimed to be for Agamemnon’s sacrifice of Iphigenia. Clytemnestra was supposedly distraught and unforgiving over that sacrifice of their eldest daughter. But it was a sacrifice demanded by the Gods. Now her mother gave a new reason. And did she not also give a confession?
“Why does Chrysothemis bring libations to fathers grave?”
“I sent her, of course.”
“After all this time, why now?”
“I shall go speak with Electra. She is becoming overly bold in Aegisthus’ absence.” Clytemnestra didn’t seem to hear Iphianassa’s question.
“Mother?” Iphianassa watched as her mother turned and left the room. A few minutes later she saw her appear by the palace gate with Electra. She watched the two of them as they verbally sparred.
She thought about the ceremony Chrysothemis would be performing over Agamemnon’s grave. She would pour honey, wine, and water into the phiale by the grave. Turning to the east she would spill it towards the west. The wine and water would quickly seep into the earth. The honey would cover the surface, glistening in the moonlight. After placing olive branches over the wet earth, she would close her eyes and say a silent prayer.
After a long silence she would walk to the edge of the grove. Nearby were some rocks which offered a view of the Argolic Gulf. She could see her watching the distant sea shrouded in fog on the eastern coast. Tears would gently flow from her dark eyes, along the creases beside her nose, and moisten her trembling lips.
For a long time Iphianassa sat by the window watching and thinking. She was about to go lie on her couch when she saw a man come from the far side of the gate. He and Electra spoke for a while and then he left.
As it was getting late, she finally went to her couch and fell asleep. She dreamed about her bother, Orestes. He had long ago been exiled. Just recently he was killed in a chariot accident at the Pythian games. She had not seen him since she was very young. She rarely dreamed of him. She didn’t even know what he looked like. In this dream he looked like Electra, but she knew it must be Orestes. He walked towards her looking proud. As he got closer she saw he held a blood-covered axe. As he got close enough to touch she saw his arms and chest were spattered with blood. She wanted to scream. She wanted to run. But she couldn’t move. He smiled at her and then spoke.
“There is only one more thing we must do to satisfy the Gods.” He grabbed her and dragged her to the grove of their father’s grave.
She woke up shaking and sweating. A chill ran through her heart.
There was a commotion outside. An attendant came to her room.
“What is happening? Why all the excitement?” Iphianassa asked.
The attendant looked to her feet.
“I am sorry to bring to you tragic news. Please do not be angry with me, but I was asked to tell you what has happened just this hour.”
“Of course I could not be angry with you. Surely the news is not about you or due to your actions, is it?”
“No, I was asleep and dreaming of a fine young farm boy when I was awoken by the noise.”
“So, please, speak, or I shall be angry if you don’t.”
“There is also good news, Iphianassa. Orestes has returned. And contrary to reports of his death, he is alive and now our king.”
“Orestes? Now our king? What is this? What has happened to my great uncle?”
“I am sorry, Orestes has acted his revenge. Your mother and the king are both dead.”
Those words hit Iphianassa like the very axe that struck her mother down. She dropped to her knees and wailed in grief.
Orestes knelt at a fountain, having just washed. The once clear water ran with brown filaments that slowly dissipated, leaving mirky, cloudy swirls. Small fish could be seen swimming away from the miasma infusing their little home.
Looking across the courtyard his eyes fell on the edge of the grove where his father was buried.
Was Agamemnon satisfied? Did his spirit walk now in peace along the banks of the Styx? Perhaps he stands awaiting Clytemnestra to be brought by Charon across the great river that divides life from death.
He looked at his hands. In one swift motion these instruments had crushed his mother and in a second swift motion opened the shell of her life, tearing out her heart to lie convulsing on the cold marble floor. Moments later, with his mothers body cloaked in disguise to appear as his own returned corpse, he spilled the life from Aegisthus.
He had no feelings. He neither cried nor celebrated. A deed was completed. A wrong was righted.
Somehow he hadn’t expected it to feel so empty. The woman who had bore him into this world he had now sent to wander the wastes of the underworld.
Why did he feel nothing?
Electra came to him with fresh garments. He dressed in silence. She was so quiet, now. He didn’t know what she could be thinking. After years of anguishing over the murder of their father, what did they have to say to each other?
As they stood in silence a woman, plainly dressed, walked through the great doorway and approached the two of them.
Electra spoke with a calm sweetness.
“Iphianassa, come celebrate with us. Our fathers spirit now rests in peace.”
Orestes had to think for a moment. Iphianassa, she was his oldest sister. He could see, though, that she was by far the most beautiful of his sisters. Iphigenia he couldn’t remember, although the legends said she was almost as beautiful as Clytemnestra and her troublesome sister, Helen.
He could see Iphianassa had been crying. Her eyes were red and her face was moist. Each of us reacts to death in a different way, he thought. He was jealous. At least she felt something.
“No wine? No feast? Is this all there is to your celebration?” Her voice was shaky and weak.
“After years of tyranny, just to feel peace is celebration enough.” Electra looked up to the star filled sky as if looking for some heavenly approval.
Iphianassa replied with a sob. Her eyes fell to the ground. Orestes thought about Clytemnestra’s heart where it had lay on the cold floor at his feet. He couldn’t touch it. But he couldn’t take his eyes off of it. Could that have been the place where she held love? Was there a chamber in that small ball of flesh that once held love for him? He looked at Iphianassa and felt a twinge of compassion.
“My dear sisters, no matter how we felt about our mothers treachery, she did bear each of us into this world. We cannot be human if we don’t feel sadness at this moment. It is a tragedy, for her life to end at the hands of her own son.”
Electra nodded her head in agreement. “Truly and honestly spoken, Orestes. We will honor our murderous mother, as good children should for their parents. The Gods will look well upon us for our compassion and duty.”
Electra then bowed slightly to both Orestes and Iphianassa. “Forgive me, but I have services to attend to. We will be less somber tomorrow in the full light of day and find our hearts lightened. Good night dear brother. Good night sweet sister.”
Orestes watched Electra leave. He had not seen his sisters in years. They were all women, full-grown and each beautiful in her own way. Not one of them had married, he realized. Why was that?
He and Iphianassa were now alone. She stood looking at him, somewhat strangely.
“You are my brother? But I do not know you. Is this what my brother looks like?”
“I am Orestes, so I must be your brother. That is, if you are Iphianassa. I admit I don’t recognize you. You are so much older, now.”
“Time has only changed my appearance. I am still just a girl who is confused by the events of this world. But you also have changed. I think not just a small boy who is now a man. You have exceeded normal humanity.” The was a sharpness in her voice.
“You are angry with me, but my actions were what the Gods demanded. Although I fear it is not enough. There is still more to be done to satisfy the Gods and correct the mistakes of our ancestors.” He smiled, to try and reassure her, but she shrank back in fear.
“Do not be afraid, Iphianassa, you are safe now. Nobody will hurt you.”
“Safe now? Was I not safe before? Your words perplex me.”
“Yes. I guess you thought you were safe. But what safety could there be for anyone living under a brutal irrational tyrant?”
Iphianassa only answered with a frown. She stepped back, as if she might run away.
Orestes stepped away from her, holding his arms out submissively.
“Ask me, dear sister, what can I say or do that will ease your fear? I hold only affection in my heart for you.”
“What I would have you do is something you cannot undo. Who cast sentence on our mother? Of what crime was she judged that deserved brutal death?”
“Why, murder was the crime. She confessed to this herself.”
“It is what everyone seems to believe, I would have to agree. Even just a few hours ago she seemed to make a confession to me. But of what, I cannot be sure.”
“There is no doubt in my mind, Iphianassa. Our mother and Aegisthus brutally murdered our father. He died an agonizing death, watching his wife and his uncle in each other’s arms, knowing both his kingdom and his family were stolen from him by his own blood. His only hope in his last breadth was that one day someone would avenge that treachery. It was my duty, as his son, to right this wrong.”
“Do you not wonder, dear brother, what passion led our mother to such a desperate deed? Why would she have felt his murder was the only way to bring peace? Was it just a mothers revenge or could it have been something more?”
“A reason for murder is not a justification. The Gods did not demand his death, they despised it. Her ideas were from unstable and deceitful thinking. The sacrifice of Iphigenia opened up a madness in her mind. From that insanity slowly burned the passion for an unjust revenge.”
“What truths do we really know in this story? Was our mother insane? How do we judge a persons state of mind without knowing all that is motivating their actions? And what of this sacrifice? What really happened?” Iphianassa replied.
“I do not understand what you suggest. The facts that we know, that are plainly before us, are simple. For whatever reasons Clytemnestra had formed in her mind, she felt that the only action to take was to commit the crime of murder.”
“And what of a mothers love? Is it murder when a mother protects her children from being torn apart by wolves? Is there any way to escape the wrath of a tyrant when his will has been thwarted?”
“Iphianassa, we cannot know all that motivated our mother, whether from logic or from illness
of her mind. Whatever the truth, while we may never fully know it, we now have peace. Let us rest and look to the future. You are a beautiful woman. I will see you get a rich husband and you will yourself become a queen.”
Iphianassa looked toward the grove of their father’s grave. The two of them stood in silence for a few moments and then quietly Orestes left her to be alone.
Orestes stood inside the palace gates. Morning twilight flooded the courtyard in orange and red. In this light his skin looked like freshly polished bronze.
Chrysothemis walked from the palace, came and stood by him.
Orestes looked at his sister. Her face was a sculpture in grief. The years had carved away the softness of youthful beauty. She was still young, but age comes early to those who cannot find happiness.
“I had a dream last night.” She spoke softly.
“Dreams that you remember after you wake are messages from the gods.” He spoke the saying almost without thinking.
“Iphianassa has left us. She has gone to be with the Huntress.”
“Has she truly left?”
“I checked her rooms. She is gone.”
“I will go find her. Surely she is just grief stricken and will return.”
“You cannot find her. She is with Artemis. And, . . . she . . .” Chrysothemis paused.
“With Artemis? Her temple is far to the north. I can catch up with her and she will come back.”
“Orestes, she is not going to the temple. She is with the Huntress. She is immortal.”
Orestes just looked at Chrysothemis, an arrogant grin of disbelief on his face.
Chrysothemis stepped just past the palace gate, looking over towards the grove.
“I saw her standing over fathers grave. She was crying. Her tears fell to the earth, moistening the ground. Then she spoke to him.
“’Father, I should have died all those years ago when you were stranded at Aulis. It would have been better if I had. It was unfortunate for all that the Huntress is also the protector of the innocent.’
“I saw Iphianassa then strip off her chiton and stand naked in the grove. She held a knife that she then raised to her breast.
“’So many times I have thought about finishing the deed undone that day on Aulis. So many times I have asked whether my blood was the only libation that would break the curse that has haunted our family. If there is a meaning to ones life, then it would seem mine has none other than to be the gift the gods demanded. What future is there when I see only a life full of anguish and regret?’
“She held the dagger as if to thrust it into her heart. At that moment there was a voice from the edge of the grove.
“’What right have you to take what I once saved?’
“Iphianassa paused, lowering the blade, and replied.
“’Whoever you are, leave me be. I have a sacrifice to complete. The gods will be angry if you interfere with these rites.’
“From the edge of the grove, where the palace woods lead to the southern vineyards, stepped the Huntress. She was tall and strong, yet beautiful beyond measure. Over her shoulder hung a long strong bow and a quiver of arrows. Standing next to her was a fierce hunting dog.
“’You are a dutiful daughter. Although you were young and deeply afraid, you would have let your father take your life long ago, to free him so he could continue on Hera and Athena’s task. And you were again prepared for him to take your life upon his return from war. You did not flee or hide. But you blamed yourself for your fathers death. And now, again, you feel duty bound to wash the curse of Pelops from your family with your virgin blood. But this is Orestes task. Only he can free your descendants from that curse and only through great suffering.
“’I saved you at Aulis. Agamemnon proved his humility by bringing you to Aulis and preparing for the sacrifice. But he attempted various deceptions. His arrogance led him to his final end. You see, you were always the one with a true heart, and you have always proved your worth.‘
“Artemis held out her hand, beckoning Iphianassa to come with her.
“’Come, Iphigenia, it is time to join me. Your life will now have a new purpose, to help the innocent and to protect the Earth.’
“They both then disappeared into the woods. Only the dog lingered for a moment at the edge of the grove.”
The morning sun had risen and was warming the air. Orestes skin looked pale washed in the full light. Together he and Chrysothemis walked over to the grove. On the ground by Agamemnon’s grave was Iphianassa’s chiton.