chapter  6
16 Pages

Priestess and polis in Euripides’ Iphigeneia in Tauris

ByLAURA MCCLURE

Introduction Euripides’ Iphigeneia in Tauris ( IT ) is the only extant tragedy to feature a priestess as its protagonist. As such, the play is deeply engaged with religion. References to formal and traditional ritual practices, such as prayer, supplication, and sacrifi ce, as well as nuptial and funerary ritual, abound. Iphigeneia in Tauris also includes three distinct aetiologies related to actual or imagined Athenian cultic practice. The fi rst explains the origins of the custom of drinking from individual cups in the Athenian festival of the Choes as an attempt to avoid Orestes’ pollution from matricide (Eur. IT 947-60). In the second, Athena instructs Orestes to found a cult at Halai, where the sacred image of Taurian Artemis will be set up in its precinct and honored with a new, nonpolluting rite of bloodshed in commemoration of the Taurian cult of human sacrifi ce (1446-61). Finally, Iphigeneia is to be installed as a priestess of Artemis at nearby Brauron and will become the subject of another cult. She will be posthumously honored with a tomb and will receive dedications of clothing for women who have died in childbirth (1462-7).