Iphigenia in Aulis: Section 1 notes


Ἑλένη τε – Helen’s name is given prominence by being in enjambement (running over from the previous line and placed at the head of this line)

τὰ πρῶτ᾽ – emphasises that only the wealthiest wooed her, she was so special.

δειναὶ δ᾽ ἀπειλαὶ καὶ … φόνος– an expressive poetic device called a hendiadys (one through two): two nouns are used instead of a noun and adjective. Translate as ‘dreadful threats of death’ – the Greek is literally ‘dreadful threats and death’. It expresses well the effect Helen had on these princes that they were prepared to kill each other to get her.

ἀπόρως εἶχε – was perplexing. Tyndareus has a problem. All these aggressive suitors are in his palace and he must find a solution.

δοῦναί τε μὴ δοῦναί τε – to give or not to give; a clear expression of the dilemma, repeating the infinitive.

τῆς τύχης ὅπως ἅψαιτ᾽ – how he should lay hold of fortune. What this means is how he should exploit the situation to everyone’s advantage.

The oath (ὅρκους) is very formal and powerful: it consists of joining their right hands (δεξιάς τε συμβαλεῖν) , making burnt sacrifices (δι᾽ ἐμπύρων), pouring libations (σπονδὰς καθεῖναι) – a pouring of wine onto the ground for the gods.

Features of the oath:

• Whoever (ὅτου) became the husband of the daughter of Tyndareus (Helen)
• For this man (τούτῳ) the others would join in helping him (ξυναμυνεῖν – the ξυν- prefix, together, emphasises the cooperative nature of the promised undertaking).
• If anyone took her from her home and went off and so ousted (ἀπωθοίη) the husband from his marriage (λέχους).
• They would go on an expedition (ἐπιστρατεύσειν – Greek is κἀπιστρατεύσειν which is καὶ + ἐπιστρατεύσειν) and destroy (κατασκάψειν) his city, Greek or barbarian (foreigner) alike.

The language of this complex oath is made very clear with ὅτου (of whoever) at the head of line 13 picked up by τούτῳ (for this man) at the head of line 14.