Iphigenia

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The Anger of Achilles (1819)
JACQUES-LOUIS DAVID (French, 1748-1825)

Jacques-Louis David was a leading Neo-classical painter in Europe during the French Revolution and under Napoleon. After the return of the Monarchy to France in 1815, he was forced into exile in Brussels, where in 1819 he painted and exhibited The Anger of Achilles, perhaps reflecting his own anger toward the French King.

The subject is drawn from Euripides' tragedy Iphigenia in Aulis and Racine's seventeenth-century French dramatic version of the same story. Agamemnon, King of the Greeks, has just revealed to the young Achilles that his daughter Iphigenia will not be married to him as planned, but instead will be sacrificed to appease the goddess Artemis (Apollo's sister and female counterpart) and so allow the Greek fleet to set sail for Troy to begin the great war. As Iphigenia's mother, Clytemnestra, looks on, Achilles angrily draws his sword on Agamemnon.

Ultimately, it's Clytemnestra, not Achilles, who kills Agamemnon because of his sacrifice of Iphigenia.

A remarkable aspect of David's painting is how many times the story has been remade. Looking back past Racine's play and Euripides' tragedy, we can still see the original basis for David's painting in scroll 1 of the Iliad, where Achilles draws his sword on Agamemnon because of the slave girl Briseis [recall Lesson 3]. 

What's been gained in the story by the addition of non-Homeric Iphigenia and Clytemnestra? What's been lost by the deletion of Homeric Briseis and Athena?

Compare also John Flaxman's modern illustration of Achilles' anger shown above on the banner of this page.

Return to Lesson 3

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Instructor: gutchess@englishare.net 
Copyright  2001

 

READINGS for Powers of Literature
(with Lesson numbers):

1. Genesis 1
Creation Story

1. Genesis 11
Babel Story

2. Odyssey 8
Odysseus' voyage 1

3. Iliad 1-2
Achilles' anger

4. Iliad 9
Mission to Achilles

4. Peleus & Thetis
ancient sources

5. Iliad 15 ff
Death of Patroklos

6. Iliad 20 ff
Burial of Hektor

7. Odyssey 13-18
Return of Odysseus

8. Odyssey 20-24
City of Dreams

9. Life of Alexander
the Homeric king

10. Origins of writing
ancient sources

11. Plato, Euthyphro
Socrates gets busted

12. Plato, Apology
Socrates on trial

13. Plato, Crito
Socrates in jail

14. Plato, Phaedo
Socrates in heaven

15. Luke, Acts
Paul does Christ

16. Saint Francis
gospel without text

17. Chretien, The Knight of the Cart
Sire Lance's genes

18. Virgil, Aeneid
Aeneas & Dido