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      Antiquity and Classical Mythology


Iphigeneia - in progress
The Greek Vase

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The Sacrifice of Iphigeneia
(a work in progress)
Leonard Porter Studio - Paintings of Antiquity and Classical Mythol

[Slideshow: 7 images]

Leonard Porter The Sacrifice of Iphigeneia - in progress Work in progress Oil on Linen, 67 x 108 inches.
© Leonard Porter MMVIII

At the outset of the Trojan war, the Greek fleet was becalmed and the Gods decreed that their king, Agamemnon must sacrifice his daughter for a favorable wind. By some accounts, Iphigeneia went knowingly, willingly accepting her fate with a noble resolve. Above her hovers a goshawk with a nightingale in its talons, a reference to Hesiod's parable of the inescapability of destiny. The placid water seen directly behind Agamemnon and Iphigeneia alludes to their shared resolution and clarity of purpose.

A sacrificial procession approaches the altar led by Kalchas, a Trojan seer who has gone over to the Greeks. Beside him an acolyte proffers the sacrificial knife hidden in a basket of barley, per ancient custom. They are followed by two priests who wash their hands with lustral water. These two are followed by Menelaus, in armor and traveling cape, (the military imperative driving the procession forward). Two basket carriers (kanephoroi), having delivered the basket and the knife, exit to the right. Behind them, Achilles struggles with both Klytaemnestra, who urges him to save her daughter, and Odysseus who councils otherwise. He advises Achilles to contain himself and admire and emulate Iphigeneia's noble sacrifice and stoic resolve.

On the left, Agamemnon stands rigid and unyielding as two women (presumably Iphigeneia's sisters, Elektra and Chrysothemis) implore him to stop. Two wind-gods, Libos (with the stern of a ship) and Skiron (with an upside down brazier) wait in the foreground as Hermes in the upper right-hand corner instructs them to blow in the direction of Troy at the sacrifice's completion.

Employing a number of symbols and allusions to the work of Hesiod (one the earliest of Greek poets), the painting depicts the division between the ideal classical realm and the real world - particularly between the Golden, Heroic ages and the Age of Iron.

Iphi [Slideshow: 6 images]

Leonard Porter The Sacrifice of Iphigeneia - in progress Work in progress Oil on Linen, 67 x 108 inches.
© Leonard Porter MMVIII

Hesiod's description of the ages charts a slow degradation of man's state from an ideal Golden Age, through Silver, Bronze, Heroic ages to the final Iron Age (which is the present age in which we live). Traditional notions of antiquity imagine an idyllic arcadia prior to the advent of history, but with the coming of the written word and history the flawed world of our own experience emerged. The Trojan War is the first event in a world where events would be recorded and marks the decline of the direct intercession of the Gods . Yet the īGolden' age of prehistory would live on as a utopian image inspiring men to strive toward ideals unseen and unknown in this world.

Hesiod describes the circumstances of the end of the Heroic age and the beginning of the Age of Iron. Nemesis (indignation) and Aidos (Shame) depart and Zeus banishes Dike (Justice). In "The Sacrifice of Iphigeneia", Agamemnon is portrayed as Zeus doing away with his daughter Dike. Dike is one of the three Hours; the other two are Eunomia and Eirene. Together they govern the harmony of the seasons and general order (peace justice, etc.). By disrupting them, the perfect order of the golden age will be lost. Their attributes are the spring blossoms, the fruit and the seedpod. Zeus separates these sisters just as Agamemnon separates Iphigeneia from her own sisters. The two Kanephoroi on the right are Nemesis and Aidos abandoning this world. Nemesis has her attributes, a whip and a wheel preceding before her and Aidos covers her face.

Hesiod also describes the Age of Iron is as being characterized by strife, sloth and all manner of vices. Behind Nemesis and Aidos, Achilles is caught in a struggle with indecision - between the impulse to act and the notion of restraint and contemplation. His internal conflict contrasts markedly with clarity of purpose displayed by Iphigeneia and her Father. These two seem to exist in a different world, they are circumscribed by a circle on the ground and are on a higher platform. They are clothed and posed in an archaic manner, which makes them appear more ancient than everyone else. All of the other figures in the painting, in one way or another portray an unharmonious state - emotional, conflicted or governed by base motivations. On the left a woman sits with an open jar (pithos); surely this is Pandora having released all the ills into this world.

Iphi [Slideshow: 6 images]

Leonard Porter The Sacrifice of Iphigeneia - Oil Sketch 2008 Oil on Linen, 9 x 13 inches.
© Leonard Porter MMVIII

All of this might lead one to the conclusion that man's fate is one of utter degradation, further compounded by the irretrievable loss of arcadia. But look again at Pandora. With the aid of Prometheus and his torch, the two peer inside the jar. Hesiod tells us that after all the noxious furies had escaped, what remained was Hope. Fueled by the concept of classical ideals and longing for a better world, man will always strive to better this imperfect one. With Prometheus' gift of fire and the potential for progress which it implies, the Golden Age of Antiquity becomes a source of inspiration rather than a figure of lamentation.

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