Iphigenia and Agamemnon
Eleanor is compared to the mythological figure Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon, who is sacrificed to pacify the goddess Artemis so that her father’s ships, held at Aulis by a contrary wind, may set sail to Troy. This mythological comparison is maintained for the entire chapter. Eleanor is being compared to Iphigenia because she feels she will have to make a great sacrifice for her father’s happiness. Of course, unlike Agamemnon, Mr. Harding did not ask his daughter to sacrifice in any way. Furthermore, Eleanor is not being called upon to give up her life, but rather her love, Mr. Bold, and largely only because she feels the sacrifice is necessary. By setting up such an exaggerated comparison, Trollope makes Eleanor a somewhat humorous character in her dramatic view of herself and her situation. [JM 2005; rev. JE & RR 2014]
Sources: Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis.
Eleanor is contrasted with a Classic bust
Trollope goes into detail about the features of Classical beauty, seemingly disparaging Eleanor slightly in that she does not possess them, and then describing how Eleanor, through her favorable and lively personality, actually surpasses statuesque beauty. [JM 2005]
The contrast between Eleanor and a bust may also bring to mind the story of Pygmalion. In Ovid’s account, the sculptor Pygmalion falls in love with a maiden statue of his own creation, and the statue is then brought to life by Venus. The statue’s beauty comes from those qualities which Eleanor lacks, and even when the statue is brought to life, she is still rather passive, whereas Eleanor’s beauty comes from her more active liveliness. The statue’s passivity contrasts nicely with the active role which Eleanor assumes in this chapter. [BL 2013]
Source: Ovid, Metamorphoses 10.243-297.
Mary Bold strives in conversation to connect herself, her brother, and Eleanor “as though they three were joined in some close peculiar bond together; as though they were in future always to wish together, contrive together, and act together.” English “peculiar” is related to Latin pecus, “herd” and its use here etymologically underscores Mary’s efforts to make the trio into a familial group. [RR 2014]
“The gods had heard her prayer, granted her request, and were they not to have their promised sacrifice?” The comparison with Iphigenia is drawn explicitly, but unlike tragic Iphigenia, Eleanor will not be called upon to make the sacrifice; her relationship with Mr. Bold remains safe. [JM 2005]
Eleanor’s experience perhaps resonates more with the version of the Iphigenia myth in which Artemis whisks Iphigenia away from the sacrificial altar to Tauris. If Trollope’s text is viewed through the lens of this version of the myth, Mr. Bold takes the position of Artemis, at first needing to be appeased and then, later, saving Eleanor by sweeping her away into matrimony.
Another interesting point of comparison stems from Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, in which Agamemnon tricks Iphigenia’s mother, Clytemnestra, into bringing Iphigenia to Aulis by telling her that her daughter is to be married to Achilles. This particular detail of the myth produces irony when compared to Eleanor’s case. Iphigenia arrived at Aulis with the hope of marriage, not sacrifice, but Eleanor arrived at Mr. Bold’s home determined to be a sacrifice and resist their love. This use of Classics creates a comic undertone in the depiction of Eleanor’s circumstances by comparing unequal experiences and keeps the reader from becoming too invested with concerns about love in the novel. [JE 2014]
Sources: Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis and Iphigenia in Tauris.
Eleanor’s triumph and vanquishment
When John Bold promises Eleanor that he will not involve himself any longer in matters about the hospital, she “enjoy[s] a sort of triumph,” and the word “triumph” may summon images of a Roman commander celebrating victory. However, at the chapter’s end Eleanor’s victory is mixed with defeat. With a string of military images Trollope relates Eleanor’s acquiescence to Bold’s proposal: “all her defences demolished, all her maiden barriers swept away, she capitulated, or rather marched out with the honours of war, vanquished evidently, palpably vanquished, but still not reduced to the necessity of confessing it.” This cluster of military language bolsters a reading of “triumph” earlier with Roman resonance. [RR 2014]
the altar on the shore of the modern Aulis
Although Eleanor was prepared to follow in Iphigenia’s footsteps and sacrifice herself for her father, she ultimately finds herself not at the sacrificial altar but on her way to the matrimonial one. [RR 2014]