Saturday, August 25, 2012

Iphigenia in Tauris

Iphigenia, priestess, meets her brother
Iphigenia in Tauris, by Euripides

Hey, good news everyone!  Iphigenia was not horribly slaughtered by her father Agamemnon as a sacrifice after all!  At the last second, Artemis substituted a deer and whisked Iphigenia off to the ends of the earth (the Crimea), where she has been serving as a temple priestess ever since.  She has been pining for her Greek home for a good twenty years, it seems.  Now she is in mourning because she has had a prophetic dream that she believes tells her that Orestes, her brother and her one hope for rescue (however remote), is dead.

But Iphigenia is wrong!  Orestes is still being chased by some Furies and he has arrived in Tauris to try to get rid of them once and for all.  (Only some of them were pacified by the whole Eumenides maneuver in Athens.)  Apollo has let him know that if he can steal the image of Artemis from this temple and take it back to Athens, he'll be free.  He and Iphigenia meet, but of course do not recognize each other at first.  Then they hatch a plan to escape and take Artemis with them.

The plan is Iphigenia's; Euripides seems to have considered women to be naturally more cunning than men.  This is the third play I've read in two days, so it's really starting to stick out.

This play has homesickness as a major theme.  It's not just homesickness for the one area of Greece that you might happen to be from, either.  Orestes and Iphigenia are from Argos, so it gets mentioned a lot, but by this point Euripides was thinking a bit more pan-Hellenically (is that a word?) and much of the longing is for Greece as a whole.  It's a theme that also showed up quite a lot in Medea, for Medea can never go home and manages to get herself thrown out of wherever she goes.

It is not known when this play was performed, but there are some who think it was put on in 412, which would have put it in company with two other plays (Helen and Andromeda) that were also about escape.  If that is true, it would have a connection with recent Athenian military events.  Athens had tried to conquer Sicily, which resulted in a failure that crippled the Athenian military and eventually led to defeat in the Peloponnesian War.  Survivors had to escape overland, leaving hundreds of ships behind.

2 comments:

whimsicaldesperation said...

"Euripides seems to have considered women to be naturally more cunning than men." That sounds about right for Euripides. I haven't read Iphegenia, but I took a class where we studied several of Euripides' other plays. There's an interesting mix of examples of Greek patriarchy and strong female characters in his plays. I wouldn't go so far as to call these themes feminist like some of my classmates did (made for an interesting discussion on Medea!), but there certainly are strong women, perhaps stronger than the men. The Bacchae is another play where I think this comes through.

I think the theme of homesickness could be seen a bit in Alcestis as well. We don't see Alcestis missing her home, but Alcestis' return is crucial.

Jean said...

I think you could call Euripides sort of feminist *for his time*--no one else seems to have thought that women might be people as much as he did. But I really don't know enough about him yet.

I know I read some Euripides in college but have no memory of it, which is too bad since I loved the two Classics classes I took.