Religion and Gender in Goethe's Iphigenie Auf Tauris
Torrance, Isabelle, Helios
The second half of the eighteenth century saw a new impetus in the relationship between Europeans and classical literature. There was a clear move away from what had become perceived as artificial forms of expression based on baroque notions of proper restraint. Preoccupations with history and prose inspired by classical models gave way to a renewed interest in the more emotional genres of art, philosophy, and poetry. The new emphasis was on gaining a deeper understanding of classical models, and this contributed to the success of classically inspired works from the mid-eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries. Highet (1985, 355) goes so far as to say that "most of the European writers of the epoch 1765-1825 knew much more about classical literature than their predecessors, and were more successful in capturing and reproducing its meaning." He remarks that Goethe, for example, "knew more Greek than Klopstock" (Highet 1985, 355). But, of course, the attempt at deeper understanding was nevertheless colored by contemporary subjectivities.
When the mostly self-taught cobbler's son J. J. Winckelmann began publishing on Greek art and literature in the mid-eighteenth century, he captured the imaginations of many influential Germans of the period, including Herder, Lessing, Schiller, Goethe, and Humboldt. The classical ideal of Greece was to prove an important inspiration for all these in their writings. Although clearly influenced by the work of men like the Earl of Shaftesbury in England, the publications of Winckelmann are commonly seen as marking the beginning of a new preoccupation with Greece in German thinkers at that time. (1) Winckelmann was primarily concerned with the visual arts, especially sculpture, and he propounded the association of Greece with nature, beauty, and freedom while the contemporary baroque world was shown as unnatural and corrupt. This subjective understanding of Greece is clear in Goethe's Iphigenie. The title character is cast as a pure and moral soul, who can claim that she is "as free as a man" (see below). It is noteworthy also that one of Goethe's sleights of hand in adapting the Euripidean original is to dispense with the statue of Artemis, which Orestes must retrieve from the land in order to be rid of the Furies. In Goethe, Apollo gives the ambiguous oracle to rescue "the sister," which Goethe's "Orest" belatedly understands as meaning his own sister rather than Apollo's. Thus, the statue of Artemis in Euripides has become, in Goethe, the statuesque Iphigenie, a living, breathing, classical ideal of a statue. (2) In a similar vein, the slogan quoted by E. M. Butler in the context of Goethe as disciple of Rousseau "Back to nature; back to the noble savage!" (Butler 1935, 97) admirably suits Goethe's product Iphigenie, in which the "savage" king Thoas is described as "noble" in Iphigenie's prologue speech and is persuaded during the course of the play to abandon violence.
In truth, the Iphigenie really marks the first completion of one of Goethe's forays into the adaptation of Greek literature, and one of the earliest classically inspired pieces from the German Renaissance. (3) Goethe's engagement with Greek literature would become more and more apparent throughout his career. Before publishing the Iphigenie in prose form in 1779 (the verse form was published in 1787), he had already begun work on his Prometheus, though this was not published until 1830. Goethe found inspiration in mythical figures, particularly those from epic: Elpenor, Nausicaa, Achilles, Pandora, and Helen. (4) Indeed, Goethe was fascinated by the ambiguous figure of Helen and the combination of her beauty with her propensity to disappear, evident in Euripides' Helen, a play whose plot structure is very similar indeed to his Iphigenia in Tauris. Helen will appear in Goethe's Faust II. Although the hero manages to conjure up Helen and marries her, she disappears, leaving him holding her empty veil. (5)
In 1818, in his essay Antik und Modern, Goethe wrote "Jeder sei auf seiner Art eine Grieche! Aber sei's!" (Everyone should be a Greek in his own way! But he should be a Greek nonetheless!). (6) This statement highlights the conscious subjectivity of Goethe's interpretation of Greece, as well as his simultaneous desire to immerse himself in the classical world as much as possible. In fact, although Goethe's first love was Greek literature, and the bias of the German Enlightenment was strongly philhellenic, Goethe did also find inspiration in the Roman world. He traveled to Italy and his Roman Elegies were published in 1795. These were written in classical meters, a practice that had become popular through earlier German writers, most notably Klopstock. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, under the new academic pursuit of Altertumswissenschaft pioneered and developed by scholars like Wolf, Humboldt, and Wilamowitz, German philhellenism would become obsessed with philology and textual criticism (see Pfeiffer 1976, 173-90). The transportation of tangible antiquities back from the ancient lands to Germany would also play a major role in Germany's relationship with ancient Greece. (7) But when German philhellenism was born in the mid- to late eighteenth century, the preoccupation was with understanding the Geist or essence of classical art and poetry, appreciating its beauty, and taking inspiration from its great art and literature.
Goethe was not the first, nor the only one, to rework the Iphigenia legend during this period. In fact, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe, it became an extremely popular subject for exploration on the stage. Generally speaking, the Aulis legend held sway in the seventeenth century, with influential versions produced by Jean de Rotrou in 1640 and Jean Racine in 1674. (8) Racine had drawn up a plan for the first act of a version of Iphigenia in Tauris in 1677 but subsequently abandoned and never completed it (it was first published by his son Louis Racine in 1747: see Forestier 1999, 164-7). But at the turn of the century (1699), Francois Joseph de LaGrange-Chancel took inspiration from the play and wrote his own complete version, attempting to "overcome the difficulties" of the subject matter, which had thus far kept it from the stage. (9) In doing so, he refocused the main concern of the play away from the figure of Iphigenia, and onto the bond of friendship between Orestes and Pylades (reflected in the play's title Oreste et Pilade). After LaGrange-Chancel came a flurry of renewed interest in this "other" Iphigenia legend, and it was the eighteenth century that saw the glory days (unparalleled both before and since) of Euripides' Iphigenia in Tauris (hereafter, IT) with new versions inspired by the legend and the play's themes.
Dramatic versions of Euripides' play were produced by John Dennis (1700), Pier Jacopo Martello (1709), Johann Elias Schlegel (1737), Gian Rinaldo Carli (1744), Christoph Friedrich von Derschau (1747), Pick (1753), Claude Guimond de la Touche (parodied by Charles-Simon Favart in 1757), and Jean-Baptiste-Claude Vaubertrand (also in 1757), but none of these were as successful as Goethe's dramatic interpretation, which was first written in 1779 and completed in its final verse form in 1787 (Prudhoe 1966, xvi). Operatic versions of the IT myth abounded in eighteenth-century Europe: H. Desmarets and A. Campra (1704), D. Scarlatti (1713), G. M. Jomelli (1719), Orlandini (1719), J. A. Stranitzky (1725, parodying Minato's libretto for Schmelzer's 1678 ballet: see below, note 10), L. Vinci (1725), G. Reuter and A. Caldara (1728), A. M. Mazzoni (1756), T. Traetta (1758), G. Majo (1764), C. Monza (1766), N. Jomelli (1771), C. W. Gluck (1779, parodied by C.-S. Favart in the same year, and by E. Morel de Chefdeville in 1785), and N. V. Puccini (1781). (10) This is not the place for a detailed study of all the eighteenth-century versions of the myth, but in examining Goethe's version, it will be necessary to take note of some significant innovations made by his predecessors. (11)
LaGrange-Chancel's emphasis on the sentimental friendship between Orestes and Pylades was to prove a popular theme in subsequent versions, including Schlegel's drama, Stranitzky's opera, and von Derschau's play. LaGrange-Chancel had presented an unsympathetic Iphigenia, as did von Derschau later. But John Dennis, reacting to LaGrange-Chancel, made an attempt to ennoble Iphigenia. An emphasis on the humanity of Iphigenia was introduced by Guimond de la Touche, but Majo's Iphigenia is bent on revenge in spite of her apparent humane traits; Schlegel's version refers to the issue of gender in a conscious manner, endowing Iphigenia with a particular womanly pride. (12) Although one could claim that Goethe's play had been influenced by all of these versions and more--whether in terms of rejecting certain aspects (like Majo's Iphigenia and her ideas of revenge), or by incorporating particular features such as Iphigenia's humanity and a focus on gender--critics are generally in agreement that Goethe's version represented something new. (13) Gliksohn (1985, 221) sums this up particularly well:
L'originalite de Goethe tenait a un double depassement: il renoncait, d'une part, a l'ostentation pathetique; d'autre part, il donnait une portee singuliere a des references mythologiques notablement plus riches que celles ou les dramaturges francais ne cherchaient que l'image convenue de la vertu antique. Goethe's originality was twofold in its progression [from his predecessors]: on the one hand, it renounced the ostentation of pathos; on the other, it gave a special place to mythological references, which were notably richer than those in which French dramatists had sought only the conventional image of antiquity's virtue.
Goethe's familiarity with a wide range of ancient literature and his ability to read classical Greek suggest that, whatever inspiration he took from his contemporary predecessors, he also examined the original Euripidean play particularly closely. (14) In fact, as Apelt (1960) has argued, there is no need to assume that Goethe's humanist Iphigenie was necessarily inspired by Guimond de la Touche. (15) We note that Iphigenia's decision not to kill the king because he is their host is a feature in Euripides, as is the concept of the humanity of the gods. (16) In the Euripidean play, Iphigenia questions Artemis's bloodlust and rejects the notion that the gods could be so brutal (380-91). She is wrong, but the issue is raised nonetheless. (17) Similarly, the one reference that defines Iphigenie as a "woman" in Schlegel--where she claims that as a woman she will defeat Thoas through her deception--seems unconvincing as an inspiration for Goethe's preoccupation with womanhood, which is much more easily seen as reflecting the powerful thematization of gender in Euripides. (18)
Goethe's play represents a fundamental type of hypertextual derivation from the original. It is an "imitation" of Euripides' play, (19) but also involves "transvalorization," that is, a substitution of values that reflect contemporary society (Genette 1982, 393-404). This will be evident in terms of gender portrayal, which is strongly influenced by Christian moral values in Goethe. It may strike the reader as strange or surprising that I have chosen the term Christian to describe the moral values in Goethe's play. Goethe had been denounced at the time as "immoral, irreligious and pagan" by both Catholic and Protestant churches in Germany (Williams 1998, 281). His religious/philosophical views are generally encapsulated in the doctrine of humanism influenced by Enlightenment ideals, and this doctrine is an evident theme in his Iphigenie (see, e.g., Peacock 1959, 73-80; Liewerscheidt 1997; Rasch 1979). Goethe further admitted that his primary model for classical humanism was ancient Greek society, which attempted "to deify man rather than to humanize the deity" (20) He disagreed with many aspects of established religion and read the Bible with a critical mind. But he did read the Bible, and this was the "main focus of his religious awareness." Furthermore, "he learned to read [the Bible] not only in Luther's translation but also in its original languages" so that it was "the main source of his moral education." (21) These complexities of Goethe's religious and philosophical beliefs make his Iphigenie an intriguing study as the adaptation …
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Publication information: Article title: Religion and Gender in Goethe's Iphigenie Auf Tauris. Contributors: Torrance, Isabelle - Author. Journal title: Helios. Volume: 34. Issue: 2 Publication date: Fall 2007. Page number: 177+. © 2008 Texas Tech University Press. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.
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