Adventures with Iphigenia in Tauris: A Cultural History of Euripides' Black Sea Tragedy

Adventures with Iphigenia in Tauris: A Cultural History of Euripides' Black Sea Tragedy

Adventures with Iphigenia in Tauris: A Cultural History of Euripides' Black Sea Tragedy

Adventures with Iphigenia in Tauris: A Cultural History of Euripides' Black Sea Tragedy

Synopsis

Human sacrifice, a spirited heroine, a quest ending in a hairs breadth escape, the touching reunion of long-lost siblings, and exquisite poetry--these features have historically made Euripides'Iphigenia in Taurisone of the most influential of Greek tragedies. Yet, despite its influence and popularity in the ancient world, the play remains curiously under-investigated in both mainstream cultural studies and more specialized scholarship. With Adventures with Iphigenia in Tauris, Edith Hall provides a much-needed cultural history of this play, giving as much weight to the impact of the play on subsequent Greek and Roman art and literature as on its manifestations since the discovery of the sole surviving medieval manuscript in the 1500s. The book argues that the reception of the play is bound up with its spectacular setting on the southern coast of the Crimean peninsula in what is now the Ukraine, a territory where world history has often been made. However, it also shows that the play's tragicomic tenor and escape plot have had a tangible influence on popular culture, from romantic fiction to Hollywood action films. The thirteen chapters illustrate how reactions to the play have evolved from the ancient admiration of Aristotle and Ovid, the Christian responses of Milton and Catherine the Great, the anthropological ritualists and theatrical Modernists including James Frazer and Isadora Duncan, to recent feminist and postcolonial dramatists from Mexico to Australia. Individual chapters are devoted to the most significant adaptations of the tragedy, Gluck's opera Iphignie en Tauride and Goethe's verse drama Iphigenie auf Tauris. Richly illustrated and accessibly written, with all texts translated into English,Adventures with Iphigenia in Taurisargues elegantly for a reappraisal of this Euripidean masterpiece.

Excerpt

Amongst the surviving plays of Euripides, a great Athenian playwright of the fifth century BCE, one of the least well known today is his Iphigenia in Tauris. The play tells the story of Greeks who had travelled to the northern margins of the world they knew. It is the only surviving Greek tragedy set on the coast of the Black Sea, indeed precisely in the southern part of the peninsula now known as the Crimea, in the southern Ukraine. This area, according to Euripides and his contemporaries, was inhabited by an indigenous cattle-farming but settled people called the Taurians. The title Iphigenia in Tauris is actually the Latin form of the Greek title, and both would more correctly be translated into English as Iphigenia among the Taurians. Euripides’ other play with a Black Sea interest is his much better known Medea. Medea is an immigrant in Corinth originally from the land of the Colchians in western Georgia, where her father was king of Aea (now Kutaisi). The Aeschylean Prometheus Bound, on the other hand, is set further north and east, in the vast territory roamed by the ancient Scythian nomads which included the northern Crimea, the Russian and Ukrainian steppes, and the mountains of the Caucasus, a massive range which encompasses parts of what is now south-western Russia, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

Iphigenia’s adventures in the Black Sea, dramatized in Iphigenia in Tauris, are not the most well-known part of her mythical career. Yet she is an extremely familiar . . .

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