Iphigenia in Tauris: A Play in Five Acts


It is an arresting fact that the twentieth century is in possession of far more information about Homeric Greece and its antecedent eras than has been known for over two millennia, far more, in fact, than the Greeks of the classical fifth century B.C. themselves knew. Archeology, above all, has yielded this information, but important interpretations of the data have been made possible by independent discoveries in the studies of comparative religion, comparative folklore, and comparative linguistics. None of this new information, however, will shed light on Goethe Iphigenia in Tauris, for this play is a work within the Hellenism of Renaissance and neo-classical traditions, which knew nothing of Heinrich Schliemann or Sir Arthur Evans, nothing of Jane Harrison or Sir James Frazer.

This is not to say that Goethe's post-Renaissance and neo-classical Hellenism was benighted. Rather, it was a nobly humanistic ideal, shared, in different ways as their temperaments differed, by Milton and Racine, by Gluck and Winckelmann. Greek and Latin scholarship provided its substance, the dignity of mankind was the fixed conceptual star of its course, and its creative method was the free and erudite manipulation of old materials within a twenty-five-hundred-year-old tradition. A fusion, in varying degree, of pagan and Christian elements was characteristic of it, as was a certain lack of historicity that tended to see Greece and Rome as a unity. To those who held this view the baffling mystery of the Homeric poems seemed to occur in a luminous glory before the beginning of history, while the First Olympiad of 776 B.C., itself a half-legendary event, was felt to initiate "classical civilization," which then spanned more than a thousand years down to a close . . .

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1963


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.