David Sarkies's Reviews > Iphigeneia in Tauris

Iphigeneia in Tauris by Euripides
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Aug 07, 13

bookshelves: tragedy
Read in January, 1997

This does not really sit at the top of the list of Euripides' great plays, but then I suspect that this appeared in the volume that ended up surviving. In a way this play seemed to be little different to some of the other plays that I have read of Euripides, in particular Helen. In fact it appears that the plot and the theme in this play and in Helen are almost identical. Both plays are set in a foreign land, both involve a drastic change in the accepted mythology (Helen was never kidnapped by Paris, she was only a apparition whereas here Iphigenia was never sacrified at Aulis but spirited away by Artemis). They also both involve a hostile king that endeavors to prevent the Greeks from escaping.
I should mention about the concept of tragedy from the Greek view, though I must admit that this comes from the blurb on Goodreads. In our sense I believe tragedy when applied to Greek plays is a misnomer. In a way it is like the difference between a comedy and an action movie (though it is possible for both styles to overlap, such as with Quentin Tarrantino). A greek tragedy is not the same as a Shakespearian tragedy, but rather is based on how the audience would react to the play. It is suggested that the meter and the actors that participate in a tragedy differs from that of a comedy. I am not going to dispute that, however I am more inclined to look at it from an audience's point of view. A comedy is designed to interact with the audience to make the audience laugh whereas a tragedy is designed to evoke a completely different reaction, and in a sense I would probably move it from that of an action movie to more of a suspense movie, sort of like one of our spy thrillers.
This play has a happy ending, namely Orestes and Iphigenia escape, however once again there are elements of Electra in this play. There is Orestes arriving in Taurus and a game being played between the two characters where they interact and drop hints as to who they are, but never actually reveal it until later on in the play. In fact, both this play and Electra involve children of Agamemnon reuniting. One could consider that Agamemnon's family is a very disfunctional family. The father kills the daughter, and the mother kills the father, and then the son kills the mother. Not only that, but the family is divided and scattered across the known world. It seems that a lot of the plays that focus on Agamemnon's family seem to revolve around reunion even though not all of the reunions have a happy ending.
I'm not going to knock this play namely because I do really enjoy and appreciate the work of Euripides. Once again the familiar theme of the plight of women comes to the fore. Iphigenia is looked on with sympathy, and we mourn her plight. Not only was she sacrificed by her father (great guy he was) but she is also imprisoned in a foreign land at the whim of an alien king who pretty much hates the Greeks. Oh, I will also finish off by indicating that the play is set in the Crimean Peninsula, and I suspect that the Greeks did actually have a colony there.
The other thing about this play is the problem that arises with the whole story of the Trojan war and its aftermath. However, we must remember that the play is set after the death of Agamemnon, though I suspect before the murder of Clytemnestra (since it does not appear that Orestes is being pursued by the Furies). Maybe it is because of this, suggests Euripides, that the act of Clytemnestra killing her husband had no unselfish (or revenge motivated) basis, and was really only an attempted by her lover to gain power, and in particular gain control of Agamemnon's empire. By bringing Iphigeneia back from the dead Eurpides puts paid to any motivation of revenge (however misguided the motivation was) and exposes Clytemnestra, and her lover, as the evil schemers that they really are.
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