Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.08.31

M.J. Cropp (ed.), Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris.   Warminster:  Aris & Phillips, 2000.  Pp. 283.  ISBN 0856686530.  

Reviewed by Judith Fletcher, Archaeology and Classical Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON
Word count: 1440 words

Euripides' Iphigenia in Tauris should hold great appeal for the postmodern scholar: it competes with canonical mythologies, plays with the power of textuality and writing, and features a heroine who has transcended her role as the definitive victim to become a powerful and cunning agent. Yet the play has garnered relatively little scholarship, possibly because its commentaries have been outdated and inadequate. That deficiency has now been addressed by Martin Cropp's new edition, which answers the need for a detailed treatment of the play. With its emphasis on "analytical and literary appreciation", the Aris and Phillips series in Greek Drama modestly claims to be aimed at undergraduates and university teachers. While Cropp does not lose sight of the intermediate Greek student to whom this series is in theory directed, he also addresses the concerns of advanced philology to produce what will undoubtedly become the definitive commentary on the IT. In addition to the series' standard general introduction and bibliography, this volume features an insightful introduction to the play, Cropp's own edition of the text and apparatus (with acknowledged debts to Diggle's OCT and Sansone's Teubner edition) with a serviceable translation, a commentary keyed to the English translation, with valuable notes on the text included in square brackets, and a comprehensive bibliography.

The first part of the introduction outlines the basic plot, structure, and principal themes of the drama. Especially noteworthy is Cropp's explication of the tragic aspects of the play which situate the IT more securely in its genre, while recognizing that its characters are finally able to move beyond their bloody past into a "post-tragic future"(35). There has been a tendency to read the play as a mid-career confection offered to a war weary audience. Caldwell, dubbing it "Tragedy Romanticized," assessed it as a sort of "Greatest Hits" treatment of the Oresteia. Conacher (305) described it as a romantic tragicomedy "neither as witty nor as subtle as the Helena." Platnauer introduced his edition with the contention that "the Iphigenia is not a tragedy at all." Cropp, on the other hand, reads the play as a genuine tragedy. The Aristotelean structure, especially the simultaneity of recognition and reversal, adroitly manipulates audience responses of pity and fear. Platnauer may be correct in saying that "there is no one is killed", but these are not requirements for a tragedy, as the Philoctetes demonstrates. Despite the romantic, folktale, and even comic elements of the IT, the near sacrifice of Orestes by his sister and their emotional reunion underscore the futility of all the intra familial violence of the house of Atreus. Consistent with his tragic world view Euripides sets the altruism and heroism of mortals against a backdrop of capricious divine powers.

The heroine of this tragedy is a composite figure who incorporates the mortal daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, an Attic divinity (possibly a doublet of Artemis), and perhaps a Taurian maiden goddess. Cropp divides her mythic and cultic background into three topics. He sorts through ancient evidence and modern theories to present a reasonable history of Iphigenia's mythology and identifies her survival as a mortal rather than a divinity as Euripides' adaptation of her post-sacrificial history as presented in the Cypria and Herodotus. A short discussion of the stereotypically barbaric Taurians precedes (awkwardly, it seems) an examination of the controversial issue of the cultic associations of Iphigenia. Cropp navigates this complex topic and its immense bibliography admirably, addressing some of the more arcane details of the sacrifice of Iphigenia in the commentary.

Further comments include remarks on the production of the play, the chorus, dating and ancient reception. This latter topic is well treated and serves to demonstrate that the ancients did not dismiss the IT as lightly as modern scholars have. One very nice feature of the introduction, which carries into the translation, is Cropp's sensitivity to the dramatic impact of the play. The intentional literalness of the translation suggests that this IT is not meant for actual production, or at least that this is not the principal aim of the project, yet Cropp animates his text in way that lifts it out of the printed page. He produces it for us in "the theatre of the mind," so to speak, by drawing attention to the significance of ritual actions throughout the drama or by providing stage directions and psychological descriptors for characters: for instance, Orestes is "evasive" (544) when he responds to his sister's inquiry about Agamemnon. The hyperbaton of the Greek ὀυ produces an emphasis that cannot be translated without such justifiable editorial comments.

Nonetheless the translation does not camouflage the exigencies of the text. Such is the nature of this series that it privileges neophytes and Greekless readers who encounter the same daggers and lacunae as the rest of us. Accordingly the apparatus criticus is in English (a growing trend), and the notes are keyed to the translation. There are very obviously two intended constituencies addressed in the commentary. Consequently the more advanced scholar may be annoyed, for instance, to flip back to note 207 only to read who the Morai were. These minor vexations, however, are part and parcel of the democratic purposes of the editors. Readers at every level can share in the lucid and perceptive analysis of the play's literary concerns provided by the notes and commentary. For example, discussions of the two messenger scenes not only take advantage of contemporary narratological approaches but also suggest structural parallels between the first report of the Herdsman, which ends with the capture of Orestes and Pylades on the beach, and the second report, in which Thoas' servant recounts their escape. Treatment of the choral odes is especially sensitive. There has been a tendency to assess some of the later odes of Euripides as irrelevant "embolima", since the chorus seems to be more on the margins of the action and less psychologically involved with the protagonist. Cropp is very aware of the nuances of the choral lyrics and succeeds in presenting them as an integral part of the poet's programme of imagery and theme.

There is a wealth of detail in the commentary. A particularly splendid note on 380-91 discusses Iphigenia's reflection on the role of Artemis in her plight in the context of criticism of the gods made by other Euripidean characters and Greek authors. An enterprising undergraduate could construct a decent essay from the citations and secondary sources provided on this page.

In his preface Cropp remarks that he has provided "more philological comment than is usual in this series." Specialists who want to work on this play should be supremely grateful for his departure from the norm: this is a detailed scholarly effort which pays close attention to textual criticism. Cropp has a full range of scholarship at his fingertips and expertly defends his own editorial decisions with references to suitable comparanda and secondary sources. He explains the deficiencies or anomalies of the text thoroughly yet without excessive technical jargon.

In his translation, Cropp aims for accuracy rather than poetry, in accordance with the editor's agenda. His precise translation will be an aid to fledgling Hellenists, and the careful rendition of certain passages is commendable and even at times felicitous. Take for instance Iphigenia's remark when she is approached by the first messenger, the Herdsman (240). The Greek has: τί δ'ἔστι τοῦ παρόντος ἐκπλῆσσον λόγου; Most translators, including Kovacs and Morwood, make the genitives partitive; Lattimore construes the line as "What is startling about the story you have to tell?"--one of the few times his poet's ear misses a beat. Cropp gives us "What is this distracting us from our present discourse?" translating as genitives of separation; and so imparts a sense of Iphigenia's disgruntled hauteur at the interruption by this rustic minion. There are other less felicitous passages, however. Would a herdsman would actually say "Most of us found his argument persuasive" (279) for ἕδοξε δ' ἣμῶν εὖ λέγειν τοῖς πλείοσιν; here Lattimore satisfies more concerns for idiom, character and accuracy: "This man was right, most of us thought."

The physical quality of this series has improved notably since its early years to the extent that Aris & Philips are now providing the Classical community with affordable quality texts which rival more prestigious editions. I do wish, however, that the publishers were as careful as the scholars they enlist for these projects. I refer to the blurb on the back cover which announces that "The drama centres on Iphigenia's near-sacrifice at Orestes' hands." This is a minor point, but one which brings me back to my introductory remarks about the neglect suffered by this delightful drama. It deserves to be better known.


R. Caldwell, 'Tragedy Romanticized: The Iphigenia Taurica', CJ 70 (1974-75) 23-40. D.J. Conacher, Euripidean Drama: Myth, Theme and Structure (Toronto, 1967). R. Lattimore (trans.), Iphigeneia in Tauris (Oxford, 1973). M. Platnauer (comm.), Euripides: Iphigenia in Tauris (Oxford, 1938).

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