Iphigenia in Tauris by Goethe

Persons in the Drama



Thoas, King of Tauris



The scene throughout is laid in a grove before Diana's temple in Tauris.

Act I

Iphigenia and Thoas.

Thoas: To-day I come within this sacred fane,
Which I have often entered to implore
And thank the gods for conquest. In my breast
I bear an old and fondly-cherish'd wish,
To which methinks thou canst not be a stranger:
I hope, a blessing to myself and realm,
To lead thee to my dwelling as my bride.

Iphigenia: Too great thine offer, king, to one unknown,
Who on this shore sought only what thou gavest,
Safety and peace.

Thoas:           Thus still to shroud thyself
From me, as from the lowest, in the veil
Of mystery which wrapp'd thy coming here,
Would in no country be deem'd just or right.

Iphigenia: If I conceal'd, O king, my name, my race,
It was embarrassment, and not mistrust.
For didst thou know who stands before thee now,
Strange horror would possess thy mighty heart,
And, far from wishing me to share thy throne,
Thou wouldst more likely banish me forthwith.

Thoas: Whate'er respecting thee the gods decree,
Since thou hast dwelt amongst us, and enjoy'd
The privilege the pious stranger claims,
To me hath fail'd no blessing sent from heaven.
End then thy silence, priestess!

Iphigenia:           I issue from the Titan's race.

Thoas: From that same Tantalus, whom Jove himself
Drew to his council and his social board?

Iphigenia:     His crime was human, and their doom severe;
Alas, and his whole race must bear their hate.
His son, Pelops, obtained his second wife
 Through treachery and murder. And Hebe's sons,
Thyestes and Atreus, envious of the love
That Pelops bore his first-born, murdered him.
The mother, held as murderess by the sire,
In terror did destroy herself. The sons,
After the death of Pelops, shared the rule
O'er Mycenę, till Atreus from the realm
Thyestes drove. Oh, spare me to relate
The deeds of horror, vengeance, cruel infamy
That ended in a feast where Atreus made
His brother eat the flesh of his own boys.

Thoas: But tell me by what miracle thou sprangest
From race so savage.

Iphigenia:           Atreus' eldest son
Was Agamemnon; he, O king, my sire;
My mother Clytemnestra, who then bore
To him Electra, and to fill his cup
Of bliss, Orestes. But misfortunes new
Befel our ancient house, when to avenge
The fairest woman's wrongs the kings of Greece
Round Ilion's walls encamp'd, led by my sire.
In Aulis vainly for a favouring gale
They waited; for, enrag'd against their chief,
Diana stay'd their progress, and requir'd,
Through Chalcas' voice, the monarch's eldest daughter.
They lured me to the altar, and this head
There to the goddess doomed. She was appeased,
And shrouded me in a protecting cloud.
Here I awakened from the dream of death,
Diana's priestess, I who speak with thee.

Thoas: I yield no higher honour or regard
To the king's daughter than the maid unknown;
Once more my first proposal I repeat.

Iphigenia: Hath not the goddess who protected me
Alone a right to my devoted head?

Thoas: Not many words are needed to refuse,
The no alone is heard by the refused.

Iphigenia: I have to thee my inmost heart reveal'd.
My father, mother, and my long-lost home
With yearning soul I pine to see.

Thoas:           Then go!
And to the voice of reason close thine ear.
Hear then my last resolve. Be priestess still
Of the great goddess who selected thee.
From olden time no stranger near'd our shore
But fell a victim at her sacred shrine;
But thou, with kind affection didst enthral
Me so that wholly I forgot my duty;
And I did not hear my people's murmurs.
Now they cry aloud. No longer now
Will I oppose the wishes of the crowd.
Two strangers, whom in caverns of the shore
We found conceal'd, and whose arrival here
Bodes to my realm no good, are in my power.
With them thy goddess may once more resume
Her ancient, pious, long-suspended rites!
I send them here—thy duty not unknown.       [Exit.

Iphigenia: O goddess! Keep my hands from blood!

Act II

Orestes and Pylades.

Orestes: When I implor'd Apollo to remove
The grisly band of Furies from my side,
He promised aid and safety in the fane
Of his lov'd sister, who o'er Tauris rules.
Thus the prophetic word fulfils itself,
That with my life shall terminate my woe.
Thee only, friend, thee am I loath to take,
The guiltless partner of my crime and curse,
To yonder cheerless shore!

Pylades:           Think not of death!
 But mark if not the gods perchance present
Means and fit moment for a joyful flight.
The gods avenge not on the son the deeds
Done by their father.

Orestes:           It is their decree
Which doth destroy us.

Pylades:           From our guards I learn
A strange and god-like woman holds in check
The execution of the bloody law.

Orestes: The monarch's savage will decrees our death;
A woman cannot save when he condemns.

Pylades: She comes: leave us alone. I dare not tell
At once our names, nor unreserv'd confide
Our fortunes to her. Now retire awhile.

[Exit Orestes. Enter Iphigenia.

Iphigenia: Whence art thou? Stranger, speak! To me thy bearing
Stamps thee of Grecian, not of Scythian race.

[She unbinds his chains.

The gods avert the doom that threatens you!

Pylades: Delicious music! Dearly welcome tones
Of our own language in a foreign land!
We are from Crete, Adrastus' sons; and I
Am Cephalus; my eldest brother, he,
Laodamas. Between us stood a youth
Whom, when our sire died (having return'd
From Troy, enrich'd with loot), in contest fierce
My brother slew! 'Tis thus the Furies now
For kindred-murder dog his restless steps.
But to this savage shore the Delphian god
Hath sent us, cheer'd by hope. My tale is told.

Iphigenia: Troy fallen! Dear stranger, oh, say!

Pylades: The stately town
Now lies in ruins. Many a hero's grave
Will oft our thoughts recall to Ilion's shore.
There lies Achilles and his noble friend;
 Nor Palamedes, nor Ajax, e'er again
The daylight of their native land beheld.
Yet happy are the thousands who receiv'd
Their bitter death-blow from a hostile hand,
And not like Agamemnon, who, ensnared,
Fell murdered on the day of his return
By Clytemnestra, with Ęgisthus' aid.

Iphigenia: Base passion prompted then this deed of shame?

Pylades: And feelings, cherish'd long of deep revenge.
For such a dreadful deed, that if on earth
Aught could exculpate murder, it were this.
The monarch, for the welfare of the Greeks,
Her eldest daughter doomed. Within her heart
This planted such abhorrence that forthwith
She to Ęgisthus hath resigned herself,
And round her husband flung the web of death.

Iphigenia (veiling herself): It is enough! Thou wilt again behold me.


Iphigenia and Orestes.

Iphigenia: Unhappy man, I only loose thy bonds
In token of a still severer doom.
For the incensed king, should I refuse
Compliance with the rites himself enjoin'd,
Will choose another virgin from my train
As my successor. Then, alas! with nought,
pave ardent wishes, can I succour you.
But tell me now, when Agamemnon fell,
Orestes—did he share his sire's fate?
Say, was he saved? And is he still alive?
And lives Electra, too?

Orestes: They both survive.
Half of the horror only hast thou heard.
 Electra, on the day when fell her sire,
Her brother from impending doom conceal'd;
Him Strophius, his father's relative,
Received with kindest care, and rear'd him up,
With his own son, named Pylades, who soon
Around the stranger twin'd love's fairest bonds.
The longing to revenge the monarch's death
Took them to Mycenę, and by her son
Was Clytemnestra slain.

Iphigenia: Immortal powers!
O tell me of the poor unfortunate!
Speak of Orestes!

Orestes: Him the Furies chase.
They glare around him with their hollow eyes,
Like greedy eagles. In their murky dens
They stir themselves, and from the corners creep
Their comrades, dire remorse and pallid fear;
Before them fumes a mist of Acheron.
I am Orestes! and this guilty head
Is stooping to the tomb and covets death;
It will be welcome now in any shape.

[Orestes retires. Iphigenia prays to the gods, and

Orestes returns.

Orestes: Who art thou, that thy voice thus horribly
Can harrow up my bosom's inmost depths?

Iphigenia: Thine inmost heart reveals it. I am she—Iphigenia!

Orestes: Hence, away, begone!
Leave me! Like Heracles, a death of shame,
Unworthy wretch, locked in myself, I'll die!

Iphigenia: Thou shalt not perish! Would that I might hear
One quiet word from thee! Dispel my doubts,
Make sure the bliss I have implored so long.
Orestes! O my brother!

Orestes: There's pity in thy look! oh, gaze not so—
'Twas with such looks that Clytemnestra sought
 An entrance to her son Orestes' heart,
And yet his uprais'd arm her bosom pierced.
The weapon raise, spare not, this bosom rend,
And make an outlet for its boiling streams.

[He sinks exhausted. Enter Pylades.

Pylades: Dost thou not know me, and this sacred grove,
And this blest light, which shines not on the dead?
Attend! Each moment is of priceless worth,
And our return hangs on a slender thread.
The favouring gale, which swells our parting sail,
Must to Olympus waft our perfect joy.
Quick counsel and resolve the time demands.

Act IV

Iphigenia alone.

Iphigenia: They hasten to the sea, where in a bay
Their comrades in the vessel lie concealed,
Waiting a signal. Me they have supplied
With artful answers should the monarch send
To urge the sacrifice. Detested falsehood!

[Enter Arkas.

Arkas: Priestess, with speed conclude the sacrifice!
Impatiently the king and people wait.

Iphigenia: The gods have not decreed that it should be.
The elder of these men of kindred-murder
Bears guilt. The dread Erinnys here within
Have seized upon their prey, polluting thus
The sanctuary. I hasten now to bathe
The goddess' image in the sea, and there
With solemn rites its purity restore.

Arkas: This hindrance to the monarch I'll announce.

[Exit Arkas. Enter Pylades.

Pylades: Thy brother is restor'd! The fire of youth
 With growing glory shines upon his brow.
Let us then hasten; guide me to the fane.
I can unaided on my shoulder bear
The goddess' image; how I long to feel
The precious burden! Hast thou to the king
Announced the prudent message as agreed?

Iphigenia: The royal messenger arrived, and I,
According to thy counsel, fram'd my speech.

Pylades: Danger again doth hover o'er our heads.
Alas! Why hast thou failed to shroud thyself
Within the veil of sacerdotal rights?

Iphigenia: I never have employed them as a veil.

Pylades: Pure soul! Thy scruples will alike destroy
Thyself and us. Come, let us be firm.
Nor with incautious haste betray ourselves.

Iphigenia: It is an honest scruple, which forbids
That I should cunningly deceive the king,
And plunder him who was my second father.

Pylades: Him dost thou fly, who would have slain thy brother.
If we should perish, bitter self-reproach,
Forerunner of despair, will be thy portion;
Necessity commands. The rest thou knowest. [Exit.

Iphigenia: I must obey him, for I see my friends
Beset with peril. Yet my own sad fate
Doth with increasing anguish move my heart
To steal the image, sacred and rever'd,
Confided to my care, and him deceive
To whom I owe my life and destiny!
Let not abhorrence spring within my heart!

Act V

Thoas alone.

Thoas: Fierce anger rages in my riven breast,
First against her whom I esteem'd so pure;
Then 'gainst myself, whose foolish lenity
 Hath fashion'd her for treason. Vain my hope
To bind her to me. Now that I oppose
Her wish, she seeks to gain her ends by fraud.

[Enter Iphigenia.

Wherefore delay the sacrifice; inform me!

Iphigenia: The goddess for reflection grants thee time.

Thoas: To thee this time seems also opportune.

Iphigenia: Are we not bound to render the distress'd
The gracious kindness from the gods received?
Thou know'st we are, and yet wilt thou compel me?

Thoas: Obey thine office, not the king.

Iphigenia: Oh, couldst thou see the struggle of my soul,
Courageously toward the first attack
Of an unhappy doom which threatens me;
Must I implore a miracle from heaven?

Thoas: Extravagant thy interest in the fate
Of these two strangers. Tell me who they are.

Iphigenia: They are—they seem, at least—I think them Greeks.

Thoas: Thy countrymen; no doubt they have renewed
The pleasing picture of return.

Iphigenia (after a pause): Attend,
O king, and honour truth in me. A plot
Deceitfully and secretly is laid
Touching the captives thou dost ask in vain.
They have escaped. The eldest is Orestes,
Whom madness seized, my brother; Pylades,
His early friend and confidant, the other.
From Delphi, Phoebus sent them to this shore,
To steal away the image of Diana,
And to him bear back the sister thither.
And for this, deliverance promised he
The Fury-haunted son.

Thoas: The traitors have contrived a cunning web,
And cast it round thee, who, secluded long,
 Giv'st willing credence to thine own desire.

Iphigenia: No, no! I'd pledge my life these men are true;
And shouldst thou find them otherwise, O king,
Then let them perish both, and cast me forth.

[Enter Orestes, armed.

Orestes (addressing his followers): Redouble your exertions! Hold them back!
And keep a passage open to the ship!
(To Iphigenia) We are betray'd; brief time remains for flight!

[He perceives the king.

Thoas: None in my presence with impunity
His naked weapon wears!

Iphigenia: Do not profane
Diana's sanctuary with rage and blood.
In him revere the king, my second father!

Orestes: Will he permit our peaceable return?

Iphigenia: Thy gleaming sword forbids me to reply.

[Enter Pylades, followed by Arkas, with drawn swords

Pylades: Do not delay, our friends are putting forth
Their final strength!

Arkas: They yield; their ship is ours!

Thoas: Let none annoy the foe while we confer.

[Arkas retires.

Thoas: Now, answer me; how dost thou prove thyself
The priestess' brother, Agamemnon's son?

Iphigenia: See here, the mark on his right hand impress'd
As of three stars, which on his natal day
Were by the priest declar'd to indicate
Some dreadful deed therewith to be perform'd!

Thoas: E'en though thy words had banish'd every doubt,
Still must our arms decide. I see no peace;
Their purpose, as thou didst thyself confess,
 Was to deprive me of Diana's image!

Orestes: The image shall not be the cause of strife!
We now perceive the error which the god
Threw o'er our minds. His counsel I implor'd;
He answer'd, "Back to Greece the sister bring,
Who in the Tauris sanctuary abides."
To Phoebus' sister we applied the words,
And she referred to thee.

Iphigenia: Oh, let thy heart
Be moved by what an honest tongue has spoken.
Look on us, king; an opportunity
For such a noble deed not oft occurs!

Thoas: Then go!

Iphigenia: Not so, my king! I cannot part
Without thy blessing, or in anger from thee.

Thoas (extending his hand): Fare thee well!

 Goethe's fascinating and noble drama, "Iphigenia in Tauris," was first written in prose, and recast into verse in 1786. Inspired partly by his feelings towards Frau von Stein, whom Goethe "credited with knowing every trait of his being," and partly by the "Iphigenia in Tauris" of Euripides, the play is totally different from anything that had as yet come from his pen. Although it lacks some of the pomp and circumstance of the best Greek tragedy, it is written with great dignity in the strictest classical form, admirably suggesting the best in French classical drama. The prominent motive of the piece is the struggle between truth and falsehood. "It is," one critic has remarked, "a poetic drama of the soul." On its production at Weimar, the German public received it indifferently.

Arthur Mee J. A. Hammerton