The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Iphigenia in Tauris

IPHIGENIA IN TAURIS. Goethe's ‘Iphigenie auf Tauris’ (1787) was first written in prose in 1779 and was performed by members of the court of Karl August, Goethe impersonating Orestes. For the conception of the subject we therefore look to the circumstances of Goethe's life in Weimar at the end of his fourth year there. He had outgrown his “storm and stress,” he had acquired discipline and learned self-denial, and he had come to reverence in Charlotte von Stein a woman to whom he felt so spiritually akin that in a previous existence, he said, she must have been his sister or his wife. Withal, he had enough to regret of earlier misdeeds: he could fully enter into the tortured soul of the matricide Orestes. But the traditional Iphigenia was born again in his drama into the saintliness of pure and redeeming womanhood. Not unwilling to be guided by her brother, she nevertheless by her mere human presence restores him to sanity. Unwilling — as no Greek would have been — to outwit even a barbarian, she inspires a disappointed king with magnanimity and converts a nation from cruelty, merely by telling the truth. The versified form which, with little alteration of the original prose, Goethe gave to his ‘Iphigenie’ in Italy makes this drama an exquisite example of composition in what he himself, in a little essay written in the following year, denominated “style”: creation such as Nature would exemplify under perfect conditions, and such as art attains when, without sacrifice of individual reality, it suggests and typifies the universal. Translated by Anna Swanwick, London, 1850. Edited by L. A. Rhoades (Boston 1896).