Iphigenia in Tauris Characters


Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Iphigenia (IHF-uh-jih-NI-uh), the daughter of King Agamemnon, sister of Orestes and Electra, and a priestess of Artemis in Tauris. According to her opening monologue, Artemis took pity on her just as she was about to be sacrificed at Aulis, snatched her away from the priest’s knife, and left a deer in her place. Transported to the land of the barbarian Taurians, she became the priestess of Artemis; it is her duty to preside over the sacrificial murder of all strangers captured by the Taurians. She dislikes both her duties and the country, and her longing for Greece is one of the major themes of the play. After she has spoken the opening monologue, a herdsman brings news that two Greeks have been captured and that Iphigenia must make preparations for their sacrifice. They are Orestes, the brother Iphigenia believes dead, and his friend Pylades. After much questioning in which each is careful not to reveal his identity, brother and sister recognize each other. Orestes, seeking release from the Furies for the murder of his mother, has been ordered to bring the statue of Artemis and Tauris to Attica. Iphigenia devises a plan for escape and Thoas, the king of Tauris, accepts it: She will take Orestes, unfit for sacrifice because of his crime of matricide, and the statue, defiled by his presence, to be cleansed in the sea. The plan succeeds until a storm prevents the Greek ship from leaving the harbor. Just as Thoas is about to send soldiers to kill the Greeks, the goddess Athena appears, orders Thoas to desist from his pursuit, and instructs Iphigenia to establish a new...

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Iphigenia in Tauris Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Burnett, Anne Pippin. Catastrophe Survival: Euripides’ Plays of Mixed Reversal. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1971. Examines how the surprising and redemptive plot in the play operates to upset expectations inherent in the tragic genre. Also sensitive to the mythic overtones of the play, developing them in contrast and parallel to the play’s drama.

Caldwell, Richard. “Tragedy Romanticized.” Classical Journal 70 (1974): 23-40. Examines how the reappearance of the presumed-dead Iphigenia provides a cosmic atonement for the cruelty of her father’s putative sacrifice of her. Shows how the play turns from tragedy to romance through the emphasis on miracle and recognition.

Hartigan, Karelisa. Ambiguity and Self-Deception. Frankfurt, Germany: Peter Lang, 1991. Emphasizes the unsettling effect of the play’s recognition scenes. Shows how the characteristic Euripidean device of the deus ex machina stresses the artificiality and aestheticism of the play.

Powell, Anton, ed. Euripides, Women, and Sexuality. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1990. This collection of essays influenced by gender studies emphasizes Iphigenia as one of Euripides’ major female characters, as well as the only one seen in both tragic and romantic contexts. Examines how Iphigenia is at once a victim and a redeemer of her male-dominated society.

Rabinowitz, Nancy Sorkin. Anxiety Veiled: The Traffic in Women in Euripides. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993. This major feminist study of Euripidean drama is also the best available introduction to Iphigenia in Tauris. Although Rabinowitz recognizes the more positive role played by women in Euripides’ plays as opposed to previous Greek drama, she demonstrates that Euripides tends to use women as tokens of exchange to underscore men’s continuing hold over social and economic relations.