Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Iphigenia in Tauris
Translated from the German by Roy Pascal; Introduction by Martin Swales
The leading Germanist Roy Pascal’s translation of Goethe’s moving version of the Iphigenia-Orestes story was first broadcast on BBC radio in 1954 in a production by Val Gielgud (with Maria Becker, Marius Goring and Donald Wolfit) and again in 1966 in a production by H.B. Fortuin (with Irene Worth, Denys Hawthorne and Michael Hordern). It is now published for the first time. ‘This translation could have been written today,’ writes Martin Swales in his Introduction. ‘It has stood the test of time, and in that sense it is a classic.’
Goethe’s version of the Classical Greek legend speaks with particular urgency to us today. In this eloquent blank verse drama Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon, leader of the Greek forces in the Trojan War, in exile as a priestess in the barbaric land of the Tauri (Crimea), by her own unaided human efforts lifts the Tantalid family curse and ends the chain of revenge killings through the generations. The female identity of the central character is all-important. It is her voice, against all the other male voices, that brings resolution – not by preaching values but by the visceral force of belief in the rightness of the language of the heart.
Martin Swales writes in his Introduction: ‘The play’s understanding of the notion of sacrifice that conjoins the sacred and the violent into a poisonous brew informs one of the most perfect poetic dramas that the moral culture of Western Europe has produced.’
‘Roy Pascal’s flexible pentameters and largely natural English retain their attractive lucidity and power some sixty years after they were first written.’ – Glyn Pursglove, Acumen
JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE (1749–1832) was born in Frankfurt-am-Main. Educated at home in all the subjects of the day, he studied law at Leipzig and Strasburg, and at Leipzig also attended the poetry lessons of the influential Enlightenment figure Christian Gellert. In 1775 he was appointed to an administrative post at the court of the Duke of Weimar, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Goethe was active in numerous fields from literature to the natural sciences, and his well-documented life (particularly the many love affairs) constantly fed into his creative personality. His epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, 1774) and other early works made him a leading figure in the new Sturm und Drang movement. A visit to Italy in 1786 confirmed his humanistic ideal during this period, Iphigenie in Tauris (1787) being its most mature expression.
Among Goethe’s later works, the verse drama Faust (Part One 1808, Part Two 1832), the novel Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, 1795–96) and the autobiography Poetry and Truth (Dichtung ind Wahrheit, 1811–33), besides numerous short poems, are the best known.
Author portrait: Goethe in the Roman Campagna Roman (1786) by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein