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TIME AND REDEMPTION IN SAMSON AGONISTES AND IPHIGENIE AUF TAUruS MARTIN MUELLER In a recent essay Arthur Henkel has interpreted Iphigenie auf Tauris as a secular variation on the theme of Christian humanism, and by demonstrating the bold and utopian nature of the ethics embodied in Iphigenie's decision to tell the truth he has rescued Goethe's humanitarianism from the charge of avoiding or trivializing the tragic implications of the story.' In the following pages I shall elaborate on this interpretation by analyzing Iphigenie's actions as those of a secular redeemer. More specifically, I shall use a comparison with Samson Agonistes in order to show how Goethe's play must be seen as the result of adapting the plot patterns of its Greek sources to the needs of a moral vision which - although secular in kind retains many of the structures of the Christian universe from which it is derived. Although Goethe was not aware of Samson Agonistes when he wrote his play, there are significant points of contact that justify a comparative study of the two plays.' Both have plots that are conSations of several classical tragedies. More importantly, the source that provided the dominant thematic impulse is in both cases a late Sophoclean play. What Oedipus at Colonus was to Milton, Philoctetes was to Goethe, and it is not entirely accidental that the thematic concerns of the modern writers should in both cases have led them towards Sophoclean plays that are closely related to each other. In both plays the classical sources provide the form for a drama of deliverance or redemption in which the protagonist is clearly a 'type' of Christ. Samson's final act 'foreshadows' the Redemption , whereas Iphigenie becomes a secular redeemer whose career resembles and whose power replaces that of the Redeemer. Given these similarities, Goethe's play may be seen in the context of the perennial concern of Renaissance poets to reconcile the literary conventions of the classical tradition with the demands of Christianity. Unlike poets of the Renaissance, Goethe was no longer under the pressure of belief: the Christian tradition did not make on him the exclusive claim that turned the task of reconciliation into a precarious balancing act or created the painful tension of which the rejection of Athens in Paradise Volume XLI, Number 3, Syring 1972 228 MARTIN MUELLER Regained is such moving testimony. But Goethe was not only heir to both traditions; he also inherited modes of reconciliation, and Iphigenie auf Tauris is evidence of this multiple heritage. The expression of the theme of redemption through the use of classical plot conventions involves important modifications of those conventions. In any period, conventions of literary form will reHect the structure of temporal experience. Thus it is almost paradoxical that the theme of redemption should be expressed in terms of plot conventions developed in response to a mode of temporal experience which the Redemption revolutionized . It is for this reason that I shall approach the thematic interdependence of time and redemption - epitomized in the history of the word kairos - by analyzing the interdependence of form and temporal experience in Samson Agonistes, Iphigenie auf Tauris, and their classical ISQurces.'8 In Greek literature, and especially in Attic tragedy, time is experienced in the contrasting modes of waiting and acting. Only characters who suffer and for some reason are unable to act complain about the slow passage of time. But such characters are frequent, and it is not without significance that the choruses of Attic tragedies are in the great majority of cases composed of women or old men - characters who are by constitution excluded from the life of action. If anxious waiting is characteristic of the powerless, impatience often characterizes those qualified to act. Achilles and Oedipus come to mind. The prominence in Greek tragedy of such stock characters as the stage tyrant or the anxiety-ridden woman is not due to a mirroring of social conditions: these literary conventions are concrete manifestations of a particular stTucture of temporal experience. In this structure a significant action always appears as a dialectic enchainment of time experienced in the modes of waiting and acting.Depending on the direction of the 'reversal of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 227-245
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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