Myth does not remain a fixed substance, but is continuously varied and transformed. This paper explores rewritings of the Iphigenia-Myth by Euripides, Racine, and Goethe using the literary comparatistics concept of mytheme.

Aeschylus’s Iphigeneia-Myth, with such mythemes as “female figure” and “human sacrifice,” is transformed in Euripides’s drama through adding the mytheme “intervention of a god” to the myth of a daughter who sacrifices herself to obey her father and is saved by god.

Racine, to whom the intervention of a god and “the sacrifice of the virtuous princess” seem to be absurd, attempts to solve the problem by introducing to his drama such mythemes as “re-interpretation of oracle” and “alien woman.” But there is some doubt about his solution. Should the innocent daughter take upon herself the fault of the father that is actually the fault of a god because of an ambiguous oracle? Couldn’t the god and human society do without “guilt by association” and a scapegoat? Moreover, both Euripides’s and Racine’s versions of Iphigenia at Aulis have a common problem in that no character in either drama can act autonomously and on self-initiative.

Euripides’s Iphigenia in Tauris has such mythemes as “female figure,” “alien and barbarian,” “lie and theft,” and “intervention of a god.” This drama reveals a problem, however. Iphigenia, who has an internalized hierarchy of values in which the Greek is located above the alien and the man above the woman, takes it upon herself to deceive and steal. Here, the alien is regarded as a barbarian, considered an object of conquest, and subjected to lies and theft by the Greek, whereas the Greek is regarded as an enemy and an object to be sacrificed by the alien.

Goethe assimilates the “re-interpretation of oracle,” Racine’s mytheme, and makes stealing unnecessary. His Iphigenia has an identity as a Greek and an alien, respects her communicative partner, the alien king, as an envoy of the god and as “the second father,” moderates between the two parties through truthful communication, and leads to the bilateral promise of hospitality. Goethe creates the enlightened, autonomous acting figures in the sense of Kantian ethics, succeeds in deconstructing the myth that the Greek is the cultural nation, the alien the barbarian, but he constructs another myth, that the Eternal Feminine saves us.

A rewriting of myth is the attempt of an author to solve, in terms of the spirit of his age, the formal and moral problems that a prior author has left behind. But because this attempt bears other problems, in the views of posterity, it will be an unfinished project. Rewritings of the Iphigeneia-Myth after Goethe will be examined in another paper.


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pp. 151-176
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