Iphigenia on Tauris

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Title: Iphigenia on Tauris
Genus: drama
Original language: German
Author: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Literary source: Aeschylus : Oresty , Euripides : Iphigenia among the Taurians
Publishing year: 1787
Premiere: April 6, 1779 (prose version)
Place of premiere: ducal private theater in Weimar
Place and time of the action: Grove in front of Diane's temple on Tauris; a few years after the war for Troy; A few hours
Iphigenia on Tauris, painting by Georg Oswald May on a postage stamp from 1949

Iphigenie auf Tauris is a play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe based on Euripides ' Iphigenie bei den Taurern . In 1779 the poet wrote a prose version which he transformed into a verse drama during his trip to Italy from 1786 onwards.

Goethe chose the title in a wrong analogy to the Latinized version of the title of the Euripid tragedy Iphigenia in Taurīs (corresponding to the Middle Greek pronunciation, ancient Greek Ἰφιγένεια ἐν Ταύροις Iphigéneia en Taúrois , German "Iphigenie with the Taurians"). The original Greek title refers to the mythical barbaric people of the Taurians , the German title evokes a landscape called Tauris , which is commonly equated with the Crimea .


The demigod Tantalus was once popular with the gods for his cleverness and was invited to them. He celebrated with them, but quickly became cocky, boasted and stole nectar and ambrosia from the gods , which gave them immortality. With a return invitation, Tantalus presented his own son, Pelops , to the gods as a meal to test their omniscience. However, the gods noticed the deception, expelled Tantalus from their community in the Tartaros to eternal torment and cursed his family. As a result, the following generations of the Tantalids led to domestic murders out of revenge and hatred.

Agamemnon , a military leader and great-grandson of Tantalus, was supposed to sacrifice his eldest daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Diana / Artemis (Roman / Greek) in order to overcome the calm caused by the goddess, which prevented him from sailing from Aulis to the war against Troy . Diana abducted Iphigenia to the island of Tauris and made her her priestess there. Believing that Iphigenia was actually dead, her mother, Clytemnestra , murdered her husband Agamemnon with the help of her lover Aegisth , who had apparently had their child killed. The remaining siblings Iphigenies, Orestes and Elektra , harbored a grudge against their mother for the murder of their father. Orestes eventually murdered his mother with the help of Electra. He also became unclean and fell under the curse. He fled from the threatening fate of falling for vengeance himself and being killed for his crime. Apollon's oracle referred him to Tauris, from where he should fetch “the sister”: this is the only way to solve the curse. Since Orestes believed his sister Iphigenia to be dead, he believed it would speak of Apollo's twin sister, the goddess Diana. He therefore wanted to steal their statue from the Tauride temple. So he ended up on his escape with his old friend Pylades on the coast of Tauris.


On October 4, 1963, the premiere of "Iphigenie auf Tauris" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, directed by Wolfgang Langhoff, took place in the Deutsches Theater . The scene shows Wolfgang Langhoff as Thoas (left), Inge Keller as Iphigenie and Horst Drinda as Orest.
Title page of the first edition

1st elevator

Iphigenia's monologue

1. Appearance: Since Diana saved Iphigenia from death, Iphigenia has served her as a priestess in Tauris . Although she is grateful to the goddess and highly respected by King Thoas and his people, she longs more and more to return to her homeland:
And on the shore I stand for long days,
searching the land of the Greeks with my soul ... (v. 11)

She also complains about her limited life as a woman, which is not self-determined, but is passively and fatefully linked to that of a (married) man:
The condition of women is deplorable.
How closely bound is a woman's happiness! (V. 24 + 29)

She begs Diana to reunite her with her family:
And save me, who you save from death,
also from life here, the second death! (V. 52)

2. Appearance: Arkas, the confidante of Thoas , the king of Tauris, announces his appearance. Iphigenia admits she is homesick. Arkas reminds her how many good she has done in Tauris, for example ending the custom of sacrificing every stranger at Diana's altar. He explains that the king will court her hand and advises her to accept. Iphigenia refuses: this wedding would bind her to Tauris forever.

3. Appearance: Thoas brings his advertisement. Iphigenia justifies her no with her longing for Greece and tries to cite other valid reasons, such as that there is a curse on her family. This condemned the descendants of Tantalus to kill each other, for which she gives numerous examples. Thoas does not give up, but Iphigenia now appeals to Diana:
Doesn't the goddess who saved me
alone have the right to my consecrated life?
(V. 438 f.)
At this moment she completely assumes the role of the priestess. But Thoas threatens that he will reintroduce the old human sacrifices that she would have to face before she leaves.

Step 4: Iphigenia prays to Diana and tells her that she trusts in the goodness and justice of the gods; she asks the goddess to spare her from having to make innocent sacrifices.

2nd elevator

1. Appearance: Iphigenie's brother Orestes and his friend and cousin Pylades arrive, and the audience learns that they are following an oracle of the god Apollo . For Orestes, the avenger of the father and therefore the murderer of the mother , has been persecuted by relentless furies since his murder ; therefore he begged Apollo to free him from their vengeance. Apollon answered him through his Delphic oracle that he should bring "the sister" back to Greece and that his debt was thus paid off. Believing that it was the sister of Apollo, the two men set off for Tauris to steal the image of the goddess Diana from her temple. But they are discovered by the king's soldiers and taken prisoner. Orestes is desperate and afraid, because Tauris is home to barbarians who offer human sacrifices to the gods. Pylades cheers him up and tells him about the kind priestess who does not kill prisoners. Nevertheless, Orestes does not feel up to the mission and is without hope.

2. Appearance: Iphigenia first speaks to Pylades, who, in order not to reveal his identity, introduces himself as Cephalus and Orestes as Laodamas and claims that the two siblings are and Orestes has committed fratricide. Iphigenia inquires about the fate of the Greeks during the Trojan War and Pylades tells her about the fall of Troy and the downfall of many Greek heroes. His reports make her homesick and she hopes to see her father Agamemnon again soon. But Pylades also tells of the murder of Agamemnon, which was committed by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisth . Iphigenia is dismayed and leaves, while Pylades suggests a former direct connection between Iphigenia and the murdered king.

3rd elevator

1. Appearance: Iphigenia promises Orestes, whose name she still does not know, to do everything possible so that he and Pylades are not sacrificed to Diana . She then asks about the children of Agamemnon (her siblings). Orestes tells her about the murder of Clytemnestra by Orestes, who had been incited by Elektra, and reveals his true identity because he cannot bear Iphigenie's suffering after this news: Between us is truth: I am Orestes. (V. 1080f.). Here Orestes opts for the path of honesty, unlike Pylades, who considers cunning and lies to be necessary if necessary. Iphigenia is happy to have found her brother again and also reveals herself. Orestes, however, still wants to die to escape the furies; Iphigenie and Pylades are supposed to save themselves. However, he withholds the oracle. At the end of the performance, he sinks unconscious.

2. Appearance: Orestes has the so-called "Hadesvision". In it he sees the Tantalids, who have already died, happily reconciled in the underworld.

3. Appearance: Orestes initially believes he is still in Hades and thinks that Iphigenia and Pylades have also descended into the underworld. He feels sincere regret for his friend, which in itself is unusual for a tantalid. However, he still wants his sister Elektra to go to the underworld in order to loosen the tantalid curse. Iphigenia and Pylades then approach him to heal him. In a prayer Iphigenia thanks Diana and asks for the redemption of Orestes from the bonds of the curse. Pylades speaks to him in clear, rational words and tries to heal him. When Orestes finally awakens from his vision ( the curse is released, my heart tells me , v. 1358), he embraces Iphigenia, thanks the gods and expresses his new energy. Pylades reminds the two of the haste that is required in the dangerous situation, and urges them both to quick advice and conclusion (v. 1368).

4th elevator

While Pylades is planning to flee with Orestes and Iphigenia, Iphigenia has an apparently unsolvable dilemma: an escape can be realized, but it is difficult for her to deceive the king. Pylades shows her that she only needs to feel guilty if he and Orestes were killed. Still, Iphigenia is unsure whether to choose the truth or the lie.

Arkas brings the message that she should hasten the sacrifice of the shipwrecked, the king is impatient. Iphigenia holds him off: she must first heal Orestes - supposedly still confused - and wash the statue of Diana on the bank that was stained by him. She begins to despair of the escape plan: In the song of the Parzen (v. 1726–1766) she recalls the merciless vengeance of the gods. However, she also composes a stanza with which she could indicate that she does not agree to the Parzenlied. The Parzenlied was set to music several times, for example by Johann Friedrich Reichardt and Johannes Brahms .

5th elevator

Iphigenia decides to turn to Thoas, truthfully opening up the escape plan to him and appealing to his humanity. At first he reacts angry, but then his anger is directed at himself, since he attributes her actions to his influence. This feeling diminishes further when the priestess reveals to him that Orestes is her brother. Thoas, however, now fears the criminal in the mother murderer. The next scene has to anger him even more, because now Orestes wants to force the escape by force. However, Iphigenia brings everyone back to consciousness. The king is reminded of his earlier promise to release her: "If you can hope to return home, I will release you from all demands" (Act 1, 3rd appearance). Thoas then finally lets Iphigenia, Orestes and Pylades go and allows them to return to Greece.

The oracle's saying now also finds its correct interpretation: It is Iphigenia, i.e. the priestess herself, who Apollo meant by “sister” and who Orestes was supposed to bring to Greece, and not the statue, as previously assumed.

Characterization of the main character

Scene from Goethe's Iphigenia by Angelika Kauffmann

Iphigenia has a classic choice between duty and inclination to make: many and important divine and human duties bind her to her Tauride tasks, but her whole heart wants to go. In this conflict it has to prove itself.

She is characterized as an ideal person. Their main qualities are primarily piety, responsibility, and honesty.

She is therefore a typical representative and heroine of the classic ideal of humanity. In the beginning, their fate appears as a determination . The fact that she resolves the conflict herself and not a “ deus ex machina ” speaks for the spiritual strength of man, but also for the demand for emancipation of the sexes.

The dilemmas between the duties towards others and oneself are mainly reflected in the eponymous heroine: the balance between her philanthropy and the fulfillment of duty as a priestess, as well as a conflict between the love for her brother and the order to kill him and the antagonism of her Feelings between her longing for home and her unconditional love of truth.

Ultimately, she embodies the ideal of classical music: Correct behavior does not require any particular reasoning. Only the inner obligation to humanity and truth show the way in this soul drama.

Iphigenie's attitude towards the gods also plays an important role. She sees this beyond human comprehension, but criticizes their behavior by judging the judgment of the gods and its consequences ( tantalid curse ) as too strict, as it was imposed on the whole sex. Nevertheless, Iphigenia is convinced that love and goodness prevail among the gods and that the curse can be lifted through the mediation of a pure existence. In this way she contrasts ancient thinking (man in divine power) with modern thinking (man's autonomy ).

Features of the classic drama in Iphigenia in Tauris

Iphigenie auf Tauris deals on the one hand with an ancient topic and on the other hand reflects the human ideal of the Weimar Classic. The action of the protagonist Iphigenie shows a harmony between duty and inclination, which in the Weimar Classicism means the idealization of a person. The drama also addresses the inner struggle of Iphigenia, in which this harmony ultimately leads to a humanization of humanity.

The form of the drama also clearly has classic elements, such as unity in place and time or a single-strand, clearly comprehensible plot. Thus, Goethe's Iphigenie on Tauris has the closed drama form typical of classical music.

In addition to the strict orientation towards the closed form of the ancient drama according to Aristotle and the exemplary nature of Greco-Roman mythology, the following features are typical of classical drama: The characters embody fewer individuals than ideas. The aim is the representation of timeless, general human laws. There are missing z. B. spontaneous exclamations, emotional outbursts that express individual feelings. Furthermore, the moral person solves concrete political-social conflicts solely through his humanity, which is presented as a redeeming principle and is part of an ethical-religious order.

Iphigenia on Tauris is a typical example of a classical drama because it emphasizes the ideal of humanity more than any other work. Goethe himself says that Iphigenia on Tauris is "devilishly human" and not very appealing to an audience. For this reason, Goethe had his contemporary Friedrich Schiller perform an edited stage version on May 15, 1802.

Linguistic design and form

Meter: Goethe worked on Iphigenia several times. The first version, written between February 14 and March 28, 1779, was still in prose , as is typical of the Sturm und Drang . In 1780, Goethe translated this into blank verse , a meter that, established above all by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in German drama, was felt at the time to be particularly pure, natural, aesthetic and exemplary. However, soon dissatisfied with this, Goethe first restored the prose version in 1781, before finally creating the version in five-part iambi in 1786 , which has been the standard version ever since. This stricter metric form can be traced back to Goethe's artistic experiences during his trip to Italy. Goethe uses strictly alternating iambs (unstressed, emphasized) as the foot of the verse, which gives the play a particularly sublime character. In contrast to the blank verse, based on the model of Shakespeare in the Sturm-und-Drang period, in which two unstressed syllables are allowed between two stressed syllables instead of an unstressed syllable, in Iphigenia on Tauris only the strict alternation of stressed syllables occurs and unstressed syllable. The cadences are irregularly accented or unstressed, and the very frequent enjambements are still reminiscent of the original prose version. In this way it is possible for Goethe to put more complex thoughts into longer sentences. However, the otherwise continuous iambus in one movement of the drama is replaced by a trochaeus (stressed, unstressed), which also represents the change in Iphigenia on the textual level.

Vocabulary: In Goethe's vocabulary, generalizing terms, sententious imprints and oxymora stand out.

Syntax : For the most part, Goethe expects his theater audience to have a very complex hypotactic sentence structure that is suitable for representing the inner movements of the people involved.

Stichomythien : A controversy held argumentatively through quick, striking exchange of words testifies to a high intellectual level and the high degree of reflection of the individual persons.


Can the stranger become our fatherland? (Iphigenia, I, 2)

A useless life is an early death. (Iphigenia, I, 2)

You pronounce a big word calmly. (Thoas, I, 3)

One speaks much in vain in order to fail; the other only hears the no to everything. (Thoas, I, 3)

Thoas : You think the raw Scythian, the barbarian, the voice of truth and humanity can hear [...]? Iphigenia : Everyone hears it, born under every heaven, to which the source of life flows through the bosom pure and unhindered. (Thoas, Iphigenia, V, 3)

Radio play versions


  • First edition: JW Goethe, Iphigenie auf Tauris. A play . Göschen, Leipzig 1787. ( digitized and full text in the German text archive )
  • Theodor W. Adorno : On the classicism of Goethe's Iphigenie , in ders., Notes on Literature 4. Frankfurt 1981
  • Rüdiger Bernhardt: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Iphigenie on Tauris. König's explanations and materials , 15. C. Bange Verlag , Hollfeld 2008 ISBN 978-3-8044-1794-6
  • Kathryn Brown and Anthony Stephens: "... go over and atone for our house". The economy of the mythical in Goethe's Iphigenia . In: Deutsche Schillergesellschaft , Jahrbuch 32, 1988, pp. 94–115
  • Franz-Josef Deiters : In our youth the nurse sang it to me / and to the siblings . The de-worldization of the myth: Johann Wolfgang Goethe's "Iphigenie auf Tauris". In: Ders .: The de-worldization of the stage. On the mediology of the theater of the classical episteme . Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 2015, pp. 107-138. ISBN 978-3-503-16517-9 .
  • Volker C. Dörr : Very devilishly humane . Remarks on humanity in classical Goethe ". In: " Verteufelt human "? On the humanity ideal of the Weimar Classic , edited by Volker C. Dörr / Michael Hofmann. Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 2008, pp. 101–114.
  • Udo Müller: Iphigenia on Tauris . Series: Reading aids . Ernst Klett Verlag , Stuttgart 16th edition 2006 ISBN 3-12-922314-2
  • Wolfdietrich Rasch : Goethe's Iphigenia on Tauris as a drama of autonomy. Munich 1979.
  • Friedbert Stühler: Female figures under the sign of humanity . Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Iphigenie on Tauris, and Bertolt Brecht: Saint Joan of the slaughterhouses . Row: point of view. Text im Lehr, 516. Joachim Beyer, Hollfeld 1997 ISBN 3-88805-516-4 E-Book ibid. 2012 ISBN 978-3-86958-113-2
  • Markus Winkler: From Iphigenia to Medea. Semantics and dramaturgy of the barbaric in Goethe and Grillparzer. Tübingen: Niemeyer 2009 (Studies on the History of German Literature, Vol. 133) ISBN 978-3-484-32133-5


Web links

Commons : Iphigenie auf Tauris  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Brahms Song of the Parzen , op.89 (1882)
  2. ^ Johann Wolfgang Goethe: Iphigenia on Tauris. Philipp Reclam jun. Stuttgart 1993, page 75/76.