CUP (2023) p/b 330pp £24.99 (ISBN 9781107614611)

It is always a pleasure to welcome a new entry to CUP’s Green and Yellow series (whose progress since 1970 has been admirably mapped by Roy Gibson in Classical Scholarship and its History, the recent Festschrift for Christopher Stray), and Emily Kearns’ Iphigenia in Tauris is no exception. As it happens, the first in the OUP’s ‘Oxford Reds’ series was Platnauer’s Iphigenia in Tauris, published in 1938, tactfully described by Laetitia Parker in 2016 as ‘valuable in linguistic and textual matters’: the world has moved on.

K.’s Introduction is long, detailed, and highly informative: here it is possible only to highlight a few salient points. The Introduction is split into seven sections. In section 1, Euripides and his Career, K. points out that, although Euripides was granted a chorus on 22 occasions, he won the first prize only five times (in marked contrast, especially, to Sophocles): was he too ‘clever’ for Athenian audiences? K. dates this play, on secure metrical grounds, to 414 BC, two years before Helen, a play whose plot bears a truly remarkable similarity to that of IT. In section 2, Iphigenia in Greek Culture, K tells us that (remarkably) Iphigenia is nowhere mentioned in Homer, and there is ‘no unambiguous evidence for cult offered to Iphigenia before Euripides’: much later, Pausanias knew a cult of Artemis Iphigenia in the Argolid, and records other cults connected with her. K. develops this theme: it is noteworthy and relevant that Herodotus provides evidence which connects Iphigenia with cult in the Tauric Chersonese.

In section 3, Euripides and his Materials, K suggests that Euripides is perhaps the boldest of the tragedians in the way he selects, discards, and manipulates myth: most spectacular is the plot of Helen, in which we find the heroine staying chastely in Egypt, while the Trojan War is fought over a simulacrum of her (this of course owes much to the Palinode of Stesichorus): the resulting confusion has comic elements. K. goes on to consider Aetiology, and makes the valid point that the majority of tragic aetiologies have a connexion to Athens or Attica and frequently supply an Athenian dimension to well-known mythological characters native to other Greek cities; ‘Athenianisation’ can even go so far as to suggest that they acquire a quasi-Athenian citizenship. The Setting of the play is the Tauric Chersonese, known to us as the Crimea, where the chief deity was called Parthenos, identified—says Herodotus—with Iphigenia (other Greeks identified Parthenos with Artemis). It is also a place where human sacrifice is known (as Herodotus recounts), and this is of course an important element in this play.

In section 4, Staging, K. lays emphasis on the exceptional length of the Second Parodos (about 500 lines), which includes the long-delayed recognition scene. K. has the difficult task of setting out in words the physical appearance of the stage, and the problems which beset the commentator—and, perhaps, the play’s producer: at lines 114-5 this is exemplified—not only is the text corrupt and/or lacunose, but also it is far from clear how the proposed (but not carried out) action will be effected. As for Metre, Music and Dance, we have to accept that music is ‘almost completely lost to us’ (though scholars, notably Armand d’Angour and the late Martin West, have advanced the subject): despite this, the section is notably informative. Section 5 covers Escape Tragedy, Human Sacrifice and Family. As noted, Helen matches IT in being an ‘escape’ drama or a case of ‘catastrophe survived’, to quote the late Anne Pippin Burnett: not all Greek tragedies are, in our sense, ‘tragic’; what defined a tragedy was the existence of a tragic chorus as opposed to a satyric or comic one. This section is of the first importance, since K. here considers IT together with Helen and Ion, even wondering, (with M.E. Wright), whether IT and Helen might have been produced together, with Andromeda to make up the trilogy: however, there are compelling arguments against this idea. In a particularly interesting section on Human Sacrifice, too detailed to summarise here, ‘Euripides scatters hints that the dichotomy of cruel barbarian and refined humane Greek might be too simple.’ Throw in the problem of ‘What the Gods are like’—a preoccupation of Euripides—and no easy answers are forthcoming.

K.’s Text and detailed apparatus criticus (itself an unusual feature for the Green-and-Yellow series) is her own, though of course she has the backing of Diggle’s OCT (1981). However, ‘Many problems remain where the true reading is still uncertain’: just so, and K. is not afraid to wield the obelisk. How many of today’s students—‘intermediate level undergraduates’, to quote CUP—will make use of the apparatus is an open question. The final (long) section of the Introduction covers Reception from Antiquity to the Present: K. highlights Gluck’s opera and Goethe’s Iphigenie auf Tauris, and concludes ‘Iphigenia’s long after life continues’ (and it was a play in which Aristotle was notably interested—but which seems not to have tempted that great parodist Aristophanes ).

In the Commentary the reviewer raises a quibble: the metres of the choric passages are set out line by line—but how many readers will find this praiseworthy diligence of use? How many know the difference between a dochmiac and a dactyl-epitrite—or indeed what either of those terms mean? For commentators, the old rubric of ‘Establish, explain and illustrate the text’ is far from being adequate nowadays, and K’s regular explanations of what is happening on the stage—and the actors’ feelings—will be of the greatest help. To take just one example (of very many), Iphigenia’s reply to Orestes at 989-1006; ‘She moves from understandable doubt as to the practicality of (Orestes’) scheme to a position where she accepts that it might be possible for Orestes to escape with the statue and herself… but otherwise she is willing to face death in order to save him’. Throughout the Commentary, the reader is kept in touch with the action of the play, while difficult passages are translated, and matters of meaning, grammar and syntax (e.g., at random, 1348-1352) are regularly explored and explained. Any ‘intermediate level undergraduate’ who is tasked with studying IT should acquaint him/herself with K.’s edition, and consider him/herself very fortunate. (K.’s work would also have been an ideal member of the Oxford ‘Reds’). The paperback edition, at fractionally under £25, is remarkably good value

It is a minor curiosity that Commentaries can ‘overlap’: thus Rhesus, already admirably, indeed decisively, edited by V. Liapis (2012), was promptly also edited by Fries (2014) and—in a Cambridge ‘Orange’—by Fantuzzi (2021), all of them agreeing that Euripides was not the author; here we have L.P.E. Parker’s edition and commentary (2016), to which K. makes graceful reference in her Acknowledgements. Will a scholar be brave enough to give us a new edition to replace Dodds’ Bacchae or Barrett’s Hippolytus? The edition and Commentary noticed here is unreservedly recommended.

Colin Leach