Extrait de la monographie de John Huddilston - Greek tragedy in the light of vase paintings - London, Macmillan and Co (1898)



Euripides in all probability created in the life of Iphigeneia the chapter concerning her return to Greece with Orestes. There is at any rate no trace of this turn in preceding authors. Homer does not appear to have known any such a daughter of Agamemnon, unless one is to seek to identify Iphigeneia with Iphianassa. The king of men speaks of

as his three daughters. We know, however, from Sophokles that Iphianassa was distinguished from Iphigeneia. Since Homer has not even her name there is no allusion to the catastrophe at Aulis. It is first in the Kypria, a work usually accredited to Stasinos in the early part of the eighth century BC., that reference is made to the gathered hosts at Aulis, the calm, the sacrifice. It was not Iphigeneia, however, who was the victim, for Artemis had suddenly intervened and, having taken her away to the Black Sea country, had blessed her with immortality. From this date then the myth may have been widely spread among the Greeks. Hesiod related in his Katalogos gunaikôn that Iphigeneia had received the gift of immortality from Artemis, thus following closely the author of the Kypria. Herodotos also repeats the same story. One looks in vain for any trace of her delivery from this wild people, until the latter part of Euripides' life. Then it is that new light breaks in upon the old orthodox form of the myth ; the mortal side of Iphigeneia is made to assume a new interest for the world, and she, who had been long lost amidst a wild, barbarous people, is suddenly restored to her only hope, Orestes. This is the work of «Euripides, the human, with his droppings of warm tears». With this tragedy the poet created at once a definite chapter in dramatic literature and furnished another impetus for ancient art.

There are traces of two other Greek tragedies dealing with this same subject ; yet the play of Timestheos is a mere name, while that of Polyeidos is but little more. Aristotle, however, has given a certain prominence to the latter work by making two references to it in his Poetics. This differed from the play of Euripides particularly in the recognition scene. The αναγνωρισις was brought about by Orestes using the words «and shall I too be sacrificed ?» Who but Orestes was likely to know aught of the attempt once made to sacrifice her at Aulis ? It is worthy of note that the libretto of Glück's opera also follows this manner of the dénouement. Among the Latin dramatists we hear that Naevius wrote a play called Iphigenia. One verse only is preserved. It goes without saying that the tragedy was taken from the Greek, but from what author it is worthless to conjecture. The Dolorestes of Pacuvius was long thought to deal with the same subject, but this has been shown to be of an entirely different character. It is altogether improbable that these Latin versions worked any radical change in the Euripidean form of the myth. It is true that the story was remodelled in some particulars ; Hyginus, e.g. in fabula 261, relates that the bones of Orestes had been brought from Aricia to Rome and had been interred before the temple of Saturn ! Such a violent contortion of the myth may be laid to the credit of a poet, but I would prefer to recognize in the words of Hyginus the influence of the mythological handbooks which were written up in a manner well calculated to pamper the national pride of the Romans.

In no work written subsequent to Euripides is it possible to detect the sources for the representations of the myth in art ; in all cases the poet of the fifth century B.C. can be shown to have wielded his absolute power. We shah see in the discussion of the vase paintings based upon the play that this class of monuments is not the only one in which the new Iphigeneia found her place. The Etruscan urns and mirrors, the wall paintings of Pompeii and of Herculaneum, the Roman sarcophagi, as well as pastes and gems, all furnish an extensive field in which parallel scenes may be traced.

This introduces the consideration of the vases and their relation to the tragedy. They fall readily into three classes corresponding to three well-defined stages in the play : 1. Orestes and Pylades alone upon the Taurian coast are surprised, and led by the shepherds to the king and Iphigeneia (vs. 67-466). 2. The scene following, in which it is determined that not both shah be killed, but that one, and he Pylades, shah be allowed to return to Mykenai, bearing a message from Iphigeneia (vs. 467-724). 3. The handing over of the letter and the accompanying explanation, whereby Orestes and his sister recognize each other (vs. 725-1088). There follow two other well-defined scenes which are not traceable on vases. The escape with the Artemis idol (vs. 1152-1233), and 5. the messenger's speech which relates the manner of the escape.

There is but one vase painting that can be assigned to the first step in the play. The painting is a thoroughly ugly and, from an artistic standpoint, worthless specimen that represents the very decadence of ceramic art.

Figure 17

The vase is a slender amphora with three zones of pictures ; ours is the middle one. On the left a woman in chiton and mantle sits with head turned to the right, her left hand resting on a sceptre or staff and her right on her knee. She wears a necklace and on one arm a bracelet. Standing before her with outstretched right hand is a bearded male figure in short chiton and mantle, and a spear in his left ; he has just arrived, as one may conclude from the position of his feet. Immediately following are two youths entirely naked, hands pinioned behind their backs. The ends of the ropes seem to be held by the group of three youths following, who are dressed as the first male figure except that two of them wear boots. Their attention, like that of all, is directed towards the female figure.

The arrest of Orestes and Pylades is given here, and more definitely their appearance before Iphigeneia. To be sure the manner is entirely different from that on other monuments. One expects Iphigeneia to be in or near the temple of Artemis and to be represented in a more concerned and active attitude ; and furthermore, one looks for the altar (v. 72), and some indication of the fate which awaits the captives. All these features are wanting. That the artist endeavoured to represent the meeting of the priestess and the two Greeks can, however, admit of no doubt ; that the necessary setting of the scene was omitted need be no more a matter of surprise to one than the helpless workmanship of the whole. The monument is valuable as being the only vase painting showing the first scene, which is never wanting on the sarcophagi. This moment occurs likewise on certain other monuments. The shepherd relates (vs. 260-339) how the discovery and capture were made ; how they learned that one of the two was named Pylades ; and further that the prisoners had been conducted first to the king, who after glancing at them (εσιδων) sent them to Artemis and her priestess. Iphigeneia says to the boukolos in v. 342, su men komize tous xenous molôn, and in v. 467, after her soliloquy and the song of the chorus, she appears again on the stage where she meets the captives. This is the moment, very largely modified, which the painting represents. Iphigeneia's first words are

At this the guards are commanded to enter the temple and make ready for the offering. Our picture follows in one respect the traditional manner of representing the scene. Orestes and Pylades are invariably nude, or so lightly clad with the chlamys that they are practically naked. There is the closest analogy between them as they appear here and as they occur on the sarcophagi.

The second moment, as I have marked it out above, is also represented on one vase only.

Figure 18

In the centre Orestes, ΟΡΕΣΤΑΣ, sits to the right upon a large altar, chlamys about his hips, sword on his left side, hands supported upon his stick towards which his head is sunk. The whole attitude betokens sorrow. On the right is Iphigeneia wearing long, sleeved chiton, and mantle, necklace, and bracelets. In her left close by her side (incorrectly published as a knife) is the temple key which is emblematic of her office as κληδουχος. Her right is extended towards Orestes, with whom she is speaking. She is accompanied by a temple servant who, entirely wrapped in chiton and mantle, carries in her right an oinochoë and upon her head a dish in which are articles for the sacrifice, including the branches for sprinkling. Behind Orestes is a laurel tree and on his right Pylades, ΠΥΛΑΔΗΣ, standing with one foot thrown over the other, his right band placed sorrowfully to his head. The left rests upon his staff. On his left side is a sword. He is deeply concerned in the conversation. Above on the right behind a terrain is the temple of Artemis. Ionic order, and akroteria. Beside it on the left, Artemis, distinguished by her huntress-mantle, two spears, and hair-dress, sits with face to the left towards Apollo who is the remaining figure on the vase. He wears a garment around his waist, and rests his right upon a cane and turns his face towards Artemis.

The vase is especially interesting as being the only one on which any of the characters is accompanied by an inscription, and secondly, because Orestes sits here upon the altar. He cannot be thought of as a victim, and I do not believe he has fled to the altar for refuge, as has been suggested. That would comport but poorly with the spirit which he exhibits throughout the interview. Where does Orestes sit passively upon an altar at the attack of the Furies ? He invariably has his sword drawn in a very emphatic manner, and while he crouches upon or clings to the altar he never gives any appearance of being an easy victim to his pursuers. Just this point it is necessary to emphasize, for had the artist felt that the meaning of Orestes' position indicated his pursuit either by seen or unseen Furies, he never would have committed the egregious error of placing him in a calm attitude quite unconscious that he has a sword ready at his side. Furthermore there is no trace in Euripides or the painting to allow us to assume that Orestes is again pursued at this point. He is not, therefore, in any sense a suppliant. The vase painter has simply allowed himself a great liberty in seating his figure where we should least expect to find him. An altar is not by any means a usual seat, and much less for the victim. This same freedom in disposing of details led the decorator still further from the established usage, for neither of the captives should be allowed their swords. They are already ιεροι (v. 469) and should be represented accordingly. In these particulars we must acknowledge that the painter idealized the scene (vs. 472 if.).

If it were necessary to determine upon any one moment which the artist had in mind, one would discover a close parallel between vs. 625 ff. and the present scene. It has been agreed that Pylades shall be the messenger ; Orestes is to die in his stead. The latter proceeds to ask who shah perform the sacrificial act, and whether a tomb shah receive him when all is over. To this Iphigeneia replies

and Orestes

to which Iphigeneia remarks,

I can conceive of no more pitiable and hopeless condition than that of the unfortunate Orestes which the poet depicts. At this point his course seemed all in vain ; Apollo's promise appeared to be a farce, and Heaven and Earth seemed wrought into one violent confusion (cf. vs. 572 f. and 711). Perhaps it was at this juncture that he most impressed the painter, and we may see the wretched Orestes prostrate upon the altar in this moment of extreme despair.

Artemis and Apollo take no part in the action, but there is a greater fitness in their position as spectators than is often the case with the gods on the vases of Lower Italy. The former is a natural figure in her own precinct, by her own temple, while Apollo, as her brother, properly balances the scene. The latter, moreover, stands in so close a relation to Orestes' trial and delivery that he is a most appropriate beholder of the progress of this his own enterprise (cf. v. 977).

Mention should be made here of the sarcophagi, on which essentially the same scene is found. The agreement with our vase is striking. Orestes sits with his head wrapped in his mantle and drooping on his lap), while Pylades stands before him, always in the same attitude, one leg thrown over the other, one hand clutching his hair and the other resting on his stick. This is a striking coincidence, indeed, in there two classes of monuments, separated by at least four hundred years. In the third step of the tragedy we are more fortunate and possess among vase paintings at least theee that represent the transmission of the letter to Pylades, and the accompanying recognition between Orestes and his sister. It is not surprising that the supreme moment in the action should have attracted the artists, and that on the sarcophagi also this unique point in Greek tragedy should have been represented.

Figure 19

1. The best known of the vases is an amphora formerly in the possession of the Duke of Buckingham. In front of the temple of Artemis, Doric order, stands Iphigeneia, en face, in richly embroidered chiton, and high head-dress from which falls a sort of veil reaching to the knees. She wears necklace, bracelets, earrings, and sandals ; her costume bespeaks in every respect that of the theatre. She carries again the token of her office in the left, and hands the letter to Pylades with the right, who stands ready for the journey, wearing chlamys, pilos, boots, and carrying two spears. Further, on the left, leaning against the περιρραντηριον is Orestes, en face, but with laurel-wreathed head turned towards Pylades ; his right leg is thrown over the left. He wears a chlamys, and carries two spears and a sword. Beside Iphigeneia is her servant, as in fig. 18, but with a simple girdled chiton, and in her right the dish with articles for the altar which is represented in poor perspective behind Iphigeneia. Above, on the right, before the temple doors, is Artemis in short, huntress-costume and high Thracian boots ; two spears in her left, and a burning torch in her right. She wears the Thracian cap. On the left of the temple behind a terrain is a young satyr, no doubt thrown in to fill up the space.

Figure 20

2. The largest painting representing this scene is that on an amphora in St. Petersburg'. The centre of the picture is taken up by the temple, four Ionic columns. Inside on the right is the Artemis statue, costumed like Artemis in fig. 19 ; a burning torch in the right, around which is bound a sort of decoration. It is on a large pedestal, and has in the left a spear. On the left, about to leave the temple, is Iphigeneia with an elegant chiton, mantle, a diadem in hair, and the peculiar key in her left ; beside her, and leaning against the wall, is a kylix with long handle. She makes a gesture towards Pylades with her right in which there is no letter. He stands on the left by the temple, leaning against his knotty stick ; has petasos on the back of the neck, and wears high boots and an escaping chlamys. On the left, lower down, Orestes leans on the περιρραντηριον, as in fig. 19, but he is evidently more dejected here. The rest of the painting, which consists of five groups of two figures each, has so little to do with the central scene that we may omit any description of it. In the upper zone on the right are Hermes and Artemis, on the left Athena and Nike. Athena will observe the final part of the affair in which she was so deeply interested in Athens. The two groups, a female and an armed Thracian, represent the common love-scenes on this class of vases. For the third group on the right, the artist preferred to draw a young deer instead of the female figure. Stephani is correct in calling these love-scenes, and so separating them permanently from any part in the action. Countless such groups are thrown upon vases of this style as meaningless, decorative figures. The parasol, wreaths, and vessels serve to enrich the setting and add charm to the coquetry.

Figure 21

3. A vase, formerly in the possession of the art dealer Barone in Naples, shows an abridgement of the scene. In an Ionic temple, four columns, and akroteria, Iphigeneia, en face, long chiton, mantle, hair done in a knot behind, leans with her left elbow upon the βρετας. In her left is the temple attribute, and in the right the letter which she extends to Pylades, in chlamys and petasos. He leans against his stick, and has a sword in the left, while he points with the right towards the letter. On the right are Apollo and Artemis. The former, nude except for a mantle and high boots, grasps the laurel tree with his left, and rests his right upon Artemis' shoulder, who sits to the left upon the altar and looks up to Apollo. She is dressed as usual with short chiton and high boots. She has two speaks in the left. In setting these three paintings over against each other and comparing the elements in them, the uniformity is very striking. Perhaps the details may be clearer if placed in a sort of scheme.

a. Elements common to all three vases

1. Temple of Artemis. 2. Iphigeneia in elaborate dress, indicated as the κληδουχος. 3. A youth in travelling costume, with whom she is talking. 4. Artemis on the right of the temple.

b. Elements common to two of the three vases

1. In figs. 19 and 20 a youth leans against the περιρραντηριον, resting on one leg over which the other is thrown. 2. In figs. 19 and 21 Iphigeneia hands the letter to the youth. 3. The Artemis αγαλμα is in the temple in figs. 20 and 21 ; so also is Iphigeneia.

We thus observe that the remarkable agreement, even in the details, shows that they must all be copies more or less exact of one and the same original. That Iphigeneia in fig. 20 does not hold the letter in her hand may be accredited to the carelessness of the artist who merely forgot to paint it. The same may be said with regard to the abridged form of the scene in fig. 21, where Orestes has been left out. The two central figures appeared to the artist to be the important part of the original, and accordingly he omitted all else.

Immediately following the scene represented in fig. 18, Iphigeneia entered the temple to get the letter :

and ordered the guards to watch the two without binding them. Thereafter ensues the touching scene between Orestes and Pylades (vs. 657-724). The priestess then reappears, and commanding the attendants to go inside, continues

Orestes speaks first after these lines and asks her what she wishes. It shall be an oath for the safe delivery of the letter. At this he demands a counter-oath from her for the safe withdrawal of Pylades from the country. We may imagine that during the delivery of these verses, which were probably spoken while Iphigeneia was still in the temple doorway, Pylades had approached her to receive the letter, while Orestes stepped to one side as he appears in figs. 19 and 20. In vs. 769-787 the contents of the letter are related to ensure safe transfer of the message, even though the written words be lost in a shipwreck. This is the time represented on our vases. The hopelessness of Orestes requires, moreover, the earlier part of the scene, since from v. 772 he begins to be aroused and to prove his brotherhood to Iphigeneia. The αναγνωρισις is complete at the close of v. 826, and there follow the fourth and fifth stages which were noticed above. Neither of these movements is, so far as I am aware, shown on any vase painting, although they are an important part of the reliefs on the Roman sarcophagi.

In conclusion, mention should be made of the wall paintings which represent the departure of the three with the statue to purify it in the sea. The first and most important of these is the fine casa del citarista painting. Robert first correctly recognized the right meaning of this beautiful monument and based it upon the poet, thereby bringing it into harmony with the sarcophagi. That he was happily correct in reading the time in the painting after the recognition, contrary to Helbig's interpretation is nicely borne out by the painting recently discovered in the casa dei Vettii, which is another copy of the same original. The variations are, however, enough to render any misunderstanding of it impossible. Here there is no temple, and Iphigeneia occupies the centre between Orestes and Pylades on the left, and Thoas on the right. She carries plainly the temple βρετας on the left shoulder. Furthermore, the unconcerned attitude of the two prisoners in their tête-à-tête points clearly to the proper significance of the scene. Curiously enough Orestes appears to sit on the altar here as on the vase painting, fig. 18.