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Iphigenia in Tauris Summary (Goethe) - Summary of Iphigenia in Tauris by Goethe

Updated on August 16, 2013
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First Act

Iphigenia was saved by the goddess Diana. She was brought to the island “Taurica”. On the island, she is a well-known priest, who is loved by the people and by the king, Thoas. In fact, the king wants to marry her, but Iphigenia doesn’t really want to. She still longs for her old home in order to see her brother.

Iphigenia was able to convince the king to abolish the human sacrifice. But if Iphigenia was to leave Tauris, the “law” would be back. The king proposes to her, but she declines and reasons her decision with several examples. The king still insists on it and then she asks him, isn’t it only the goddess, who brought me to this island, who has the right to decide about my life or fate? The goddess, of course, is Diana.

Iphigenia in Tauris

Second Act

In the second act, we meet her brother, Orestes, and her cousin, Pylades, who are travelling together. Orest is pursued by the three furies. He has killed his mother, because he had to avenge his father, who was killed by his wife. He asked the god Apollo if he can help him get rid of his guilt and the furies. He said to him that he has to bring back “the sister” and he guided them to the island, where they are supposed to find “the sister”. They end up in Tauris. Orestes and Pylades thought a painting of Apollo’s sister, Diana, was meant, which was in a temple. They still don’t know that Iphigenia is on the island. They are discovered and are taken as prisoners. Orestes is desperate, because he thinks they can’t make it, since there are barbarians who do human sacrifices and if they are unlucky they will be sacrificed.

Pylades speaks with Iphigenia, but he doesn’t reveal his identity to her. She asks him out about Greece and what happened. He tells her that many heroes have fallen and that the landscape is devastated etc. This makes Iphigenia even more want to go back to her old home and see her father. Unfortunately, Pylades has to tell her that her father has been murdered by his own wife and her lover. Iphigenia leaves dismayed.

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Third Act

Orestes speaks to Iphigenia, who also does not reveal his identity to her and neither does Iphigenia. She asks him out about the children of Agamemnon, who is their father. Orestes answers that their son, Orestes, has killed their mother with Electra. Since then, they have been cursed and are pursued by the furies. He sees Iphigenia fall in desperate sorrow and he sees no other way than to reveal his true identity to her. Iphigenia also reveals her identity, but the brother still wants to die, because of the curse. At the end of the scene, he falls in unconsciousness.

When he wakes up, he is healed by Iphigenia and Pylades. Iphigenia prays to the goddess Diana. She is very grateful that her brother was brought back to her and asks her for salvation. Pylades speaks in clear, rational words to him and helps him intellectually. Orestes has a certain feeling in his heart, which basically tells him, that he is cured from the curse.

Pylades reminds them that they have to act quickly, because the two men might be sacrificed soon and they have to go away from the island. His men are waiting at the coast, hidden, with ships.

Forth Act

They think about a plan, how to get off the island the fastest. The plan is very well possible, but she feels bad for the king. She thinks that she would be deceiving him, in some way. Pylades says to her that she only has to feel bad if her brother and he are sacrificed, but Iphigenia is still very unsure what to do. Should she lie or tell the king the truth?

The messenger Arkas comes to Iphigenia and tells her that she has to hurry up, because the king is getting very impatient. She lies to Arkas, by saying, that Orestes is still very confused and that she has to purify the statue of the goddess.

Fifth Act

Iphigenia decides to tell Thoas the truth. She tells him about the plan and everything else and appeals in his humanity. At first, the king is furious, but he becomes more and more mild. When Orestes tries to escape violently, the king becomes very mad. But Iphigenia is able to calm everyone down and reminds the king of his old promise: If Iphigenia ever has the possibility to return to her home land she is always free to go. The king fulfils his promise and Iphigenia, Orestes and Pylades can return to Greece. Now, Orestes’ original assignment makes more sense. “The sister” wasn’t Diana, it was his own sister, Iphigenia, who he had to bring back to Greece.

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© 2013 Slaven Cvijetic

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