An author’s note on two versions of Iphigenia in Aulis

Oberon has just published a new volume of Iphigenia in Aulis, containing two versions of Euripides’ masterpiece in a new verse translation by Andy Hinds, with Martine Cuypers. The first of the two versions is a translation of the complete text as it has come down us via the only surviving manuscript; a text which is highly corrupt. The second is offered as one possible, more performable, ‘stage’ version of the play.

Here, Andy Hinds shares a few notes on the much-disputed ending of the story, as well as discussing how he approached the interpolations in the piece, and ideas for performance. This blog is an edited version of the notes included in the book. 

Notes on Iphigenia in Aulis

The ending

It is generally agreed that the last 98 lines of the only surviving manuscript of the play were not written by Euripides, but were inserted later; possibly by Euripides’ the Younger (son or nephew of the Elder), for the first production staged about a year after Euripides’ death in around 405 B.C., or were perhaps added by some other producers or actors for some much later production.

Some believe Euripides intended the play to finish at the point just before these last 98 inserted lines begin, i.e. at the close of the short chorus following Iphigenia going off to be sacrificed (line 1531). Others speculate that the original ending had been considered unsatisfactory and had at some point, therefore, been cut and replaced by the one we have today. Yet others suspect Euripides had perhaps not finished the play before he  died, and so an ending had to be supplied.

I loved so much about the play, but for a long time remained unsure if I could stage it in the confidence an audience would leave the theatre feeling satisfied with where the play’s action had taken them. At some point while pondering this issue, a possible ‘solution’ occurred to me: I could create a new ending by dropping the Second Messenger and enacting onstage the sacrifice which is narrated in his speech.  The idea, however, was not to enact the sacrifice exactly as the Messenger described it (that is, with Iphigenia vanishing and being replaced by a doe), but to enact what the imperative of the tragedy’s action demanded: that is, the sacrifice of the young woman. The idea, of course, contravened the principle that, in Greek tragedies, major action always occurs offstage.  I was convinced, however, it would work.

No sooner did this idea occur, than another followed: as part of the enactment of the onstage sacrifice, I would deploy the words the Messenger tells us were spoken, in the course of the ritual, by Iphigenia, Achilles and the prophet Calchas. Excepting the few Calchas lines referring to the doe and the disappearance of the girl, I would include all the lines, re-allocating some of them to other characters or to the chorus. Now I felt I could mount a production that might convince and satisfy myself, a cast and an audience.

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia, Jan Steen, 1671

Interpolations

Apart from how to negotiate the ending, one of the challenges every director and company has to face when staging this play is to make a decision as to which sections of the existing text to include or to excise. It is clear that at various points throughout the text, lines or whole large sections have been inserted by someone other than Euripides (some perhaps by Euripides the Younger, some definitely later by others). There inevitably is some disagreement as to whether certain lines do, or do not, represent genuine Euripides; but regarding many substantial sections there is a broad consensus.  While knowing which sections these were, I decided to bring into rehearsals a translation of all the lines; I was interested to discover which sections would stand up, or would not, to the scrutiny that actors and directors bring to any text as they rehearse it. It wasn’t long before most of the sections generally agreed to be interpolations started to feel as if they were getting in the way; they felt repetitious perhaps, or contradictory, or inappropriate to a character or his or her main intentions etc. So, one by one, we began excluding these, once or twice having to insert a few words to cover the joins. With each excision, the text began to come across with increased coherence and pace.

Some lines usually considered suspect, I have retained when they proved to aid impact, clarity, or flow.

Andy Hinds

Productions  

Both the full and the performance versions of the play are available for performance. If using the full text as a starting point for preparing a text for production, substantial investigation, thought, and decision making will be required; and many will be excited at the prospect of such.

The shorter, performance text is offered as one proven, production-ready version where the bulk of this investigation and other work has already been done. This may better suit the circumstances of others.

 

You can find out more about this book, and its companion volume, The Oresteia, on our website

Aberfan – Dennis Potter in New Society, 27 October 1966

A man-made mountain of lumpy black treacle collapsed into itself last Friday and slid down upon the school at Aberfan ‘just after morning prayers.’ The phrase is not, as I had first assumed, a distasteful journalistic device for somehow mixing inappropriate irony with an even more cruel piety. The phrase was also used in my presence by some of the stricken people of Aberfan, and with just enough frequency to force one to look for the bleak significance that seems to lurk behind the words.

When people are faced with a disaster so complete and so terrible, they cluster in small, hapless groups and begin to manufacture their own sort of optimism as though to try and keep at bay the resignation and despair they know will have to come. At Aberfan, before and after daybreak on Saturday, ‘hope’ was created among some of the bruised bands of people standing ankle-deep in slime. It was an unbearable thing to witness, a collective self-deception that was as inevitable as it was tormenting.

‘Hey. Hey,’ cried an old man in a tight muffler to a young woman standing with splashed stockings in the queue outside a telephone box. ‘I’ve just heard that some little boy dug himself out and wandered off on his own without telling anybody!’

‘Do they know who?’ her voice lifted itself beyond the normal upward inflexion of the Welsh lilt.

The old man’s head seemed to shrink back into his shoulders. ‘No,’ he said, very quietly, probably realising at that very moment that what he had almost shouted was completely untrue and unforgivably cruel. He stood still awhile, then mumbled again and shuffled off towards the growling yellow machinery at the top of the rubble. The woman stared after him.

‘It’s what a boy might do,’ she said, either laughing or crying, ‘wander off like that. He might think he’d done something wrong, see.’ The others in the queue moved their heads or twitched their hands in a tiny conspiracy of guilt.

The wild rumours were about as helpful, and fell into exactly the same category, as the redundant prayers. As the chill morning dragged on into first light the incredible, almost cretinous tales and miracles ebbed away, leaving only a miniscule and hardly discernible residue of hope to temper reality. ‘That stuff’s like roof insulation,’ someone said. ‘It don’t leave any gaps.’ Pause. ‘You never know, though.’ The bereaved either waited on the steps of their grim Bethania or retreated back into the splattered rows of shrivelled, rust-coloured houses. White smoke from their chimneys climbed up in a dead straight line towards the surrounding hills where a few sheep grazed. A man said that this was a sure sign of rain. Everyone looked up at the invading slag once more.

aberfan

As the rain came again, thickening and darkening the sky above the surrounding mounds of black, brown and grey-green, anxious eyes turned once more to the gigantic conical slag still towering so malignantly above the village. All hope had done by now, but the tip might still slide further into the beleaguered houses, might yet scatter the busy yellow machines and shovelling men. It was then, especially, that one felt the enormity of the dead slag’s power, and the disgust that such gargantuan waste should have been piled at people’s backyards. Why should it be? Why is it thought necessary to be so loathsomely uncivilized?

The past is piled all around one here, and the bad, mean-minded, short-sighted methods of the past have not yet been discarded. Hence the fatalistic language and the half-formulated idea that some God has cheated. ‘If only…’ people kept saying at Aberfan. ‘If only’ it had collapsed earlier in the morning. ‘If only’ it had fallen after midday, when the children would have dispersed in noisily happy throngs for their half-term holiday. ‘If only’ it had stopped raining a day earlier. ‘If only’ someone had rung the Coal Board the night before. ‘If only’ the powers that be had taken the slightest notice of all the earlier fears and warnings about the tip. If only… If only… If only…the inevitable, tragic punctuation of any disaster.

But there are much more resounding, much more accusing, much more fundamental If Onlys.

If only the National Coal Board took seriously the conception of a publicly owned industry designed to serve the whole community, not least that section upon which it depends for all its wealth.

If only the so-called socialists who run this ugly country would yap less about their glorious heritage and do a damned sight more to remove the inglorious legacy which is still rammed down so many people’s throats every time they open their mouths to breathe.

And not even then, especially not then, will it be possible to say that Aberfan ‘was not in vain.’ Do not dare to say that. Aberfan was in vain. Those children were murdered. This was no senseless Act of God, but a crime committed by senseless man.

This is an edited extract from Dennis Potter’s article, originally published in New Society on 27 October 1966, now published in full in The Art of Invective: Selected Non-Fiction 1953–1994.