Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Iphigenia In Tauris (Iphigenie auf Tauris)

Act IV

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2023 All Rights Reserved

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Act IV: Scene I

Iphigenia (Chanting)

When the great gods condemn

One of those born on Earth

To pain and confusion so,

Decreeing that he must pass

From joy to sorrow here,

Then from despair to joy,

In heart-felt alternation;

Then they provide for him,

Near to his hearth and home,

Or on some distant shore,

So that true aid might come,

Help in his hour of need,

An unwavering friend.

O gods above, now bless our Pylades,

And whatever he may seek to achieve!

His is the young man’s vigour in battle,

His, the wise man’s bright eye in council,

His spirit is tranquil, his mind maintains

A sacred, and an inexhaustible calm,

And from its depths he draws sound advice

To aid those who are mired in confusion.

He drew me from my brother’s embrace,

At whom I gazed again, and yet again,

Unfit to comprehend such happiness,

Reluctant to release him from my grasp,

Neglecting the looming threat of danger.

Now both have gone to execute their plan,

Hurrying to an inlet on the sea-shore,

Where their comrades lie, aboard a vessel,

Awaiting the signal for our departure.

I have a clever speech upon my lips,

Of their devising, ready for the king,

Should he urge on the hour of sacrifice.

I know I must repeat it, like a child,

Lacking the art to persuade or deceive.

Woe to the lie, which never sets us free,

As does the word of truth when spoken.

It eases not the heart but brings anguish

To whoever concocts the thing, in secret,

And like a shaft, deflected by a god,

Returns the arrow, to strike the archer.

Anxiety brings turmoil to my heart.

Perhaps the Furies pursue my brother,

Race on behind him, to seize him still,

On reaching that un-consecrated shore.

Perhaps our plan has been discovered?

I think I hear armed men, now drawing near!

Here comes the king’s confidant in haste,

My heart beats fast, my mind is troubled,

As I view the countenance of this man,

Whom I must welcome with a lying word!

Act IV: Scene II

(Iphigenia, Arkas)

Arkas Speed on the sacrificial, rite, priestess!

The monarch and his people are waiting.

Iphigenia My duty and your wish might be fulfilled

Were it not for an unexpected obstacle

That stands between me and its fulfilment.

Arkas What might it be that thwarts the king’s command?

Iphigenia Chance, which is not under our control.

Arkas Tell me swiftly, so I may inform him,

For he is resolved upon both their deaths.

Iphigenia As yet, the goddess has not approved them.

The elder of the two men is to blame,

For he has shed the blood of his own kin.

The Furies pursued him, and have seized

The guilty one within the inner shrine,

His presence desecrating that pure place.

I go now, I and my virgin-maidens,

To bathe Diana’s statue in the sea,

Wetting her image in the clear salt-water,

And, there, perform the solemn mysteries.

Let none trouble our peaceful procession!

Arkas I must report this hindrance to the king,

Do not begin your rite till he confirms it.

Iphigenia That decision’s for the priestess alone.

Arkas Yet the king should know of this strange event.

Iphigenia Here, his counsel and advice lack force.

Arkas Licence is often sought from the powerful.

Iphigenia Do not insist on what I must disclaim.

Arkas Do not refuse what is right and proper.

Iphigenia I’ll yield the sooner, the sooner you return.

Arkas I’ll go bear this news, swiftly, to the king,

And be back here, swiftly, with his reply.

Oh, could I but bear a different message,

That would soon resolve all this confusion!

You ignore a friend’s most faithful advice.

Iphigenia What I could gladly do, that I have done.

Arkas And yet it’s not too late to change your mind.

Iphigenia To do so is not within my power.

Arkas What costs but little seems impossible.

Iphigenia A false wish makes you think it possible.

Arkas Will you risk everything; yet are so calm?

Iphigenia My fate lies in the hands of the goddess.

Arkas Often the gods save us by human means.

Iphigenia Yet by their command everything is done.

Arkas Though, I think, this lies in your hands alone.

The king, his mind angered, is the one

Who brings bitter death upon these strangers.

The army has been weaned, for some time,

From the concept of so harsh a sacrifice,

And thinks no longer of the blood-stained rite.

Since many, whom an adverse fate has borne

To some foreign shore, themselves, have felt

How godlike a kind human face may seem

To a poor wretch exiled beyond his realm.

Oh, do not turn from doing all you may.

It’s easy to complete what you’ve started.

Nowhere does that gentleness that comes

Down from the heavens, in human form,

More readily command the hour, below,

As when a savage race, full of vigour,

Life, strength and courage, yet lacking counsel,

One oppressed with anxious, vague forebodings,

Bears the weight of our human existence.

Iphigenia Seek not to shake my resolve, for you

Can never bend my spirit to your will.

Arkas While there is yet time, I’ll not withhold

A single fair word that might yet do so.

Iphigenia You strive to do so, and but give me pain,

Both are in vain, therefore leave me now.

Arkas I summon pain to my aid, it proves a friend,

A faithful friend, one that counsels wisely.

Iphigenia The pain may seize upon my soul with force,

And yet in no way alters my reluctance.

Arkas Should a gentle soul, then, feel reluctance

When a noble king seeks to benefit her?

Iphigenia Why yes, if instead of what is fitting,

A noble king seeks me, and not my thanks.

Arkas She who feels no inclination, never lacks

For some excuse to justify her feelings.

I will tell the king of our conversation.

Oh, if you would but consider deeply

How nobly he’s borne himself towards you

From your arrival to this very day.

Act IV: Scene III

(Iphigenia, alone)

Iphigenia His ill-timed speech has troubled my poor heart,

And alarms me. For like the rising tide,

That with its swift flow drowns some boulder

Rising from the sand that clothes the shore,

So, a stream of joy overwhelmed my spirit;

I thought the impossible within my reach.

For it seemed that, once more, a gentle cloud

Like to that in which the goddess veiled me,

When her embrace rescued me from danger,

Rose about me, and raised me from the earth,

And lulled me again to refreshing slumber.

My brother’s very presence gripped my heart.

I listened solely to his friend’s advice.

My whole mind was intent on saving them,

And as the voyager is glad to turn his back

Upon the shoals that ring some desert isle,

So, Tauris lay behind me. Now the voice

Of loyal Arkas wakes me from my dream.

Reminding me that I must leave behind

Another race of people, known to me.

To betray them would prove doubly hateful.

Be calm my mind! Do you begin to doubt?

Must you leave your firmly-settled solitude!

Seized once more, must the tempestuous sea

Bear you, unsure of the world and yourself?

Act IV: Scene IV

(Iphigenia, Pylades)

Pylades Where is she, that I might swiftly tell her

The joyful news of our recent efforts?

Iphigenia You find me full of anxious expectation.

Yet your presence offers reassurance.

Pylades Your brother is himself! We reached the sand

And stones, of these un-consecrated shores,

While plunged deep in cheerful conversation.

The sacred grove, forgotten, lay behind us.

Glorious, and ever more gloriously,

The lovely flame of youth shone round his head,

His gaze was filled with courage and with hope,

His heart freely surrendering to the joy

Of saving his friend, and you, his saviour.

Iphigenia Blessings upon you, Pylades! Never

May the tones of suffering and grief

Sound from those lips, that bear such welcome news.

Pylades More than this, I bring! Good Fortune appears,

Like a prince, accompanied by others.

We located our friends and companions,

At anchor, well-hid in a rock-bound cove,

Waiting for us, in troubled expectation.

They saw your brother, and roused themselves,

Full of joy, and begging him, instantly, to

Announce the hour of our swift departure.

Every crewman there longed to grasp an oar.

A breeze even whispered from the land,

Stirring the canvas, seen by one and all.

Let us hasten. Come, lead me to the shrine,

So, entering, I may gain our object here,

By seizing, in sacred awe, the image

Of the goddess, that I can bear, unaided.

How I long to feel that precious burden!

(With this, he enters the shrine, without seeing

that Iphigenia fails to follow; at length he turns)

You stop, you hesitate! Speak to me –

You are silent, uncertain, is this some new,

Unforeseen obstacle that thwarts our bliss?

Have you addressed the king with that speech,

Those prudent words that we three agreed on?

Iphigenia I have, dear Pylades, but you will scold me.

Seeing you feels like a rebuke to me.

A messenger arrived from the king,

And the words you placed in my mouth, I spoke.

He seemed amazed and, urgently, demanded

That I announce the unfamiliar rite

To the king, myself, and learn his wishes.

I now await that messenger’s return.

Pylades Alas, now danger hovers, once again,

About our wretched heads! Why did you not

Veil yourself in the sacred mysteries?

Iphigenia I never would have so concealed myself!

Pylades So, you, pure soul, must ruin both yourself

And us. Why did I not foresee the like,

And teach you to evade this same demand!

Iphigenia Blame me alone, for all the fault is mine,

And yet I could give no other answer.

Since he asked for, gravely, and with reason,

What my own heart conceded to be right.

Arkas Danger threatens; yet if that’s the case,

Let us neither hesitate, nor be rash

And, by rushing on, betray ourselves.

Calmly await this messenger’s return,

And be firm whatever request he brings,

For the ordering of such sacred rites,

Belongs to the priestess not the king.

Should he demand to see the captive,

Who ‘is strangely burdened with madness’,

Refuse him, and say that you keep us both,

Securely, in the temple, and, with that,

Obtain a breathing space for us to flee,

Bearing the sacred treasure from these harsh

Unworthy folk. Apollo now sends us

Auspicious omens, fulfils his promise,

Like a god, before we have delivered.

Orestes is free, and now seems himself!

Propitious gales, now lead us, with the free,

To the stony island that the god inhabits,

And then to Mycenae, to revive that place,

Where from the lifeless ashes of the hearth,

The household gods may joyfully arise.

And its flames, in beauty, light their home.

Your hand shall be the first to strew incense

From golden bowls. You, it is, shall bring

New life, and bless, and purify the threshold,

In atonement for the curse, and so grace

Your kin with lovely, fresh, and living flowers.

Iphigenia As it listens, to you, my spirit turns

Towards the radiance of your words,

As a flower will turn towards the sun.

How dear is the presence of a friend’s

Reassuring speech, its powers divine

So longed-for by the anxious and alone,

Whose thoughts and decisions are but slow

To mature, captive there inside the mind,

Which love and friendship quickly realise.

Pylades Farewell! I’ll go to reassure our friends,

Who await us anxiously, with longing.

Then I’ll return swiftly, and will hide

Among the verdant cliffs for your signal.

Why is your brow so suddenly clouded,

As if you watched a silent funeral pass?

Iphigenia Forgive me! As light clouds will veil the sun,

Some slight shadow of fear touched my soul.

Pylades Fear not! Fear works in furtive alliance,

With danger, for they combine together.

Iphigenia Yet, I call it a noble fear that warns me

Not, treacherously, to deceive and rob

A king who has seemed a second father.

Pylades You flee from one who’d slaughter your brother.

Iphigenia And yet a man who has been good to me.

Pylades What need demands, is not ingratitude.

Iphigenia It’s still ingratitude, though need demands it.

Pylades Need justifies the deed, to gods and men.

Iphigenia And yet my heart is still dissatisfied.

Pylades Excessive scruples are but born of pride.

Iphigenia I cannot argue this, but simply feel.

Pylades Then you should respect what you feel is right.

Iphigenia Only the pure heart dare respect itself.

Pylades So have you kept it, pure, within a shrine.

Life teaches us to be less strict with ourselves

And others: you too have that to learn.

So wonderfully wrought is human nature,

So intricately intertwined and woven,

That none can be so pure in themselves,

Nor among others, as to keep themselves

From confusion, and retain that purity.

Nor are we required to condemn ourselves.

To pursue one’s path, with circumspection,

Is the first and last duty that one has.

Seldom can one judge one’s own past actions,

And scarcely ever judge what one does next.

Iphigenia You well-nigh persuade me to your opinion.

Pylades Is persuasion needed, where there’s no choice?

There is but the one way to save yourself,

Your friend, your brother. Should we not take it?

Iphigenia Oh, let me reflect! You yourself would not

Inflict so great an injustice on one

To whom you were deeply obligated.

Pylades If we should be discovered, self-reproach,

The herald of deep despair, awaits you.

It seems you know little of suffering,

If you can refuse to speak a single lie

In order to escape far greater evil.

Iphigenia (Ironically)

Oh, had I but a man’s courageous spirit,

That when it is about some bold project,

Ignores the sound of every other voice!

Pylades Refusal is futile. For the noble hand

Of Necessity commands this; to her law

Even the gods themselves must submit.

That unyielding sister of eternal Fate,

Rules in silence; suffer what she insists

You must suffer; do what she decrees

You must do. As for the rest, know this:

I shall soon return, to receive the mark

Of our safe passage from your sacred hand.

Act IV: Scene V

(Iphigenia alone)

I must obey, for those who are my own

I see in pressing danger, yet, alas,

My own fate troubles me, more and more!

May I no longer retain that calm hope

That I nurtured so beautifully alone?

Is the curse destined to work forever?

Shall no new generation ever arise

And be blessed? All things are mortal!

Life’s deepest happiness, its noblest powers,

Must perish at the last, why not this curse?

For so I hoped, in vain, sequestered here,

Divorced from the destiny of my House,

Hoped, with a pure hand, and pure heart,

To atone for the stain upon its threshold.

No sooner is my brother in my embrace,

Swiftly, wonderfully, free of madness,

No sooner is the vessel in readiness

That might bear me to my native land,

Than Necessity’s noble hand decrees

That I must now commit a dual crime:

To steal the sacred, venerated image

Entrusted to me, and betray a man

To whom I owe my life and my safety.

At least let repugnance not grow within!

Nor let the Titan’s hatred for you gods

Fix its talons, like a vulture, in my heart!

Save me, and save your image in my soul!

The ancient chant sounds again in my ears!

I had forgotten it, and gladly so.

The song of the Parcae, once sung in horror

When Tantalus fell from his golden chair.

They suffered along with their noble friend,

Grim were their faces, dreadful was that chant.

As a child, our old nurse sang it to me,

And to my siblings, I recall it well.


Be afraid of the gods

All you mortal children.

In their hands, eternally,

They hold dominion;

And within their realm,

They do as they please.

Let him fear them the most

Whom they have exalted!

On high cliffs, and on clouds,

At the golden tables,

Their seats are prepared.

If discord arises

Swiftly the guest falls,

Reviled and dishonoured,

Far into the darkness,

To await there, in vain,

A kinder judgement.

Yet, the gods, they remain,

At their golden tables,

Endlessly feasting;

Or they go striding,

From mountain to mountain,

While from the deep chasms

The breath of the Titans

Half-smothered, arises

Like clouds of burnt incense,

That lift to the skies.

The gift of their glances

Quite often withholding

From whole generations,

They turn from the offspring

To gaze on the features

Once loved, and still speaking,

Of that ancient sire.

To the Parcae’s chanting,

The exiled one listens,

In his night-dark cavern,

The old man, to their song;

And thinks of his scions,

And shakes his grey head.

The End of Act IV of Goethe’s ‘Iphigenia in Tauris’