Alle menschlichen Gebrechen
Suehnet reine Menschlichkeit
(For each human fault and frailty
Pure humanity atones).
The eighteenth century’s conception of “humanity,” the ideal of the truly human, found two-fold classic, artistic expression in Germany at the same time; in Lessing’s Nathan the Wise and in Goethe’s Iphigenia in Tauris, the former rationalistic, the latter broader, more subtle, mystical.
IPHIGENIA IN TAURIS (1787)
A DRAMA IN FIVE ACTS
TRANSLATED BY ANNA SWANWICK
Like Torquato Tasso, Iphigenia was originally written in prose, and in that form was acted at the Weimar Court Theatre about 1779. Goethe himself took the part of Orestes.
* * * * *
THOAS, King of the Taurians.
* * * * *
SCENE I. A Grove before the Temple of Diana.
Beneath your leafy gloom, ye waving boughs
Of this old, shady, consecrated grove,
As in the goddess’ silent sanctuary,
With the same shuddering feeling forth I step,
As when I trod it first, nor ever here
Doth my unquiet spirit feel at home.
Long as a higher will, to which I bow,
Hath kept me here conceal’d, still, as at first,
I feel myself a stranger. For the sea
Doth sever me, alas! from those I love,
And day by day upon the shore I stand,
The land of Hellas seeking with my soul;
But to my sighs, the hollow-sounding waves
Bring, save their own hoarse murmurs, no reply.
Alas for him! who friendless and alone,
Remote from parents and from brethren dwells;
From him grief snatches every coming joy
Ere it doth reach his lip. His yearning thoughts
Throng back for ever to his father’s halls,
Where first to him the radiant sun unclosed
The gates of heav’n; where closer, day by day,
Brothers and sisters, leagued in pastime sweet,
Around each other twin’d love’s tender bonds.
I will not reckon with the gods; yet truly
Deserving of lament is woman’s lot.
Man rules alike at home and in the field,
Nor is in foreign climes without resource;
Him conquest crowneth, him possession gladdens,
And him an honorable death awaits.
How circumscrib’d is woman’s destiny!
Obedience to a harsh, imperious lord,
Her duty, and her comfort; sad her fate,
Whom hostile fortune drives to lands remote!
Thus Thoas holds me here, a noble man
Bound with a heavy though a sacred chain.
O how it shames me, goddess, to confess