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Hellenic Whispers

Modes of Greek Literary Influence in Seventeenth-Century French Drama


Susanna Phillippo

Hellenic Whispers builds a picture of how Greek literature was received and reworked by the authors of seventeenth-century French tragedy. Using case studies, the author establishes a new methodology for exploring the variety of responses and creative processes involved in these encounters with classical Greek material. The book explores the complex interactions surrounding these adaptations of Greek dramatic material, involving the input of scribes, editors, translators and earlier authors, and asks the important question of what these dramatists conceived of themselves as doing. Focusing on a time and place where cultural predilections and a lack of linguistic training made engagement with the original Greek texts problematic, the book explores the creative role of intermediary sources, the build-up of chain reactions between sources and the cumulative processes of recreation involved in the genesis of seventeenth-century dramatic texts. The volume also goes on to explore wider questions relevant to the classical tradition and issues of ‘source study’ and reception.


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[…] c’est moi qui, la première, Seigneur, vous appelai de ce doux nom de père — Jean Racine, Iphigénie 1193–4 πρώτη σ’ἐκάλεσα πατέρα (‘I was first to call you father’) — Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis 1220 Jean Racine, like several other French seventeenth-century dramatists, adapted Greek tragedy and on this basis created some of his most success- ful works. The above pair of quotations, from Iphigenia’s appeal to her father not to sacrifice her, shows how close the relationship between such new plays and their Greek source could be. Except that things are not so straightforward. It is not just that Racine elaborates the Euripidean phrase to fit contemporary poetic style, and to enhance the powerfully emotive appeal it embodies with the extra detail ‘ce doux nom de père’; although such adjustments of detail will be an important part of our exploration of creative imitation. Nor, even, is it only the fact that Racine sets this half-line within a speech whose rhetorical strategy involves a sophisticated variation on the Euripidean equivalent, with the heroine’s application of emotional pressure cloaked in apparent submission; although such creative reworking of imitated material is another crucial aspect of the operation of inf luence which we shall be studying. The complexity lies also in the lines of transmission, and therefore inf luence, linking Racine and Euripides. We know that Racine read Euripides’ play in the original language, and there is good evidence that he created his own Iphigénie in many respects on the basis...

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