Modes of Greek Literary Influence in Seventeenth-Century French Drama
[…] 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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