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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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Chapter 3 Iphigenia in Tauris


Our first series of plays, based on Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris,1 represents the most straightforward but least common case that arose with Greek tragedies adapted by French seventeenth-century authors. Here, the dramatists were looking back to a Greek tragedy for which there existed neither a Senecan counterpart, nor a readily accessible translation except for the parallel Latin versions accompanying editions of the Greek text.2 Nor was there an earlier French adaptation to act as stimulus and conduit. There was a sixteenth- century Italian adaptation, Giovanni Rucellai’s 1525 L’Oreste; this, how- ever, while representing some aspects of the Greek quite closely, reworked Euripides far more freely than Lodovico Dolce did in his sixteenth-century Italian version of Iphigenia in Aulis, or Robert Garnier did with Hecuba and parts of Troades in La Troade (see pages 11, 381–6). One or more of these conditions applied almost universally when a Greek play acted as ultimate source for seventeenth-century dramatists; the exceptions are Euripides’ Heracleidae (De Brie’s Héraclides, 1695), Sophocles’ Ajax (La Chapelle’s Ajax, 1684) and Euripides’ Andromache – the last a contributing source for Racine’s Andromaque and Sallebray’s and Pradon’s La Troade plays (though either in somewhat complex fashion or on a small scale). It follows that, in theory, access to the Greek play in this case was subject to the least degree of complication, in terms of transmission. Seventeenth- century writers’ access to Euripides’ play itself was at most at one principal remove, through the closely parallel Latin translations of available...

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