Thoughts on Iphigenia in Tauris

The title of Euripides’s Iphigenia in Tauris can literally be translated as ‘Iphigenia Among the Taurians’. The term Tauris is not actually a place, but it refers to the Greek word for the Crimean Peninsula (Taurike). The Iphigenia story has fascinated and horrified artists since antiquity. Several later versions of the Iphigenia story were created, including one by Goethe, among others, and Euripides also wrote another play about Iphigenia, believed to be his last play or even published posthumously, called Iphigenia at Aulis.

Who is Iphigenia? Iphigenia is the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra of Mycenae (recall their downfall in Aeschylus’s masterful Oresteia). The story of Iphigenia becomes relevant as Agamemnon is en route to the fight in the Trojan War. He offends the goddess Artemis, there are conflicting stories throughout mythology as to how exactly he offends Artemis – some claim she is angered at all the young men who will surely die in Troy, and others claim Agamemnon committed an affront to Artemis by slaying one of her sacred animals. At any rate Agamemnon and the armies of Hellas are prevented from reaching Troy, by great winds and plagues, unless Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia. In one version of the story she is sacrificed on a pyre and dies, however in another version of the story Iphigenia is rescued by Athena and replaced at the last moment with an animal so no one would notice. This latter version of the story is the one Euripides employs in his play.

Euripides’s play begins ‘among the Taurians’ as Iphigenia laments her family’s fate as she believes Orestes has died, per a recent dream. She has been rescued by Athena and placed in captivity on this remote island. However, two foreign men from come ashore from Hellas, later revealed to be Orestes and his associate, Pylades. Iphigenia questions them until eventually Orestes concedes, in lament, and identifies himself as Orestes. He tells the story of the fall of Troy and the subsequent misfortunes that befell his household, the house of Atreus. Once they realize they are brother and sister, Orestes and Iphigenia hatch a plan to escape together back to Greece on Orestes’s ship. However Thoas, king of the Taurians, soon discovers their plot but it is too late. Athena appears to Thoas and waylays his concerns so Orestes and Iphigenia can escape. Thus concludes a summary of the play.

The plot is wholly similar to Euripides’s play Helen. Both plays offer the story of a woman honorably banished to a remote part of the world, convinced that their hero is dead, only to find moments later that he is alive when he rescues her. Together they escape the wrath of a jealous king who is prevented from chasing them by divinities.

Iphigenia is more of a romance or a comedy, and less of a tragedy. It presents a more hopeful version of the Iphigenia story, and offers a pleasant ending to the house of Atreus – a subject that Euripides was apparently fascinated with in later life. The play is presented as a tragedy, but it diverges from the standard formula: the tragic fault or tragic choice (hamartia), the punishment of hybris, the conflict of characters, inevitable rivalries and jealousies. These can be disregarded in Iphigenia. Instead, Euripides is interested in the ‘How’ rather than the ‘Why.’

The examination of meter in Greek tragedy instructive. By metrical analysis scholars like Richmond Lattimore believe the play was written somewhere between 410 BC-414 BC. The date is important because of the internecine war, the Peloponnesian War, which lasted roughly from 431 BC-404 BC. Euripides decided to drop the patriotic, pro-Athenian themes of his earlier plays (i.e. HeracleidaeAndromacheThe Suppliants) and instead embrace then new wholly Greek identity, the love of broader Greece and Greek culture. This key change in the Greek way of life will cultivate the soil for a broader Hellenism under Alexander “The Great” of Macedon.


For this reading I used the Anne Carson translation.

Swing Time (1936) Review

Swing Time (1936) Director: George Stevens

★★★★★

Swing Time is a wonderful film, and may be Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’s finest movie. Together they made ten Hollywood films, and nine of which were musicals for RKO. Six of them were the top money-makers for RKO. As Katherine Hepburn once said, “He gives her class, and she gives him sex appeal.” Fred Astaire has been called the most influential dancer ever to grace Hollywood. While he remained a force and a legend on Broadway and in other musicals, later with MGM post Ginger Rogers, Astaire would never reclaim the heights of his fame and success during his time in the early Golden Years of Hollywood of the 1930s.

There is no greater example of the elegance and beauty of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie than Swing Time. It is regularly ranked among their top films, along with Top Hat. The film was a hit, but marked a turning point for the Astaire/Rogers duo, as their films started to decline at the box office, never reaching their astronomical heights again. It was the sixth of their ten films together.

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It tells the story of John, or “Lucky”, who is a habitual gambler and dancer. In the beginning he attempts to court a woman named Margaret, however he shows up late to his own wedding only to meet her disapproving father. Her father will only be impressed if he makes some money – $25,000. Thus, Lucky and his bumbling but funny friend “Pop” head to New York City where they become entangled with Penny, via the dance studio where she works. Reluctantly, at first, Penny starts dancing with Lucky and they start auditioning their duet number, which leads Lucky back into gambling for their audition, as the band leader is in love with Penny and refuses to play for Lucky and Penny. He eventually wins the band leader’s contract, and they dazzle the crowd with their performance. The two start an innocent romance, which is paused when she finds out about his prior engagement plans, but in the end Lucky wins her back and they get married. Thus concludes the film.

Ginger Rogers had a successful career in Vaudeville and on Broadway before venturing into film. She was a supporting actress in 42nd Street. Her career took off when RKO paired her with Fred Astaire, the high class but unusually balding dancer. After the Astaire/Rogers films started to decline commercially, she starred in Kitty Foyle (1940) and won Best Actress for her performance. She was a lifelong conservative Republican, and a staunch and public opponent of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She was an only child, and remained close with her mother all her life, and she married five times, all of them ending in divorce. She was a Christian Scientist, and despite her stroke and paralysis in later years, she never went to a hospital or saw a doctor. She died of a heart attack in 1995. In 1998 at the Democratic National Convention it was announced that (paraphrased): ‘Fred Astaire was good, but remember that Ginger Rogers did all those dance routines, too, backwards and in high heels.’

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Astaire was an impressive man, known for his elegantly choreographed dance routines, and his perfection of the craft. He was a conservative lifelong Republican, though he rarely discussed politics. Like Bing Crosby and Ginger Rogers, Astaire was a founding member of the Hollywood Republican Committee. He was a churchgoer, military supporter, and was dismissive of the increasing graphic sensuality in films of the 1970s. He, along with Cary Grant, was known for being impeccably dressed  for every occasion. Personally, he married the daughter of a New York socialite family, Phyllis Potter, in 1933, despite his mother’s and sister’s objections. However, Phyllis’s death from lung cancer at age 46 devastated him. He was a golfer and a horse-breeder. It wasn’t until the age of 81, in 1980, that Astaire remarried Robyn Smith, a jockey 45 years his junior. He died in 1987 of pneumonia, and his last words were reportedly: “I didn’t want to leave this world without knowing who my descendant was, thank you, Michael”- in reference to Michael Jackson. His life was never portrayed on film, despite numerous offers to do so, and his will has a clause prohibiting any such portrayal.

While the plot leaves some things to be desired, and has a dated and unfortunate scene of blackface, Swing Time is nevertheless a marvelous and joyous film filled with wonderful song and dance routines, such as the famous “The Way You Look Tonight” by Jerome King – including a famous scene of Astaire singing the song alone at a piano, which one the film’s sole Oscar. Remarkably, the meticulous dance scenes were shot with only one or two stationary cameras, and very few, if any, cut scenes, leaving the magic of the cinema solely up to the dancers to perform. Swing Time is one of the greatest films, and my favorite of the Astaire/Rogers era.

The Gorgias, A Dialogue of War and Battle

The Gorgias, a dialogue of “war and battle,” has been called the natural introduction to the Republic. Why is this the case?

The Gorgias shows us a unique drama – a pupil of a foreign rhetorician versus a pupil of an Athenian philosopher. It is a dialogue in battle, perhaps the dialogue in battle, as Callicles’s opening words suggest. It is a contest between which teacher is better and therefore produces a more just pupil. The fight begins, but neither side is swayed one way or the other, therefore the dialogue concludes and the fight never ceases. It should be noted that the Gorgias is not the only dialogue devoted to the question of rhetoric. There is also the Phaedrus. However the Gorgias dialogue is unique. The Gorgias is dedicated to a kind of forensic rhetoric, that is, rhetoric concerning just and unjust speeches, or the kind of rhetoric employed in courtrooms, and the Phaedrus is dedicated to rhetoric pertaining to erotic speeches. The Phaedrus is also concerned with “love rhetoric” for the purposes of teaching, and caring for the pupils. Rhetoric, however, is the art of mere persuasion, in contradistinction to teaching and instruction. The Gorgias, however, concerns the battle between persuasion and teaching, a practice which is focused on making men just, and justice is the all-comprehensive virtue.

The dialogue proceeds as follows. Socrates arrives at a home in Athens with his friend and follower Chaerephon who has held him up in the agora. The distinguished guest is Gorgias, a foreign rhetorician from Sicily with his follower Polus. As in the case of the Republic, Socrates begins by engaging foreigners, or metics, like Gorgias and Polus, and then he proceeds to the native Athenians, primarily Callicles, where ultimately the more interesting dialogue occurs. This distinction is important. Foreigners must be careful about what they say, while natives can speak more freely. Callicles is the fifth and final member of the dialogue, a native Athenian. The Gorgias is a performed dialogue, unlike the Protagoras or the Republic, so we are not given a context by the narrator as to the timeframe for when it may have occurred. Based on the conversation, we know that Socrates and Chaerephon have been held up in the marketplace, and have just missed a marvelous performance from Gorgias, who is now exhausted from speaking. They decide that the two followers will engage in dialectic, as Chaerephon asks Polus what kind of craft he practices. When this fails, Socrates confronts Gorgias.

Gorgias’s art is of speeches, but Socrates notes that his art isn’t about all speeches, as in the case of speeches for sick people encouraging them to become healthy, or arithmetic or geometry. So what is the telos of the art of rhetoric? Gorgias reveals his true purpose at 452E -the role of the rhetorician is to persuade, and therefore to make one a slave to speeches. The objective is to control others, which is fundamentally a political endeavor. It concerns persuasion which is either just or unjust, as of those in law courts. Rhetoric is not concerned with the truth, rather it merely concerns someone who speaks persuasively, rather than those who teach so that others may learn. It is not unlike the definition of justice proclaimed by Polemarchus, that is, what is just is to the benefit of the giver, rather than the receiver. To Gorgias, rhetoric is a kind of box of tricks used to compel people one way or another.

Secondly, Gorgias claims that his art instructs others to become rhetoricians. Therefore, in order for him to teach rhetoricians, they must have knowledge of the just and the unjust. The ungraceful Polus also supports Gorgias in these claims, and much like Thrasymachus, he turns the conversation against Socrates. The rebuke of rhetoric is delivered to Gorgias through the exchange between Polus and Socrates. Socrates claims that rhetoric is a kind of “pandering”. He rebukes both Polus and Gorgias using “punishing” phrases for their art. The art of punishment is key to the dialogue. Unjust men do not respond to speeches, rather they only respond to punishment in the hopes that either they may be cured, or other unjust men may see the punishment be afraid of committing unjust deeds. While Gorgias and Polus are comfortable to sit on the sidelines of politics, a younger and more fiery rhetorician, Callicles, is more devoted to politics, and may employ the art of rhetoric for tyrannic ends. Callicles is the true danger with regard to the art of rhetoric. Socrates says there are two kinds of arts: each pertaining to soul and body. Politics, pertaining to the soul, is lawmaking and is like gymnastic training, while justice is like doctoring. Rhetoric is like pandering in the way that cooking tasty food is to doctoring. It does not heal or cure the people, rather it does the opposite, delivering to them only what they want to hear. According to Plato, there are some criminals who are incapable of being cured, or as modern man might call it, some criminals are incapable of being “susceptible to rehabilitation”.


Now let us pause. In the first part of the dialogue, Gorgias was challenged to defend the power of his rhetorical skill, and both he and his follower, Polus, are “shamed” into submission from their feeble responses, depending mainly on the applause of the demos. Gorgias is made speechless by Socrates’s rhetoric. Polus is made silent, but perhaps persuaded. During the Polus section, Socrates reveals that rhetoric is mere flattery, on par with cosmetics, and it is powerless if power is the ability for a man to have control over himself and know what is good for himself. In the next part, Socrates will reveal the failure of his rhetoric to an unconvinced Callicles. Part two of the dialogue begins when Chaerephon redeploys Socrates’s words and beckons that Callicles, who think Socrates is not being serious, “ask the man himself” (481B). Callicles accuses Socrates of being a demagogue. Recall, that Callicles utters the first words of the dialogue, playfully accusing Socrates of cowardice. Callicles, for all we know, may be a fictional character. In the second part of the dialogue, he continues his accusation of Socrates. He claims that Socrates deliberately tries to obfuscate the issue. If the question is of whether something is beautiful by nature, Socrates proceeds by convention, if something is beautiful by convention, Socrates proceeds by nature. In this way his interlocutors can never win. Callicles is a man in love with the demos, the people. His charge against Socrates is that his soul and his actions are not just, and, perhaps most powerfully, he defends rhetoric on the merits of its manliness.

Callicles cites Pindar and notes that the “just thing by nature” is that the superior man should rule over the inferior, the better should rule the worse. Callicles tacitly agrees with Thrasymachus. The greater person is the smarter and more manly person, the superior person. Callicles’s claims must not rule over themselves, however, and should instead tend to their desires, as the democrat is wont to do. Together, they investigate the ends of the rhetorical craft of great men: Pericles, Themistocles, Cimon and Miltades. Ultimately, it is determine by what Socrates and Callicles agree on that none of these men of Athens (Pericles, Themistocles, Cimon and Miltades) were good in political affairs, to which Callicles warns Socrates that he had better watch what he says or else he will surely be judged and put to death. Socrates disregards Callicles and notes that it would be an unworthy person putting a worthy person to death, and Socrates believes himself to be the only one concerned with political things in Athens, since he is the one who is looking to the good of the city, not merely making pleasing and pandering speeches as the sophists and the rhetoricians do. He believes himself to be a true doctor, not a doctor merely preparing tasty food to give to sick people. The end of punishment is the betterment of society as a whole. The contest between Callicles and Socrates is between the philosophic life and the political life, and the question of whether the just life is the same as the pleasant life, as Callicles claims. In their confrontation, which may be read as a kind of parallel between Glaucon’s conversation with Socrates in the Republic, Socrates and Callicles represent different types of rhetoric: there is a noble rhetoric which leads people to virtue; and there is also a frivolous form of rhetoric which is relative and useless as it encourages people to pursue base pleasures. There is also a lowly or base form of rhetoric which is concerned with self-preservation.

Recall, for a moment, the problematic nature of justice in the Republic. Justice means two different things at the same time: giving to each what is good for his soul, and the pursuit of the common good. Thus the parallel between city and man, which is not entirely harmonious. One must consider what is good for the individual, as well as what is good for society. Socrates employs a kind of punishment, a rhetorical punishment, of three rhetoricians for their transgressions against the city. In this way, Socrates is the true defender of the city. Socrates finds at least some value in rhetoric, as a tool to punish the unjust, in an effort to restore mental health. However, ultimately, rhetoric cannot bridge the gap between philosophy and the city. The problem of the Republic is that rhetoric must be made omnipotent, and at the same time subordinate to the rule of philosophy, to persuade the people of the noble lie and regulate the unjust speeches of the poets and so on. This subordination is an impossibility. Like the Republic, the Gorgias abstracts from eros, though we see eros rehabilitated in the Symposium in the form of poetry and in the Phaedrus in the form of erotic rhetoric, as mentioned above, though much more visibly in the Phaedrus. Plato offers a certain preference for rhetoric over and against poetry in the Gorgias.

Socrates concludes with a speech, a myth, or perhaps what Callicles would consider a myth. It should be noted that Socrates tends to reiterate a myth (he never creates one out of his own imagination) as a response to the needs of the particular soul-type with whom he is conversing. It is intended to be a remedy, though we can assume Callicles may not be persuaded. A summary of the myth is as follows: during the early reign of Zeus he develops a new way for souls to be judged after death. Too many souls are going to the Isles of the Blessed without proper judgement. Therefore, Zeus commands that all souls strip naked along with the judges and he puts two of his sons from Asia in charge of judging, Minos (to have the elder and final judgement) and Rhadamanthus (to judge those from Asia) and one from Europe, Aeacus (to judge those from Europe). Those souls who have lived a just and noble life go to the Isles of the Blessed and the others go to Tartarus. Socrates uses this story as a defense of punishment. Those who are punished become better for it, and punishment serves as a benefit to those who see it so they become afraid and profit in the long run, as is the objective of “war and battle”.


For this reading I used the Joe Sachs translation as featured in the Focus Philosophical Library in conjunction with Aristotle’s Rhetoric.

Morning Glory (1933) Review

Morning Glory (1933) Director: Lowell Sherman

“Youth has its hour of glory… but too often it’s only a morning glory, the flower that fades before the sun is very high.”

★★★★☆

Morning Glory is an excellent film starring Katharine Hepburn, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Adolphe Menjou. The whimsical score for the film was composed by the brilliant Max Steiner. The plot was derived from a then-yet-to-be-staged play of the same name by Zoe Akins.

It tells the story of the youthful and idealistic Eva Lovelace (played by Katharine Hepburn). She has left the small town of Franklin, Vermont, and has her heart set upon becoming a famous stage name in the big city, New York City. She flirts and forces her way into the acting business at the Easton Theatre. She comes across as eccentric and speaks too much, but her youth and innocence draws people to her. She attempts to be a student of Robert Hedges, a well-known British actress. Months pass, and she falls into financial straights. She runs into Hedges, who invites her to a party at Mr. Easton’s home where she gets drunk and makes a spectacle of herself, but delivers several Shakespearean monologues, from Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. She promptly falls asleep, and in shame the next morning, Mr. Easton takes advantage of her and ignores her for months until the Easton Theatre’s big production. The main actress, Rita, makes sudden and last minute demands for a large salary increase. Ultimately, Easton reluctantly agrees to replace Rita with Eva Lovelace. In the end she is a tremendous success, she and Easton make up with one another professionally, and she is left alone with an aging dresser, a former “morning glory” -a flower that fades just before the sun is high. Every year a new youthful beauty makes a hit on broadway. Eva rejects the man who loves her and instead chooses fame. The film ends as she chooses to be a morning glory shouting, “I’m not afraid” over and over.

“I’m not afraid! I’m not afraid of being a morning glory!”

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The film is only Katharine’s third movie, garnering her an Academy Award for Best Actress, her first of four. It was an RKO production.