Edith Hall, Adventures with Iphigenia in Tauris: A Cultural History of Euripides’ Black Sea Tragedy. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.
What do Goethe, Dorothy Lamour, Catherine the Great, Florence Nightingale, Ovid, and Vladimir Putin all have in common? One answer is clear for readers of Edith Hall’s study of Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris: in the shaping of their careers and in the articulation of their identities, all have followed in the footsteps of Euripides’ intrepid heroine. From Goethe’s embrace of the classical ideal figured in the friendship of Orestes and Pylades, through Ovid’s meditation on the imagined boundary between barbarism and civilization; from Catherine’s shrewd adoption of an expansionism that would unite her Russia with ancient Greece, to the “two guys and a girl” films in which Lamour played the spunky female pal of buddies Bob Hope and Bing Crosby; from Nightingale’s embodiment of a benevolent colonialism in the Crimean War to Putin’s reassertion of an imperial politics in 2014—for all of these figures and many others, Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris has been an ideational model. Edith Hall’s project is to weave the threads—often so fine that they seem invisible, but they are there nonetheless—linking these and many other moments in cultural history into a compelling narrative about the history of reading and readers of Greek literature.
But this book is not simply a working example of the theory of six degrees of separation popularized by John Guare: Hall’s discussion moves swiftly but coherently from Euripides’ ancient readers and the earliest texts in which we can read the legacy of Iphigenia to build a picture of this play’s enduring if polymorphous presence in the adventure narratives of the ancient novel and in Roman discussions of friendship, in apocryphal saints’ lives and in the early modern encounter between Christianity and Islam, in the enlightenment’s self-conscious defining of civilization and in modernity’s sometimes brutal challenge to civilization itself. Hall deploys all three of the sub-disciplines in which she has already demonstrated her mastery—Greek drama, the cultural politics of otherness, and classical receptions—in a remarkable work that both embodies the integrative methods of our discipline and suggests a new model for the future of classical studies, as reception studies show us how to explore the continuities—and to register the discontinuities—between the classical past and our present. On behalf of the Society for Classical Studies, therefore, this committee is delighted to award the Goodwin Prize to Edith Hall, in honor of Adventures with Iphigenia in Tauris: A Cultural History of Euripides’ Black Sea Tragedy, with its promise of a present and future for the inescapable, and inescapably intrepid, classical past.
Goodwin Award Committee
Peter T. Struck, Chair
Barbara Weiden Boyd