Iphigenia in England

Following on again from my recent post In the annals of ancient Crete…

Boccaccio’s story of Iphigenia was adapted by the Seventeenth Century (Restoration) English poet (and Poet Laureate) John Dryden as Cymon And Iphigenia, and this was set to music (a solo cantata) by Thomas Arne in 1753.

Dryden (see, e.g., here or here) makes clear the feelings of Iphigenia for Cymon, prior to his (second) abduction of her:

Her secret soul to Cymon was inclined,
But she must suffer what her fates assigned;
So passive is the church of womankind.

In contrast, Boccaccio at this point in the story says only:

On such wise did our hapless and enamoured Cimon lose his so lately won Iphigenia before he had had of her more than a kiss or two. [In cosí fatta guisa il misero e innamorato Cimone perdé la sua Efigenia poco davanti da lui guadagnata, senza altro averle tolto che alcun bascio.]

It isn’t clear to me that these kisses indicate a sudden shift in affection. After all, Iphigenia has only just finished cursing him: ‘most of all Iphigenia, who, weeping bitterly and shuddering at every wave that struck the ship, did cruelly curse Cimon’s love and censure his rashness’.

Cassandra’s feelings are a little ambiguous:

A Rhodian beauty was the destined bride;
Cassandra was her name, above the rest
Renowned for birth, with fortune amply blessed.
Lysimachus, who ruled the Rhodian state,
Was then by choice their annual magistrate:
He loved Cassandra too with equal fire,
But Fortune had not favoured his desire;
Crossed by her friends, by her not disapproved,
Nor yet preferred, or like Ormisda loved:
So stood the affair: some little hope remained,
That, should his rival chance to lose, he gained.

From which I take it that both ladies had some positive feelings for their future abductors… and later they are, it seems, quite accepting of (or at least resigned to) their fate:

In safety landed on the Candian shore,
With generous wines their spirits they restore;
There Cymon with his Rhodian friend resides,
Both court and wed at once the willing brides.

Whatever the feelings of the two women, what is chiefly important is fiery passion of the two men. It is interesting, however, that Dryden has added something, a degree of consent, that is almost absent from the original.

The other Iphigenia

The story of Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon, reached English shores a lot earlier, it seems. Take a look at A newly discovered Roman Sculpture – the Fittleworth Iphigenia.

And finally – slightly off-topic since this last reference has (as far as I know) nothing to do with England – take a look at Jan Steen’s 1671 painting The Sacrifice of Iphigenia.

About Frank

A Sci-Fi & Fantasy author and lyrical poet with a mild obsession for vampires, succubi, goddesses and Supergirl.
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