A Modern Take on Iphigenia

Stacey Kaliabakos ‘23

Chief Opinions Editor

Image courtesy of Holy Cross’ Theatre & Dance Current Season Schedule
Iphigenia Painting

This past weekend, the departments of Theater & Dance and Classics put on the show Iphigenia by Euripides. Euripides was a playwright who lived in Athens during the 5th century B.C. Over the course of his life, it is estimated that he produced over 90 plays; however, only 19 of them have survived in full, while 63 remain in fragments and references. Euripides is said to have written two different plays about the mythological character Iphigenia: Iphigenia at Aulis and Iphigenia Among the Taurians. The two plays were performed in different years in Athens during a religious festival held in honor of Dionysus, the god of wine and of theater. The City Dionysia, the largest festival in Athens, took place each year and was an immense opportunity for playwrights to have their plays performed to thousands of spectators from Athens and beyond. 

The version of Iphigenia performed at Holy Cross is a combination of Iphigenia at Aulis and Iphigenia Among the Taurians. It was also translated into English by Professor Mary Ebbott of the Holy Cross Classics Department, who is an expert in the fields of Homeric epic, oral poetics, and Greek tragedy. In 2007, she traveled to Venice to partake in the Homer Multitext Project to photograph two of the oldest manuscripts of the Iliad that have survived to the modern day: the Venetus A and the Venetus B. The purpose of her mission with this team was to make images of the manuscripts accessible to the public online, which has led to extremely significant research in the area of manuscript studies all over the world and at home at Holy Cross. Professor Ebbott’s expertise in Homer and her dedication to making the manuscripts accessible has allowed Holy Cross’ Manuscripts, Inscriptions, and Documents Club to transcribe and edit the manuscripts for a diplomatic edition, that, once completed, will be published online for free. 

As Professor Ebbott writes in the playbill for Iphigenia, “Ancient Greek tragedy offers troubling questions about our human existence, without providing pat answers or lessons… In what ways do we rationalize doing what we know is wrong? What do we choose to do when we feel that we have no choice?” Indeed, her translation and the performance did prompt the audience to ponder these deep and significant questions. As someone who loves going to see student performances (I think I have seen almost every performance at Holy Cross since I came here in 2019), I was extremely excited for Iphigenia for many reasons. Firstly, as a classics major, I was thrilled to see another show inspired by antiquity (Eurydice last year was spectacular, in my opinion, so I had high expectations for this show). Additionally, I was looking forward to seeing Professor Ebbott’s work on the big stage, as I know her from the department and know many students who have raved about her expertise and knowledge. Finally, I couldn’t wait to see the first stage show to be performed at the Prior Performing Arts Center.

Overall, I think the play was spectacular. It was definitely not what I was expecting a Greek tragedy to be, but it had a modern twist. Instead of being set in Ancient Greece, it occurs in the 20th century. The cast wore Vietnam-era military outfits and the women in the play were dressed in classic mid-century attire. It also was an extremely engaging experience for several reasons. Firstly, a live projection was displayed on the back wall showing Agammemnon’s first speech where he contemplates the difficult decision before him. This artistic choice was very unique and interesting for viewers to see. Additionally, the special effects used are surprising and able to catch viewers off guard. Finally, the music and singing during the show was fantastic– the level of talent of the entire cast is incredible.

There were other students besides myself who greatly enjoyed the play. Anna Howie ‘26 said, “Iphigenia was performed incredibly well by its actors, and the script managed to tie two separate plays together and adapt them for a modern audience in a very compelling way.” Senior classics major Rebecca Rose Kaczmarek also said, “Professor Ebbott’s translation was incredible and extremely accessible for modern audiences. I thoroughly enjoyed the cast’s performance!” Kevin Akalski ‘23 told me, “The actors effectively managed to bring a play from the 5th century B.C. to life in a 20th century setting. It was very well done!”

Iphigenia will be on stage once more this weekend on November 10-12 at 7:30 p.m. and November 13 at 2:00 p.m. You may purchase your tickets at hctheatreanddance.eventbrite.com. 

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