Sophocles’ Antigone, Modernized

Burial at Thebes CoverSeamus Heaney brings his skill of translation to the ancient Greek tragedy, “Antigone,” first written by dramatist Sophocles in the 4th century BC.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 79 pages.

While Heaney’s “The Burial at Thebes” play translation was published in 2004, the crispness of the controlling pentameter he offers Creon and the lilting rhythm of Antigone borrowed from 18th century Irish lament Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire create a sense of modernity and honesty within the meter. Of the latter, Heaney says this:

I remembered the opening lines of Eihbhlin Dhubh NiChonaill’s lament, an outburst of grief and anger from a woman whose husband had been cut down and left bleeding on the roadside in County Cork, in much the same way as Polyneices was left outside the walls of Thebes, unburied, desecrated, picked by the crows.  But it was the drive and pitch of the Irish verse that clinched it: in the three-beat line of Eibhlin Dhubh’s keen I heard a note that the stricken Antigone might sound in the speedy haunted opening moment of the play…

And, with Seamus Heaney’s empathetic and technical brilliance, “The Burial at Thebes” maintains the honor and emotional tenor necessary to give voice to a young woman fighting for dignity of the dead, and the strained loneliness of a King trying desperately to hold on to power.

A cooling summer read for nostalgia, defiance, and historical significance.

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