Antigone's Companions
February 1, 2005 4:48 PM   Subscribe

My book club is going to read Sophocles's Antigone this month. That work is quite short, so we'd like something to go along with it. Is there a book of criticism on this work that would be worth all finding and reading? Or, should we dive in and read the entire three Theban plays? Many of our members are students with limited time and finances, so books that can be found used are always appreciated.
posted by sohcahtoa to Media & Arts (13 answers total)
Maybe consider reading a translation of Jean Anouilh's seminal french adaptation/reimagining. It's also short, but 20th Century, existentialist, and much closer to Camus than to Sophocles.

It's also, as far as I know, quite common-place (at least in Canada).
posted by Marquis at 4:53 PM on February 1, 2005

I was going to say the exact same thing.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 4:57 PM on February 1, 2005

You might also try Seamus Heaney's rendition: The Burial at Thebes Its hardcover but looks like its only $12.

Also, I've found that the work does work better with Oedipus. And of course all of Sophocles works are free.
posted by vacapinta at 5:07 PM on February 1, 2005

I agree with vacapinta - Oedipus Rex is a good companion story.
posted by plinth at 5:19 PM on February 1, 2005

If you don't mind being particularly nerd-ly, Judith Butler's Antigone's Claim is a really interesting (and short) bit of recent criticism. But like all of Butler's work, it's not exactly breezy reading.
Here's a link to a review of the book, from The Nation.

Oh, and I wasn't that impressed with Heaney's version. Vacapinta, did you read it? Did you dig it?
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:34 PM on February 1, 2005

Jean Anouilh's version is definitely a great companion piece. Lends a really interesting perspective on the original.

That being said, I wouldn't underestimate the ability of the original play to generate a lot of discussion in and of itself. It is really an unbelievable exploration of the values of duty, honor and may not find that you need a lot more to generate a lot of interesting debate. (But definitely consider the Anouilh play--and the rest of his historical plays, especially "Becket"--just because they're awesome.)
posted by LairBob at 6:00 PM on February 1, 2005

Oh, and I wasn't that impressed with Heaney's version. Vacapinta, did you read it? Did you dig it?

I do have a copy only because Im a bit of a Heaney fan. That said, I agree, that its not a very impressive effort. Still, it might be good for comparative purposes. I dont think that different interpretations allow you to interpolate a text but they may in some cases help give you a sense of the original intent.
posted by vacapinta at 10:42 PM on February 1, 2005

Well, it's been awhile, but just the same I'd like to second LairBob's suggestion - don't assume that the length of the book will be an accurate barometer for how much material is in there. I'd opt for being thorough and sticking with the one (original) text rather than complicating it and increasing the chances that people won't do all the reading...
posted by fingers_of_fire at 11:07 PM on February 1, 2005

Jean Anouilh's version too here.
Well, in fact that's the only one I read in school (not Sophocle's), 'cos I'm French and everything. But a good read nonetheless...
posted by XiBe at 1:07 AM on February 2, 2005

And just to help you along, when I read Oedipus and Antigone in school, my class was required to write plot summaries (among other things), which I chose to do in limericks. My teacher didn't agree with my assessment of the difficulty of summarizing an entire Greek tragedy in 5 lines. Maybe you can use it as an intro.

Spoilers, if you hadn't guessed:

Oedipus Rex
There once was a guy named Oed
Who took his mother to bed.
He pierced his eyes
Amid painful cries
Of regret, remorse, and dread.

Kreon was this clown
Who thought he owned the town.
The gods showed him.
They murdered his kin
And left him with a frown.

posted by plinth at 5:17 AM on February 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

I would recommend pairing Antigone with Lysistrata. They match well, especially for a book group, because they have a great deal in common but also plenty of contrast. The were both written in mid-400 BC, this one thirty-odd years after Antigone. Aristophanes, the author, is the best-known comic playwright of classical times, whereas Sophocles, of course, was a serious philosopher. The pairing illustrates that there was both high and low culture in those times, just as in today.

As to the plot: Lysistrata is another play about war and its repercussions, but this one is a comedy. In it, the women of Athens band together and decide to withhold sex from the men until the men agree to end the war against Sparta.

You'll find the humor to be extremely modern and accessible, bawdy in many places, but not overly risque. It's interesting to compare the two plays' depictions of the role of women in a world of male power. And Lysistrata is a light, anti-war piece, whereas Antigone is a heavier think piece. I think reading these two together would make for an interesting, provocative, and challenging book group. It would certainly be more entertaining than reading three dramas, and provide a more rounded view of the literature of its times. Good luck. Sounds like a good group.
posted by Miko at 6:08 AM on February 2, 2005

How geeky is your book group? Aristotle's Poetics is an essay on the form of dramatic tragedy. It's short but dense (depending on the translation of course), is available free online from the Gutenberg project, and is probably anthologized into every western-theories-of-drama book ever published.

This would be especially good if you're pairing Antigone with Oedipus, as that's the play Aristotle draws most of his quotes from. He considered it the best example of the form.

But then, I am a hopeless theater geek. The Poetics might not appeal to everyone most people anyone but me.
posted by expialidocious at 3:22 PM on February 2, 2005

I just want to say that I thought plinth's Oedipus limerick was fantastic.
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:14 PM on February 2, 2005

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