Why Antigone Now?
As Willa Cather once wrote, "There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before." One of those stories is about Antigone, daughter of Oedipus. It reached us through Sophocles' 441 BC play, in which the heroine defies King Creon's decree by giving her rebel brother a proper burial. This "struggle between the law of the individual conscience and the central power of the state," as David Grene puts it, has transformed the play Antigone through the centuries into a kind of beacon. Wherever powerless citizens are standing up against authority, for causes they believe to be morally right, Sophocles' play can be discerned. It is no surprise that the story has spawned countless adaptations, by everyone from Jean Cocteau to Bertolt Brecht, from Felix Mendelssohn to Jean Anouilh.
One of its most recent adaptors is poet Anne Carson, who retold the Antigone myth as Antigonick. In this video, she reads it live. Her performance opens with a poem called "the task of the translator of antigone."
Juliette Binoche recently starred in a stage production of Carson's Antigonick. Here, she can be seen discussing the power of both Sophocles' play and Carson's adaptation:
What can we learn from Antigone today? In a conversation with Bill Moyers, philosopher Martha Nussbaum argues that ancient Greek theater can help us navigate our most difficult moral dilemmas:
Many today follow in Antigone's footsteps. The individual who best embodies her moral courage is perhaps Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani human rights activist who, while still a teenager, was targeted by the Taliban and sparked a movement for women's education. In this video, she addresses a Youth Assembly at the United Nations. "Here I stand, one girl among many. I speak not for myself, but for those without voice to be heard. They thought that the bullet would silence us, but they failed."
Mona Eltahawy, is an award-winning writer and lecturer, and the author of Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution. In this video, Eltahawy delivers a TEDx talk about violence against girls and women, as well as the need for a true sexual revolution.
"My body belongs to me. It does not belong to the state, it does not belong to any temple of worship, it does not belong to the street, and it does not belong to my family. That statement in and of itself is a sexual revolution."
Berta Cáceres, the Honduran environmental activist and co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) is best known for mounting a successful campaign to prevent an illegal dam development on indigenous territory. She was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015. As a result of her activism, she was murdered in her home earlier this year.
“I want to live, there are many things I still want to do in this world but I have never once considered giving up fighting for our territory, for a life with dignity, because our fight is legitimate.”
Not all modern-day Antigones are women, as Bryan Stevenson's life demonstrates. A lawyer and social justice activist, he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, which provides legal representation to death row inmates in Alabama. A tireless advocate for racial and criminal justice, Stevenson is currently developing The Memorial to Peace and Justice in Montgomery, which will document all the lynchings that took place in the South between 1877 and 1950. Here he is profiled in the New Yorker: