Tag Archives: Greek Tragedy

It’s Not Too Late

The snowy cold he knows to flee and every human exigency crackles as he plugs it in every outlet works but one: death stays dark.
– Sophokles, Antigonick, translated by Anne Carson illustrated by Bianca Stone.

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I was recently move to reread Antigone after a discussion with a lovely man over the eponymous character’s attributes. I love Anne Carson’s translations, so I was thrilled to find her version,  Antigonick in my library system. But I had no idea just what a treat it would be. More of an artist’s book than straightforward text with illustrations. The interplay between words, images, pages, and color is magnificent, irreverent, absurd, lovely, and striking.

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The book as a whole, as an object inseparable from the visual and tactile components that it comprises, makes the rash Kreon all the more ridiculous, the sweet Antigone all the more reasonable in her steadfast refusal to be shamed by the capricious laws of a man (or men, writ large). In the collaborative translation, illustration, and design trio of Carson, Stone and Robert Currie, Kreon is shown to be the flibbertigibbit that he is, but to tragic effect. He spews his nouns and verbs, but the black and white words imprison the letter of his laws, shutting his heart to the vitality of wisdom.

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Tangled up, and cornered in, when one can not feel and let love be the ruler of the day the results are bloody awful. And for Sophokles, that is quite literal. The body count is high. Oh! the Greek Tragedians – they didn’t fool around! The Chorus sings, “You’re late to learn what’s what aren’t you” And for Kreon it is a painful realization. Yes, he is late, so late. But, it’s never too late for wisdom. Isn’t that why we continue to revisit these tales of woe and tragedy? – to soften our hearts with what is wise and true.

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Tragedy in a Cup of Joe

“serenity now: insanity later.”

After a stressful series of errands to run and an hour to kill before I had to go to the library to meet my son, I went to a little cafe to sit for a moment: actually it was only after I was anxiously and studiously weighing the expenditure, indulgence, extravagance  and a voice finally screamed at me in my head GO HAVE A CUP OF COFFEE AND A COOKIE FOR CHIRST’S SAKE, JESSICA! that I wearily drove there.

I had forgot earlier in the day that I was going to meet my son so had already been to the library to pick up a few plays that we are reading for our book group. I brought one of the plays in with me to read, my choices were Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, Euripide’s Medea, or Sophocles’ Oedipus. I choose Oedipus because it was the newest most handsomest book. These are all stories everyone is familiar with, but it is interesting to read or re-read them. David R. Slavitt’s translation was a crisp, clip of a read. The first half seemed to go something like this:

Oedipus: Tiresias, prophet man, tell me who killed Laius.
Tiresias: No sir.
Oedipus: You better tell me right now.
Tiresias: No way.
Oedipus: Wow, you are seriously pissing me off.
Tiresias: Never the less…
Oedipus: Tell me immediatly or I will banish you!
Tiresias: Go right ahead, I didn’t even want to come here.

And so on. Oedipus tries to get his wife Jocasta involved, but she wisely sides with Tiresias and then in a flash of understanding tries in earnest to get him to drop his inquiry. It’s all very tragic as a Greek tragedy should be I suppose – torn hair, gnashing teeth, eyes poked out: a bloody mess.

I don’t know, maybe my formative years were unduly influenced by books such as Hyemeyohsts Storm’s Seven Arrows and John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire, (both unusual stories of consenting adult incest) but I just wanted to say to Oedipus and Jocasta, “Relax. You didn’t know. How can the sin of incest be a sin if there was no intent anyway? Perhaps going forward, you have some issues to work out, but hey, your kids all seem fine: as Fezik asks in The Princess Bride– ‘Doesn’t that you make you happy?’ No need to torture yourselves. Yes, you killed your father, but the crime was murder not really patricide. Come on people, letter of the law verses spirit, everybody chill out.”
This is probably why I don’t write fiction. Then again, I can make my own little Greek drama out of purchasing a cup of coffee….