Today, however, on this most auspicious beginning to the Best Year Ever (crossed fingers), I have met the first of my Reading Challenge Goals, and I am here to tell you about it.
Title: Burial at Thebes
Author: Seamus Heaney
Challenge: A Book I Can Finish In A Day
Date: January 1, 2015
I have a very soft, squishy spot for Antigone. Two months of memorization in order to act in it should, by all accounts, have made it revolting to me. Instead, I'm a little obsessed.
The basic story is that Antigone's two brothers have killed each other in a battle for the control over Thebes. One brother, Eteocles, was defending Thebes; Polyneices was attacking it. At their deaths, Antigone's uncle, Creon, took over; he gave Eteocles a hero's burial, but left Polyneices' carcass to the dogs. This, in Antigone's mind, goes against the laws of the gods, and she defies Creon's edict and buries her brother after all.
It's a wonderful, terrible story, and still very relevant. Antigone is my favorite literary Greek female - she's desperate and headstrong, wild and defiant, stringently moral and deeply romantic. I don't know how you couldn't love her, and it's not too hard to understand why Haemon follows her into death.
And it's not that Creon is a villain - it's just that he and Antigone are complete opposites in belief, while being completely alike in determination and pride. It's the most volatile of personality clashes that culminates in the most violent of body counts, on par with Hamlet and King Lear.
Heaney's translation isn't my favorite. It's a "modern" take on Antigone, but the modernization of the text only goes so far. The sentence structure is simplified, and the word choice is simplified, and some monologues are simplified... Like I said in my Goodreads review, it feels like a simplification, rather than a modernization. There's no modern slang or diction - it doesn't read like the dialogue of today - which was what I was hoping for. Instead, the simplicity just feels stiff and uninspired.
I will say that he made an interesting choice in meter. Rather than sticking to one type of verse, Heaney adapts the verse for whoever is speaking. Antigone and Ismene begin speaking in short, three-beat lines that flow smoothly and quickly. The Chorus tends to speak in a kind of Old English verse, generally with line alliteration and a matching number of beats on each side of the caesura. Creon and Haemon speak in iambic pentameter. It's often inexact, and Antigone slips into iambic a few times, herself, but overall the effect is a good one. The Chorus never fails to sound ominous, even when their word choice is questionable.
It got four stars from me on Goodreads, even though I wasn't a huge fan of some of his artistic choices. It's Antigone; the story is always good. It's a good choice for my first read on this first day of 2015.