Daily Archives: December 31, 2010

The Burial at Thebes

The Burial at Thebes, a version of Sophocles’ Antigone by Seamus Heaney

I adore Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, so the lit-geek in me squeed when I saw that he’d done translations of two of Sophocles’ plays.

I read Antigone in college. That was over ten years ago, but I don’t recall being unhappy with the translation I read. Not like Beowulf. With Beowulf, I was required to read an utterly dry prose version. I might be wrong about this, but I’m not sure it’s ever a good idea to turn poetry into prose when translating a work. When I came across Heaney’s Beowulf, it was like a breath of frosty Viking sea air. Since I lacked the utter disappointment of hearing a bad cover of Antigone first, Heaney’s version had to stand strong on its own.

It certainly does. Each character is given a cadence to their speech which gives more indication of mood than any stage direction could. Heaney does not shrink from emphasizing the parallels between this story and modern arguments of patriotism. Love of country shouldn’t be defined by disdain for others, Creon’s mistake. And I’m reminded of the interesting relationship the Greek authors had with their female characters. Antigone continually states that she’s doing her duty as a woman and will stand up for it. Creon belittles her for being just a woman, while everyone around him seems to state, “Doesn’t matter what she is. She’s right.”

I have The Cure at Troy to read as well. This new infusion of Seamus Heaney makes it less likely that I’m going to re-read Beowulf in the next month.