By David Lehman
November 21, 2017
I can hardly be alone in the fascination I have for Antigone, as who would not be? The daughter (and younger sister) of Oedipus, she supports the blinded ex-Rex to the end, and she is more steadfast than her sister, more valiant than her brothers. She plays a major part in Oedipus at Colonus, the second play in the Oedipus cycle of Sophocles, and is the title character of the third. One reason for her appeal: she is the incarnation of the spirit of resistance to tyranny and authority. Defying the state to uphold a moral principle that transcends politics, she gives up her life for her belief, and the prince who loves her kills himself in despair.
What fascinates me, too, are the modern efforts to make new poems out of an ancient saga. For example: the intellectually mind-blowing interpretation of Antigone that Kierkegaard makes in Either / Or. I love philosophers for the distinctions they make, as Kierkegaard does in distinguishing pain (for which moderns have a tendency) from sorrow (which is the province of the ancients). Kierkegaard contends that Antigone has a secret, but what that is I’m not telling.
My prompt for next week: write an eight-line poem entitled “Antigone,” or “The Secret of Antigone,” in the form of an acrostic for her name. Line one must begin with A, line two with N, and so forth.
Tips: Consider how the two halves of our heroine’s name, “anti” and “gone,” may come into play in writing about her. Or whether anagrams based on her name—“giant,” “nation,” “tone,” “one,” “no”—may serve a useful purpose. And remember that the relation of the title to the text—or, in this case, of the coded message to the text—can be ambiguous.
The first line for my own effort will probably be: As David to Goliath is Antigone to Creon.
For those who have not yet read Sophocles, the translation by Robert Fitzgerald and Dudley Fitts is highly recommended, but this week’s challenge you can undertake even if all you know of this noble heroine is what you read in the top paragraph or in a reputable Classical Dictionary.
Deadline: Saturday, November 25, midnight any time zone. Perhaps I should extend the deadline if there’s a popular outcry in view of the joys and demands of Thanksgiving. In any event, Antigone is a fruitful subject bound to stimulate us beyond the limits of the hebdomadaire, a word I have never previously used in print.
David Lehman is a poet and the general editor of The Best American Poetry series. He teaches at The New School in New York City.
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