Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Antigone Legend

Antigones (Oxford Paperbacks)

The ordinary man casts a shadow in a way we do not quite understand. The man of genius casts light. - George Steiner

Between  c.1790 and c.1905, it was widely held by European poets, philosophers, scholars that Sophocles' Antigone was not only the finest of Greek tragedies, but a work of art nearer to perfection than any other produced by the human spirit. (Antigones, p 1)

George Steiner, unquestionably one of the most perceptive and linguistically sensitive of contemporary critics, offers in Antigones a major contribution to twentieth century literary criticism. In his earlier work After Babel (1975), which has already become a landmark study of language and translation, Steiner uses the biblical metaphor of the Tower of Babel in Genesis to underscore the complex layerings of meaning surrounding a text, the fluctuating historical and cultural connotations of words which make exact translation virtually impossible. 
 In Antigones, subtitled "How the Antigone legend has endured in Western Literature, Art, and Thought",  he accomplishes the almost impossible task of tracing the Antigone theme in literature from the original tragedy through more than two milleniums of literature. A study in the act of reading while considering other arts as well suggests the transcendent quality of this work. For example, the musical presentations of this theme are discussed considering works by Mendelssohn, Saint-Saens, Orff, and Honegger. By the conclusion of the final chapter the cumulative effect of this seemingly slight work is simply overwhelming (as is much of Steiner's ouevre).

Antigones by George Steiner. Oxford, New York. 1984.


Parrish Lantern said...

Was a great fan of After Babel & this reminds mi in part of Alberto Manguels Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey which traces the importance of these two epic poems compiled by Homer by surveying how they have been read throughout history, from Plato to Virgil, from Dante to Alexander Pope, from James Joyce to Derek Walcott.

James said...

Thanks for your reference to Alberto Manguel's great little book. I found it a nice side read the last time I reread The Odyssey.