Author: Sophocles/Bertolt Brecht
Translator: Judith Malina
Synopsis: Polyneices, son of Oedipus and brother of Antigone and Ismene, is refused burial by their uncle King Creon for fighting his brother Eteocles in the Theban civil war. Antigone refuses to allow this transgression against divine law – the gods decree that all bodies must be buried – to occur and condemns herself by covering her brother in dust. Creon, headstrong with his own power, refuses her clemency and orders her to be walled up inside a mountain to die for her disobedience. Her fiancee, Creon’s youngest son Hamon, plees on her behalf to no avail. The city begins to dissent at the King’s treatment of Antigone and, as its barricades are threatened, Creon travels to the mountain to reverse his decision. His arrival is too late: Antigone has hung herself with a sheet and Hamon has fallen upon his own sword at her feet.
What moved me: if Antigone were stone, then her gentle sister Ismene is water. Unable to face the punishment she would receive for burying her brother, she declines Antigone’s plea for help. But there is a subtle strength in her, like a rich seam of metal, which seems more durable than her sister’s headstrong brittleness.
I won’t ask you again.
Follow someone who gives orders. And do
what you are ordered. But I
am following the custom and burying my brother.
And if I die for it? So what? I’ll rest in peace
among the peaceful. And I’ll have left
something holy behind me. I prefer
to make friends in the underworld,
for I will live there forever. As for you,
laugh at shame and live.
hard as it is to live in disgrace, still
even the salt tears stop. They don’t
flow from the eyes forever. The executioner’s ax
puts an end to life’s sweetness, but for the survivor
it opens the slow veins of pain. He can’t stop
screaming; yet even while screaming, he hears
the birds swooping above him
and sees through curtains of tears the familiar
elms and rooftops of home.