In Griselda Gambaro’s Antígona furiosa, the title character undergoes multiple transformations: Antígona becomes a voice for her brother Polinices and for the on-stage effigy of Creonte; she becomes the site of the battle between Polinices and Eteocles; she becomes both Hamlet and Ophelia. In every manifestation, she operates as a representative for Asociación Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, an Argentine organization that, since 1977, has protested the disappearances of their relatives in the Dirty War of 1976-1983. Thus, Antígona takes on—and equips las Madres with—the role of a messenger. In this paper, I focus, on the one hand, on one messenger’s nervous speech in Sophocles’ Antigone, where the messenger describes his physical “going back” (anastrophe) by going back in his narrative, retracing steps that he has already taken while describing his and Antigone’s returns to the unburied body of Polyneices. On the other hand, I look at how the title character in Antígona furiosa returns endlessly to the site of her brother’s body—or, more precisely, the site of its absence. These returns, these multiple levels of anastrophe, enable the plays to respond to political contexts their authors knew nothing about.
The term anastrophe most literally means “turning back”; it carries a sense of return, repetition, inversion, recursion, and even, in some cases, overthrow (LSJ s.v.). In Sophocles’ Antigone, anastrophe is mentioned for the first time by a messenger describing his trepidation at having to deliver the news of the burial of a war criminal to the Theban king, Creon. The messenger employs the literal meaning of anastrophe when he describes his ὁδοῖς κυκλῶν [ἑ]αυτὸν εἰς ἀναστροφήν at v. 226; but in his speech and in the burial that he describes, we can see the other valences of anastrophe emerge.
Some twenty-five hundred years later, we might view Gambaro’s Antígona furiosa as an anastrophe of its own. Marta Contreras (1994) highlights the liner notes from an early playbill: “Antígona furiosa takes the theme of Antigone, culls passages from the original and other works, arms a new Antigone outside of time such that, paradoxically, she tells us her story in her time and in ours” (my translation). Like the messenger in Sophocles’ Antigone, Gambaro’s Antígona alerts the audience to an act of rebellion that took place outside of their view; like the messenger, Antígona returns narratively and dramatically to the place of this rebellion and so renders it not only acknowledgeable but also visible—through her actions—to the audience. Her messenger’s speech stages violence that the audience cannot bear to see.
In “Antigone and the Polis,” Moira Fradinger (2010) grounds her reading of Antigone in the play’s ancient context in order to arrive at an interpretation that concerns our 21st-century political conundra. This paradox, I suggest, lies at the core of Sophocles’ play, and we can draw out its message for our own politics through the anastrophe that turns Gambaro’s Antígona into a messenger. Our Antigones’ anastrophai are destructive, but they are also recursive. Antigone’s returns build their political message from the rubble of war-torn Thebes; Antígona’s, from the disappearances in war-torn Argentina.
I conclude the paper by exploring the consequences of Antígona’s returns. As an Antigone, she takes us back to Sophocles and forces us to consider his political context. As an actress, she forces us to confront the doomed repetitions of her character: Antigone always dies. And as a messenger, she draws our attention to what we could not see and brings to life the disappeared bodies of the lost. Like the audience at Erin Mee’s 1999 production of Antígona furiosa, who had to turn their chairs around to face the stage, we must turn to face the destruction that Antigone puts on display (Mee and Foley, 2011). We must choose to watch Antigone meet an end that she has met for millennia, and we must then decide what her death means for us now.
Ancient Drama / New World