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For my February contribution to Jean’s Greek Classics Challenge over at Howling Frog Books I have re-read Sophocles’ Antigone. I read Antigone for the first time in the fifth grade when my teacher, Mr. Gray, had the whole class (parents included) participate in a socratic seminar about the play for open house. Pretty awesome, hunh?
Of course, since my mind is still swirling after reading Parenting Teens with Love and Logic, I kept thinking about Antigone in those terms. In all likelihood, both Antigone and her fiancé Haemon were teenagers who thought they knew everything. Creon, was probably a drill-sergeant type parent who wanted his word to be law. Throw in a family history of incest, rebellion, blindness and tragedy and kaboom— you’ve got a really bad situation on your hands that is going to have life and death consequences.
Try reading these excerpts from Antigone while thinking about her being a teenager:
Antigone: They see, and do not say. You have them cowed.
Creon: And you are not ashamed to think alone?
Antigone: No, I am not ashamed. When was it shame to serve the children of my mother’s womb?
Really, this could be a scene from a teen soap-opera on the CW! Now think about this scene between Haemon and his father:
Creon: At my age I’m to school my mind by his? This boy instructor is my master, then?
Haemon: I urge no wrong. I’m young, but you should watch my actions, not my years, to judge of me.
Creon: A loyal action, to respect disorder?
Hameon: I wouldn’t urge respect for wickedness.
Creon: You don’t think she is sick with that disease?
Haemon: Your fellow-citizens maintain she’s not.
Creon: Is the town to tell me how I ought to rule?
Haemon: Now there you speak just like a boy yourself.
Creon: Am I to rule by other mind than mine?
Reading Antigone as a parent, I was struck with how much I did not want her to disobey Creon and bury her brother Polyneices. As a mother, I wanted Antigone to stay alive. As an adult, I completely sided with her sister’s Ismene’s argument. But when I read Antigone as a fifth grader, I identified with Antigone. I thought she was really brave and noble to face death in order to do (in her mind) the right thing.
To me, this play is a clear lesson about how issuing ultimatums does not work, and power struggles should be avoided at all costs. If Creon had chosen his parenting approach differently, then his future daughter in law, his son, and his wife might all still be alive.
I decided to wade into Jean’s Howling Frog Books Greek Challenge with something easy, so I pulled down Mary Barnard’s translation of Sappho from my bookshelf. Whereas other versions of Sappho sometimes read like Victorian diarrhea (pardon my French), Barnard’s translations are crisp, modern and clear even though they were published over half a century ago.
When you hear the name “Sappho” usually one thing comes to mind these days, so I was surprised to rediscover that her poems cover such a wide range of topics and emotions. My favorite was fragment 17, which I first highlighted 15 years ago before I ever had children, or even met my husband:
I have a small
Cleis, who is
like a golden
take all Croseus’
kingdom with love
thrown in, for her