Antigone – An Inspiration

Antigone is the name of a Canadian organization that encourages young women to become involved in politics. They have a magazine, a web site and are in the process of establishing a charitable foundation that would provide support to women under the age of 35 who choose to pursue a political career.

Antigone Rising is the name of all female New York singing group, that performs rock and pop music in four-part harmony. They give about two hundred concerts a year and recently signed a contract with a major record label.

Antigone is the name of the young female heroine of an ancient Greek tragedy written by Sophocles. Antigone revolts against the leader of her state when he tries to stop her from doing what she believes is right. She wants to provide an honorable burial for a war hero. Her state leader, who had political differences with the dead man, orders that his body be left lying in the open for the birds to feed upon. Antigone insists such an undignified burial will displease the gods and is disrespectful and immoral. She buries the body herself and is punished by death for having done so.

Antigone is an inspiring character. Her story has been re-told by great artists like Mark Rothko, famous musicians including Mendelssohn, and countless playwrights who have rewritten Sophocles’ original drama and set it in their own time. There are operas about Antigone, poems telling her story and the United States Navy even named one of its World War I battleships after her.

Jean Anouilh, a French playwright created his version of Antigone during the Nazi occupation of Paris. It is easy to see why the ancient Greek story about a single person who has the courage to stand up to their ruler might be seen as subversive in an occupied country. Maybe that is why Anouilh’s Antigone only had its first performance after World War II had ended.

Perhaps the most legendary performance of Antigone took place in the Robben Island Prison in South Africa in the 1960’s when some of the inmates there chose to present the play at their annual Christmas concert. Nelson Mandela, imprisoned at Robben Island because of his political efforts to end apartheid in South Africa, played one of the major roles.

Antigone is an unlikely hero. She is young. She is a woman. She is also the daughter of Oedipus, and comes from a highly dysfunctional family. Yet these factors don’t hold her back from following her conscience.

In her valedictory address to the graduating class of Massachusetts’ prestigious Wellesley College, Rachel Issacs, encouraged her classmates to have Antigone’s courage. She hoped her generation would not be afraid to take a moral stand and would have the imagination to create new ways of protecting the rights of every individual just the way Antigone did.

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