Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.02.40

Paul Woodruff (trans.), Sophocles' Antigone.   Indianapolis:  Hackett, 2001.  Pp. xxxii, 69.  ISBN 0-87220-571-1.  $5.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by Thomas H. J. U. Talboy, Centre for Ancient Drama and its Reception, University of Nottingham and Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA (
Word count: 741 words

Woodruff's fine translation is a great contribution to the field: it serves well as an introductory text, and, delightfully, exhibits performability. While he worries that he 'may not succeed in writing objectively' (vii), his translation and interpretation deliver a viable dramatic piece.

Beginning with 'What Happened before Sunrise', Woodruff provides the reader with information about the events before the opening of the play. He continues with a discussion of the 'Conflict' and artfully moves into the 'Interpretation.' Woodruff then discusses 'Sophocles' Artistry' and leads the reader through an analysis of the characters and the Chorus. He concludes his introduction with a discussion of Sophocles' life and helpful 'Suggestions for Further Reading.'

Woodruff's philosophical background informs his translation and interpretation. In his 'Interpretation' he discusses at some length the Hegelian notion of 'synthesis of opposing powers' pointing out that this does not mean any 'relaxation of tension.' (xii) He further considers Nussbaum's conclusion, in disagreement with Hegel, that the conflict is unresolvable.1 Woodruff does not overwhelm the reader with the philosophical in the introduction but invites him to consider it further in the Appendix. Therein he examines the tendency of readers to 'overlook the importance of Antigone to Hegel's phenomenology'. (63) Moreover, he laments, because of readers' inability to appreciate Hegel 'they miss the subtlety of Hegel's account of the play.' (63) Woodruff's discussion of the philosophical issues arising in the play is well balanced, neither off-putting to the first-time reader nor over-simplified for the seasoned reader.

Woodruff's footnotes are helpful and informative. Some of them are complemented by endnotes. In these he offers alternative readings and discussions of more problematic manuscript readings, including the troublesome passages 663-71 and 904-20. His 'Selected Bibliography' is conveniently divided into sections for general readers and for scholars.

As with any translation, there are a few points that some might take issue with. His confident statement in the opening stage directions that a 'raised platform stage' was used conceals the uncertainty of whether such a stage existed, its size and use. Likewise, his quick discussion of the fifth stasimon may be a bit too quick: 'The Fifth Stasimon is sung at the terrifying crisis of the play. ... Why now? ... Keep in mind that Dionysus was believed to preside over the theatre in which this play was performed and that the final expulsion of Antigone's accursed and autocratic family will be a healing for Thebes.' (xxvi) Besides overlooking the wider debate about the full relationship between the theater and Dionysus,2 this comment is likely to lead the unsuspecting reader to believe that there is evidence in the play that 'Antigone's accursed and autocratic family' is expelled.

On an intriguing point Woodruff seems to only tempt the reader without the full ramification of a solid argument. Referring to κεῖμαι of line 73, he introduces the possibility that Antigone may be possessed by 'an incestuous longing to lie in the embrace of her brother beneath the ground' and this is why she 'prefers burial to marriage and a brother to a husband.' (xvii); on the next page, he returns to the 'remarkable' love Antigone has for Polyneices, confirming that he regards κεῖμαι at 73 as having a sexual meaning. Unfortunately, he does not develop this idea beyond remarking that 'this may have sent a shock through the original audience.' (xix) Such a relationship in the context of this play, and as a stated motivating factor for Antigone's defiance is surely worth more than a passing suggestion of controversy. κεῖμαι appears in Antigone seven times, in four of those (484, 1174, 1196, 1240 and 1289) it does not have a sexual undertone. Interestingly, besides line 73 that Woodruff mentions, line 76 and 1240 both involve Antigone: the former in relationship to Polyneices and the latter in relationship to Haemon -- the very one with whom she would prefer not to lie -- and with an undoubtedly sexual meaning. Space considerations may have prevented Woodruff from fully exploring this point, but perhaps it would have been better not to mention it all without more convincing arguments.

Overall, Woodruff's translation deserves a place in translation classes -- it is inviting to the reader and stirs the imagination. The beginning student can easily follow the introduction and the philosophical appendix; the experienced reader will gain from its faithful and attractive translation. Woodruff's translation strives for, and achieves, accuracy, easily maintaining 'the dramatic and poetic intensity of the ancient Greek play' (xxx).


1.   Martha Nussbaum. "Sophocles' Antigone: Conflict, Vision, and Simplification." In her The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1986) 51-82.
2.   As a starting pointing, compare the articles in: J. Winkler and F. Zeitlin, eds. Nothing to Do with Dionysos? Athenian Drama in its Social Context. (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1990) and M. Silk, ed. Tragedy and the Tragic: Greek Theatre and Beyond. (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1998).

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