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The Burial at Thebes

A Version of Sophocles' Antigone

Translated by Seamus Heaney; Sophocles

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Burial at Thebes Download image

ISBN10: 0374530076
ISBN13: 9780374530075

Trade Paperback

96 Pages


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From one of our leading poet-translators comes this bold new exploration of a classical masterwork: Antigone. Sophocles' great play, first staged in the fifth century B.C., stands as a timely exploration of the conflict between those who affirm the individual's human rights and those who must protect the state's security.

During the War of the Seven Against Thebes, Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, learns that her two brothers have killed each other, having been forced onto opposing sides of the battle. When Creon, the king of Thebes, grants burial of one but not the "treacherous" other, Antigone defies his order, believing it her duty to bury all of her close kin. Enraged, Creon condemns her to death, and his soldiers wall her up in a tomb. While Creon eventually agrees to Antigone's release, it is too late: She takes her own life, initiating a tragic repetition of events in her family's history.

In this new translation, commissioned by Ireland's renowned Abbey Theatre to commemorate its centenary, Seamus Heaney exposes the darkness and the humanity present in Sophocles' drama, and inks these embattled forces with his own modern and masterly touch.


Praise for The Burial at Thebes

"[A] very speakable version . . . [This work] has the cool fire of The Cure at Troy, Heaney's 1990 version of Sophocles' Philoctetes."—American Theatre

"[Heaney has] composed a poem full of brilliant strokes . . . He varies his rhythms ingeniously."—Garry Wills, The New York Times Book Review

"In Heaney's version, the drama is a quick, taut, invigorating read that promises to play well on the stage . . . Heaney's vision of the ethical dilemma of ancient Thebes is lucidly rendered."—Jamie James, Los Angeles Times

"Heaney has fashioned a masterpiece . . . Its mastery lies [in its] searing speakability."—William Mullen, The New York Sun

"This book is another example of how lucky our language is to have Seamus Heaney working in it . . . He consistently adds as much to our knowledge of the original as he does to our view of our own age."—Tom Payne, The Daily Telegraph

"Heaney's reliance on the most basic, visceral elements of the original Greek in his translation emphasizes the utterly human element of the drama."—Mary A. Brazelton, The Harvard Crimson

"There are many translations of Sophocles' Antigone but few with the understated power and spare beauty of Irish Nobel laureate Heaney's version. He has given the play a new title, The Burial at Thebes, that recalls both Antigone's punishment—to be walled up in a cave—and the crime for which she is punished. He remains faithful to the letter and the spirit of the play, following the structure of Sophocles' fine storytelling beat-by-beat even as he finds words to make this classic story of conflict between an inflexible autocrat and an intransigent rebel legible to modern readers. Reading Heaney's achievement, it is hard not to think of the ongoing eye-for-an-eye-for-an-eye-for-an-eye debacle unfolding in Iraq. Written in a muscular but lively style, the translation, like Heaney's best poetry, finds music in the language of the streets and reveals the raw, primal power in the most carefully constructed rhetorical tropes. This is hardly surprising. In 1990 Heaney wrote The Cure at Troy, a translation of Sophocles' Philoctetes, for the Irish Field Day theater company, and met with great critical acclaim. His fine, new translation makes one wish he would don a translator's hat more often."—Booklist (starred review)

About the author

Translated by Seamus Heaney; Sophocles

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. His poems, plays, translations, and essays include Opened Ground, Electric Light, Beowulf, The Spirit Level, District and Circle, and Finders Keepers. Robert Lowell praised Heaney as the "most important Irish poet since Yeats."