Thursday, 24 February 2022

Antigone, Iphis, Electra and more

Antigone Rising: The Subversive Power of the Ancient Myths It was eighteen months after reading a review of Antigone Rising before I bought it. I'd forgotten what had drawn my attention to the book and assumed it was just a general interest in the Greek myths or perhaps a recent book club choice, Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie's modern retelling of Antigone. So it was something of a surprise, a pleasant one, to find it was actually about how those myths are being appropriated by feminists and non-binary people in the 21st century.

Before starting the book my knowledge of the myths was patchy. I knew about Jason and the Argonauts from the film they always seemed to show on Christmas Day morning, with its stop-motion skeleton warriors. After that I discovered Orpheus and the Underworld through a local amateur operatic production in which my Dad took part. My sister related the stories she discovered in ancient Greek class at school, and I'd studied Jean-Paul Sartre's adaptation of Electra, Les Mouches. The substance of all these tales are now long forgotten.

So, I took Helen Morales at her word when she says in the author's note, "You don’t need to know the Greek and Roman myths before reading this book", and settled down with an electronic copy on my iPad, a cup of tea, and a fig biscuit. Let me tell you, the mythical and classical ancient worlds could be very nasty and dangerous, especially if you were a woman. As Morales says, "If nothing else, the myths show us that the patriarchy has been controlling women's lives as long as we can remember".

In the final chapter, Morales says, "One of the conclusions of this book is that ancient myths (stories) have subversive power precisely because they can be told—and read—in different ways". This is pretty much the same proposition that Emma Smith offers for the continued relevance of Shakespeare in her book, This is Shakespeare.

Well, it's true that you don't need to know the myths before reading the book, but if they'd been more familiar to me, my enjoyment would have been enhanced. I finished it having discovered Beyonce and J-Z's music video Apeshit filmed in the Louvre, and with a desire to read Ali Smith's interpretation of the myth of Iphis, Girl Meets Boy, as well as Stephen Fry's Mythos which was recommended by Morales for further reading.

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