Palimpsests of Translation: On Antígona Furiosa in Greek

Palimpsests of Translation: On Antígona Furiosa in Greek

Handwritten notes by an unknown author on Gambaro’s text in Spanish.


In Griselda Gambaro’s Antígona Furiosa (1986), the heroine comes back from the dead. Written in the aftermath of the dictatorship in Argentina, Gambaro’s play refers to the reality of the missing people during, and after, the rule of the authoritarian regime. Polínices becomes an empty shroud; his bodiless presence enacts the impossibility of mourning. Antígona declares her will to keep burying her brother forever, as the mothers and grandmothers of the forced disappeared pledge to keep gathering at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, asking for justice. Mourning remains incomplete. Antígona will keep returning, a constant revenant.

Antígona’s haunting return on stage is also haunted by western drama and literature. Alluding to the madness of ‘Orlando Furioso’ (1516) by Ludovico Ariosto—could this reference to the Italian epic poem also allude to the particular bonds between Italy and Argentina?—, Furiosa is also explicitly associated with Ophelia. In the beginning and the end of the play, Gambaro quotes from Ophelia’s scene of madness. From Ophelia’s watery grave to Antígona’s burial dirt. At some point, Creon speaks with the words of Christ: ‘forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Lukas 23:34).

The play closely follows, and at the same time parodically rereads, the ancient tragedy; a repetition which becomes a farce. In contrast with Sophocles’ Antigone, who is opposed to Creon using the rational ‘language of men’, Furiosa, as her name and her connections to Ophelia betray, operates through a radically other voice. She shows her sensual attraction for the dead who ‘caress her’ (los muertos me acarician), questions the very existence of God (como creer a Dios todavía?), and challenges her image as a heroine, assuming her fear: ‘In front of Creon, I was afraid. But he did not know’ (Delante de Creonte, tuve miedo. Pero él no lo supo). Antígona Furiosa alternates between different roles: beyond herself, she also enacts Ismene, Aemon, and Tiresias. The other characters are Corypheus and Antinous, his attendant; they are both connected to the Chorus, or the Guard, whilst Corypheus alternately becomes Creon, entering a carcass.

The version of Gambaro’s text we have at our disposal bears the traces of its readers; it is full of handwritten notes, referring to the text itself but also to its staging. In one note, commenting on Antigone’s self-lament before going to her living tomb, we read: ‘Citación de Sophocles’ (Quote from Sophocles). The text that follows is indeed a quite precise quote from Sophocles’ text (from which Spanish translation, though?).

The question that emerges, and defines our task in this translation, is: how do we translate into Modern Greek an Ancient Greek text translated into Spanish—and in a version of Spanish as it is spoken in Argentina, peppered with the vernacular specificities of Rio de la Plata? What might these translocations from Gambaro to Sophocles and to our version in Modern Greek tell us about the multiplicities of Antigone’s returns today? Initially, we worked directly from the Spanish text rendering it into Modern Greek, focusing on Gambaro’s own re-reading. Yet, Gambaro’s writing itself, and its continuous allusions to Sophocles, led us to revisit the ancient text through its multiple translations into Modern Greek. Our own translation-in-progress at this stage carefully incorporates selected fragments of modern Greek translations we see in dialogue with Gambaro’s text, and we find relevant today.

This process of incorporation further enhances the ways language works in Gambaro’s own play. The character of Antígona speaks in a ‘higher’ register, distinguishing herself from the sarcastic and parodic lines of the two male characters. This difference of language and style does not seem unrelated to the way temporality works in this play, placing Corypheus and Antinous in a limited, mortal time, and Antigone in a position of continuous, repetitive return. The palimpsest here persists, as a parody. Antígona Furiosa, both as a character and a play, but also our palimpsestic translation of it, persistently ask: No se acabará nunca la burla?