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Figures of Commonality in Sophocles’ Antigone
journal contributionposted on 2017-05-21, 04:40 authored by Carlo Salzani
Ω κοινόν αυτάδελφον Ισμήνης κάρα. The famous incipit of Sophocles’ Antigone presents various problems to the translator. Κοινόν is what is “common,” “shared,” and this “sharing” is repeated and reinforced in αυτάδελφον, “my own sister,” where αυτός evokes a link of blood and flesh, a profound, archaic commonality of kinship. The invocation is directed to Ισμήνης κάρα, which literally means the “head of Ismene.” As George Steiner points out, “to claim this head to be ‘common to us both’ and as ‘shared in the totality of sisterhood,’ is to negate, radically, the most potent, the most obvious differentiation between human presences. ... Antigone’s prolusion strives to compact, to ‘ingest,’ Ismene into herself. She demands a ‘single-headed’ unison.” This “totality of sisterhood” is reaffirmed four times, in the terms κοινόν, αυτός, άδελφον, κάρα. The translator must work out a periphrastic solution – like Hugh Lloyd-Jones’ “My own sister Ismene, linked to myself” – to avoid a monstrum, like Hölderlin’s Gemeinsamschwesterliches.