Return to site

(Re-)storing Collective National Memory: Two Argentine Adaptations of Sophocles’ Antigone

Victoria Brunn. Independent scholar


(Re-)storing Collective National Memory: Two Argentine Adaptations of Sophocles’ Antigone

Victoria Brunn. Independent scholar.

Several dozen adaptations of Sophocles’ Antigone have appeared in Latin America in the past two centuries. The sheer scale of such revisionary efforts bespeaks the importance of the Antigone theme in the local cultural discourse. This presentation addresses two Argentine versions of the Greek drama, which have achieved their own canonical status within the country’s literary tradition: Antígona Vélez by Leopoldo Marechal (1951) and Furious Antigone by Griselda Gambaro (1986). A study of these plays discusses how some of the patterns encoded in ancient Greek cultural production participate in structuring contemporary reality and in shaping national or personal identity. While separated by over three decades and inscribed within different socio-political environments, both plays look to Sophocles’ tragedy as they search for ways to negotiate crisis and explore the instrumentality of the canon in the (re-)construction of history and collective memory.

At the same time, these adaptations conjure up the ghost of Antigone for very different agendas. Marechal’s reworking of the tragedy, being an encomium to Juan Perón and his national doctrine, expands the repertoire of the cultural imagery employed to vindicate the anti-democratic, hegemonic discourse of the state. A critical look at this play will reveal the conservative, even reactionary potential of classical adaptations. The playwright reconfigures collective national memory as he transforms Sophocles’ drama of utter destruction into a foundational myth for his native land. Transplanting the Greek tragedy to the nineteenth-century Argentine Pampas, Marechal re-presents and reinterprets a crucial moment in the country’s history and offers a solution to Argentina’s long-standing “civilization vs. barbarism” dilemma that has forged its national identity. By converting the paradigmatic story of dissent and disobedience into a parable about unity and consensus, the play functions as a tool of propaganda for the Peronist regime with its illusory rhetoric of integration.

Whereas Marechal capitalizes on the authority of the ancient myth to legitimize the political status quo, Gambaro’s Furious Antigone is an overt critique of the government’s tactics in the wake of Argentina’s Dirty War. The play is concerned with re-presentation, in its most literal sense of making something reappear, as it addresses the problem of the desaparecidos – the victims of violence undertaken by the Military Junta. What reappears here is, in fact, disappearance itself, as absence and loss are being brought into focus. This reinterpretation lacks the tragic pathos of the original drama, since Gambaro re-invents Antigone in the form of a parody. The product of such rewriting is a highly self-conscious, self-referential theatre piece that, due to its farcical, grotesque tone, refutes its categorization as tragedy at the same time as it points to the real-life tragedy of the Argentinean disappeared. Such reworking of Sophocles’ Antigone was bound to make it difficult for the Argentine audience to continue treating the original drama as a cultural artefact, as a fossilized work of the Western canon. Emphasizing the impossibility of eluding the canon – both its scenarios and its discursive limitations, - Gambaro’s “irreverent” treatment of Sophocles’ tragedy invites us to question the very precepts on which the canon is constructed. The playwright dis-members the original, turning it into a postmodern bricolage of abundant quotations from the Greco-Roman canon as well as other literary sources and from contemporary public discourse. However, as the play suggests, the process of re-membering cannot be successfully completed, due to the politics of amnesia as an official response to the national disaster.


Selected Bibliography

  • Adsuar Fernández, María Dolores. “Muerte y transfiguración de Antígona Vélez.” Tonos. Revista electrónica de estudios filológicos 8 (2004). 23 Oct. 2008 <>.
  • Antígona Vélez constituyó un gran éxito.” Rev. of Antígona Vélez, by Leopoldo Marechal, dir. Enrique Santos Discépolo. Teatro Cervantes, Buenos Aires. Clarín [Buenos Aires] 26 May 1951.
  • “Antígona Vélez refleja el sentido épico de la lucha por la conquista del desierto.” Rev. of Antígona Vélez, by Leopoldo Marechal, dir. Enrique Santos Discépolo. Teatro Cervantes, Buenos Aires. Crítica [Buenos Aires] 26 May 1951.
  • “Aplaudióse a Fanny Navarro en una brillante creación de la protagonista de Antígona Vélez.” Rev. of Antígona Vélez, by Leopoldo Marechal, dir. Enrique Santos Discépolo. Teatro Cervantes, Buenos Aires. Noticias gráficas [Buenos Aires] 26 May 1951.
  • Bajarlía, Juan Jacobo. “La Antígona de Marechal.” Comentario 15.58 (1968): 84-85.
  • Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1957.
  • Butler, Judith. Antigone’s Claim. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
  • Carlson, Marvin. The Haunted Stage: The Theatre as Memory Machine. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001.
  • Feitlowitz, Maguerite. “Crisis, Terror, Disappearance: The Theatre of Griselda Gambaro.” Theater [New Haven] (1990): 34-38.
  • Fischer-Lichte, Erika. Theatre, Sacrifice, Ritual: Exploring Forms of Political Theatre. London and NY: Routledge, 2005.
  • Foley, Helene. “The Conception of Women in Athenian Drama.” Reflections of Women in Antiquity. Ed. Helene Foley. London: Routledge, 1992. 127-68.
  • Franco, Jean. “Going Public: Reinhabiting the Private.” On Edge: The Crisis of Contemporary Latin American Culture. Eds. Juan Flores, Jean Franco and George Yúdice. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992. 65-84.
  • Gambaro, Griselda. “Antígona furiosa.” Teatro. Vol. 3. By Griselda Gambaro. Buenos Aires: Ediciones de la Flor, 1989. 195-217.
  • - - -. Interview. “Griselda Gambaro: La difícil perfección.” Teatro: Nada que ver. Sucede los que pasa. By Griselda Gambaro. Ed. Miguel Angel Giella, Peter Roster and Leandro Urbina. Ottawa: GIROL Books, Inc., 1983.
  • - - -. Interview with Joaquín Navarro Benítez. “La transparencia del tiempo. Entrevista a Griselda Gambaro.” 4 April 2007 <,1250,PRID%253D11735%2526SCID%253D11736%2526ISID%253D436,00.html>.
  • Girard, René. Violence and the Sacred. 1972. Trans. Patrick Gregory. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1981.
  • Guivant, Julia. La visible Eva Perón y el invisible rol político femenino en el peronismo: 1946-1952. Notre Dame: Kellog Institute, University of Notre Dame, 1986.
  • Guzmán Tapia, Juan. Interview with Eduardo Marenco Tercero. La Prensa [Managua] 14 Feb. 2005. 15 Dec. 2008 <>.
  • Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. A.V. Miller. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.
  • Herman, Judith. Trauma and Recovery. New York: Basic Books, 1997.
  • Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Samuel Butler. Project Gutenberg. Champaign, Illinois. 4 April 2007 <>.
  • Irigaray, Luce. An Ethics of Sexual Difference. Trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian Gill.
  • Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993.
  • - - -. Speculum of the Other Woman. Trans. Gillian Gill. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.
  • Jacobs, Carol. “Dusting Antigone.” MLN 111.5 (1996): 889-917.
  • Koenig, Rachel. Introduction. Interviews with Contemporary Women Playwrights. By Kathleen Betsko and Rachel Koenig. New York: Beech Tree Books, 1987. 9-14.
  • Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacque Lacan. Book VII. Ed. Jacque-Alain Miller. Trans. Dennis Porter. New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1988.
  • Marechal, Leopoldo. Antígona Vélez. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Colihue, 1981.
  • - - -. “Proyecciones culturales del momento argentino.” Argentina en marcha. Vol. 1. Buenos Aires: Comisión nacional de cooperación intelectual, 1947.
  • Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen 16.3 (1975): 6-18.
  • Newman, Kathleen. “Cultural Redemocratization: Argentina, 1978-89.” On Edge: The Crisis of Contemporary Latin American Culture. Eds. Juan Flores, Jean Franco and George Yúdice. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992. 161-86.
  • Pellettieri, Osvaldo. “Peronismo y teatro (1945-1955).” Cuadernos hispanoamericanos 588 (1999): 91-99.
  • Pérez Blanco, Lucrecio. “Antígona Vélez apropriación y trueque del mensaje sofocleo.” Cuadernos americanos 6 (1984): 143-72.
  • Pita, Valeria and Alejandra Vassallo. “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo: From Dictatorship to Democracy.” Urban Imaginaries from Latin America. Documenta11. Ed. Armando Silva. Trans. Vincent Martin. Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2003. 248-61.
  • Pittelli, Cecilia and Miguel Somoza Rodríguez. “Peronismo: Notas acerca de la producción y el control de símbolos. La historia y sus usos.” Discursos pedagógicos e imaginario social en el peronismo (1945-1955). Ed. Adriana Puiggrós and Sandra Carli. Buenos Aires: Editorial Galerna, 1995. 205-58.
  • Plotkin, Mariano Ben. Mañana es San Perón: A Cultural History of Perón’s Argentina. Trans. Keith Zahniser. Wilmington: Scholarly Resources Inc., 2003.
  • Postay, Viviana and Natalia Uanini. Un pasado heroico para la patria peronista: La construcción política de las versiones de la historia. 1946-1955. Córdoba: Ferreyra Editor, 2001.
  • Sarmiento, Faustino Domingo. Facundo o civilización y barbarie. Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1977.
  • Segal, Charles. Tragedy and Civilization: an Interpretation of Sophocles. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.
  • Seeman, Don. “Otherwise Than Meaning: On the Generosity of Ritual.” Ritual in Its Own Right: Exploring the Dynamics of Transformation. Ed. Don Handelman and Galina Lindquist. New York: Berghahn Books, 2005. 55-71.
  • Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.” The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. By William Shakespeare. Ed. W.J. Craig. London: Oxford University Press, 1954. 870-907.
  • Showalter, Elaine. “Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism.” Shakespeare and the Question of Theory. Ed. Geoffrey Hartman and Patricia Parker. New York: Methuen, 1985. 77-94.
  • Sommer, Doris. Foundational Fictions: the National Romances of Latin America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
  • - - -. One Master for Another: Populism as Patriarchal Rhetoric in Dominican Novels. Lanham: University Press of America, 1983.
  • Sophocles. “Antigone.” Antigone. Oedipus the King. Electra. By Sophocles. Trans. H.D.F. Kitto. Ed. Edith Hall. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. 1-46.
  • Steiner, George. The Death of Tragedy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961.
  • Svampa, Maristella. El dilema argentino: Civilización o barbarie: De Sarmiento al revisionismo peronista. Buenos Aires: El Cielo por Asalto, 1994.
  • Taylor, Diana. Disappearing Acts. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997.
  • - - -. The Archive and the Repertoire. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

“Un éxito caluroso: Antígona Vélez, con Fanny Navarro.” Rev. of Antígona Vélez, by Leopoldo Marechal, dir. Enrique Santos Discépolo. Teatro Cervantes, Buenos Aires. La Razón [Buenos Aires] 26 May 1951.

All Posts

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!

OKSubscriptions powered by Strikingly