It is in the nature of things that these introductory reflections generally sound an admonitory note. Were our bulletins full of joy and glad tidings, you could read one and then skip the rest. All happy families are alike, but . . . well, you know. That was something that Tolstoy got right. The world of classics, as regular readers will know from our reports from the front, comprises many unhappy families. For reasons that are not entirely clear to us, classics as a discipline seems more susceptible to subversion by the toxin of identity politics than other humanities departments, bad though things are in those fetid groves. Perhaps it is a case of corruptio optima pessima. In any case, it is a pleasure to be able to bring you some good news from the world of classics, to wit, Antigone, “a new and open forum for Classics in the twenty-first century.”
Although its articles tend to be intellectually sophisticated, Antigone, which began life at antigonejournal.com in March 2021, is not an academic enterprise. It smells of a beach on the Aegean, not the moist and musty baize of a race-obsessed, gender-fluid study. It is a celebration of the classics for curious readers young and old. An eight-year-old from China won one of its competitions last year, as did an eighty-eight-year-old Brit. “We are,” the editors write in an “about us” statement, “fascinated by and passionate about Greco-Roman antiquity and wish to introduce as many people as possible to its thrills and its spills, its charms and its challenges.” They go on to note that contributors to the site are “united by a love of Classics.” That’s the distinguishing mark of the site: love of the subject.
Contributors to Antigone are not uncritical about the world of antiquity. “To be sure,” the editors write, “not every idea from Classical antiquity deserves to be defended, and we enthusiastically invite critical analysis of those that may be wrong. On the whole, however, our writers do seek to uphold and promote ideals that held sway thousands of years ago: open enquiry, robust debate and the unfettered exploration of ideas.” It’s an approach to the subject that Johnny Mercer, with his advice to “accentuate the positive,” would endorse. And it is an approach that characterized the discipline of classics from its beginnings until the day before yesterday when the dictates of a pinched, studiously uncurious, hectoring, and unjoyful attitude took root.
The literary fare on offer at Antigone is deliberately wide-ranging. Recent articles include a reflection on a Scythian version of the story of Odysseus and Polyphemus, a survey of attitudes about envy in the classical world, a study of Roman graffiti, and an effort to piece together the argument of Cicero’s lost Hortensius, one of the most influential works of classical antiquity but which, like Nanki-Poo’s attire in The Mikado, survives only in “shreds and patches.”
On the occasion of the site’s one-year anniversary in March, the editors published a reflection on their achievement to date. Antigone, we read, has published some one hundred seventy articles by one hundred ten writers from fifteen countries. In addition to many articles on literary and philological matters, Antigone has been home to columns about “archaeology, art, politics, linguistics, music, sport, the Classical tradition, the state of Classics and its future, and the crucial question of how to get into the Classics ‘from the outside.’ ”
And what about its name, “Antigone”? The heroine of Sophocles’ play, the editors write, has
long been a powerful symbol of independent-mindedness and resistance. She refuses to submit to the tyrant of Thebes, her uncle Creon, when he prohibits the burial of her fallen brother Polynices. In an age when conformism is increasingly policed and enforced, Antigone’s stance is an important reminder of the virtues of principled action.
Indeed it is. We welcome Antigone to the fray.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 40 Number 10, on page 1
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