Antigone Rising: The subversive power of the ancient myths
by Helen Morales
Wildfire, $32.99 pb, 222 pp
Greek myths are entirely predictable: Actaeon offends Artemis and is hunted down by his own hounds; Pentheus refuses to worship Dionysus and is ripped apart by his mother; Antigone disobeys the king, and dies for her crime. Beginning, middle, and end: so familiar, so inevitable. The trick was never really in the plot, but in what you did with it. And what Helen Morales does with Greek myth deserves our fullest attention.
With the dazzling, restorative energy of Beyoncé taking over the Louvre, Morales gives us storytelling for our moment. This book is thoughtful, passionate, human, and humane. It is no kneejerk tribute to the glory that was Greece or fawning shrine to ancient wisdom. In Antigone Rising stories are – rightly – bound up in social structures. The Greek myths hurt, enslave, subdue. They have been, and still are, used to shape bodies, tame minds, train ethical imaginations. They are a still-living tradition, and in living with them, some of us are harmed more than others. Yet there is an ultimate hopefulness here as well, and for this reason too this is a necessary book for our moment. Myths belong to us; change is always possible; narratives morph; the power of stories lies exactly in their capacity to do unexpected things.