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Joan of Arc, a medieval Antigone and a (post-) modern myth?
By Dulce Martinho
Paper given at A Europa das Nacionalidades Mitos de Origem: discursos modernos e pós-modernos (2011)
Introduction: The myth of Antigone spies and whispers to us that it is the alphabet of our new experience, that this one will be spontaneous and immediate and easier to live considering the presence of mythology, as a latent presence, silver vase which will become replete with thought and life. ~ George Steiner, 1999
In Antigones (1984) – with the title like this, in plural – George Steiner is peremptory on the creative vitality of the narrative material of Hellenistic myths and legends as tangible root and guide of our collective consciousness, of the European modern spirit. The author of After Babel. Aspects of Language and Translation maintains the opinion that:
It is in these “primordial” myths that our consciousness finds the always renewed return to the deepest comfort and terror of its own origins, a durable and forced return due to the formal accomplishment, the narrative coherence, the lyric and plastic seduction that the Greek spirit faced the unsettling strangeness and the evil. (STEINER, 2008:139).
And, throughout the Greek mythical themes, Steiner underlines «the myth of Antigone [that] runs intact more than two millennia»(STEINER, 2008:119) to conclude that «even today new “Antigones” are imagined, conceived, lived, and so it will be tomorrow» (STEINER, 2008:329)
Assumed «Master of reading» and eternal combatant for intimacy with the classics, Steiner gives absolute primacy to the Sophocles’ Antigone among the countless artistic figurations of this myth and enlightens- just from start- that, in his hermeneutical montenian exercise – interpretation of interpretations – without the impossible ambition to exhaust the subject or systematic chronological motives, it will search instead the answer for the question: «why are the “Antigones” so truly eternal and immediate in relation to the present?»(STEINER, 2008:13). Hence it comes the subtitle of the book that we are referring to: How the Antigone Legende Has Endured in Western Literature, Art and Thought and the motto for the reflections that support our speech.
In fact, this voyage on the theme of Antigone into the thought of the West has brought us an echo of another female figure – this one truly real, historical – closer to us in time and space, but equal and strangely (or not) holder of a singular aura. Young warrior for the people, victim of religious and political webs of her time, with an extraordinary destiny/career, we bring her here by the character of mythical figure that she always had for the French people. We talk about Joan of Arc, the most revered and legendary heroine of the Gaulish.