The famous line of Alfred North Whitehead is “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” I am increasingly persuaded that over two thousand years of contemplating and expressing the human condition is a series of footnotes to the Greeks. Here, from The New Yorker, Anne Carson, who in recent years has been attacking the Greek canon, give us her devastating rendition of another classic.
The “Ode To Man” from Sophocles’ Antigone
by Anne Carson
Many terribly quiet customers exist but none more
terribly quiet than Man:
his footsteps pass so perilously soft across the sea
in marble winter,
up the stiff blue waves and every Tuesday
down he grinds the unastonishable earth
with horse and shatter.
Shatters too the cheeks of birds and traps them in his forest headlights,
salty silvers roll into his net, he weaves it just for that,
this terribly quiet customer.
animals and mountains technically,
by yoke he makes the bull bend, the horse to its knees.
And utterance and thought as clear as complicated air and
moods that make a city moral, these he taught himself.
The snowy cold he knows to flee
and every human exigency crackles as he plugs it in:
every outlet works but
Death stays dark.
Death he cannot doom.
honest oath taking notwithstanding.
Hilarious in his high city
you see him cantering just as he please,
the lava up to here.
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