Josh Beer – Antigone: the most influential tragedy of all time?


Antigone: the most influential tragedy of all time? – Josh Beer

Date and time: Thursday, April 29, 2021 at 7pm (EST) online via ZoomPlease contact Gail Larose at for Zoom link details.

In this lecture Josh Beer will defend the thesis that Sophocles’ Antigone is the most influential play of all time. As the African playwright John Kani once stated, “Antigone addresses itself to any corner of the world where the human spirit is being oppressed”. Since first performed in Athens c.440 BCE, there may have been as many as a 1,000 translations and adaptations. With the exception of Antarctica, versions of it have been performed on every continent in places as diverse as Alaska and Japan, Brazil and India, Indonesia and Turkey, Iran and Australia, Haiti and Nigeria, to cite but a few examples. While outlining the story of the tragedy’s influence from Sophocles to two recent versions in 2019 (one a film by Sophie Deraspe, set in Montreal, and the other from the theatre by Jeff Ho, a Hong Kong playwright based in Toronto), this talk will concentrate primarily on performance versions, be they dramatic, operatic, balletic or cinematic. Famous names from G.W.F. Hegel, Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, Felix Mendelssohn, Pablo Picasso, Coco Chanel, and Rudolf Nureyev to Nelson Mandela will form part of the story.

Josh Beer taught Greek and Roman Studies at Carleton for 50 years. He tried to make his lectures a form of theatre in order to elicit from students an emotional response to the subject, as a conduit to a deeper intellectual engagement. The theatre space (i.e., the classroom) served as a crucible for shaping a symbiotic relationship between students and instructor.

Whether teaching Latin and Greek languages or their civilizations, Josh always tried to show how the Greeks and Romans provide useful counter-models for examining and understanding more critically many modern cultural assumptions (linguistic, religious, political, sexual, etc.).From 2002 -2014 Josh directed students, annually, in highly praised, dramatic presentations of Greek tragedy. His book, Sophocles and the Tragedy of Athenian Democracy, was published in 2004. More recently he has given dramatic readings of Homer. His forthcoming article is “The Athenian Plague and Eros as a Deadly Disease in Euripides’ Hipploytus”. The tragedy was performed against the background of a plague that devasted the Athenians from 430-429 BC Beer tries to prove that the tragedian uses Eros metaphorically as a kind of virus. For the Greeks Eros was a disease that takes the form of madness which Aphrodite inflicts on the main characters. Beer draws on the current pandemic to support his argument. In Athens the word pandemos was a cult title of Aphrodite.