Antígonas: The Relationship Between Greek Mythology and Latin America Today

Alyssa Giardono

During ancient Grecian times, some of the shared traditions we still have today consist of rights to a proper burial. Antigone was a woman who lived to see the death of her brother, Polynices. When he was killed, the ruler of her city, who was also her uncle, forbade Antigone from burying him. Antigone also had a sister, Ismene, and when she asks for her hand in giving their brother a proper burial, Ismene “who [was] afraid and distressed, refuses” (Uribe 191). Ismene is the Greek representation of modern-day Latin-American families who are oppressed into fear by their government, refusing aid in giving their loved ones respect in death. Antigone is compared to those who lost a loved one during the dirty war in many Latin American countries, such as Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, and the list goes on. The dirty war consisted of many unwarranted killings and disappearances that were swept under the rug by the government. “Throughout history the figure of Antigone has represented the invisible, unheard voices of those prevented from mourning the people taken away from them” (Schoorl). Antigone started off as a will to do what’s right, and evolved into that plus the search for the most important part of the puzzle—the body itself—in many Latin American Antigones. 

While no one would ever desire to be an Antigone, it became fate for some. Many people, mainly women, in Latin America found themselves in the position of Antigone, though they didn’t have the upper hand that the Greek Antigone had of knowing where the body of her loved one was. Many people “went missing” during the dirty war in Latin America, and Mexico was no exception. “Antigone could not bear the dictate of Creon to leave her brother’s dead body exposed and unburied on a dusty plain. In Sara Uribe’s version, Antígona González is bereft of a body to mourn” (Uribe 191). This is exactly how many others felt—that nobody deserved to be without respect in death. The entirety of the search was to award these missing people a place to rest, regardless of if the family knew the story behind their death; their ultimate goal was to bring them home. In Antígona González, Tadeo is a male figure that is meant to represent someone’s brother, uncle, father, or any missing body in general, which all loved ones of missing people can connect with. The book itself was written in the context of finding a mass grave in San Fernando “in April 2011, a site in which 196 bodies were found buried clandestinely, people who were presumably executed by the narco (drug traffickers)” (Buuck). The discovery of this mass grave is what prompted the book to be written and also why Antígona González was travelling to San Fernando, to see if she can identify her brother among the bodies. He represents the Latin American Polynices that loved ones sought to give their respects to.

In Colombia, Diana Gόmez lost her father and named herself Antígona Gόmez, using a blog to bring a voice to her father’s untimely death. This journey of Antigone’s name and meaning progresses so far to where the most important part of her story is severely altered. The most important part of her story is absent in the story of all Latin American Antigones—the body of their loved ones. This fate was all too familiar to many Antígonas in countries like Colombia, Cuba, and Argentina just to name a few. “I didn’t want to be an Antigone but it happened to me—many women found themselves uttering whilst looking amongst mass graves for some hint of their loved ones” (Uribe 175). Being an Antigone was the last voice these women had in finding their missing family, and they used her story to an advantage, to bring light and a voice to those without one.

Firmeza y tacto de la ONU con desapariciones forzadas en México - Mexico |  ReliefWeb

A shared theme between Antigone and the Antígonas was government involvement or cover-up of missing people. Not just one, but many Latin American countries were plagued by killings of their people with no government aid combined with their involvement in some way with the crimes. In the example of El Salvador, they were going through a civil war roughly from 1979 to 1992. “Protests against military violence led to severe repression including forced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings by the Salvadoran security forces and paramilitary death squads against activists, teachers, health providers, and church people mobilized by liberation theology” (Garrard et al. 550). With government involvement in the death of civilians, finding a body was near impossible due to all of the resources the government had at their disposal to make sure that their involvement never got out. The grief Antigone went through was multiplied by thousands in El Salvador alone—”the government perpetrated most—perhaps as much as 95 percent—of the violence”, creating a mass of Antígonas to find themselves in a traumatic situation as such (Garrard et al. 550). This also demonstrates how the rapid progression of Antigone trying to mourn one person turned into thousands of Antigones and thousands of Polynices. 

The Report of the Chilean Commission on Truth and Reconciliation: the 1978-1990 Period claimed similar fates of those who opposed the government, and even of some few who didn’t. A common theme among the 44 men detailed in this report were that they were killed by the Chilean government due to their involvement in politics favoring views other than that of the government—their deaths were subsequently covered up, and all but one were found to have died at the wrongful discretion of the Chilean government. In the case of Mario Acuña, the government claimed he set off a bomb and that is why they had to shoot him. His body was exhumed after his death so they could prove that his hands did not have bomb residue on them and rule his death as caused by the Chilean government without reason. “His hands mysteriously disappeared after the body was exhumed, and they could not be subjected to expert examination,” a careful and calculated final step in ensuring the government could not be held accountable for Acuña’s death (Foote 297). Many people were tortured, kidnapped, and never found by the hands of the government, even children. Another example of the Chilean government covering up their crimes was seen in the body of 17-year-old Marcos Quezada Yáñez—he too was involved in political affairs besides those preached by the Chilean government, who ruled his death a suicide, but further examination revealed he “died as a result of ‘shock, probably from an electric current’ (…) he died as a result of torture applied by government agents in violation of his human rights” (Foote 299). Numerous others were not granted the possibility of having their bodies returned to their families, resulting in the mass creation of Latin American Antigones. 

Antigona Gonzalez: Uribe, Sara, Pluecker, John: 9781934254646: Amazon.com:  Books

Antígona González can be connected to many other women in the same position as her, which makes her say “I am Sandra Muñoz, but I am also Sara Uribe (…)” (Uribe 167). Antígona describes her never-ending search for her brother Tadeo’s body in the midst of narco trafficking in Mexico today in Uribe’s book Antígona González. “The interpretation of Antigone is radically altered in Latin America—Polynices is identified with the marginalized and disappeared” (Uribe 23).  In comparison to the original Antigone, Antígona never gets the closure of finding her brother’s body. In this way, the journey of Antigone’s name delves into a deeper hole of governmental cover-ups and conspiracy, further marginalizing those who have disappeared as well as their families. Antigone gets the closure of knowing where her brother’s body is and his cause of death. She even buries his body in secrecy, no matter the morbid cost it ends up having on her own life. Antígona never gets this closure because her brother’s body is never found and there is no official word on his whereabouts, what happened to him, and there are zero official efforts put into his safe return or retrieval of his body. Those who even tried to locate their loved ones were scared into halting their efforts. There is a similar air of silence draped over the dead in both the Greek Antigone and the present day Antigones—Antígona González compared her city to Thebes, saying “Tamaulipas was Thebes and Creon this silence stifling everything” (Uribe 105). Creon forbade Antigone from burying her brother as did the Mexican government for turning a blind eye to all of the disappearances, resulting in a lack of closure for modern day Antigones. When the families of the disappeared did try to find their loved ones, the government retaliated by threatening them for attempting to get too close to government affairs. It was said the Mexican government officials are “of no use to his city if he’s to govern it not by wisdom, but by a tongue, silenced by some fear” (Uribe 147). This denotes that the government was a part of the killings simply by association. They aided in concealing the crimes not only because they were a part of some, but they were forced into silence out of fear of the narco traffickers in the area who were also committing the crimes. 

Antigone has been shifted from a story of tragedy to a catalyst for activism. Many women in Latin America nickname themselves Antígona as to bring attention to themselves and their struggle for justice. Even as it appears, using the nickname “Antígona” brings with it a piece of anonymity, while the Latin American last names bring representation to the countries the women are from. “‘Antígona González’ is an activism device written in the poetics of despair, like a Greek tragedy condemning one of the greatest tragedies of the twenty-first century” (Huerta). As Antígona González describes her personal suffering through her journey of searching for her brother’s body, she intertwines her story with that of other Antigones, giving them a voice. Though they don’t have the same last name or same exact stories, they are similar in their pain and meaning and therefore are fused through their shared name of “Antígona”. Blogs have even arisen to share stories and promote remembrance and justice for the victims of the dirty war, as seen in Antígona Gómez’s blog where she tells the story of her father Jaime Gómez’s disappearance and murder. According to Gómez, “thousands of Antigones appear, reappear, and disappear in Colombia,” continuing to add Antigones to the equation of the dirty war (Gómez). The name of Antigone is used as a universal mythological reference that gives a voice to those at the unfortunate fate of being an Antigone. Nobody wants to be an Antigone, but using her for activism shows strength and courage and the weight that doing what is right has. Through Antigone’s continued reference of suffering, her journey lives on through many women today—giving them power and reason to keep fighting for justice. 

Desaparecidos y terrorismo de estado | IELA - Instituto de Estudos  Latino-Americanos

Works Cited:

– Buuck, David. “‘The Silence… Is Our Most Unyielding Creon’ Five Questions for Sara Uribe and John Pluecker about Antígona González.” Queen Mob’s, 13 June 2016,  queenmobs.com/2016/06/the-silence-is-our-most-unyielding-creon-five-questions-for-sara-uribe-john-pluecker-about-antigona-gonzalez/. 

– Foote, Nicola. Sources for Latin America in the Modern World. Oxford University Press, 2019. 

– Garrard, Virginia, et al. Latin America in the Modern World. Oxford University Press, 2019. 

– Gómez, Antígona. “De Nuevo Yo…” Antígona Gómez, Blog Spot, antigonagomez.blogspot.com/. 

– Huerta, Marco Antonio. “Antígona González.” Jacket2, 5 Feb. 2016, jacket2.org/article/antigona_gonzalez. 

– Schoorl, Laura. “Will You Join Me in Taking Up the Body?: On Sara Uribe’s Antígona González”. Los Angeles Review of Books, 11 July 2017, https://www.lareviewofbooks.org/article/will-join-taking-body-sara-uribes-antigona-gonzalez/

– Uribe, Sara. Antígona González. Translated by John Pluecker, Sur+ Editions, 2012. 

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