Saturday, November 10, 2007

Seven Against Thebes

Can readers help me out with this one?

There has been lots of coverage – none in English, that I can find – about an event that took place in Havana last month, the performance of a work by Cuban playwright Anton Arrufat, Los Siete Contra Tebas (Seven Against Thebes).

He published the play in 1968 and won an award for it from the Cuban writers’ union (UNEAC), but as soon as the play opened, it was censored because it was interpreted as being too critical. As this summary of Arrufat’s career notes (it precedes a recent interview of him on the Miami radio program La Noche Se Mueve), he spent 14 years packing books in the basement of a library in Marianao.

It is based on a play be the same name by Aeschylus, involving a conflict between two brothers, both nephews of Creon, the king of Thebes, Polynices and Eteocles, wherein Polynices leads an attack on Thebes, and the two brothers die fighting each other. Creon orders that Polynices be denied a religious burial, and his sister Antigone defies that order. (See plot summary here, where it seems everyone, and I mean everyone, dies in the end.)

Drawing on my very slim knowledge of literature, I can say that this story line – especially the play Antigone and adaptations of it – has been a vehicle for exploring the conflict between the individual and the state, and in Antigone’s case, the decision of a strong and defiant woman to obey a higher imperative than the one set forth by her uncle the king.

There’s plenty of commentary out there about the revival of Arrufat’s play and what it means for the Cuban cultural sector, for censorship, etc. Juventud Rebelde’s review says that the play is about a conflict between “individual ambitions and collective interests,” and that the performance “settles an old debt.”

What I want to know is, what is it about his version of Seven Against Thebes that was so incendiary back then, and viewed as so critical of the system?

[Photo from Juventud Rebelde]

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

while they're at it, can someone tell us how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Mambi_Watch said...

An obvious question follows: What was the socio-political climate in Cuba like back in '68?

And, how does it compare now?

leftside said...

From my quick study, it seems even at the time no one was quite sure the reasons for the original controversy. We know it was likely seen by some as reactionary (but obviously not others in UNEAC who awarded it...). The problem was probably the fratecidal brotherly relationship, which could have been seen as referring to 'el exilos' at that time. If everyone dies at the end, what was the point of the struggle?? That is still about the worst thing you can say in Cuba.

Ernesto said...

Dear Phil,
Some things are still "subversive": Tebas = Cuba, Etéocles = Castro, Polinice = exiliados cubanos, Coro = mujeres cubanas. And the final conciliation between inland and exile. And Polinice's remark, "Me repugna cuanto tú representas / el poder infalible y la mano de hierro" . . . that was understood to have been a veiled criticism of Fidel Castro's power. By the way, the original edition of "Los Siete..." was uploaded by Connie in the Archive.

Phil Peters said...

Thanks, Ernesto, that's the first explanation I have seen of this.

Eugenio said...

Los Siete contra Tebas was never played before, until now. It not was briefly played, but never. The "reasons" against the play were about the conflict between brothers, considered as a subtile remarks of Fidel-Raul disagreements. Los Siete contra Tebas was prosecuted, censored and codemned together with "Fuera del Juego",(poetry) de Heberto Padilla, in the time now called "Quinquenio Gris".
Eugenio Yanez, www.cubanalisis.com

corey said...

If I'm not mistaken, didn't Leonardo Padura, the Cuban novelist (famous for his police detective trilogy featuring Mario Conde), base a character on this guy? The character had a play shut down and for many years afterward worked at a library in Mariano.