Reviewed by David Maclaine
Antigone's Wake offers a close-up look at an episode in the rise of Pericles' Athens, when the harsh demands of a growing empire came crashing into the personal life of one of city's most successful creative figures. It's a story spun from the historical tidbit that among the ten generals appointed by the Athenians to wage war on a rebellious ally was the playwright Sophocles, arguably the greatest dramatic writer both of the ancient world and the millennium after that world's collapse. The short novel focuses on the period immediately after the debut of Antigone, a play about a fatal conflict of duty, when an Athenian fleet sailed off with an army to punish the island of Samos. Antigone's Wake deals with Sophocles' decision to accept the position as general and with the consequences when he unexpectedly finds himself in a wartime command.
Nicastro shows us an intelligent man of the theater, worried about his lack of command experience, who is pleasantly surprised that the snap decisions he makes in times of crisis win him renown on the battlefield. But his personal war advances step-by-step toward tragedy. This novel's Sophocles is a philandering bisexual, leaning more toward women than men (quite different from the distinctly gay Sophocles in Warner's Pericles the Athenian) who is at once a devoted husband and a sometime bedmate of Pericles' famous companion Aspasia. Antigone's Wake is a skillfully-executed attempt to imagine how the harsh choices of war might have helped shape the great playwright's development. If you have read Sophocles' plays - and it is depressing to think that there are many who consider themselves educated who have not - Nicastro's novel offers a moving attempt to imagine the man behind them, an effort that, at the very least, serves as a reminder that it might be time to read the plays again. (2007, 211 pages)More about Antigone's Wake at Powell's Books, Amazon.com or The Book Depository