Agnieszka, Antigone: The Antigone Myth in Andrzej Wajda’s Katyn and in Dominik Smole’s Antigona

  • Andreja N. Inkret
Keywords: ancient Greek literature, Greek drama, Slovenian literature, Slovenian drama, Polish film, reception of classical literature


The article considers two modern works which employ the Antigone myth. The Polish film director Andrzej Wajda included several implicit allusions to the myth in his Katyn (2007),a film about the mass murder of Polish officers and intelligentsia – a Soviet crime which remained a taboo for almost half a century. On the other hand, Dominik Smole, a Slovenian playwright, wrote a play about Antigone (1960), which is set from beginning to end in ancient Thebes. It has been suggested that his play indirectly calls attention to the Slovenian post-war killings of the Slovenian Home Guard members, which were likewise long tabooed.
Inquiring how the two works relate to Sophocles’ Antigone, the article points out that Andrzej Wajda seems inspired not only by Sophocles’ ideas but also by his dramatic techniques. A scene that seems especially interesting in this respect presents Agnieszka (Antigone) going to the theatre to sell her hair in order to buy a tombstone for her dead brother Piotr (Polyneikes). The action in the theatre is so full of metaphors and subtle imagery that it can be compared to one of the most compelling scenes in Sophocles’ Antigone (801—943). In the latter, Sophocles employs a popular ancient dramatic technique, incorporating ritual elements in the dramatic action in order to create an atmosphere rich in meanings and connotations. While Wajda’s film includes at least two other scenes which seem directly inspired by the dramaturgical composition of Sophocles’ tragedy, Dominik Smole does not appear to make much use of Sophoclean techniques. To both authors, however, Sophocles is a key reference for their characters, situations, and dilemmas; both the film and the play refer to the ancient tragedy either through similarities or differences established in relation to the ancient Antigone. With regard to the differences, Smole’s only new persona dramatis, the page who survives Antigone as her devoted follower, appears to be one of the most arresting ones. It is remarkable that Smole accompanies the page’s final act at the end of the play with a singular ritualistic atmosphere. 
Concerning the function of the myth in the works discussed, it may be concluded that Andrzej Wajda, having shot his film at a time when events in the Katyn forest were no longer a taboo, drew on the myth in order to give his historical film a universally tragic dimension. For Dominik Smole, who composed hisAntigone almost fifty years earlier, in a period when the traumatic killings could not be openly addressed, the mythological metaphor was probably the only way to discuss problematic contemporary issues.


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How to Cite
N. Inkret, Andreja. 2010. “Agnieszka, Antigone: The Antigone Myth in Andrzej Wajda’s Katyn and in Dominik Smole’s Antigona”. Keria: Studia Latina Et Graeca 12 (2-3), 361-77.