The Case of the Missing Body
This essay originally appeared in Le pauvre Holterling. Blätter zur Frankfurter Hölderlin-Ausgabe, Frankfurt am Main/Basel: Stroemfeld/Roter Stern, 1988. Reprinted with kind permission of the publisher.
1. Problems with classification
1. Hölderlin’s translations of Sophocles occupy an ambiguous place in his work. Composed and published during his most intense period of lyric creativity (1801-1805), the Sophocles translations are generally regarded as highly significant, if not central, achievements in that complex of texts collectively periodized as the poet’s Spätwerk, mostly associated with the late hymns and lyric fragments. In spite of numerous allusions to, and citations from, the Sophocles-project, the subject has elicited only a handful of monographs  , and the question remains: does Hölderlin’s writing during this period culminate in the Sophocles translations, or do the latter—in their wild swerves from the original and their arcane meanings—rather announce the onset of the poet’s loss of sense in the onset of mental illness? It is of course possible to answer, “yes” to both questions; but however the critic answers these and other questions, it appears that the translations (of both Pindar and Sophocles) exist at the boundaries of our classifications and pose challenges to our present practices and capacities of evaluation and appreciation.
2. Vastly outnumbered as it is by the score of books and essays on the late hymns, or on Hyperion, or Hölderlin’s own tragedy Empedokles, the relative paucity of commentary devoted to the translations is not hard to understand. The obscure idiom of the “Notes” (Anmerkungen) attached to Antigone and Oedipus Tyrannus stands as a hermeneutical obstacle to those who would seek to interpret the translations themselves; and these latter are themselves rife with turns of phrase and word usages that are as “difficult” as any in the late lyrics. If we allow the figure of speech that gives voice and spirit to texts (and many of Hölderlin’s lyrics are mediations on the possibility of this figure), then the spirits and voices of the Sophocles translations are more diffuse or elusive than those which the reader soon feels, or imagines, to be present in the late hymns. The characteristic “voices” of the lyrics are indeed recognizable in the translations—as in the German rendition of the famous first stasimon of Antigone, the polla ta deina ode. But such lyric or hymnic voices are mixed in with other voices, or nonvoices, which are hard to identify and which seem to come out of the nowhere of a purely linguistic conjuration. From one point of view at least, these often inscrutable tonalities can be compared to the latest lyrics—those written after 1806, during the years of Hölderlin’s institutionalization: in both the translations and the productions of the last phase, the speaker can conceal himself behind poetic statements which are hard to assign to any recognizable person. The predictable rhyme and regular meter of the last or latest lyrics creates a mask of poetic cliché effacing or distancing the sense of the personal; just as the dramatis personae speaking the lines of Antigonä are neither Sophoclean nor really Hölderlinian, but can appear as characters beyond our ken and kinship, with those disembodied voices of textual pasts and futures which Hölderlin’s translations bring into play. If these texts resist the reader’s attempt to give them recognizable voices and spirits—if we don’t know just who is speaking and to what purposes—then the task of interpretation and classification can be awkward.
3. There exists another reason why such scant attention has been given to the Sophocles translations, despite their acknowledged importance. The literary tradition, like human consciousness, is highly selective and incorporates into itself only what insures the continuity of its own discourse. As an indispensable instrument of the traditio imperii, translation plays its crucial role in the constitution of literary history; but tradition prefers to define its high moments and monuments by reference to original works rather than to translated ones. The work of literature is supposed to rise from the depths of the authorial consciousness; especially in the Romantic text, claims to originality are based on the sense of an origination from “within,” that place which modernity has assigned as the domain of imagination, or aesthetic and ethical freedom. But a translation can’t originate from this region directly—its origin is already “outside,” in another always more original text. How can the Romantic translator vie with the Romantic author for originality, when the former has already yielded up so many of his authorial prerogatives to another, always more original and originary author—original works appear to live up to and fulfill, better than translations do, commonsense and contextualist assumptions about written texts: namely, that literature is mimetic, responding to and representing the psychological experience and socio-historical conditions of authors. No matter how creative or “original” it may be, a translation is valued just because it is derivative: it re-represents, as an interpretation and a rewriting, what the original author felt, said, thought, or created. There are no texts in our literary halls of fame that are there as translations because to accord to a work classed as “translation” the status of a canonical “original” would be to discard deeply embedded presuppositions about artistic autonomy and to accept instead another model of literature—one in which non-mimetic influences (such as linguistic or intertextual ones) would prevail over personal, representation, and historical assumptions.
4. Two essays on Hölderlin’s Sophocles translations may serve to illustrate how the binary opposition “original”/”translation” becomes the framework within which the critic is compelled to work, even when his own insights suggest that this framework may be inadequate. A central problem for those who write on Hölderlin’s translation will be how to account for—or what to do with—their wild deviations from the original, their semantic and tonal swerves from it, and, in general, their radical revision of their own “efficient cause” (Steiner 72); and the specific task of those who operate wholly within the above binary system is to elaborate strategies and ideologies which save Antigonä and Ödipus der Tyrann as translations (as repetitions and representations of Sophocles) while acknowledging them as originals (as repetitions and representations of “Hölderlin”). But this reconciliation of the text under the two aspects of secondary, belated “translations” and primary, original “originals” is not so reasonable as may appear at first glance.
5. “The Antigonä carries to extremity the radicalization of lexical and syntactic means, the shift from sequential-logical conventions and from the external reference of ordinary discourse to an internalized coherence of metaphor and image-clusters” writes George Steiner in a recent study of Hölderlin’s Antigone (67). Steiner thus does full justice to the radicality and “self-consuming anarchy” of the translations; the latter “seem to prefigure Mallarmé’s text” in their “‘paratactic,’ which is to say ‘discontinuous’ [. . .] fragmented mode of relation” (16). But Steiner then keeps the recognized linguistic anarchy and violence of the Antigonä well contained within “the ideal [. . .] of fusion, of a homecoming (tragically frustrated) to oneness between consciousness and the world” (69). Although this Return of the temporally alienated consciousness to modern Hesperia along the path of translation is “tragically frustrated,” Hölderlin’s fracturing and disruption of the Sophoclean text reflect, for Steiner, the “record of a pilgrimage out of inner exile” (69). The “extra-territoriality” of Hölderlin’s translation—its excesses and idiosyncrasies which defy interpretation—creates (in the economy of Steiner’s exegesis) the need for the aesthetically compelling myth of a tragic romance which can explain and account for the translator’s excesses: Hölderlin commits “treason” against Sophocles, but this is a “loving treason of a rare kind” (105). The Modern betrays the Ancient, his master, only in order to become, in the affective pathos of this “tragedy of translation,” the “transmutation of the Greek original into its ‘wholeness’” (80).
6. Wolfgang Schadewaldt’s work on Hölderlin’s Sophocles translations provides a second example of how the wildness of these translations—their “obscurity,” “isolation,” and “aberrancy”  —is inscribed within a normative vision of literature which privileges the original over the translation, even when the latter is promoted to the status of (almost) original literature. In Schadewaldt’s argument, the more “original” (=refractory, insubordinate, or “wayward”) the translation is, the more “Hölderlinian”; but the more Hölderlinian, the more “Sophoclean” the text becomes, because poets are best at fathoming the latent designs of other poets. In this way the very “idiosyncrasies” of the translator, and his many “swerves” from the original text, lead “to the most astonishing of insights into the essence of Greek tragedy” (279). Schadewaldt does enumerate a number of unfruitful mistranslations of the Greek, but he goes on to say that “the majority of Hölderlin’s linguistic errors are creative errors.” Although the translations are full of “the strangest riddles” and eccentricities, their hieroglyphic and arcane idiom still stands—for Schadewaldt—under the aegis and in the service of a “universal truth” having to do with the essence of tragedy. Hölderlin’s “creative errors” (as opposed to his “linguistic” ones) and riddling phrases are at one and the same time a “new discourse” [Neusprache] and a “restatement” or “repetition” [Nachsprechen] of Sophocles and the discourse of the original.
7. Yet how else can we read Antigonä, for example, except as a translation? Is it not, after all, a “translation”? Doesn’t “Geist der Liebe” translate the Greek word eros, à la Hölderlin, in the sense it takes in the third stasimon of Antigone, just before the heroine stages (in the kommos) her own “encrypting”? However idiosyncratic “Geist der Liebe” is for eros, isn’t the substitution in the end a legitimate revision of the anarchic and destructive Greek “libido” into a Romantic energy and Vereinigungsphilosophie  that strives for synthesis and reconciliation? Again, isn’t a translation supposed to draw upon the special resources of its language in order to achieve a palingenesis of the original Spirit [Geist] in the words of the translation, and thus to make the difficult passage between two different semiotic systems and historical epochs? There are many examples that could be cited where the passage between original and translation—insofar as that passage can be said to take place at all—is much harder to subsume or sublate as instances of “translation.” But the above example, where eros becomes “Geist der Liebe,” may exemplify a “passage” and “translation” that is just as problematic as other, much more obscure moments, since “Geist” and “Liebe” are especially suited to generate a fog that hides the lacunae of always potential non-relations between “Greek” texts and “Hesperian” ones. There is enough textual evidence to suggest that Hölderlin was using the translations as a pretext to write towards some unknown (style or sense) in order to bring about some radical mutation in literary language. In this case, the Sophoclean original could have served as a “pre-text” authorizing an experiment whose purpose was to elaborate a writing that would be resistant to the “positivity” of tradition, with its exhausted conventions and depleted resources.  When the difficulties of understanding the hybrid or mutant language become intolerable—when its openings to fresh meaning turn into hermeneutical bafflements—then the text can fall back on the Greek tragedy, or fall into the meanings of the original, and thus make itself readable.
8. To interpret Hölderlin’s “tragedies” by the light of the Sophoclean originals is perhaps as necessary as translating texts (in general) into experiences, or experience into texts, and as necessary as assigning extra-textual referents to texts: such modes of “translation” are what bestow meaning and authority upon text. But this necessity—the shadow or ghost of a (Hölderlinian) Sophocles who haunts, and constantly repossesses, the translator’s language—at the same time violates that language, since it runs the risk of foreclosing or forcing meanings, or ceasing to read them, or reading them only in certain directions.  As he states in the “Notes to Antigone,” the “weak point” [Schwäche] of modern representation is its “absence of destiny,” which he labels “das Schicksallose” and “das dysmoron” (FHA 409ff).  The translations would, then, (Hölderlin’s argument implies) attempt to forge a discourse that can escape or elude those figures which provide the designs for one’s unfateful history (dysmoron); but such an escape can only be attempted in and through a translation of the authoritative and nomothetic Original—whose own fate-fulness is what causes the impotence of modern, belated writing. Translation in Hölderlin’s context thus describes an encounter of Hesperian modes of figuration (“vaterländische(n),” “Vorstellungsarten” [FHA 418]) with themselves in their unfallen, original and lapidary, state. Translation is a way to restate or refigure oneself at the origin, and a way to repeat and recycle modern (unfateful or “positive”) figures; but the repetition has the purpose of erasing the original, which is remembered (repeated) in order to be forgotten. Whether these two facets (translating, remembering, repeating the original vs. forgetting or effacing it in one’s own originations) should be structured as a dialectic (as Steiner’s and Schadewaldt’s arguments do), or whether these two moments should be conceived as an irreconcilable difference (non-dialectical, admitting of no, or little, mutually illuminating reciprocity)—is a question that implicitly informs the following sections of this essay, whose concern is more to provide material for a consideration of the question, than to answer it. We turn now to the play Antigone, which is about a translation, that “translation” of the body of the slain Polyneices to the Otherworld where it is to be hallowed but kept out of sight; yet the attempts to bury (translate, render) it all end in failure, and at the end the corpse gets torn to pieces, rent rather than properly rendered to Hades. We propose, then, to investigate the theme of burial in the Antigone—or rather the attempted burial ending in the sparagmos of the body—as an articulation and philosopheme about translation in general, and about Hölderlin’s translations of Antigone in particular.
2. The space of translation, the place of burial
9. The argument could be made that the real hero of this play is not Antigone, but the corpse of her brother Polyneices. Characters could be said to exist as much for its sake, as it for their sakes.  As the constant object of dialogue and agon, the body is the decomposing source of the play’s conflicts and catastrophes. It reveals character in generating their antithetical discourses, since they are always uttering words over it, and about it, in their attempts to appropriate it for their own purposes and tell different stories about it. The questions that begin and end the play are questions about the body: what to do with the unsightly corpse, whether to bury it or not, where to put it, and what will be the psychological, political, and aesthetic consequences if it is (or isn’t) buried.
10. In this essay we are considering the play Antigone (both Sophocles’ and Hölderlin’s texts) as an allegory of translation, centered in the brouhaha over burial and funeral rite. Greek tragedy characteristically discomposes human institutions by disclosing (or, in the present case, unearthing) possibilities customary suppressed and concealed—such as incest, parricide, and decaying bodies. To approach the theme of burial as exemplification or literalization of translation (which, when it means “say the same thing in another language,” is always figural) is by no means alien to Hölderlin’s own theory and practice of translation, as this section hopes to demonstrate. There are three attempts to bury (translate) the body, and each one fails; the Antigone is accordingly about what happens when translation doesn’t take place. In this allegory of failed translation, the object of translation—the body, the dead, which for Hölderlin were represented by “the Greeks” and their original scripts—disintegrates and pollutes the holy, or drives spirit out of its fragile embodiments. At the end we are left with pieces of Polyneices but no Polyneices, and the Gods announce their rage in the bloodied semiotic vehicles of Teiresias’ omen—the birds who literally rend each other to pieces.
11. Greek tragedy has fascinated Hölderlin and others because of its technique of staging, even as collision and rupture, the conjuncture of the natural and supernatural. In the “Notes” to his plays and elsewhere, Hölderlin scrutinizes the place or topos of contact between divine and human, and interrogates this place or moment as to the modes and means of relation and communion, or non-relation and difference, achieved or achievable between the ordinary and the uncanny. Two passages will help to suggest how tragedy, in Hölderlin’s eyes, is concerned with that space, gap, vacuum, “stage,” or moment of passage that separates immaterial powers and those material vehicles of their potential empowering and inhabiting. To Hölderlin, then, tragedy is about this space where Spirit hinges onto word (or art-work)—or doesn’t hinge—or where “God” erupts into human temporality and grasps “man” (or doesn’t do so); and tragedy, being about this space or stage of potential contract, is also about that transport (or obstruction) of sense and meaning in the passage of meaning between two languages. It should come as no surprise to anyone acquainted with Hölderlin’s thought that the linguistic problem of translation is inextricably bound up with theological and existential issues.
12. The first passage, taken from the “Notes to Antigone,” dissects the moment of “translation” by freezing “the Spirit of Time and Nature” in the moment of its “wildest” confrontation with that “sensory object” in which it (or man) is interested:
13. “In this moment [In diesem Momente] man must get a grip on himself the most,” presumably because the daemonic energy of awakened Spirit and matter would reveal human character (“steht er auch da am offensten in seinem Charakter”) by exposing it to the dangers of that possible lacuna of non-relation that separates Spirit and object. Is there contact between the two, or isn’t there? Can we speak of a passage and transport between the two, or rather can there be only a hiatus, “caesura,” or abyss dividing them? The “man” who thus confronts this question is thus not only the generic “man” represented by the tragic hero and heroine, but also the reader and translator of bold works of art, culture, and nature [cf. “Taglauf”]. Their own “spirits” (here to be identified generally with the drive and desire that invests “sensory objects” with meaning) are revealed in that very moment when they compelled to witness that the objects (bodies, words) of their interests always remain potentially untouched and “unspirited” by their attempts to appropriate and master them.
14. In Hölderlin’s philosophical tableau (preceding citation), then, we see “the Spirit of Time and Nature” provoked by the heterogeneity and inertia of its object into a sheer vigilance, one reflecting all the difficulty or impossibility of making contact or otherwise engaging that object. At issue is what happens in the passage (or non-passage) between Spirit as “transcendental [i.e., as yet unfigured] Signified” and its material or sensory signifiers. Tragedy itself, then—and the Kunstwerk in general—is the attempted mode of transport and translation across the gap between Gods and bodies. We might concretize this somewhat abstract exposition (which is forced on us by the abstractions of the “Notes”) by taking the funeral ritual (and the first burial passage in the Antigone) as an example of the means of transport and translation across the “gap” outlined above.
15. The salient features of Hölderlin’s philosopheme—the waking Spirit, its indifferent, lackadaisical object, the ambiguity about the contact between the two, and the capacity of that ambiguity to reveal “character”—are all features of burial rituals. The way in which a culture deals with its dead does provide a kind of index to that culture. Those mythic spells (=Hölderlin’s “das Himmlische”) that a people weaves around its dead in order to sanctify and hallow them (or: get rid of, “forget” them by “remembering” them with grave and epitaph) can well reveal (cf. “steht er auch da am offensten in seinem Charakter”) the historico-spiritual nature of a culture. Whether they operate by inhumation, cremation, mummification, or exposure of the body to birds (as in Zoroastrian customs), or to the elements (Amerindians), funerary conventions are crucial in the life of a culture: these rituals all aim to close the gap between animus and corpus, and such closure then allows the members of a community to envision themselves as participants of dramas larger and more meaningful than the individual tragedies of biological extinction.
16. A passage from a well-known letter to Böhlendorff explicitly thematizes the sense of “tragedy” [das Tragische] as a genre or sentiment about the attempted closure and enclosure of the dead, their transport out of the world of the living:
17. Antigone, though, is not about cremation at all, but about burial and its containers. That “unterirdische Behausung” and “gegrabene Kluft” into which Antigone is banished are hyperbolic figures for the “modern” tragedy of excessive containment which may put bodies out of reach of spirit. This play, then, has something to do with “modern tragedy” (“das Tragische bei uns”), and so qualifies as an (ancient) tragedy about modern modes of representation and translation which violate their spirits and bodies either by “grounding” them too much or not enough. Antigone’s “burial” is diametrically opposed to that of Polyneices, her brother and alter-ego; she is buried too much, and he too little. But the focus of our inquiry is the corpse. Hölderlin went so far as to read this corpse, both the arche and telos of Spirit, as the locus classicus of the Absolute, or the place where “the unmediated God” is to manifest itself as a figure in the text of translation; as such, the corpse—with its catastrophes of interrupted burial—marks out the space of possible translation: between languages, between the living and the dead, between “Spirit” and its self-figurations, and between the textual corpus of Sophocles and that of Hölderlin. If we keep in mind that the western literary canon itself was for Hölderlin a sort of “container” or pervasive coffin-text that hid the Sophoclean corpus from view and put it out of our hermeneutical reach (thereby preserving us from it), then we might compare Hölderlin’s undertaking as translator to that of an undertaker who opens a crypt as the first act in the dramatic process of “translating” the relics of a newly canonized saint to holier ground.
3. The first burial of the Antigone (lines 245ff)
18. The issue of the previous two sections can be crystallized and fruitfully complicated through a comparison of the German and Greek texts at the moment of the first burial passage. Creon had issued an edict mandating the execution of anyone who buries Polyneices, the attacker of Thebes and thus its archenemy. The frightened and evasive guard tells the enraged king that the body has been buried under very mysterious circumstances: nobody saw just who buried the corpse, and the perpetrator has left no traces of himself or herself at the scene of the crime. In Wolfgang Schadewaldt’s rendition:
19. It can be plausibly argued that the Gods buried Polyneices in this first burial, and not Antigone (as is usually assumed)—who is caught performing the second burial at ll. 407ff. The chorus afterwards ventures the opinion that the burial was “god-imposed” [θεήλατον], but Creon vehemently rejects this suggestion on the grounds that “the Gods would never bury a traitor” (cf. lines 282-3); he instead suspects hired subversives, perhaps members of Polyneices’ party who transgress the edict just to challenge his authority. The divine has intervened elsewhere in Greek literature to protect the dead from decomposition, and the entire play testifies to the grave sacrilege of unburied bodies. 
20. We dwell momentarily on the presence of the divine in this burial scene because this first “translation” of the body takes place in a context of the uncanny and the supernatural. As an inscription of divine care for or “interest” in the body, the non-signs (in)visible on the gravesite function as emblems of the play’s own deep-rooted idealism and of its theology. In asking to be read as the signature of the very Gods to the deed of burial, the signlessness (which the passage describes at length) suggests that the Hand of God may be at work in all burials and translations: these latter two are each of them operations that require the collaboration of deity in their arduous tasks to veil from us the sight of disintegration, whether of bodies or books and their meanings (which disintegrate if they are not translated). Both translation and burial are a means of avoiding the materiality of signs, and this ability to conjure away the material dimension (of things)—which is rooted in the local and specific, and which therefore cannot be translated or buried without violating the thing—is a sorcery that has to enlist the aid of supernatural forces, which themselves leave no marks.
21. The actual burial, which here is very much a sorcery, is described at line 255. At the beginning of his report, the guard had told Creon that “somebody just buried the body” (ll. 245-6), and he reiterates this fact at line 255: ὁ μὲν γὰρ ἠφάνιστο (“The [dead man] had been made invisible”). (Schadewaldt: “Der Tote war verschwunden”.) ἠφάνιστο is the pluperfect passive of ἀφανίζω, meaning “to make something aphantos, unseen.” Careful readers should be a bit disturbed or intrigued by this assertion of the guard, since the body has not “really” been buried. That is, this burial is a small miracle in itself, one exemplifying the sense of preternatural legerdemain of the one (or One) who performed it: this “burial” is purely ritual or figural, since it consists of just a few handfuls of dust scattered over the corpse in a symbolic gesture to ward off the taboo or curse of the unburied dead. The corpse, that is, is still “there,” and very much visible. The words “had been made invisible” used by the guard to describe the burial is then a figure of speech, but one made so efficacious by the magic coating of dust that the figure turns into literal description: the body is translated away into its proper realm, for the animals so eager to tear into it—“a meal for birds and dogs” (205-6)—can’t see it and so leave it untouched.
22. Before observing how Hölderlin translates this uncanny translation, we should first get a general sense of the verbal ambience of both the Greek and the German passages, which are set out in full below (Greek lines 245-58). The Greek text below differs from Hölderlin’s text (a corrupt Florentine edition) at one place, which I shall indicate later on.
καὶ δὴ λέγω σοι. τὸν νεκρόν τις ἀρτίως θάψας βέβηκε κἀπὶ χρωτὶ διψίαν κόνιν παλύνας, κἀφαγιστεύσας ἃ χρή:
Ich sag’ es dir. Es hat den Todten ebenBegraben eines, das entkam, die Haut zweimalMit Staub bestreut, und, wies geziemt, gefeiert.
τί φής; τίς ἀνδρῶν ἦν ὁ τολμήσας τάδε;
Was meinst du? wer hat diß sich unterfangen?
οὐκ οἶδ’: ἐκεῖ γὰρ οὔτε του γενῇδος ἦν πλῆγμ’, οὐ δικέλλης ἐκβολή. στύφλος δὲ γῆ καὶ χέρσος ἀρρὼξ, οὐδ᾽ ἐπημαξευμένη τροχοῖσιν, ἀλλ᾽ ἄσημος οὑργάτης τις ἦν. ὅπως δ’ ὁ πρῶτος ἡμὶν ἡμεροσκόπος δείκνυσι, πᾶσι θαῦμα δυσχερὲς παρῆν. ὁ μὲν γὰρ ἠφάνιστο, τυμβήρης μὲν οὔ, λεπτὴ δ’ ἄγος φεύγοντος ὥς, ἐπῆν κόνις. σημεῖα δ᾽ οὔτε θηρὸς οὔτε του κυνῶν ἐλθόντος, οὐ σπάσαντος ἐξεφαίνετο.
Undenklich. Nirgend war von einem Karst Ein Schlag; und nicht der Stoß von einer Schaufel, Und dicht das Land; der Boden ungegraben; Von Rädern nicht befahren. Zeichenlos war Der Meister, und wie das erste Tagesblik Anzeigte, kams unhold uns all’ an, wie ein Wunder. Nichts feierlichs. Es war kein Grabmal nicht. Nur zarter Staub, wie wenn man das Verbot Gescheut. Und auch des Wilds Fußtritte nirgend nicht Noch eines Hundes, der gekommen und zerrissen. Und schlimme Worte fuhren durcheinander.
23. The Greek phrases are finely articulated, nuanced with logical qualifiers and contrastive particles: ὁ μὲν γὰρ [. . .] σημεῖα δ᾽ (“on the one hand he [. . .] on the other hand no signs [. . .]”); or “the dead man had been made invisible—not, mind you, with a burial mound” (ὁ μὲν γὰρ [. . .] τυμβήρης μὲν οὔ). The sentry’s rushing hypotactical discourse suggests, it is true, the excited homme du peuple that he is, especially when his speech is contrasted with Creon’s (preceding) introductory address (ll. 162-210), with its balanced locutions and magniloquent phraseology of kings. Still, the guard does manage to unfold the “wonder hard to behold” of the burial with some logic and precision. He takes care to narrate even this quite remarkable occurrence in a rhetoric of order and lucidity (as in “neither [. . .] nor” [οὔτε [. . .] οὔτε] [l. 257]; or cf. the simile “as” in 256 which implies some presence of mind). It is as if this rational framework would, by seeking to contain the great mystery of the burial within the bounds of the logos, thus offer it up in palatable form to the (political) reason of the king.
24. Hölderlin’s guard, however, nullifies all subtlety. The German elides the plastic and delicate particles of the Greek and thus imparts to translation a disconnected and asyndetic construction. Hölderlin’s efforts to preserve the Greek word order taxes the German syntax with inversions (“Nirgend war von einem Karst/ Ein Schlag”) and troubles the sense with ellipses (cf. the omitted verbs in “Und dicht das Land; der Boden ungegraben”). The style of the translator’s late hymns has been compared to the syntagmatic composition of both the Baroque Trauerspiel  and the Expressionist lyric  , and this comparison is no less apt for the Sophocles translations; especially in the later play Antigonä a mild dyslexia comes through as a result of the translator’s efforts to foreground the individual word by deleting syntax. 
25. This foregrounding radically alters the tonality of the passage. Whereas the Greek account of the burial is recounted and narrated by one who successfully masters his fear of the king, the German account comes across as being declaimed and intoned by a wild-eyed prophet. The Greek reports the burial in the locutionary mode of recollection and oratio obliqua, while the German in a sense performs the event in its very utterance, which here itself becomes an Ereignis. The inflections of the German guard approximate those of a zealous preacher—perhaps not unlike on who recited the Bible for hours to the seminarians during the translator’s schooling at the Stift in Tübingen.
26. This comparison helps in specifying the pitch or verbal thrust of Hölderlin’s German, which is theological and absolute. To Creon’s question (“Who would ever dare such a thing—”), the guard responds with two words which hardly receive any emphasis: οὐκ οἶδ’ (“I can’t say,” “I don’t know,” 249). Yet the first thing one notices in Hölderlin’s rendition is the extravagant “Undenklich” for the unexceptional οὐκ οἶδ’. Compared to the more sober translations—such as Schadewaldt’s “Ich weiß es nicht” or Kuchenmüller’s “Ich weiß nicht” (Kuchenmüller 14)—Hölderlin’s rendering takes the reader (with some violence) out of Sophocles’ text and translates one into the immensities of another textual place, that “Wüste der Spekulation”  which to Hölderlin evoked the side of modern writing. “Undenklich” connotes regions beyond the limits of mind, memory, and perception, as in the phrase “undenkliche Zeit,” or in Kant’s phrase in the first Critique, where parallel lines are said to run out “into the Unthink-like” [ins Undenkliche], into a place where thought has no place. Hölderlin had identified tragedy, translated or original, with a modern writing of the Absolute: “Undenklich” recalls the word “Undenkbare(m)” in an apothegm from the “Notes to Antigone,” where tragedy stages “man’s understanding” as it roams around “as under [the realm of] the Unthinkable” [des Menschen Verstand, als unter Undenkbarem wandelnd] (FHA 413). 
27. This melodramatizing or absolutizing of the original manifests itself in other ways. The Greek specifies and qualifies as it unfolds the details of the burial. ἀλλ᾽ ἄσημος οὑργάτης τις ἦν (line 252) means “The doer was someone (τις) who was sign-less.” There were many possible “doers,” so the statement implies, but this particular one had the characteristic of being without sign. Yet Hölderlin makes a “big Idea” out of the Greek, which in itself is a highly significant phrase, but it remains only informational. “Zeichenlos war der Meister,” however, is oracular and suggests, in a way the Greek does not, other, wider contexts—whether the semiotic manifestations of deity in general, the absence of their mark on graves, or engravings. “Zeichenlos war der Meister,” that is, easily recalls the gnomic tonalities of the translator’s Spätwerk, whose intertextual presence in the Sophocles (and Pindar) translations often supply interlinear glosses (as here: “Ein Zeichen sind wir, deutungslos,/ schmerzlos sind wir und haben fast/ die Sprache in der Fremde verloren”—from “Mnemosyne”).
28. “Meister,” for οὑργάτης, also has strong lyrical overtones. The Greek word is poised in a delicate semantic balance between criminal “perpetrator” and masterful “artificer,” and so reflects the guard’s ambivalence as to whether the burial is a miracle of divine artifice or a felony crime. “Meister,” however, removes this fine ambiguity, and places the emphasis on the sense of “craftsman” or “virtuoso.” “Meister” is, of course, a common trope in the translator’s lyrics for authors and architects, whether Gods (e.g., “Mein Meister und Herr!” apostrophizing Christ in “Der Einzige”) or divinized poets (“Wenn nur vollendet sein Bild und fertig ist der Meister” in “Friedensfeier”). The translation (“Zeichenlos war der Meister”), then, appears to be telling its own tragedy within the original tragedy: while telling Sophocles’ story about the Gods who (seem to) intervene in human affairs in order to cover over the “outrageous sight” (ll. 205-6) of death, the line also tells Hölderlin’s story about the Deus absconditus of the Hesperians, which may be that “God” who can only presence himself “in the form of death,” in, that is, figures of spirit absented from itself (cf. “der Gott, in der Gestalt des Todes, gegenwärtig ist” [FHA 417]). But that absence of signs, which in the Greek burial are the signs of a divine superintendency over mortal affairs becomes in translation a more tragic sort of absence, since those signs (we don’t see) left behind by the hand of Greek deity are no longer—in German—assignable to the “Meister” (God or vatic poet), who are “Zeichenlos.”
29. The statement “Nichts Feierlichs” amplifies the theme about the disjunction between Authors and Signs which the translation appears to be telling. But “Nichts Feierlichs” (“There was nothing ceremonious”) is a very odd way to translate the remarkable Greek phrase “The body had been made invisible” [ὁ μὲν γὰρ ἠφάνιστο]. Not being quite sure how to construe Hölderlin’s rendition, one notes the participle “gefeiert” (eight lines before) for κἀφαγιστεύσας—“having performed proper burial rites.” “Feiern” is evidently deployed in the sense of “bury” or “commemorate with a funeral,” with the result that the immediate contextual meaning of “Nichts Feierlichs” would be “No funeral or burial took place.” But this negates the burial which very definitely took place in the Greek, and which provides the central dramatic motivation for the entire episode. The words following “Nichts Feierlichs” further abolish the miraculous Greek burial: “Es war kein Grabmal nicht” (correctly, for τυμβήρης μὲν οὔ—“There was no grave-monument”). Hence no grave and no burial! What has happened to the body? Far from being “made invisible,” it has literally got lost in translation.
30. Hölderlin’s lyrical intertext is echoed once again in the phrase “Nichts Feierlichs.” “Feier,” “feierlich,” and “feiern” recur in the late lyrics, and refer to that celebration and ceremony that poetry is meant to be. A common motif in Hölderlin’s Spätwerk is to recount how the Poem of the Moderns is to come into being as the commemoration and celebration of Greek letters. Yet it becomes ever more difficult a task to revive Greek text-events (such as Sophoclean tragedy or Pindaric Ode) in the hymn, elegy, or translation, since the modern tropologies and mythologies of “celebration” grow less and less able—in the passage of time, and as both the perdurance and alterity of the precursor’s originations seem more and more inescapable to understand, and so to tell about, their very origins in Greece. The Moderns are to hymn themselves by singing the Ancients, since the poetic celebration of the Ancients is the means by which the moderns repossess and re-appropriate for their own purposes the poetic discourse of the ancients, which they are constrained to use. If they are properly celebrated, the Greeks can speak Hesperian, or speak for them; but if the Greeks are not celebrated, if “no celebration of poetry takes place,” or if “there is nothing that is the object of a celebration” (“Nichts Feierlichs”), then the Hesperians lose their voice and themselves remain untranslated into recognition. It would appear, then, that the translation employs the mysterious burial of a corpse as a means to announce the death of modern poetry, now no longer capable of celebrating, as the Greek original, the congruence of poetic signs and divine intentions, their secret affiliations, and their capacity to translate bodies, and thus words, into other contexts which preserve their souls and meanings intact. Hölderlin’s guard, who later delivers an obsequy on that spirit (who appears not to have been celebrated), tellingly refers to himself as “den Geisterlosen” (“the one without Geist,” rendering line 274, “the ill-fated one”).
31. Yet the “case of the missing body” is far from closed. More philological evidence must be taken into consideration. In Hölderlin’s Greek text, the “Juntina” edition of 1555, οὐ δ ὲν γὰρ ἠφάνιστο (“Nothing had been made invisible”) supplies the Greek words corresponding to the fatal half-line “Nichts Feierlichs.” The Juntina says nearly the opposite, then, of the reading given in most other (better) editions, which is (as we have seen) ὁ μὲν γὰρ ἠφάνιστο (“the [dead] man had been made invisible”). Yet even this corrupt reading could have been read in such a way as to salvage the burial, instead of flatly stating that it didn’t take place. “Nothing had been made invisible” could have been taken to mean, “Everything was as clear as day”—i.e., “nothing had been hidden from us,” “we recognized the terrible deed of burial.” Yet Hölderlin may not have been reading, interpreting, and so saving the text; he might not have been thinking, just here (at line 255) about Greek burials and how best to translate them into modern (non)burials. Rather, he might simply have been making a mistake, supposing (erroneously) that ἠφάνι σ τ ο (“had been made invisible”) was a form of the verb (ἀφαγνίζω) (“to render funeral rites (to)”), which had come up eight lines earlier in the word κἀφαγιστεύσας, translated by the word “gefeiert” (“wies geziemt, gefeiert”—“as is fitting, he was buried”). The translator might simply have failed to notice the small difference between a nu (ν) and a gamma (γ), and thus—while under the influence of the nearby κἀφαγιστεύσας—confused ἀφαγνίζω (to Hölderlin=“celebrate with due burial”) with ἀφανίζω (“make invisible”).
32. Does the “philological” thesis that the translator made a mistake annul the one previously proposed, which we might call the “thematic” or “allegorical” explanation? Does the theory about the simple mistake make otiose the theory that Hölderlin translates Sophocles by thematizing the limitations of modern poetic rituals—limitations which impinge upon the translator’s consciousness when it is faced with “the Absolute,” in the form of the first burial, with its prodigiously efficacious burial ritual and its aura of supernatural protection? The philological account is in fact no less conjectural than the “thematic” one. Previous expositions of Hölderlin’s translation, and recently Seifert’s work on the Pindar translations, have demonstrated that Hölderlin frequently mistranslated on purpose, in order to align the lexical register and rhetorical implications of the translations with those of his own poetic discourse.  One could even speak of an index of refraction by which the Greek is often “bent” on its passage into the German in order to fit into a lyrical intertext. Although “Nichts Feierlichs,” for example, might well be a mistake (unconscious misprision), it is impossible to know with any certainty whether Hölderlin knew what he was doing when he wrote these words. Other “mistakes” are more certainly classifiable as genuine mistakes, such as φῦλον (“people”) misunderstood for φύλλον (“leaves” at Oedipus Tyrannus l.19). Yet each deviation is to be evaluated in its own individual circumstances and specific context, and questions about the translator’s conscious intentionality will often be complex or undecidable.
33. The “allegorical” reading of the passage does show one tendency of Hölderlin’s translations: they “translate” by commenting on their relation to the original. Such phrases as “Undenklich,” “Zeichenlos war der Meister,” “Nichts Feierlichs,” “der gekommen und zerrissen” have a metacritical function that comments upon or evaluates the original either while translating it, or instead of translating it. That is, “Undenklich,” for example, translates (albeit somewhat oddly) the guard’s οὐκ οἶδ’, but it also evaluates “Sophocles” and “the Greeks,” as well as the relation that the translator’s understanding and linguistic means bear to the original text, its form and content. In this way Hölderlin translates Sophocles in order to speak about himself, or rather to allow his language to say whatever it wants when it is compelled to face up to its own belatedness in the self-conscious confrontation with the language of Sophocles—“Das Träumerischnaive. Eigentliche Sprache des Sophokles” (FHA 413).
34. “Nichts Feierlichs,” then, might just be a phrase marking the translator’s real bafflement when faced with the Greek phrase οὐ δ ὲν γὰρ ἠφάνιστο (“Nothing had been made invisible”). “Nichts Feierlichs” might well be a critical statement about the unreadability of the original: “There is nothing (here) that is the (possible) object of (my) translation/celebration.” At the moment when something goes wrong in the original (for “how could there not be a burial-celebration”—so Hölderlin might have thought—“when the text has asserted this very event eight lines before?”), there does the translator bring in his own “originals,” whose emblematic adjective is “Feierlich,” into the text of translation, but he introduces them in the form of a negation: “Nichts Feierlichs.” Where the original is unreadable, the translator resorts to profanity.
Adorno, Theodor. “Parataxis: Zur späten Lyrik Hölderlins.” Noten zur Literatur. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1965. Print.
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Beissner, Friedrich. Hölderlins Übersetzungen aus dem Griechischen. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1933. Print.
Benjamin, Walter. Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels. Ed. Rolf Tiedemann. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2000. Print.
Binder, Wolfgang. “Hölderlin und Sophokles,” Hölderlin-Jahrbuch 16 (1969-70): 19-37. Print.
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Harrison, R. B. Hölderlin and Greek Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975. Print.
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Hölderlin, Friedrich. Friedrich Hölderlin: Sämtliche Werke und Briefe. Vols 1 and 2. Ed. Michael Knaupp. München: Hanser, 1992. Print.
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 Beissner published the first full-length study in 1933: Hölderlins Übersetzungen aus dem Griechischen; W. Schadewaldt, “Hölderlins Übersetzung des Sophokles”; K. Reinhardt, “Hölderlin und Sophokles”; W. Binder, “Hölderlin und Sophokles”; R. B. Harrison, Hölderlin and Greek Literature; George Steiner, Antigones, pp. 66-106; P. Lacoue-Labarthe, “The Caesura of the Speculative.” This list is representative, not exhaustive. BACK
 The fact that Hölderlin often adhered closely to the Greek syntax, and mimed it in the German word order, doesn’t weaken the point being made here that Hölderlin was carrying out his own experiments in the textual laboratory of Sophocles. BACK
 Cf. Paul de Man’s “The Return to Philology”: to “return” to philology means “to read a text closely as a text and not to move at once into the general context of human experience or history” (23). BACK
 The thematic importance of the body of Polyneices has largely been obscured by the history of interpretation of Antigone. As the most popular play (Greek or otherwise!) of the nineteenth century, Antigone owes its popularity not to the body of Polyneices but to Antigone, the heroine who incarnates a feminine intuition that remains true to itself and to those family values its champions even when faced with death. The ideaization of the female as sister no doubt offered an ethic more socially viable (for a rising bourgeoisie) than the female as wife, mother, mistress, or friend, since the sister figure would allow the spectator/reader to be titillated by the young, beautiful, and nubile heroine, while at the same time the audience morality could be assuaged by that heroine’s non-sexual love for a family member, which is meant to take precedence over all erotic impulses. But Antigone’s love for her brother (her “brotherly love”) depends for its very purity—its elevation over the sexual—upon the deadness of her brother, for this deadness kills the possibility of incest (very much a skeleton in the family closet), and raises her love to the status of a Christian agape. One should recall that the body of her brother is totally destroyed—as if to eradicate in this sparagmos all possibility of any sexual attachment between the heroine and her loved one, and thus assure the complete spirituality of her love. BACK
 Hölderlin writes this paragraph as a commentary to the preceding lines taken from his translation of Antigone ll. 499ff.: “Was wagtest du ein solches Gesetz zu brechen?” (Creon)—“Darum, mein Zeus berichtete mirs nicht, Noch hier im Haus das Recht der Todesgötter,” etc. (Antigone). This exchange marks the climax in the protagonists’ agon, which is all about the body of Polyneices and the “crime” of burying it. BACK
 In Iliad 24.610-12, the gods bury Niobe’s children. Hektor’s body is also saved from putrefaction. Arguments for the divine burial in Antigone may be found in Marsh McCall, “Divine and Human Action in Sophocles: the two burials of Antigone.” BACK
 Norbert von Hellingrath first pointed out the stylistic parallels between Hölderlin’s translations of Sophocles and Baroque poetry. Cf. Hölderlins Vermächtnis. Walter Benjamin also compares the translations with Baroque Trauerspiel in his Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels. BACK
 The phrase occurs in a letter (1.1.1799) to his brother: “Kant ist der Moses unserer Nation, der sie aus der ägyptischen Erschlaffung in die freie, einsame Wüste der Spekulation führt, und der das energische Gesetz vom heiligen Berge bringt” (StA 6.1.304). BACK
 Such a realm would be the Unconditioned expanse outside of the Kantian a priori structures of experience, or the speculator’s surmise of the unlimited historical and political possibilities not (yet) realized. Any path taken across this “desert”—whether the inscribing pens of “Reason” or in the transport of bodies in burial rites—would necessarily involve what Hölderlin calls (in Grund zum Empedokles) the “Nichtdenken des Unbekannten,” i.e., the radical forgetting of the desert terrain, a place whose only landmarks are those paths retraced again and again in sand. BACK