Examining Self Exile in Greek Mythology as a Defense Mechanism
1600 Words7 Pages
The dichotomy of social and individualistic tendencies is a source of conflict within all humans and throughout history. Psychologically healthy people have desires to be in the company of other people, while in other instances, they want to isolate themselves from the world and look inward. These two inclinations are kept in balance by leading a normal lifestyle without any extreme emotionally stimulation. However, when trauma is suffered in the psyche, this balance can be upset and people may find themselves looking only inward and shutting out the rest of the world completely. This self-imposed exile from humanity is something that the ancient Greeks understood and often explored in their mythology. A common trend in Greek mythology was to use a self-imposed exile as a defense mechanism and form of punishment as seen in the myths of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles and Medea by Euripides.
The myth of Oedipus Rex includes self exile as a way for Oedipus to cope with the fate that he has suffered and worked his whole life to prevent. At the end of the play Oedipus Rex, Oedipus gouges out his own eyes because he realizes that he has fulfilled a prophecy told to him at the beginning the play that he would kill his father and marry his mother. He was so intent on not fulfilling this gruesome prediction that when he was told that the man who he thought was his father had died, he exclaimed:
Ha! Ha! O dear Jocasta, why should one
look to the Pythian hearth? Why should one look
to the birds screaming overhead? They prophesized
that I should kill my father! But he’s dead,
and hidden deep in the ear, and I stand here
who never laid a hand on spear against him,
unless perhaps he died of longing for me,
and thus I am his murderer. But th...
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... themselves than they had experienced and in the end, neither achieved anything except for alienation from the rest of their respective worlds.
In both Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles and Medea, by Euripides, the idea of a self-imposed exile is explored in depth. The reason for this motif is because when faced with great hardships and psychological damage like Oedipus and Medea have, the normal human response is to try to introvert and remove one’s self from the world which has caused it problems. This tendency, while a normal psychological defense mechanism, is not healthy because it violates the relationship that all people must have in their actions between individual and social stimulation. Only through attaining a balance between these two states of being can one truly attain healthy emotional stability and happiness, which neither Medea nor Oedipus can ever have.