Schiller to Goethe, 1797
We all know that Oedipus killed his father and slept with his mother, and that when he discovered who he had killed and who he had married, he blinded himself. But Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus Rex does not show us the killing or the wedding. It shows us only the process by which Oedipus discovers “who he is” and it then reports two actions consequent upon that discovery: Oedipus’ mother/wife Jocasta hangs herself and Oedipus stabs out his eyes. In addition to the killing and the marrying, two other less familiar parts of Oedipus’ story form part of the background of Sophocles’ play – Oedipus’ victory over the Sphinx and his accession to the throne of Thebes, and the fact that his mother and father tried to kill him shortly after his birth by having him abandoned on the mountain Citheron with his ankles pinned together.*
What is Oedipus to us? Freud first mentioned Oedipus in 1897, in a letter to his friend Wilhelm Fliess. There he wrote that it had occurred to him that the reason audiences were so stirred by Oedipus Rex is that “the Greek saga seizes upon a compulsion which everyone recognizes because they perceive his existence in themselves. Every member of the audience was once a budding Oedipus in fantasy.” (Hillman, 96) Freud’s focus in that remark is on Oedipal desires and conflicts. But Freud went on to talk about Oedipus in The Interpretation of Dreams, and there he noted that the play proceeds in a manner similar to psychoanalysis: “The action of the play consists simply in the disclosure, approached step by step and artistically delayed (and comparable to the work of a psychoa...
... middle of paper ...
...And where does he want to go? To Citheron, the mountain where his parents had him abandoned, to die:
Let me go to Citheron,
Where my mother and father willed that I should die,
And let me die there, as they willed.
Shame and literalism, or concrete thinking
[Oedipus’] fate moves us because it might have been our own,
because the oracle laid upon us before our birth
the very curse which rested upon him.
Freud, in The Interpretation of Dreams
The oracular approach to the psyche defends against
its measureless depths (Heraclitus) with literalist measures.
James Hillman, “Oedipus Revisited,” 119
It is possible to read Oedipus Rex as the tragedy of concrete or literal thinking. The “place where three roads meet” – the crossroads at which Oedipus killed his father – serves as an emblem of the difference between concrete thinking and a capacity for refle
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- The Oedipus is essentially a tragic analysis. Everything is already there, so it needs only to be extricated. Schiller to Goethe, 1797 We all know that Oedipus killed his father and slept with his mother, and that when he discovered who he had killed and who he had married, he blinded himself. But Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus Rex does not show us the killing or the wedding. It shows us only the process by which Oedipus discovers “who he is” and it then reports two actions consequent upon that discovery: Oedipus’ mother/wife Jocasta hangs herself and Oedipus stabs out his eyes.... [tags: Oedipus, Oedipus the King, Sigmund Freud, Jocasta]
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