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original features of the legend, as distinct from later embellishments and alterations.
It is said by authorities on the subject that the story of Oedipus was at first much more crudely told than in its present form, and that originally the mother was present at the slaying of the father, and, immediately after the murder, was overpowered by her son.
Many points in this story are the subject of controversy. Gruppe thinks it was added to the original myth only with the introduction of the well-known romantic motive: the killing of the monster by the hero who thereby wins the hand of a princess. Other critics assert that the original contest between Oedipus and the Sphinx was one of physical strength, not a trial of wits in the solution of the riddle; others again, that the tale of the suicide of the Sphinx rose out of a late analogy to that of Jocasta. We
may then believe that that version of the Oedipus story is the earliest, in which there was no question of the solving of the riddle, but the hero is represented as slaying a terrible monster which was laying waste the land.
The next question which arises is that of the relationship of this part of the story to the whole myth: is it, as it seems at first sight and as is maintained by most philologists, a mere episode, added later to the essential myth?
The difficulties in connection with the incorporation of the Sphinx episode into the story lie in the fact (noted by Robert), that the Sphinx has been represented as being concerned in the fate of Laios, as indeed the story itself indicates, but the connection is very obscure. If the Sphinx be regarded as the avenger of Laios, it is absurd that the murderer should with impunity slay the avenger. If, on the other hand, she were sent to punish a crime committed by Laios himself, it is equally absurd that she should appear after his death and punish his innocent subjects. So she could only be sent by the god whose Oracle had foretold the fate of Laios, or else we must seek for another motive outside the Oedipus story. Robert thinks no motivation is necessary: the monster is there to refer its appearance to human guilt is a late and secondary conception.
He would appear to have given up too soon the attempt at explanation. The connection between the Sphinx and Laios is certainly puzzling, but psychoanalysis shows that such a connection has a psychic, and therefore real, motivation.
Again, the parallelism between the slaying of Laios and that of the Sphinx is significant. The Sphinx, a late development of the totem animal, is confronted by the young Oedipus, who slays her and receives the city as a prize. If we believe in the results of our researches into the origin of totemism, we see that, in the last resort, the killing of the Sphinx stands for the murder of the father. Further, in the symbolism of dreams, myth, poetry and wit, the city or country stands for the woman. So that, in the guise of the Sphinx episode, we recognise a second appearance of the same theme: the killing of the father and the rape of the mother.
Again we are confronted with difficult questions. What is the original form of the story, and why should it be re-told in another form? From what psychic motive has the male figure of the Sphinx been transformed into the female?
The emotional content of the Oedipus myth meets with such universal response in human nature that in psycho-analysis it is quoted as typical of the strongest unconscious wishes. But the very frankness with which it is presented to us in all its crudity, should arrest our attention. We may be on our guard when crudely sexual themes are freely treated in the myth. Nearly always it means that other motives are hidden, and the emphasis upon, and prominence of, the one sexual theme often serve to hide another part of the content, which has some sexual or sinister motive.
Strip from the story the Oracle, the Sphinx episode and other special mythological features, and what remains? The life and deeds of one who has committed parricide and incest, whose fate could rouse in us no deep feeling of sympathy. Why should this hero have been chosen from so many for immortalisation, so that for his sake the tribunal became the stage?
This consideration, in conjunction with our earlier observations, leads us to suppose that the Sphinx episode is an integral part of the original myth, and the relationship of the one part to the other is defined when we state that the Sphinx plays in the Oedipus myth the same part as the ghost in Hamlet.
The Sphinx episode is older than what we may call the ‘human’ motive in the story, and in it the slaying of the Sphinx has still its primary awful significance. Later this act of superhuman impiety appears in the guise of a hero's liberation of his country, yet, since that act was perpetrated upon a late successor of the totem god, it remains of tragic significance in the fate of the man himself. The murder of Laios was the transgression of a human law, but the slaying of the Sphinx was a crime committed against the deity.
The tragic motive is greatly strengthened by the fact that Oedipus has offended not only against the transitory codes and questionable customs of man, but against the eternal and sacred laws laid down by the gods; he has not only slain his father, but, in him, the authority—the god himself.
To the Greeks, already arrived at the stage of anthropomorphism, the slaying of the totem did not appear in its overwhelming significance. The Sphinx had, in the course of progress, become a monster, and its slaying, through the inversion of the emotional affect, was looked on as meritorious. Religious feeling had become more sensitive, and no compassion could have been roused for the slayer of a god, therefore another crime was substituted, sufficiently heavy and similar to the original, which yet did not amount to a mighty insurrection against the gods—the crime, that is, of parricide. But the choice of this substitute was no matter of chance. Remembering as we do thạt the totem itself was a primitive substitute for the father, we recognise in the development of the myth an echo of a real event in primitive times, times long vanished from conscious memory.
So we reach the following conclusion: the myth as we have it does not reflect the primary content of the story, but represents a late return of the repressed material. Some happening, similar to the events of the Oedipus story in its present version, may have been the germ of the original myth.
We understand now that its crude form is not to be attributed to its primitive character, but is to be regarded as a breaking forth of material repressed for thousands of years. Here, as in other myths, we already meet with traces of religious elaboration and change of interpretation. We can never have the pre-religious myth in its pure form, which was allied to animism.
In the Oedipus myth the chief accent has been shifted on to the conflict with the human father. In the psychic realm this shifting of accent is familiar in dreams; that which originally was the kernel appearing as the husk.
We have intentionally disregarded those elements in the story which seem to assign the part of the mother to the Sphinx. Rank has it that the introduction of the Sphinx represents the splitting off of certain offensive features from the conception of the mother. The original overpowering of the mother gave place to the fight with the Sphinx and long afterwards was transferred into a contest of wits. The Sphinx mother puts to the youth, who is struggling to understand the sexual problem, a sexual riddle about the being of man, and only after the solution of the riddle (in the original sense, after the overpowering of the mother), can he consummate the marriage. According to Rank, the Sphinx episode is a reappearance of the rape of Jocasta, interpolated, during the process of repression, amongst the different strata of the myth.
Rank recognises that this interpretation is insufficient and adduces the history of Chrysippus, which is allied to that of Laios, so that the homosexual meaning of the Sphinx is obvious. His hypothesis and our own are complementary, but his seems to refer to a later version of the story.
So we arrive at the belief that the Sphinx story, as we now have it, is a wonderful piece of condensation, accomplished by many generations, which has compressed the slaying of the father and the rape of the mother into a single deed wrought upon the Sphinx.
Homosexual and heterosexual, sadistic and masochistic impulses pass into one another, undistinguished and indistinguishable. We find the explanation in the psychic processes which analysis has brought to light in the individual. The child who witnesses coitus identifies himself with both parents. He wishes to play the part not only of the father but also of the mother. This sadisticmasochistic phantasy corresponds to the first heterosexual and homosexual attachments of the child. The infantile sadistic conception of coitus causes it to appear in the child's eyes as a struggle. So it comes about that he wishes to follow the father's example (according to his own misconception of it), by doing violence to, and overpowering, his mother.
Transferring these observations to folk-psychology, our attention is directed to the alternate ebb and flow of the homosexual and heterosexual wave in the life of peoples-the unconscious hate of the mother allying itself to the love of the father, and vice versa.
So the Sphinx may embody these two strong tendencies, for Oedipus, killing his father, committed rape upon his mother, and, assaulting his mother, had for love-object his father.
If we enquire as to the succession in time of these libido tendencies, we find that the slaying of the father (the totem), appears to precede the rape of the mother. But the component parts of the hybrid figure, in which apparently the lower parts of the male animal are the older, and the female buman parts the younger, lead us to infer that here, as in the whole story, there has been a reappearance of some old repressed material. The condensation of the slaying of the father and the intercourse with the mother, which, by the cleavage in the Oedipus story, resolves itself into two separate streams of action, directs our thoughts back to a primitive age of mankind, when the love-choice of the young man was not so decidedly inclined to the woman as now, nor was there so clear a distinction between wooing and fighting--a phase analogous to the anal-sadistic period in the development of the individual.
If then the condensation contains the possibility of a return to this atavistic stage, we must suppose that in the sadistically-coloured phantasy of intercourse with the mother, to which was added that of the interference of the
father, we have the impulse for the creation of the Oedipus myth, which is nothing but the objective hallucination of wish-fulfilment.
From individual analysis we know that this formula corresponds to the biogenetic law, for the child at the outset finds in phantasy the fulfilment of the wishes which are denied to him in reality.
Having traced the Oedipus myth to its original germ—the phantasy of forcible intercourse with the mother, we are not surprised to find in its latest versions an indication of its derivation:—that dream chosen by Freud as starting-point for his analysis, of which Jocasta speaks in Sophocles' play: “Many a man in dreams has seen himself mated with his mother.” Freud then is right in maintaining that the Oedipus story sprang from a primitive dream content.
The condensation which we have indicated could only have been effected when there was no longer a psychic reaction towards the slaying of the father in fact, and the original myth bad already been created. Accordingly, the rape of the mother, represented simultaneously with the slaying of the father (the totem animal), in the overcoming of the Sphinx amounts to the recurrence of the wish which gave the impulse to the creation of the myth.
With the reappearance of this theme, dividing as it does, the Sphinx figure into those of Laios and Jocasta, we find again the hostile and the tender impulses of the young hero towards father and mother. As in the Sphinx episode, intercourse and murder coincide in a single deed wrought upon a single object, so in a pre-Sophoclean version of the myth, Oedipus takes from his father's body his girdle and his sword. To remove the girdle is a well-known erotic symbol of Greek antiquity, while the taking of the sword symbolises castration. Here again we have the combination of conflicting feelings directed towards a single object.
We mentioned above that in dreams the creation of phantastic composite creatures, such as the Sphinx, indicates hidden feelings of derision or contempt on the part of the dreamer. If we apply this rule to the mass psyche, we should expect to find some analogy to the remarkable hybrid creatures of ancient art. Possibly the mixture of animal and human in the Sphinx corresponds to the opposition felt towards totemistic deities in a time of cultural advance when the gods were conceived of in human form. Again, the combination of male and female parts would reflect an unconscious revolutionary impulse against the father-god, heterosexual libido-tendencies being opposed to the religion based on homosexuality.
The Oedipus myth was of extremely weighty significance in the religious life of the Greeks, and the performance of the Oedipus drama stood in intimate relationship to their religious ritual. The deep and lasting influence of this myth in antiquity is due to this religious motive showing as it does human passion in collision with divine laws. At the Dionysia and in the ritual of Attis, Adonis and Osiris, a young revolutionary saviour is represented as paying an awful penalty for his offence against the mighty father-god. A parallel may be found in the effect upon the faithful in the Middle Ages of the Passion Play of the Church: an effect due to the same psychic processes. The history of Christ is not unlike that of Oedipus as saviour.
In the Oedipus myth the hearers' unconscious sense of guilt was awakened. This goes to confirm us in the belief that the germ of the myth is the same as that of the Bible story of original sin. In Assyrian and Babylonian art the
Journ. of Psych. (Med. Sect.) I
Sphinx is represented as guarding the Tree of Life. In the story of the Fall of Man this guardianship is assigned to the cherub, whose original animal form we recognise in the Vision of Èzekiel. In this tradition of the Tree of Life, precisely the same condensation has taken place as in the Sphinx episode in the Oedipus myth, the Tree playing in the Bible story the same apparently non-essential rôle as does the Sphinx in our myth. Hence the Oedipus myth may be called the Greek story of the Fall of Man.