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Young Dr. Freud
Theories Analysis Family
Perspectives: Mythology
Egyptian Statue from Freud's collection
Egyptian Statue from Freud's collection
(David Grubin Productions)
 
Freud's fascination with ancient cultures and their artifacts began at an early age. As a young boy, he had engrossed himself in the family Bible, an edition translated in German by Ludwig Philippson which included extensive commentary on the life and customs of the Ancient World as well as the archaeological finds that revealed them. Also included were numerous illustrations of Egyptian gods from biblical times - the same monstrous bird-headed figures that would later appear in a nightmare involving his mother.

Freud viewed primitive religious figures as the manifestation of human's hidden desires, seeing all religions as a mass delusion or a paranoid wish-fulfillment.
Freud amassed collections of antique figures from Ancient World, proudly displaying them in his consulting room and crowding his desk with his prize pieces. Virtually all of his visitors to his Vienna office remarked on them, but, his disciples claimed that he had "little aesthetic appreciation" for the objects he collected. Rather, the statues stood as emblems of the instinctual life itself and archaeological work that lead to their discovery amidst the cities of the past served as a metaphor for psychoanalysis.

FREUD: "[I] liked to compare [my procedure] with the technique of excavating a buried city, clearing away the pathogenic psychical material layer by layer."

Freud viewed primitive religious figures as the manifestation of human's hidden desires, seeing all religions as a mass delusion or a paranoid wish-fulfillment. He sought to discover the universal truths of human nature that were enshrined in the figures themselves.

From a young age, Freud imagined himself as bold Oedipus skillfully solving the riddles of the human mind.
One mythological character dominated this thought above all others - Oedipus. According to ancient Greece legend, Oedipus dared to answer the riddle of the Sphinx, half-woman and half-lion, that terrorized the city of Thebes. Her riddle was "what walks on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?" Oedipus replied with the answer that had eluded many great minds before him; it was man who crawls on all fours as a child, walks upright as a man, and leans a cane to walk as an old man. From a young age, Freud imagined himself as bold Oedipus skillfully solving the riddles of the human mind.

Freud's Desk
Freud's Desk
(Photograph by Edmund Engelman)
 
But Oedipus later suffered at the hands of fate. He had inadvertently killed his own father and married his own mother, who he did not recognize. While writing The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud started putting together the rudiments of what one day would be called the Oedipus Complex. This theory would become a cornerstone of his thinking, critical to the formation of character and personality in everyone. Hidden within the myth of Oedipus, was the universal truth of human desire:

EAGLE: Freud is saying that all children have these incestuous and rivalrous feelings… it is an inevitable and universal aspect of a boy's development across all people within a culture and across all cultures. He's not interested in accounting for an individual case, he's interested in a theory of the mind and the nature of human nature.

Writing late into the night at his desk, Freud drew inspiration from the totems of human desire that crowded in around him. He methodically sought to liberate humanity from the trappings of religion personified in these objects, but, at the same time, they inspired him on his own heroic quest.




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