Excerpt from “Think like a shrink and keep yourself sane” by Joseph Dunn
Oedipus? Didn’t he have something to do with Freud?”
Before I go on I must mention Oedipus. You have heard his name before in avant-garde movies or mentioned by know-it-alls at showy cocktail parties. You want to ask “He had something to do with Freud, didn’t he?” but you dare not in case you look like the illiterate that you are. The know-it-all would look at you with smug disdain.
The reality is that Freud had something to do with Oedipus since the latter preceded the former by a couple of thousand years, if you get my drift. Oedipus was the central figure in a Greek myth that is both intriguing and distasteful. The theme of the story is one of accidental incest. It goes like this…
Quite a few years ago, after Moses and before Jesus, lived King Laius and Queen Jacosta who reigned over Thebes. (Don’t ask me where Thebes is, I can hardly find my way to work.) Anyway they were blessed with a son whom, unaware that his name would one day be linked with murder and incest, they called Oedipus. But then prophet number one happened upon the scene and warned Laius and Jacosta that their son would grow up to murder his father and marry his mother.
The king and queen freaked out. They decided that they had better ditch Oedipus before he got too twitchy at his old man and flirtatious with the old girl and they left him on a mountainside to die. Heartless sods.
But the baby was rescued by shepherds and, through a series of twists of fate that seem to occur so readily in Greek fables, was brought up by the King and Queen of a different country. Along came prophet number two, who terrified his foster-parents with the old predictions that he would one day murder his father and marry his mother. Oedipus decided that he had better scarper, so he hit the road.
Sometime later he happened upon an old codger on the road who annoyed the living daylights out of him. This would be the sort of situation where you and I would shake our fists at someone and mutter oaths under our breaths. Not Oedipus. He took his sword out and stabbed the old bloke. Little did he know that he had just snuffed his own father, Laius. The prophets had been right, so far.
Oedipus went on to enter Thebes where there was a great commotion. A monster, the Sphinx, had entered Thebes and spent its time posing a riddle to all the citizens. If the citizens did not know the answer then they would be promptly devoured by the Sphinx. Oedipus, foolhardy as he was, tried his luck. The riddle was: “Which animal has four feet in the morning, two at midday and three in the evening?” Oedipus replied: “Man, because he crawls on all fours as an infant, walks on two feet in maturity, and walks with the aid of stick in old age.” He was spot on and the Sphinx knew it. The Sphinx then plunged into the sea and perished.
Oedipus, for saving Thebes, became the King and married the windowed Queen, Jacosta. In other words he inadvertently slept with his own mother but because they were blissfully ignorant of this they lived together happily. Until a plague hit Thebes. Then, as is the wont of soothsayers, prophet number three arrived on the scene. He proclaimed that the plague would not go away until the murderer of Kind Laius was found. Eventually Oedipus came to realise that when he had been smiting the old codger on the roadside all those years ago he had actually been smiting his own father. When the horror of this, and the fact that he had been bonking his own mother, dawned on him, he gouged out his own eyes. Jacosta promptly committed suicide.
Oedipus’ blinding himself was interpreted by Freud to be analogous to our subconscious defences that try to make us “blind” to the painful truths that we carry inside.
And that, Virginia, is the rather grotesque legend of Oedipus Rex.