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Desmonde, W.H. (1954). Compulsive Aspects to Ancient Law. Am. Imago, 11(1):85-110.

(1954). American Imago, 11(1):85-110

Compulsive Aspects to Ancient Law

William H. Desmonde, Ph.D.

In “The Ancient City,” his classical treatise on legal origins, the great French historian Fustel de Coulanges showed that early Greek and Roman law originated in the rituals of the ancestor worship. The ceremonies of the religion of the dead, he stated,

“… exercised empire over man during a great number of generations. They governed men's minds; we shall soon see that they governed societies even, and that the greater part of the domestic and social institutions of the ancients was derived from this source.” (1)

If we interpret ancestor worship psychoanalytically, we see that the transference of the child-parent relation was a major determinant of social structure in the Graeco-Roman civilization. According to Freud's “Totem and Tabu” hypothesis, the longing for the mother and the memory of the primal crime, perpetuated in the Oedipal difficulties of each generation, caused mass obsessive actions of atonement and subsequent-obedience. Following this approach, we would regard the institutional framework of these early cultures as being based on compulsions, transmitted from generation to generation by the worship of the dead parents. This paper will be based partly upon this assumption.

Keeping in mind, however, Marjorie Brierley's assertion that, like all other sciences, psychoanalysis undergoes modifications as insights deepen, the possibility of theoretical changes in “Totem and Tabu” must be considered.

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