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Erlenmeyer, E.H. (1932). Note on Freud's Hypothesis Regarding the Taming of Fire. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 13:411-413.

(1932). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 13:411-413

Note on Freud's Hypothesis Regarding the Taming of Fire

E. H. Erlenmeyer

In Civilization and its Discontents Sigmund Freud puts forward the following hypothesis with reference to the cultural significance of man's acquiring the use of fire:

'Psycho-analytic material, as yet incomplete and not capable of unequivocal interpretation, nevertheless admits of a surmise—which sounds fantastic enough—about the origin of this human feat. It is as if primitive man had had the impulse, when he came in contact with fire, to gratify an infantile pleasure in respect of it and put it out with a stream of urine. The legends that we possess leave no doubt that flames shooting upwards like tongues were originally felt to have a phallic sense. Putting out fire by urinating—which is also introduced in the later fables of Gulliver in Lilliput and Rabelais's Gargantua—therefore represented a sexual act with a man, an enjoyment of masculine potency in homosexual rivalry. Whoever was the first to deny himself this pleasure and spare the fire was able to take it with him and break it in to his own service. By curbing the fire of his own sexual passion he was able to tame fire as a force of nature. This great cultural victory was thus a reward for refraining from gratification of an instinct.'

These notions have not remained undisputed. The most vigorous criticism of them appears in a paper by Albrecht Schaeffer entitled 'Der Mensch und das Feuer, ' as follows:

"'Fantastic sounding', says Freud apologetically, in describing his hypothesis, and at the very start I must take exception to the word 'fantastic'. I may, I think, be allowed to do so, since the word selected by the man of science is one that comes within my own province. To my mind this conjecture about the circumstances which led to man's mastery of fire cannot possibly be called fantastic; on the contrary, it is simply devoid of fantasy. A notion, indeed, as entirely lacking in fantasy (i.e. the power to imagine any sort of real conditions or occurrences), turned to such pure theory, as anyone could demand from a man of science".

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