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Freud, S. (1941). Untranslated Freud. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 22:69-70.

(1941). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 22:69-70

Untranslated Freud

Sigmund Freud

(3) MEDUSA'S HEAD (1922)

We have not often attempted an interpretation of individual mythological themes, but such an interpretation suggests itself for the horrifying decapitated head of Medusa.

To decapitate = to castrate. The terror of Medusa is thus a terror of castration that is linked to the sight of something. Numerous analyses have made us familiar with the occasion for this: it occurs when a boy, who has hitherto been unwilling to believe the threat, catches sight of the female genitals, probably those of an adult, surrounded by hair, and essentially those of his mother.

The hair upon Medusa's head is frequently represented in works of art as snakes, and these once again are derived from the castration complex. It is a remarkable fact that however frightening they may be in themselves they nevertheless serve actually as a mitigation of the horror, for they replace the penis, the absence of which is the cause of the horror. This is a confirmation of the technical rule according to which a multiplication of penis symbols signifies castration.

The sight of Medusa's head makes the spectator stiff with terror, turns him to stone. Here we have the same origin from the castration complex and the same transformation of affect! For becoming stiff means an erection. Thus in the original situation it offers consolation to the spectator: he is still in possession of a penis, and the stiffening reassures him of the fact.

This symbol of horror is worn upon her dress by the virgin goddess Athena.

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