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Klein, E. (1943). The Garden of Eden: Géza Róheim. Psa. Rev., XXVII, 1940, pp. 1–26; pp. 177–199.. Psychoanal Q., 12:149-150.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: The Garden of Eden: Géza Róheim. Psa. Rev., XXVII, 1940, pp. 1–26; pp. 177–199.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:149-150

The Garden of Eden: Géza Róheim. Psa. Rev., XXVII, 1940, pp. 1–26; pp. 177–199.

Emanuel Klein

'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread' (Genesis III, 17). This the savage does not do in the same measure as civilized mankind. Work and civilization are misfortunes so terrible that the biblical narrator believes they can only be explained by a curse of the Almighty.

A number of Babylonian myths concerning the quest for immortality are discussed in relation to the concept of the Divine King who is the father who is killed by his son. A study of African myths on the subject of death leads to the conclusion that it is believed to originate as a consequence of someone's ill will, a projection of man's own hostile impulses. In a Yuma myth, 'death is due to incest because the mother-child relation contains not only the element of tenderness but also the more aggressive desire of coitus. Hence we might even say that if death is caused by hatred and lack of love from the ontogenetic point of view, … anxiety is due to the conflict with the father and unsatisfied desires regarding the mother.'

'The fruit [apple-breast] is taboo because it belongs to father and can only be acquired at the price of fighting with father… The father is the enemy because the beloved woman is the mother.' Adam defied the father, had intercourse with the mother and was then afflicted with remorse. 'Anxiety, shame, … and punishment then appear in the world … the Oedipus complex is repressed and gives rise to the superego.' Coitus is a sin from the point of view of the introjected father, or superego. 'Coitus itself is a punishment when regarded from the superego point of view.'

The change from a primitive to a civilized (superego) state corresponds, in the life of the individual, to the change from childhood to sexual maturity. Genitality is achieved at the cost of expulsion from the Garden of Eden (infantile pleasures). The other reasons for man's fall spring from his aggressive impulses.

This long article contains a wealth of valuable material about many variants of the Eden myth. Unfortunately it is not well organized and it is often very difficult to follow the trend. The basic idea is the light that the Garden of Eden myths shed on man's change from a savage to an agricultural society. The reasoning is that the child's separation from the mother, the process of maturity, generates aggressive impulses toward the mother which are transferred to a mother symbol, the cultivated soil. The savage takes to agriculture to have this new mother symbol, the earth as a target for his aggression.

One is reminded of Freud's rebuke in another connection, when he said, 'One would exaggerate the significance of this secondary adaptation if one were to say that the ego acquired the symptom for the sole purpose of enjoying its advantages. This would be to advance a view as correct or as


1 Freud: The Problem of Anxiety. New York: The Psa. Quarterly Press and W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1936.

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erroneous as the opinion that a maimed war veteran had had his leg shot away only that he might thereafter live in indolence on his pension.'1

Mankind's activities as conceived of by Róheim are primarily modes of coping with unconscious infantile anxieties. Mankind is viewed as a severely neurotic patient for whom reality has lost its significance because the intensity of his infantile anxieties pervades all of his activity against which his whole life is a defense. The neurosis itself is explained by the formulations of Melanie Klein with its withdrawal of emphasis from specific personal experiences to the most universal experiences, such as the fact that the infant does not suck endlessly but has the nipple only at certain times. From these facts are postulated complex fantasies in the early months of existence which dominate all of later life. The individual so described is then taken to be the prototype of mankind, and the collective efforts of man to cope with his real needs are said to be analogous to an individual's defenses against his anxieties. This is truly a demoniac conception of the world. An agricultural worker to whom the earth is primarily a mother symbol on which he projects his infantile ambivalence would develop a work disability brought on by anxiety and guilt over his work. As Freud put it, '… the ego function of an organ is impaired whenever its erogeneity, its sexual significance is increased'.2

Freud also said, 'This age of childhood in which the sense of shame is unknown seems a paradise when we look back upon it later, and paradise itself is nothing but the mass fantasy of the childhood of the individual'.3 Róheim has too closely identified this mass fantasy which mankind often projects onto history, with the actual history of mankind.


2 Freud: The Problem of Anxiety. New York: The Psa. Quarterly Press and W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1936, p. 16.

3 Freud: Interpretation of Dreams. Third Eng. Edition. London: Allen & Unwin, p. 294.

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Article Citation

Klein, E. (1943). The Garden of Eden. Psychoanal. Q., 12:149-150

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