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Niederland, W.G. (1957). River Symbolism—Part II. Psychoanal Q., 26:50-75.

(1957). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 26:50-75

River Symbolism—Part II

William G. Niederland, M.D.

Let us briefly examine the age of discovery, certain features of which are of interest to the psychoanalyst as well as to the historian and geographer. As will be seen presently, the history of discovery is linked with a variety of myths, conscious and unconscious strivings, haunting anxieties, superstitious beliefs, and—among other elements—with early cartography, the last providing a sort of documentary backdrop against which the fantastic story of geographic exploration unfolds, almost like a dream on a dark or foggy dream screen.

It may be well to remember, in this connection, that a transposition of ideas into visual experience is not limited to the dream alone. Picture language is as old as symbol language, and is equally primitive. Map-making, in particular, seems to be common to all peoples who in the primitive stages use sand, wood, fibres, stones, and later more refined materials for this purpose. Geographic maps have 'so ancient a history that it is not possible to ascertain their first beginning' (71). Starting from the premise that geography, as the name implies, is the study of Gæa, the Urmutter, and that the great questions of geographic research—'where', 'wherefrom', the relentless investigation and exploration of the earth—resemble and in a sense repeat the libidinal questions of every human, I soon came upon a mass of virtually untapped, early data, the analytic evaluation of which appeared well justified. To the psychoanalyst studying historical and cartographic documents of the periods prior to and during the age of discovery, the special nature of geographic exploration becomes easily apparent. The documents examined by me consist mainly of medieval maps and writings dated between 500 and 1500 A.D.

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