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Kay, J. (1986). 14 A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of The Bacchae of Euripides. Progress in Self Psychology, 2:165-183.

(1986). Progress in Self Psychology, 2:165-183

Section IV. Original Papers: Applied Psychoanalysis

14 A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of The Bacchae of Euripides

Jerald Kay, M.D.

All that a playwright requires for drama is a vivid memory from his own childhood and family—especially Greek drama, which is most intensely concerned with intrafamilial conflict.

—Philip E. Slater


Whatever faults may be found with The Bacchae, it remains unquestionably one of the most engaging, if enigmatic, plays of all times. Throughout history, and in particular the 20th century, The Bacchae has had its share of famous detractors and admirers (Dodds, 1944; Guthrie, 1950; Kitto, 1939; Murray, 1913, 1918; Winnington-Ingram, 1948).

Yet, the psychoanalytic voice has been surprisingly and conspicuously absent in the controversy over this play (Caldwell, 1974, p. 128). That psychoanalysts have tended to ignore The Bacchae is particularly surprising since Euripides has come to be regarded as the greatest emotional colorist (Sutherland, 1968, p. 92) of the classical world. As

the first psychologist…. [i]t was he who discovered the soul in a new sense—who revealed the troubled world of man's emotions and passions. … He created the pathology of the mind. It was impossible for poetry to be written on such subjects before his time, for it was then that men first learned to look fairly and squarely at these things to guide themselves through the labyrinth of the human soul by the light of their convictions that all these demonic passions and obsessions were necessary and logical processes of human nature. (Jaeger, 1965, p.

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