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Veszy-Wagner, L. (1961). Orestes the Delinquent: The Inevitability of Parricide. Am. Imago, 18(4):371-381.

(1961). American Imago, 18(4):371-381

Orestes the Delinquent: The Inevitability of Parricide

Lilla Veszy-Wagner

Once Solon, when asked what was the penalty for parricide in Athens, replied: “None. There are no parricides in Athens; therefore we don't need a law to penalise them.” The blatant insincerity of the braggartism does not surprise an analytically trained mind, especially not in view of the many and colourful stories about incest and killing of monsters, abundant in Greek mythology. Yet, it shows an unusual degree of repression which at Solon's time must have already pervaded public life, while art, functioning as a kind of ‘reservation’, was still permitted to indulge in phantasy life. Dramatic art, however, showed already certain signs of transition. While Sophocles in Oedipus Rex par excellence, did not shrink to call a spade a spade, especially as concerns parricide, Euripides' masterpiece, Orestes clearly lays the emphasis on the Solonic ‘impossibility’ of parricide, while describing, allowing and acquitting matricide. Bachofen (1) described this process as marking the transition period from matriarchy to patriarchy. R. Graves (9) sees in it basically the story of the sacred king, killed by the ‘tanist’, betrayed by the goddess and avenged by the son; while psycho-analysis was, on the whole, more interested in the involved problems of Electra (whose “Electra-complex”, however, seems to have been rejected by Freud. (4) On the other hand, the killing of the mother as done by Orestes is regarded in analytic literature as something less of a murder than of an unconscious phantasy of (sadistic) intercourse with the mother, imagined according to the prototype of the primal scene phantasy.

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