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Van Der Sterren, H.A. (1968). Was King Oedipus Acting Out?. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 49:394-395.

(1968). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 49:394-395

Was King Oedipus Acting Out?

H. A. Van Der Sterren

We are all familiar with the picture which shows Oedipus standing in front of the Sphinx: she asks him a riddle, and the Sphinx will perish if Oedipus is able to solve it, while Oedipus will perish if he fails to solve it. There are also pictures which portray Oedipus not as a grown man but as a child. And today, I myself feel like a very small child standing before a Sphinx, the Sphinx which psychoanalysis is, which presents me with a riddle—the riddle of psychoanalytic concepts and terminology. For years, my bewilderment has been growing as I am repeatedly confronted with the complexity of this terminology. I fear that today I shall not succeed in solving the riddle, and that the outcome will be a filicide.

I have read the Raskovskys' study with great admiration for the discoveries which they have added to those made by their predecessors, particularly in regard to the animosity between parents and son. Yet, I cannot help wondering if it is really correct to regard the actions of Oedipus as examples of acting out and psychopathic behaviour.

The term acting out was first employed by Freud in "Remembering, Repeating and Working Through" (1914). He points out how the free-associating patient

does not remember anything of what he has forgotten and repressed, but acts it out. He reproduces it not as a memory but as an action; he repeats it, without, of course, knowing that he is repeating it.

Freud states that acting out appears in place of recollection; I believe that acting out serves to prevent the patient from experiencing emotions directed towards the person of the analyst, emotions which are pressing to become conscious (and which may be associated with memories from early life).

Without stating explicitly that he does so, Freud gives examples of two types of acting out. In the first type, he says:

For instance, the patient does not say that he remembers that he used to be defiant and critical towards his parents' authority; instead, he behaves in that way to the doctor.

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