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Samuels, A. (1983). Heracles: An Heroic Figure of the Rapprochement Crisis. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 10:366.

(1983). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 10:366

Heracles: An Heroic Figure of the Rapprochement Crisis

Andrew Samuels


I hope you will permit some continuation of my debate with Dr Greenstadt about Heracles (Int. Review, 9:3, 9:4). I am grateful for his substantial response to my brief comment.

There are two main problems. First, there is a muddle in Dr Greenstadt's use of the word 'development'. In his original paper (Int. Review, 9:1) Dr Greenstadt refers within a few lines to 'Mahler's developmental psychoanalytic ego psychology' and then to the 'developmental process' of myths (p. 2). If he means by the latter that myths undergo a process of elaboration and refinement over time, then few would disagree. But I fear that Dr Greenstadt means something other than that, which brings me to the second problem.

He has anthropomorphized Heracles, is looking at him as he would a person, which obviates the need for and function of such representations. This is imaginative but the experience of analytical psychology is that it is unsound.

In analytical psychology the mythic or divine figure functions as an image of, or metaphor for a pattern of emotional behaviour and not of a person. The hero represents a phase of ego development connected to separation from the mother, characterized by violent conflict with a maternal monster/dragon, or similar opponent. Rapprochement may be said to take place via the counterbalancing presence in the heroic mythologem of a feminine element (the princess or treasure that is the object of the heroic quest).

In terms of the actual development of the person, failure to achieve rapprochement by this 'secondary feminization' following separation produces a suspiciously assertive 'heroic' masculinity with little capacity to relate; a paranoid-schizoid style of ego functioning.

Dr Greenstadt then introduces 'archetype'. His remarks require more than a brief letter in reply. But Jung and post-Jungian analytical psychologists have repeatedly emphasized the relation of archetypes to instinct, and that they are structures and not contents of the psyche. Thus we refer to Heracles as an archetypal figure, or archetypal motif, or archetypal image—meaning that he is a representative version of an essentially irrepresentable structure.


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