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Forrester, J. (2014). Editorial. Psychoanal. Hist., 16(2):133-136.

(2014). Psychoanalysis and History, 16(2):133-136


John Forrester

There are some coincidences that are too good to be true - that is, too good to be just coincidences. Yet there seems no remotely plausible version of historical causality that will make anything other than a coincidence the fact that Sigmund Freud, aged seventeen, taking his final school examination, the Matura, was assigned a passage from Oìδíπoυς Túραvvoς (Oidipous Turannos). He reported on the examination to his close friend Emil Fluss in June 1873: ‘The Greek paper, consisting of a thirty-three-verse passage from Oedipus Rex, came off better: [I was] the only good. This passage I had also read on my own account, and made no secret of it’ (Freud, 1961, p. 4) Surely this is a moment to savour - but only on condition that one dismisses attaching any larger significance to it. Or is it only that? Freud's examination achievement certainly reminds us of the linguistic skills any educated young man of Freud's time in the German-speaking lands would be equipped with; and the fact that he had read the play in Greek on his own account is also what one would expect of a top-of-the-class student like him. Yet our hindsight still might tempt us to reflect: it is only in a culture as saturated with the Greek classics as late nineteenth-century Germany and Austro-Hungary that a theory of the core element of the mind would be structured by an ancient Greek play.

Sharon Kool addresses an important question concerning Freud's relationship to ancient Greek culture in ‘At the Still Point of the Turning World: Freud's Reception of Winckelmann's Greece’: the extent to which psychoanalysis can be seen as developing out of a milieu that was still overshadowed by Winckelmann's idealization of Greece.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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