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Deutsch, L. (1962). Meetings of the Psychoanalytic Association of New York. Psychoanal Q., 31:302-303.

(1962). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 31:302-303

Meetings of the Psychoanalytic Association of New York

Lawrence Deutsch

October 16, 1961. THE PARENT AS SPHINX. Leonard L. Shengold, M.D.

Parallels between Jocasta and the monstrous, murderous Sphinx have been pointed out by many authors, notably by Kanzer who states that the Sphinx serves to remind us that together with the erotic incestuous drives toward Jocasta, there is also anxiety and aggression aroused by the preoedipal mother. The Sphinx represents the terrifying primal parent who emerges in ontogenetic development as the bad mother of the oral sadistic stage—the cannibalistic mother. In present-day reality the figure can be approximated by a psychotic parent whose defused instincts can bring into play, in relation to the child, the intent to torture, kill, and devour. Meaning can be added to the Riddle of the Sphinx by remembering what Mahler points out about symbiotic psychotic mothers who turn against their children at the advent of the separation-individuation phase. It is the maturational growth of locomotion, bringing about the experience of separation and reunion with the mother, that cannot be tolerated. The riddle is about motility; in answering it Oedipus established his identity and his manhood. Instead of devouring the weak, defeated challenger, the Sphinx hurls herself to her death; the child breaks the symbiotic relationship.

A close study of the Oedipus plays reveals Jocasta as primal parent, directly as well as via the Sphinx. It is Jocasta who gives the child over to the herdsman to be killed, although she mendaciously attributes it entirely to Laius.

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