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Tarbox, R. (1969). A Note on M. D. Faber's Essay “Suicide and the ‘Ajax” of Sophocles”. Psychoanal. Rev., 56C(3):453-460.

(1969). Psychoanalytic Review, 56C(3):453-460

A Note on M. D. Faber's Essay “Suicide and the ‘Ajax” of Sophocles”

Raymond Tarbox


In a recent discussion of a few literary works in which suicidal behavior played a part, I found it helpful to view this behavior in the light of an affective pattern I call the ecstatic suicidal process.7 This process, which can be detected in both clinical and literary reports, consists of four phases in which depressive reactions alternate with manic reactions. The first phase involves a ‘depressive” adherence to restrictive institutional control; the second phase, a ‘manic” power-or-pleasure-oriented rebellion against restrictive institutional control. When the suicidal hero's second phase rebellion fails, he ‘leaves' external reality and enters the third, depressive phase of the process. During the third phase, the hero suffers through a guilt-ridden depression; but then impulsively casts off his burden of guilt by making an elated (aggressive) or ecstatic (libidinal) flight of denial-a flight which results in the hero's death during the fourth, ‘manic” phase of the suicidal process. In the following pages, I will first discuss M. D. Faber's paper about suicide3 in terms of the elated suicidal process; then I will compare Sophocles' drama Ajax (447 B.C.) with Henrik Ibsen's drama The Master Builder (1892 A.D.).


The action of Ajax begins with Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, telling Odysseus, one of the Greek leaders, that his ally and rival Ajax is wildly slaughtering and fettering sheep whom Ajax mistakenly believes to be Greek soldiers.

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