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Edmunds, L. (1988). The Body of Oedipus. Psychoanal. Rev., 75(1):51-66.

(1988). Psychoanalytic Review, 75(1):51-66

The Body of Oedipus

Lowell Edmunds, Ph.D.

The Greek tragedians' Oedipus is the first of many Oedipuses whom European culture has discovered. This Oedipus is a beginning. But, from another point of view, also an end. The Greeks had told the story of Oedipus for many centuries before he became a protagonist in Greek tragedy. Oedipus was also, independently of myth and tragedy, a figure in Greek religion—a cult hero who received worship in several places (Edmunds, 1981a). The Greek tragedians gave a fixed, canonical form to the myth, and, thereafter, it passed into literary history and handbooks of mythology. In our own century, however, the myth has come alive again in many new ways: in psychoanalytic theory, in theater, film, and music. In this atmosphere, one senses the ancient power of the myth and wonders about its origins, which, if Freud is right, are not only in our cultural past but are still alive in each of us. This paper offers some thoughts on the body of Oedipus as a psycho-mythological structure, as an artifact of myth and, at the same time, a dynamic of the psyche.

The myth of Oedipus draws attention explicitly to two parts of the hero's body: his feet and his eyes. At the time of his exposure, his feet are pierced, and from this wound he gets his name, Oedipus, “Swollen Foot.” The riddle of the Sphinx, too, with its various numbers of feet, points to the hero's own feet. After the discovery of his crimes, which comes about partly through the scars on his feet, Oedipus blinds himself.


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