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Kaye, R. (1988). Oedipus: a Folklore Casebook. Lowell Edmunds and Alan Dundes (Eds.). New York: Garland, 1983. 266 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 75(1):177-179.

(1988). Psychoanalytic Review, 75(1):177-179

Book Reviews

Oedipus: a Folklore Casebook. Lowell Edmunds and Alan Dundes (Eds.). New York: Garland, 1983. 266 pp.

Review by:
Ruth Kaye

Although there has been fierce debate in anthropological and psychological journals over whether or not the Oedipus complex is universal, there can be no question about the ubiquity of interest in the eponymous figure of Oedipus. Dundes and Edmunds note, in the introduction to the Casebook, that the story of Oedipus is “perhaps the most famous narrative in Western civilization” (xiii). Although this view is open to question, no one would deny the Editors' contention that Sophocles's Oedipus Rex has been primarily responsible for myth's fame and that the major twentieth-century interpretation is Freud's.

Oedipus: A Folklore Casebook is a valuable addition to the literature on Oedipus and will be of interest to students of folklore, literature, psychoanalysis, and anthropology—although readers from different disciplines will obviously find some papers more interesting and useful than others. The beginning essays, which contain reporting of texts—Oedipus tales in Albania, Oceania, in the southern Slavic folk tradition, and in Papuan folklore—and discussions of whether or not these tales adhere to the Aarne-Thompson tale type 931, may not be read with as much attention by psychoanalysts as they will be by folklorists. On the other hand, the later essays will be of interest to all.

One significant contribution of Dundes and Edmunds is to make available in English for the first time important essays on Oedipus. Outstanding, certainly, is the contribution by Vladimir Propp, “Oedipus in the Light of Folklore,” which, according to the Editors, was the first major folklorist essay on the Oedipus story, published in Russian in 1944. Edmunds and Dundes point out that one may question Propp's theories that “matriarchy everywhere precedes patriarchy” (p. 77) and that in Oedipus there is a “historical clash of two conflicting social orders, one matrilineal … and the other patrilineal” (pp. 76-77). Nonetheless, with his sensitivity, authority, and brilliant inventiveness, Propp comes closer to Freud than any of the other—albeit highly worthy—writers in this collection.


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