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Hartocollis, P. (2005). Origins and Evolution of the Oedipus Complex as Conceptualized by Freud. Psychoanal. Rev., 92(3):315-334.

(2005). Psychoanalytic Review, 92(3):315-334

Origins and Evolution of the Oedipus Complex as Conceptualized by Freud

Peter Hartocollis, M.D., Ph.D.

The Oedipus story is a piece of the world cultural heritage derived from the ancient Greek mythology that became widely known in modern times because of psychoanalysis, in particular Freud's concept of the Oedipus complex. Freud (1954) formulated the idea for the first time near the end of the nineteenth century in a letter to his friend Wilhelm Fliess, attributing it to his self-analysis and indirectly to the Oedipus myth as presented in Sophocles' tragedy Oedipus Rex. In an often-quoted passage he commented:

I have found love of the mother and jealousy of the father in my own case too, and now believe it to be a general phenomenon of early childhood…. If that is the case, the gripping power of Oedi-pus Rex, in spite of all the rational objections to the inexorable fate that the story presupposes, becomes intelligible, and one can understand why later fate dramas were such failures. (p. 223)

As Simon and Blass (1991) point out in their comprehensive review of the subject, “Freud's ideas on the Oedipus complex emerge gradually, they change, the terminology is changed, the scope of what is to be considered oedipal is constricted and expanded” (p. 161). These authors have described the Oedipus complex in terms of chronological stages, connecting them with important events in Freud's personal and professional life. In what follows, I trace the development of Freud's concept as it emerged from his reading of Sophocles' play Oedipus Rex, showing Freud's dependence on it and not on the Oedipus myth itself, and as it gradually was expanded through Freud's closer reading of Sophocles' play and eventually through his own clinical experience and that of his psychoanalytic colleagues.

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