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Greenberg, J. (2014). What Daimon Made You Do it? Thoughts on Desire in the Consulting Room. Rivista Psicoanal., 60(1):5-22.

(2014). Rivista di Psicoanalisi, 60(1):5-22

What Daimon Made You Do it? Thoughts on Desire in the Consulting Room

Jay Greenberg, Ph.D.

Toward the end of Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannos, the terrified Chorus confronts Oedipus, who has blinded himself. How could he have done such a horrific thing, they want to know; what could lead a man to turn on himself with such brutality? It is, of course, a crucial question - in many ways more important and more interesting than the question of how Oedipus could have come to kill his father and marry his mother, since these acts were by all account performed without intention. The self-blinding, in contrast, expresses not so much Oedipus' fate as his character: it shows Oedipus to be impulsive and violent; it reflects his insistence on gaining control of a situation that has spiraled to a point beyond human comprehension; and it reveals his willingness to embrace unbearable suffering. All of this shows us the spirit of the man who has been chosen by the gods to live out the experience first of elevation then of ruin that characterizes Oedipus' life.

The way that the Chorus phrases its question to Oedipus is striking, and bears directly on my topic in this essay, the origin and nature of desire. Getting at this will require a digression into the history of an intriguing Greek word, a history that can cast light on many issues with which psychoanalysts struggle today.

When the Chorus confronts Oedipus, they ask «What daimon made you do this to yourself?» Daimon is a word frequently used in both the tragedies and, earlier, in the Homeric epics.

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