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Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Freud’s Analysis of Oedipus Complex
Oedipus is one of the most important and famous figures in Greek mythologies. Oedipus The King is a Greek tragedy based on this myth, written by Sophocles in 430 BC. Sigmund Freud coined the term Oedipus complex in his Interpretation of Dreams in 1899 from the legend of Oedipus. Before that nothing was heard of Oedipus complex, however, Oedipus the King was considered seminal work by Sophocles and one of the best Greek tragedies. In psychoanalysis, Oedipus complex means love for mother and enmity for father. According to the myth, Oedipus had killed his father and married his own mother and fathered children.
Production stills, photographed by Dipendra Bajracharya – courtesy of Aarohan Theater Group – are from the play Oedipus. The play was produced and performed by Aarohan Theater Group, Nepal, and directed by Sunil Pokharel.
The Myth of Oedipus
When Laius, the king of Thebes, was ousted from his kingdom by Amphion and Zethus, the sons of Antiope from Zeus, he took refuge with Pelops. (Zethus had married the nymph Thebe, hence the city got the name Thebes)
Lauis regained his kingdom after Amphion and Zethus died. He then married Jocasta. Even though Pelops had given refuge to Laius, Lauis had kidnapped Pelops’s son. This kidnapping case brought a curse on Lauis. Apollo warned Laius that his own son from Jocasta would kill him.
In order to escape his death, Laius sent his child to be killed. The little Oedipus was left to die in the mountain, however, a shepherd discovered the child. He took baby Oedipus to the King Polybus of Corinth and Merope, his Queen. They raised Oedipus as their own child.
Oedipus left Corinth, when he discovered from the Delphic Oracle that he would kill his own father and marry his own mother. He believed Polybus and Merope were his father and mother. Traveling through the wilderness, one day he met Laius. After a quarrel, a fight ensued between the two over the issue of ownership of the road. Oedipus killed Laius without knowing Laius was the king of Thebes.
When Oedipus reached Thebes, the city was at the mercy of Sphinx. Creon, brother of Jocasta and the regent of Thebes, had announced whoever answered Sphinx’s riddles and get rid of the monster would get the kingdom. Oedipus solved Sphinx’s riddle, became the king of Thebes, and married Jocasta. They had four children, two sons and two daughters.
Many years later, Thebes was plagued by famine and epidemic. There was an Oracle, according to which, the disaster would be averted only when the murderer of King Laius was ousted from Thebes. Oedipus sent men to look for the murderers. The findings came as a tragedy. Upon knowing that she had mothered children from her own son, Jocasta hung herself to death, and Oedipus on seeing his mother-wife dead, blinded himself.
One version of the myth says Oedipus was dethroned and shut up in Thebes, while another version says: Oedipus was banished from Thebes and went to Colonus attended by his daughter Antigone, where he was protected by Theseus.
Incendies (2010) is a movie which tells a tragedy very similar to that of Jocasta and Oedipus. The myth of Oedipus and Oedipus complex is wonderfully handled in Incendies. A twin goes in the search of their father and brother only to discover that they are the children of their own brother. Incendies was nominated as the Best Foreign Movie in Academy Awards. It was adapted from Wajdi Mouawad's play Scorched, and directed by Denis Villeneuve. According to New York Times, Incendies is one of the 10 best films of 2011.
Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)analyzed myths from a psychological standpoint. He coined Oedipus complex from the myth of Oedipus and Electra complex from the myth of Electra. The phenomenon called the Oedipus complex first appeared in Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (1899). In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud proposed that in a male child there is a subdued desire for his mother, and wishes to supersede his father. The Interpretation of Dreams is Sigmund Freud’s seminal work, where he proposed theories of psychoanalysis. The equivalent of Oedipus complex for girls is the Electra complex.
Sigmund Freud’s readings of Greek mythologies is considered controversial, however, his theories like Oedipus complex and Electra complex have influenced hordes of writers, scholars, psychiatrist, doctors and general public.
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), French writer and feminist, in her book The Second Sex (1953), has said a teenager gets sexually aroused when he sees his mother's body, especially the exposed parts. Simone de Beauvoir has illustrated Oedipus complex and Electra complex phenomena in her seminal work The Second Sex.
Oedipus, Jocasta and Creon In Oedipus by Aarohan Theater GroupClick thumbnail to view full-size
What is Oedipus Complex?
Oedipus complex, according to psychoanalytic theory, is a desire for sexual involvement, during the crucial stage of development in a man, with his mother and an affiliated sense of rivalry with his father. Oedipus complex has root in Greek myth about Oedipus. Oedipus complex is so strong in human beings that it conceives the superego while overcoming this phenomenon. Superego is the moral factor that dominates the conscious adult mind.
Sigmund Freud believed Oedipus complex develops in children aged three to five, and this is the time which determines how the child will behave with his father and mother later in this adult life. According to Freud, if the father treated his son with humility and love, the child will develop normal behavior with the father, while mistreatment and harsh attitude will result in severe complication in the child’s mind. Infantile neurosis can occur when there is traumatic experience, which will have significant impact during the child's adult life.
Oedipus complex becomes strong in a child mistreated by his father. As a child grows old, he loses interest in his mother’s breast and fixates on other woman’s breast. However, his rivalry against his father becomes deeply rooted in his mind.
Sigmund Freud’s Analysis of the Myth of Oedipus
Sigmund Freud proposed the reaction against the Oedipus complex is the most important social achievements of human mind. He believed Oedipus complex and Electra complex were detectable in myths, legends, fairy tales, and folktales. Sigmund Freud even went further saying jokes and humors, and the dreams have streaks of this psychological phenomenon. According to Freud, myth was the distorted wish-dreams of human beings. In Totem and Taboo (1913), Freud suggested the Oedipus complex as a memory of a real episode in primordial time that passed through generations.
Though Freud’s anthropological theories have been refuted for his too much dependence on repression of conscious mind as the explanations of the myths, he is regarded highly by the social scientists.
Troy (2004) is a movie based on Greek myth about seize of Troy, directed by Wolfgang Petersen. The story of Troy is based on Homer's Iliad. Even though, the central character in Troy is Achilles (Played by Brad Pitt), it tells the story of Paris (Orlando Bloom), Helen (Diane Kruger) and Agamemnon (Brian Cox).
Oedipus The King by Sophocles
Oedipus The King, also called Oedipus Rex, is a play written by Sophocles, which illustrates human impotence in the face of destiny, and describes how the fate hurls man and woman into the terrible miseries, for no fault of his/her own. Oedipus The King is one of the masterpieces of Greek tragedy.
Sophocles: Life and Works
Sophocles (496 – 406) was born in Colonus, on the outskirts of Athens. During his lifetime he witnessed great events in the Greek history such as Persian invasion, growth of Athens as an imperial power, and the wars with Sparta and her allies. As a child, Sophocles was trained as a musician and at the age of 16, he led a choir as harper.
Sophocles was born into a prosperous family, his father owned arms factory. He was twice elected as a military commander and was assigned as Special Commissioner. Herodotus and Euripides were his friends. Though Sophocles lived a respectful life and was loved by the ruler and the ruled, he had some difficulties at the end of his life because of his illicit affair with a woman named Theoris.
Sophocles as a Dramatist
Sophocles was a prolific playwright, highly acclaimed in his life time. He introduced scene painting in theater. It is also believed that Sophocles wrote treatise on the art. Structuring of plots and atmosphere build-up are superbly handled in his plays. His analysis of characters and events are wonderfully handled, his language skill is superb, and his lyrics are subtle. In his plays, Sophocles avoided exaggerations and arranged the scenes tactfully.
Sophocles came into limelight when he first won drama contest in 468 BC, defeating the great Aeschylus, when he was just 28-years-old. Sophocles came first in as many as 24 dramatic contests (Aeschylus won 13 times, and four wins for Euripides). It is believed that Sophocles wrote more than 120 plays, during the 60 years of his writing life; however, only seven tragedies have survived.
1. Oedipus Rex (430 BC)
2. Oedipus at Colonus (401 BC)
3. Antigone (442 BC)
7. Philoctetes (409 BC)
The Myth of Oedipus is also briefly mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Sophocles wrote three plays based in Oedipus legend: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone (Antigone was Oedipus daughter from his mother-wife Jocasta)
Major Characters in the Oedipus The King
Oedipus: Son of Laius and Jocasta
Jocasta: Mother and consort of Oedipus
Teiresias: The aged Prophet, who reveals to Oedipus that he is the husband to his own mother.
Creon: Brother of Jocasta
Oedipus The King has been performed numerous times in Kathmandu, Nepal, by Aarohan Theatre Group.
Oedipus and the Prophet Teiresias in Aarohan Theater Group's ProductionClick thumbnail to view full-size
Sophocles’ Oedipus the King On Stage
Literature and theater, as we know today, sprouted in Ancient Greece. Even after passing of eons, Greek Tragedies are still fresh with allegory and symbolism. Contribution of Sophocles and his tragedies in World Drama is immense. Sophocles tragedies are studied and performed around the world even today.
Oedipus the King has been performed more than 100 times in Nepal by Aarohan Theater Group.
Aarohan Theater Group performs Proscenium Theater, Forum Theater and Street Theater. Aarohan Theater Group has adapted and performed Les Justes by Albert Camus, A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, and worked in tandem with international directors like Morten Krogh from Norway, Deborah Merola from United States and Max Webster and Mia Theil Have from Denmark. Aarohan Theater Group not only performs regularly shows in Nepal, but has also performed in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Korea, Thailand, Norway, Denmark and Russia.
Currently, AarohanTheatre Group is working for the third installment of Kathmandu International Theater Festival.
To participate in Kathmandu International Theater Festival 2012, contact:
Kathmandu International Theater Festival Coordinator
G.P.O. Box: 12819