this part of the introduction to Greek myth, we’ll explore the original
writings: Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides; three Homeric Hymns and other
assorted ancient writings that apply to our subject.
We’ll follow Oedipus and his family, which is essentially a single storyline,
but it will gather about it considerable information concerning
several of the gods and goddesses. All the names will at first come as shock,
but ignore those you don’t recognize and read for story. Follow the storyline
and gradually the spider web of connections will resolve into something
meaningful. Keep in mind that all the ancient writings we’ll read are linked
to family. Homer’s The Iliad and The
Odyssey are about male glory and adventure, but the tragic poets wrote
primarily about family conflict and how it affected the state. Even the Homeric
Hymns are about family, mostly divine families.
start by reading two plays about Oedipus written
by Sophocles, Oedipus The King and Oedipus
at Colonus. These plays will tell the story of his life from birth to death.
Then we’ll read two plays about the struggle between Oedipus’ sons for the
throne of Thebes, one by Aeschylus, Seven
Against Thebes, and the other, The
Phoenicia, by Euripides. Following those, we’ll read Sophocles’ Antigone,
about the burial Of Oedipus’ two sons. Finally we’ll read The
Suppliant Women by Euripides, which is again set at Eleusis, where we
started, and concerns the burial of those who supported the losing cause of the
one brother who tried to regain the throne of Thebes.
during the last class, after we bury of the dead, we’ll follow
Oedipus’ last descendent into the Aegean to an island now called Santorini but
also called, as it was in ancient times, Thera. The island was named for Theras,
Oedipus’ last known descendent. The volcanic island is one of the most dramatic
landscapes in the world, brilliant white buildings of the modern town atop startling sheer
cliffs overlooking the crystal blue waters of the Aegean with steam rising from
the black rocks in the center of the volcano. But the island’s history goes
back far into the mists of time before the volcano’s irruption in 1628 BC, the
most powerful natural event since mankind has walked the earth. Scholars and
enthusiasts alike are gradually coming to the almost inescapable conclusion that
Thera is indeed Atlantis.
also read one additional play, The
Frogs, is a comedy written by Aristophanes, which is interesting because of its
relationship to ancient theatre and because Euripides and Aeschylus appear in
the play as characters and debate tragedy.
on with the ancient writings.
The Laius/Oedipus Myth
the death of Pentheus, the throne of Thebes passed to Polydorus, Kadmos’ son.
But Polydorus died young and left the throne to Labdacus who also died young
which made his son Laius king. But Laius was also but a child, so Lycus, a
descendent of the Sparti, became regent. Because of unrest in the city, Laius
was sent to Pelops in the Peloponnese [Pelops’ island] to be raised. While
there Laius fell in love with Pelops’ son Chrysippus. When Laius left for
Thebes to take over the throne, he kidnapped and raped the young boy, Chrysippus,
who committed suicide from shame. For this Laius’ descendents were cursed for
took Jocasta, also a descendent of the Sparti, to wife, but they had no
children. Wishing for a male heir, Laius went to Delphi to see why he and
Jocasta had no children. Apollo told him that he should have no children by
Jocasta, because if he did, the son would grow up to kill him. This was
punishment for his homosexual rape of Chrysippus. Laius returned to Thebes and
avoided sleeping with Jocasta for a while, but one night after becoming
intoxicated with wine, he could no longer resist her affections, and they slept
together. As a result Oedipus was born. Three days after his birth, Laius pinned
the baby’s feet to keep him from walking even in the Afterlife, and had him
exposed on Mt. Kithaeron.
shepherd who took little Oedipus from his mother’s breast couldn’t stand to
see the child die and passed him off to another shepherd who took the child to
the king of Corinth, who had no children. Oedipus was raised as the king’s
son. When as a young man, Oedipus was told by a drunk at a banquet that he
(Oedipus) was not the king’s son, Oedipus went to his father and asked about
it. The king assured Oedipus he was his son. His doubt persisted, and Oedipus
went to Delphi to resolve the matter. But Apollo didn’t answer Oedipus’
question concerning his parentage instead saying that Oedipus was destined to
kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus then refused to return to Corinth
and instead struck out across country toward Phocis. At a crossroads, he met a
man in a carriage and a dispute over the right-of-way ensued. Oedipus killed the
man, who was in fact Laius, the king of Thebes and his father. Oedipus then went
on to Thebes where the city was under siege by a Sphinx, a beast half-lion and
half-woman. Every day the Sphinx sat at the gate to the city and asked the
following riddle: What goes on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three
at evening? When she didn’t get an answer she devoured one of the young men of
Thebes. Oedipus encountered the Sphinx but knew the answer: man. As a baby he
crawls on all fours, as a man he walks erect, as an old man he uses a cane. The
Sphinx then killed herself. Since the throne was vacant and the queen’s
husband recently killed, Oedipus was given both the throne of Thebes and the
queen for his bride. Of course, the queen was his mother.
this has already happened as the play Oedipus
Tyrannus begins, but the story is recounted during the action, and we hear
in Oedipus’ own words how he killed his father. We also hear it told in the
words of the only man to survive from Laius’ entourage. Plus we get to hear
Jocasta’s description of she and Laius pinning the baby’s feet and sending
it to its death on Kithaeron.
this point, it would serve our purpose well to note the similarities between the
lives of Oedipus and Dionysus. Both were born at Thebes and “twice-born.”
Sophocles will even call Kithaeron “Oedipus’ mother,” his second mother.
Both were sent from Thebes to be raised and returned to receive their glory.
Oedipus also has a dual nature. He was the prince of Corinth but also a native
of Thebes. More similarities will become apparent when we study Oedipus’ life
in succeeding plays.
the most famous seer in all antiquity.
of the primary characters in Sophocles’ Oedipus
Tyrannus is the aged, blind seer Teiresias. He holds a primary thematic
position in the story as the man who reveals the future and the will of the
gods. Prophecy is the cornerstone of this story, if not all Greek tragedy, and
Teiresias is the most skilled at his craft. So who is this guy Teiresias? Why is
he blind and how does blindness affect his prophecy?
was another descendent of a Sparti, Udaeüs. Teiresias is one of the most
interesting characters in Greek mythology, yet we have no tragedy where he is
the protagonist, though he plays a part in many. We do know that the goddess
Athena blinded Teiresias when he was just a young man. The legend of
Teiresias’ blinding is contained in a Callimachus hymn, On The Bath of Pallas, [Athena was also called Pallas] which I’ve
attached. Callimachus was a 3rd century BC poet and teacher of
grammar and poetry in Alexandria where he was librarian. I provide the story not
only for its telling of the blinding of Teiresias and him receiving the gift of
prophecy in recompense, but also because it tells about Athena and Teiresias’
student should now read the On The Bath of Pallas.
saw the future by listening to the sounds of bird fight, and frequently we hear
of his bird observatory there at Thebes. Teiresias also had a daughter, Manto,
who led her father by the hand. Among the other oddities concerning the life of
Teiresias is that he lived for seven generations, about 175 years.
he is the one person whose life spans the time from Kadmos to that of Oedipus’
grandsons. During the last class I’ll speak of Teiresias’ death following
the destruction of Thebes and show you where he died. His legend continues, even
after death, for Odysseus, while trying to find his way home after the Trojan
War, visited Teiresias in the Underworld because he was the only mortal to
retain his wits after death.
the man who comes and goes as regent of Thebes.
Jocasta’s brother, is regent at Thebes following Laius’ death and is also
the one who gave the throne to Oedipus following his encounter with the Sphinx
and the one who gave his sister to Oedipus to be his wife. After Oedipus learns
that he is the murderer of his father and has had children by his mother,
Oedipus abdicates the throne and Creon again becomes regent, this time for
Oedipus’ sons. We’ll hear from Creon many times as the story of Thebes
unfolds in coming tragedies.
Corinth: the city on Isthmus.
lies at the headland of the Peloponnese, on the Isthmus to the mainland, and was
one of the most important commercial and military cities in antiquity. All
overland traffic from north Greece and Attica had to pass through the Isthmus.
Sea-lanes radiated in all directions by virtue of its two harbors, one on the
Gulf of Corinth to the northwest that gave access to the Ionian Sea and Italy
and the other on the Saronic Gulf to the southeast providing access to the
Aegean. Oedipus was raised at Corinth as the son of king Polybus and his Queen
ancient city resides at the foot of a mountain, the Acrocorinth, which was the
domain of Aphrodite, goddess of erotic love. Corinth was famous the world over
for its worship of Aphrodite and its brothels. From the top of the Acrocorinth
you can see across the Gulf of Corinth to the white buildings on the side of Mt.
Parnassos that are the Oracle at Delphi. When Oedipus left Corinth and ended up
at Thebes, he left the city of Kamos’ wife’s mother (Hermione was
Aphrodite’s daughter) and went to the land of her father, Ares. Corinth is
famous today because St. Paul visited the city in 52 AD. While there he preached
in a synagogue at first and later in a private home. He stayed with Aquila and
Priscilla, a Jewish couple recently expelled from Italy, and wrote Romans and
Thessalonians I and II while there. After he left Corinth, he also wrote two
letters, now known as Corinthians I and II, to early Christians there.
the most sacred island in the Aegean.
story of the birth of Apollo is contained in the first part of The
Homeric Hymn to Apollo on the island of Delos. The second part of the hymn
is about the founding of his oracle at Delphi. Delos is one of the smallest
islands in the Aegean, yet it was recognized during antiquity as being one of
the most sacred. The island is less than three miles long and only 0.8 miles
wide. The Hymn to Apollo tells us that Apollo was born there but his twin
sister, Artemis, was born somewhere else. Yet according to other traditions,
Artemis was born there first on the hill Cynthus. Several temple about the
island attest to it being also sacred to the goddess.
other reason for the island’s fame is that Theseus [who we’ll study in the
next session] visited the island after his trip to Crete to kill the Minotaur.
the most sacred Oracle in all antiquity.
second part of The Homeric Hymn to Apollo
is about the founding of Apollo’s oracle at Delphi. Kadmos visited Delphi
while searching for his sister Europa, as did Laius and Oedipus. Delphi sits on
the side of Mt. Parnassos, and its location is of singular importance in
mythology. Zeus, wishing to find the center, the navel, of the world released
two eagles, one at the eastern edge of the earth, the other at the western. They
flew toward each other and met at Delphi where their descendants circle to this
day. Why would they call Delphi “the navel?” Delphi contained a passage way
between the gods and mankind. Therefore, this is where the ancient Greeks went
to get guidance from Apollo who spoke the will of Zeus.
the beginning, the site was sacred to the earth goddess, Gaia, and guarded by
her sacred serpent. Apollo, divine son of Zeus, came there shortly after his
birth, killed the serpent and took the Oracle for himself vowing to “prophesy
for men the unerring will of Zeus.” But since the oracle was originally in the
hands of the earth goddess, a priestess, the Pythia, always spoke Apollo’s
prophecies for him.
Aeschylus’ The Eumenides. The scene
before the temple of Apollo at Delphi great doors at the back lead to the inner
shrine and the central altar. The Pythian prophetess stands before the doors:
of all Gods I worship in this prayer
the primeval prophet; after her
the Wise, who on her mother’s throne—
runs the tale—sat second; by whose own
will, with never strife nor stress,
reigned another earth-born Titaness,
from whom (for that he bears her name)
Phoebus [Apollo] as a birthtide gift it came.
Pythia was purported to be an old peasant woman over fifty and pious, a nobody
who was thus beyond reproach. According to some she was dressed in the attire of
a young virgin as she mounted the golden tripod of Apollo which spanned a
fissure in the mountain. (Perhaps she had her virginity restored, as did the
goddess Hera every year at the spring in Nauplion.) The Pythia would breathe
fumes from the fissure, chew laurel leaves, become entranced, convulsed, then
mumble incoherently. The male priests interpreted her words and wrote down the
oracle in hexameter verse. But others claim the Pythia maintained her composure
and experienced no frenzy. She spoke quite clearly and directly to the
consultant, her words needing no interpretation by Apollo’s priests.
the truth, the Oracle enjoyed immense popularity and respect throughout the
Mediterranean. Cities as well as individuals consulted it, many seeking advice
in times of war, Alexander the Great among them. Plutarch [45-120 AD], one of
the most famous and trustworthy writers of ancient times, was a priest of Apollo
at Delphi for a number of years.
student should now read the Homeric Hymn to Apollo.
Apollo wasn’t the only god who resided at Delphi. His brother Dionysus stayed
there during the winter months, and his priests sang dithyrambs to awaken him.
The Titans had dismembered Dionysus there, and Dephians believed his dismembered
remains were buried at the temple. Apollo, also the god of healing, found the
dismembered, suffering and mad Dionysus and put his pieces in a leather sack.
Dionysus’ female devotes at Delphi lay within the tomb where Dionysus’ limbs
were kept. When they woke, they reenacted his winter rites, reliving his life by
running wild like the stormwinds in an inexhaustible frenzy on the mountain.
They screamed with their head flung back, leapt as if to take flight, bodies
powered by some all-consuming fire.
was not simply tolerated by Apollo. Apollo with his order, logic, and stability
needed Dionysus, the god of madness whose realm was eternally appearing and
vanishing. Together the two gods signified the whole truth. This is very much at
the heart of the meaning of Euripides’ Play, the Bacchantes, and further illustrates what the ancient Greeks saw as
the necessity for representation of the two philosophies within society.
between Delphi and Thebes in Focus deme and at the crossroads to Thebes and the
small town of Daulia is where Oedipus killed his father, and Mt. Parnassos
looming to the west. Oedipus had just come from Delphi and received the oracle
that he would one day kill his father and marry his mother. He then refused to
return to Corinth and followed the road east instead where he had a
confrontation over the right of way. The place is called the Cleft Way and
resides at the foot of Magus Hill. At this narrow gap between hills, Oedipus
would not give way to an oncoming chariot, so Laius struck him with a two headed
goad and Oedipus flew into a murderous rage, killing not only Laius but three of
his four companions.
I was there (see Pale Horse, Corinth), I stood on a dirt trail. Across a small ravine, up the opposite
slope, was a small square patch of golden grass, a patch of alfalfa with a lone
olive tree growing in its middle as a quiet simple symbol of peace. The field
was on fire with dying sunlight. The dirt trail, a path really, wound around the
mountain close to the bottom of the ravine, the very path where Oedipus and
Laios met. The trail was cluttered with tracks and dropping of sheep and goats.
To the north, the hill rose lush with brush. I could see white speckles of sheep
on a far slope. I felt a cool breeze on my bare arms and heard the dull clank of
goat bells in the distance. The place had a sacred quality to it.
this pathway from Delphi through the Cleft Way to Thebes because years later,
Teiresias and the other refuges of Thebes will flee to Delphi along with same
path, but in the opposite direction, when the city is finally burned.
reading Oedipus Tyrannus you should
have an idea what the palace at Thebes looked like. We have no actual
description of it but do have another of the same time period from Homer.
Odysseus describes it:
all the rooms, as far as he could see,
chairs were placed around the walls and strewn
fine embroidered stuff made by the women.
were enthroned the leaders …
and dining, with abundant fare.
too were boys of gold on pedestals
aloft bright torches of pitch pine
light the great rooms and the nighttime feasting.
fifty maids-in-waiting of the household
by the round mill grinding yellow corn,
wove upon their looms, or twirled their distaffs,
like the leaves of a poplar tree,
drops of oil glistened on linen weft.
my own visit to Thebes (see Pale Horse, Thebes), what impressed me most was not what a marvelous site it
was for the legend of Laius and Oedipus, but what an agricultural center it is
now and must have been then. Their
lives must have been concerned with commerce, agriculture, the affairs of state
and the household. We hear nothing of this in the myth. And
that tells us a great deal about myth, what it is and what it isn't. This
passage from Homer gives us a glimpse of what women did with their lives, but we
don't see much of the mundane tasks of men.
the opening to Oedipus Tyrannus, a
plague has besieged Thebes. This plague sets the tragic action in motion. Apollo
was the bringer of plague, its victims seen as falling from Apollo’s arrows.
Since Apollo must have sent the plague, Oedipus sends Creon, his brother-in-law,
to get word from the god. From the Delphic Oracle, Oedipus learns that a
murderer, the murderer of the previous king Laius, is on the loose in Thebes.
Delphi has said that bringing the murderer to justice will end the plague.
Oedipus has no choice but to follow the trail of the murderer no matter where it
leads. In addition to the play being about the dual nature of all human beings,
it is also about the pollution of the state caused by the pollution within the
the time Sophocles wrote Oedipus Tyrannus,
Athens was in fact still recovering from a plague, just such as that described in
the opening to Oedipus Tyrannus. The
play is almost certainly a response to events of that time period. Pericles, the
head of state of Athens at the time, died of the illness that swept through the
city. The question is, did Sophocles see Oedipus as a representation of Pericles?
Thirty-two years before Pericles and Ephialtes were the joint heads of state,
who brought about democratic reforms ushering in the freethinking period of
unparalleled intellectual and artistic energy. But Ephialtes was murdered and,
though Pericles was accused of the crime, the actual murderer was never brought
to justice. Was Sophocles using Oedipus as a means of saying something about
Pericles’ past and the cause of the plague in Athens? No one will ever know
The student should now read Oedipus Tyrannus.
Discussion of Oedipus Tyrannus
has long been recognized as the dramatic masterpiece of Greek theatre. Aristotle
himself in the 4th century BC stated as much. It is a brilliant
example of plotting, and Aristotle used it to explain the nature of tragedy.
Since then, every great thinker has had his go at it. It is to literature what
the Mona Lisa is to art. It was the one volume the poet Shelly had with him when
he drowned off the coast of Italy.
the reader to have the greatest impact on the interpretation of the play was the
psychologist Sigmund Freud, the inventor of psychoanalysis. To Freud, the story
represented the underlying psychology of modern man. He coined the phrase
“Oedipus complex” to explain the hatred of the father and desire to join
with the mother. But it also represents mankind’s search for identity and
purpose in life. In the Homeric Hymn to
Demeter we saw a goddess in search of her daughter who ultimately was her
own maiden self. Demeter’s search is the feminine form of the Oedipus story
and ends, not in discovering the identity of a murderer, but with the attainment
of eternal life. Such is the difference in the myths concerning the nature of
men and women.
is the story of a man in search of himself. We, the audience, know the story in
advance but are still fascinated with this man who doesn’t know his own
identity. Whereas The Bacchantes is
set outside the gates of Thebes, Oedipus
Tyrannus is set inside. The Bacchantes
is about the different modes of constructing reality and the illusionary nature
of Dionysus’ realm as it pertains to the community. Oedipus’ life is still
within the realm of Dionysus but is concerned with what goes on inside human
beings. Oedipus’s life was all an illusion and yet very real.
Oedipus was the man who doubled back on his own life to beget children. Oedipus
has shrunk time and become his father, himself and his own children. Jocasta, as
a descendent of the sown men, a union of the dragon’s teeth with Earth, is a
manifestation of the goddess Earth. According to Hesiod in Theogony, after Earth, the source of zoë, was born from Chaos, she
gave birth to Ouranos. Then she coupled with Ouranos, her own son, to beget many
children. Thus Ouranos is the first to couple with his mother. This is a
characteristic of Earth, that she begets children from her own children. Jocasta
is closely related to Earth because she is a descendent of the Sparti, the
sown-men who were born from the union of Earth with the teeth of the serpent
killed by Cadmos.
problem bears a relation to that of Pentheus, in The Bacchantes, who saw only half of Thebes. Oedipus sees only half
of his own life. Dionysus was the twice-born god, Oedipus the twice-born man.
Oedipus can see without but not within, his second world. Teiresias tells
Oedipus (page 28, line 413/4) “You have your eyes but see not where you are in
sin, nor where you live, nor whom you live with.” Similarly in Euripides’ The
Bacchantes (page 10), when Pentheus says, “Of a truth I seem to see two
suns, and two towns of Thebes…”), Dionysus responds, “…now thine eyes
behold the things they should.” Clearly Oedipus is working within the realm of
also might compare this to Teiresias, his blinding, and Athena’s gift of
prophecy, external blindness, internal sight. Oedipus is one man on the inside
and another externally, as are all human beings. We have our external persona
and our internal truth. This is the dual nature represented by Dionysus. Then
Shakespeare’s lines, “all the world is a stage and we but players on it,”
takes on new meaning. We all live the great myth that is the discourse of human
Freud and Oedipus
Freud, the man we meet on the road is always our father. The woman we marry is
always our mother. The story of Oedipus is about a man in search of himself.
Before we spoke of the dual nature of Dionysus, and the god is a reminder that
we mortals have a dual nature. When we don’t recognize that we are doomed to
live a second, a parallel unconscious life beside the conscious one we do know
about. The second life is underneath the persona and, as Teiresias says,
requires internal sight to recognize. The recovery of this second self is in
many ways what psychotherapy is all about. The need to recover this part of
ourselves becomes crucial as we go through midlife, and the person who comes out
the other side is frequently much different that who went into it.
in writing Oedipus Tyrannus, stumbled
into one of the archetypes of human existence.
Jung was the father of what is known as analytical psychology, so called because
its principles were derived from experimentation. Jung was a Swiss-born
psychologist and a student and collaborator of Sigmund Freud until they had a
falling-out, after which Jung founded his own school in Zurich. Jung placed
emphasis on “the will to live” whereas Freud placed it on “the sex
psychology, an outgrowth of Jungian theory, is deliberately affiliated with the
arts and culture. As archetypal psychologist view it, the archetype, as a part
of what they call the collective unconscious, is accessible to the imagination
and presents itself as an image. The image is not viewed as a mental construct
but as the basic unit of the psyche and therefore irreducible. Archetypal images are the fundamental patterns of existence and come and go of their own
will. They are transcendent to the world of sense. Archetypes are the primary
forms that govern the psyche, and thus archetypal psychology is linked with
culture and the imagination rather than medical and empirical psychologies. The
primary and irreducible language of these archetypal patterns is the
metaphorical discourse of myths.
describes the archetype as it occurs in literature:
primordial image, or archetype, is a figure—be it a daemon, a human being, or
a process—that constantly recurs in the course of history and appears wherever
creative fantasy is freely expressed. Essentially, therefore, it is a
mythological figure. When we examine these images more closely, we find that
they give form to countless typical experiences of our ancestors. They are, so
to speak, the psychic residua of innumerable experiences of the same type. They
present a picture of psychic life in the average, divided up and projected into
the manifold figures of the mythological pantheon. But the mythological figures
are themselves products of creative fantasy and still have to be translated into
conceptual language. Only the beginnings of such a language exist, but once the
necessary concept are created they could give us an abstract, scientific
understanding of the unconscious processes that lie at the roots of the
primordial images. In each of these images there is a little piece of human
psychology and human fate, a remnant of the joys and sorrows that have been
repeated countless times in our ancestral history, and on the average follow
ever the same course. It is like a deeply graven river-bed in the psyche, in
which the waters of life, instead of flowing along as before a broad but shallow
stream, suddenly swell into a mighty river. This happens whenever that
particular set of circumstances is encountered which over long periods of time
has helped to lay down the primordial image.
moment when this mythological situation reappears is always characterized by a
peculiar emotional intensity; it is as though chords in us were struck that had
never resounded before, or as though forces whose existence we never suspected
were unloosed. … At such moments we are no longer individuals, but the race;
the voice of all mankind resounds in us.
is what Sophocles dipped into when he wrote Oedipus
Tyrannus. Jung describes the profound effect this can have on the reader:
impact of an archetype, whether it takes the form of immediate experience or is
expressed through the spoken word, stirs us because it summons up a voice that
is stronger than our own. Whoever speaks in primordial images speaks with a
thousand voices; he enthralls and overpowers, while at the same time he lifts
the idea he is seeking to express out of the occasional and the transitory into
the realm of the ever-enduring. He transmutes our personal destiny into the
destiny of mankind, and evokes in us all those beneficent forces that ever and
anon have enabled humanity to find a refuge from every peril and to outlive the
The creative process … consists in the unconscious activation of an archetypal
image, and in elaborating and shaping this image into the finished work. By
giving it shape, the artist translates it into the language of the present, and
so makes it possible for us to find our way back to the deepest springs of life.
a child’s development, ego-consciousness (as the center of awareness) is
subjected to disturbances from the external world. These “collisions”
between ego and the world can be positive in that they stimulate ego development
in the directions of stronger problem solving and autonomy. But also other
collisions occur within, between the ego and “objects” occupying the vast
unconscious psychic space. Jung termed these “objects” complexes.
These are psychic entities outside consciousness that cause ego disturbances
from within. They constitute the contents of the unconscious. These complexes
are the gremlins and inner demons that catch us by surprise.
core of each complex is dual, consisting of an image, or psychic trace produced
by trauma, and an innate archetypal component closely related to it. Trauma is
the creating force behind complexes. Prior to trauma the archetypal piece exists
as an image and a motivating force but does not have the anxiety-producing
quality of the complex. But trauma provides the emotionally-charged memory that
becomes associated with the archetypal image, the two welding in the processes.
The complex then becomes enriched by similar experiences. Complexes are so
emotionally laden that they can erupt spontaneously into consciousness and take
possession of the ego. We are rarely aware this is happening. The ego is
deceived into believing it is acting autonomously. This is shown
part of the complex caused by trauma is personal and composed of forgotten and
repressed personal experience. This forms what Jung called the personal
unconscious. The other part of the complex contains an innate, primitive
archetypal component and is termed the collective
unconscious. Each complex is an image, and image defines the essence of the
psyche. Dreams are made of unconscious images and behave as a stranger in the
sphere of consciousness. When activated, a complex makes us feel as though
we’re in the grip of an alien entity. As might be expected, the archetypal
images of Mother and Father are the giants the unconscious. Archetypal
components are inherited and not acquired. They belong to us by virtue of being
human and are not derived from culture. Culture is derived from them.
back around again to the Oedipus myth, Oedipus’ dual world is that of the
outward-facing persona and the inward-facing anima/us which sees the archetypes
of the collective unconscious. The anima/us is the inner seeing which Oedipus
lacks until he blinds himself.
deepest layer of the psyche is the collective unconscious. It is a combination
of universally prevalent patterns and forces, “archetypes” and
“instincts,” that constitute nature’s gift to each of us. Jung put it this
“possesses” many things which he has never acquired but has inherited from
his ancestors. … he brings with him systems that are organized and ready to
function in a specifically human way, and these he owes to millions of years of
human development. Just as the migratory and nest-building instincts of birds
were never learnt or acquired individually, man brings with him at birth the
ground-plan of his nature, and not only of his individual nature but of his
collective nature. These inherited systems correspond to the human situations
that have existed since primeval times: youth and old age, birth and death, sons
and daughters, father and mothers, mating, and so on. Only the individual
consciousness experiences these things for the first time, but not the bodily
system and the unconscious. For them they are only the habitual functioning of
instinct that were preformed long ago.
most important part of the collective unconscious is the inherited archetypal
images. They attract the psychic energy and are the origin of culture.
the archetype appears in the form of a spirit in dreams or fantasy products, or
even comports itself like a ghost. There is a mystical aura about its numinosity,
and it has a corresponding effect upon the emotions. It mobilizes philosophical
and religious convictions in the very people who deemed themselves miles above
any such fit of weakness. Often it drives with unexampled passion and
remorseless logic towards its goal and draws the subject under its spell, from
which despite the most desperate resistance he is unable, and finally no longer
even willing, to break free, because the experience brings with it a depth of
fullness of meaning that was unthinkable before.
images are beyond direct human grasp and form a realm of the soul. Standing
before this realm, the collective unconscious, is a “presence” called the
“anima” in men and the “animus” in women. The anima/us provides access
to the archetypal images.
this takes on new significance when developing your own personal mythology. To
do that, you must develop the story of your life. In doing so, you recreate your
past by selecting bits that provide a consistent, mostly linear storyline that is
satisfying emotionally. This is the essence of myth. Your life then becomes
myth, or as some would have us believe, we’ve uncovered the natural essence of
our lives, the myth we’ve unconsciously lived.