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Oedipus the king: Quest for self-knowledge – denial of reality. Sophocles’ vision of man and psychoanalytic concept formation

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Abstract

In the Oedipus myth we find a dramatic representation of the child’s passionate ties to its parents. In the play Oedipus the King, Sophocles relates the theme of the myth to the question of self-knowledge. This was the predominant reading in German 19th century thinking, and even as a student Freud was fascinated by Oedipus’ character – not primarily as the protagonist of an oedipal drama, but as the solver of divine riddles and as an individual striving for self-knowledge. Inspired by Vellacott, Steiner has proposed an alternative reading of Oedipus the King as a play about a cover-up of the truth. The text supports both these arguments. The pivotal theme of the tragedy is Oedipus’ conflict between his desire to know himself and his opposing wish to cover up the truth that will bring disaster. It is this complex character of Oedipus and the intensity of his conflict-ridden struggle for self-knowledge that has made the tragedy to a rich source of inspiration for psychoanalytic concept formation and understanding both of emotional and cognitive development up to our own time.

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