Medusa's Head

Medusa's Head

Medusa's Head (Das Medusenhaupt, 1922), by Sigmund Freud, is a very short, posthumously published essay on the subject of the Medusa Myth.

Equating decapitation with castration, Freud maintained that the terror of Medusa was a reflection of the castration complex aroused in the young boy when the sight of the female genitals brought home the truth that females have no penis.[1]

Contents

  • Analysis 1
  • Protection 2
  • Literary references 3
  • Criticism 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7

Analysis

The hair upon Medusa's head is frequently represented in works of art in the form of snakes. Freud considered that, as penis symbols derived from the pubic hair, they serve to mitigate the horror of the complex,[2] as a form of overcompensation.[3]

This sight of Medusa's head makes the spectator stiff with terror, turns him to stone. Observe that we have here once again the same origin from the castration complex and the same transformation of affect. In the original situation it offers consolation to the spectator: he is still in possession of a penis, and the stiffening reassures him of the fact.[4]

Medusa's head as symbol of horror was classically worn upon her dress by the virgin goddess Athena. Freud considered that as a result she became the unapproachable woman who repels all sexual desire by carrying (symbolically) the genitals of the mother.[5]

Protection

Freud argued further that, because displaying the genitals (male and female) can be an

  • M. Garber/N. J. Vickers eds., The Medusa Reader (2013)
  • Freud, S. (1963) Sexuality and the Psychology of Love. NY: Collier. (pp. 212–213). ["Das Medusenhaupt." First published posthumously. Int. Z. Psychoanal. Imago, 25 (1940), 105; reprinted Ges. W., 17,47. The manuscript, dated May 14, 1922, and appears to be a sketch for a more extensive work. Trans.: James Strachey, Int. J. Psychoanal.,22 (1941), 69.}
  • Sándor Ferenczi, 'Nakedness as a Means of Inspiring Terror' in Further Contributions to the Theory and Technique of Psycho-Analysis (London 1926)
  • Sándor Ferenczi, 'On the Symbolism of the Head of Medusa' in Further Contributions to the Theory and Technique of Psycho-Analysis (London 1926)

Further reading

  1. ^ Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (PFL 7) p. 311
  2. ^ Sigmund Freud, Sexuality and the Psychology of Love (1997) p. 202
  3. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 330
  4. ^ Sigmund Freud, Sexuality and the Psychology of Love (1997) p. 202
  5. ^ Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (PFL 7) p. 311n
  6. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 72 and p. 347
  7. ^ H. Nettleship ed., A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1894) p. 258-9
  8. ^ A. S. Byatt, Possession: A Romance (1990) p. 315
  9. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 178
  10. ^ Julia M. Walker, Medusa's Mirrors (1998) p. 20

References

See also

  • Later analysts have linked the Medusa's effect of petrification to the freezing effect of fear.[9]

Criticism

The heroine of Possession: A Romance claims to be planning a paper "to do with Melusina and Medusa and Freud's idea that the Medusa-head was a castration-fantasy, female sexuality, feared, not desired".[8]

Literary references

[7]