Open Seminars

Open Seminar
Centre for Myth Studies
University of Essex

Thursday 19 July 2018, at 12.00pm in Room EBS.1.1

Return to Oedipus

Professor Marinos Pourgouris

(University of Cyprus)


Jean-Antoine Theodore Giroust (1753-1817), Oedipus at Colonus (1788), Dallas Museum of Art, available on Wikimedia Commons

If there is one story, one narrative, at the very center of Freudian theory it is undoubtedly structured around the myth of Oedipus. The story of Oedipus has become, as Shoshana Felman writes, the “reference narrative” and the “specimen story of psychoanalysis.” Indeed, one could even go as far as asserting that the entire corpus of Freud’s work is built around the story of Oedipus and it is firmly rooted in the theory of the Oedipus complex.  The prominence of the Oedipus story is not surprising to Freud’s readers since, as he writes in Totem and Taboo, the primordial story of the murder of the father and the erotic attraction to the mother “was the beginning of so many things—of social organization, of moral restrictions and of religion.”  What is astounding, however, considering the prominence of the Oedipus myth in Freud’s work, is the complete omission of any reference to Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus. One would assume that what happens to the unfortunate King Oedipus after his fall, after the revelation of his monstrous deeds—that is, after he gains the hitherto foreclosed knowledge of his true identity—would be of interest to Freud and his circle. In fact, Oedipus at Colonus raises a number of important issues that could have been—and later came to be—at the very center of psychoanalytic discourse: his own position and behavior as father, his self-image following the après-coup revelation of trauma, society’s view of him as a miasma, the possible compulsion to repeat the traumatic past, or the ways in which the play opens up the possibility for atonement.

This paper will venture to examine the absence of any references to the play in Freud’s work and will refer to some of the most important early psychoanalytic attempts to interpret it. What might be the reasons for such a peculiar omission? Did the play—which is indeed a strange kind of tragedy—pose a challenge to the standard Freudian “reference narrative”? What possibilities are there for alternative psychoanalytic interpretations of Oedipus at Colonus? Though I will make reference to several complementary narratives in discussing the play, participants are advised to read (or re-read) Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus.


Marinos Pourgouris is Assistant Professor of Literary Theory at the University of Cyprus. He is the author of two monographs, Mediterranean Modernisms: The Poetic Metaphysics of Odysseus Elytis (Ashgate, 2011/ Routledge, 2016) and Empire of Intimacy: The Cyprus Frenzy of 1878 and the British Press (Lexington Books, forthcoming 2018), and the editor of The Avant-Garde and the Margin: New Territories of Modernism (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2006) and Οδυσσέας Ελύτης: Πρόσληψη, θεωρία, ποίηση. Πρακτικά Συνεδρίου [Odysseus Elytis: Reception, Theory, Poetry. Conference Proceedings] (Ypsilon, 2014). He has authored numerous articles and essays on topics ranging from Nietzsche’s conception of history, through modern Greek writing, postcolonialism, public performance of dissent, to contemporary cinema.



See details of past seminars.




One Response to Open Seminars

  1. Pingback: Thursday 26 November: Junot Díaz and a Graeco-Caribbean Mythology | Essex Myth

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