ΑρχικήΨηφιακή ΒιβλιοθήκηΆρθραΆρθρα (Αγγλικά)Hatzitaskos, Pavlos - The Psychoanalytic Elaboration of Ancient Hellenic Literature

Hatzitaskos, Pavlos - The Psychoanalytic Elaboration of Ancient Hellenic Literature

The Psychoanalytic Elaboration of Ancient Hellenic Literature by D. Kouretas.

Reference to the Kandavlis Complex and to the myth of Danaides

Pavlos Hatzitaskos, MD, Hellenic Society of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy

I did not have the chance to know Pr. D. Kouretas personally. I got acquainted with his scientific work, accidentally, many years ago when I unearthed in a bookstore, his voluminous book, "Psychoanalysis-Psychiatry-Neurology. Selection of research and studies of themes relevant to psychoanalysis-neurology-psychiatry-psychobiography-history of medicine" (Ed. Parisianos).

At the end of this book an appendix is included which comprises in chronological order the whole of his scientific work, that is, published papers and lectures, which extend to a 50 year period, from 1924 to 1974.

While studying this rich work of writing, one can surmise that Pr. Kouretas, was a person who had many and diverse scientific interests. More specifically, his work addresses issues that are related to General Medicine, Neurology, Psychiatry, History of Medicine and of course, writings that are related to psychoanalysis, as well as, the psychoanalytic interpretation of texts of the ancient Hellenic literature.

If we attempt a chronological classification of his writings, we note a very interesting drift in his scientific career. D. Kouretas, although got acquainted with the psychoanalytic ideas from the time he was an intern in Neurology-Psychiatry (1924-1927), nevertheless, for about 20 years (till 1949) he practices as clinical neurologist-psychiatrist.  This period’s writings are mainly related to Neurology and to a lesser extent to General Medicine and Psychiatry. There exists only one essay (1928) titled: Psychoanalysis (The psychology of the unconscious). This essay came up after a lecture that he attempted to deliver in 1927, as soon as he returned from Paris, in the Medical Society of Thessaloniki, but which finally was delivered in the Law Society of Thessaloniki. Kouretas himself reported (Tzavaras, et al., 1984) "I submitted the text, but my application was met with opposition and rejection; a member of the administrative board, who had done graduate studies in Vienna, during the First World War, had attended a few of Freud’s lectures and observed that even in his own country  there was opposition to his ideas. It appears that he said, that psychoanalysis runs against Hellenic morality, it is a miasma and causes soul damage. When the Medical Society rejected my proposal I turned to the Law Society. Since then, psychoanalysis started spreading in Hellas, and after the Medical Society’s rejection I started studying the abnormal characters in the ancient drama. My work "Psychoses in Literature" (1930) is the result of this effort.

Here I have to make another observation. From a total of about 100 scientific essays between 1924 up to 1949, only three deal with the relation between psychiatry and literature. The most thorough one is titled "Psychoses in literature. Ancient Hellenic dramas" (1930).

After 1949 though, we can observe a change in emphasis and a detour from the psychiatric approach of the ancient Hellenic literature, to the psychoanalytic one. A change, which is understandable, if we take into consideration that from 1949 and onwards he actually begins his training in psychoanalysis. He undergoes personal analysis with Andreas Empirikos and participates in the supervisory clinical meetings of the first psychoanalytic group in Athens (Atzina, 2004). Thus, from 1951, he becomes a member of the Paris Psychoanalytic Society and from 1953 a member of the IPA. It is easy to understand that during this period the psychoanalytic publications and lectures prevail in his writings.

From his total psychoanalytic work, I will focus on two very important texts, which, in my opinion, are of clinical interest: On the "Kandavlis Psychic Complex" and on the "Psychoanalytic Interpretation of the Myth of Danaides". Both texts refer to the Oedipus Complex. The Oedipus Complex theme preoccupies him in a number of texts, but one can observe a certain defensiveness.  It is highly likely, that this defensiveness was the result of the opposition he encountered in his attempts to introduce psychoanalytic concepts in an unfamiliar to psychoanalysis audience.

I will refer in a chronological order, first to the "Kandavlis Psychic Complex" which was published initially in 1951 in the "Dictionary of Psychoanalysis and Psychotechnics", (editions Psyche, Paris) and subsequently in an expanded version in 1974 in the journal "Nea Estia".

In the introduction of this work, Pr. Kouretas, reports that he was inspired to write this essay from two clinical cases of neurotic patients who were treated by him psychoanalytically. The clinical material of these patients, brought in his mind, the adventure of Kandavlis, (735-708 bc), king of the Sardes (capital of the state of Lydia in Asia Minor), as it had been described by Herodotos.  He also notes, that in this work, he had the chance to contribute, through the addition of a new complex, to the already internationally known psychic complexes such as, the Oedipal, the Electra complex, the Jocasta complex, etc.

Kandavlis was very much in love with his wife Rodope, and because of his love he believed that she was the most beautiful woman on earth. Believing that, he sang praises of her beauty to one of his bodyguards named Gygis. Kandavlis was fond of Gygis and also relegated to him his most important affairs. At some point, Kandavlis says to Gygis. "Since, I do not believe that you have been persuaded of what I’ve recounted to you about my wife’s extraordinary beauty, and because the ears of the people cannot be persuaded the same way as the eyes, I invite you to see her naked". When Gygis refused, Kandavlis insisted by saying: "Have courage Gygis, do not be afraid… because I’ll arrange matters in such a way that she will never find out that you saw her. I’ll hide you behind the open door of our bedroom. When I’ll get into the room, my wife will also come to sleep. Next to the entrance, there is a chair. After getting undressed, she will place her clothes on it (involuntary strip-tease which will excite Gygis’ imagination, comments Kouretas). In this way, you have all the time at your disposal to have a good look at her, and when she will turn her back to you and start coming toward the bed, you will get out, without her realizing a thing".

But, Rodope saw Gygis the moment he was getting out of the room, but pretended that she did not see him. Not only in the Lydians but also in the other barbarians it was considered a great shame for somebody to be seen naked, be him a man, be her a woman. Thus, Rodope, decided to take revenge upon Kandavlis.  The following day she called Gygis and told him: "Gygis you have two options and you are free to choose any of them. I mean, either you kill Kandavlis and in this way you have both me and his kingdom as well, or you have to kill yourself this very moment, because you saw what you were not supposed to see".

Gygis after some painful deliberation on account of this dilemma, finally decided to spare himself. He killed Kandavlis, and ascended to the throne, legitimizing his enthronement with the help of an oracle from the Delphi.

Dimitris Kouretas commenting on Kandavlis misfortune reports that the unconscious homosexual feelings towards his  male friend is the one which determines  and motivates the whole process, since this involves the creation of a number of ‘ménage a trois’.  Given that, the whole process takes place unconsciously, it is understandable that the voluntarily deceived husband is surprised.

More specifically, in order for Kouretas to substantiate this viewpoint, he uses clinical material from the psychoanalytic sessions of both a man and a woman, who presented  neurotic problems with phobic and obsessive-compulsive symptomatology. He observed that, during their treatment, through their dreams and their reminiscences, it was portrayed a tendency to hand over their husband/wife to a same sex person of their friendly milieu. Invoking issues of confidentiality though, he does not give a detailed account of the clinical material, saying only that it is a case of latent homosexuality, of a passive one for the man and an active one for the woman. Thus, the passive homosexual mental aspect of the neurotic husband is being projected to his wife, and the husband seeks for indirect satisfaction through his friend, by taking huge measures so as to hand her over to him. Respectively, the masculine part of a neurotic wife, when projected to the husband that she identifies with, "delegates" him to act in an erotic way towards her female friend so as to indirectly satisfy her masculine sexual desires.

This very condensed clinical material that Dimitris Kouretas presents, obliges the writer of this paper to have some further thoughts, for the case of this male patient. Probably, the wife’s "offering" to another man, might also involve not only his unconscious wish to humiliate her, revenging thus a hateful maternal figure, but also  a representation of the phantasy that she is  the " excluded third person" in the oedipal triangular dynamic.

In another appendix at the end of his book Dimitris Kouretas broadens his reasoning so as to include cases characterized by pathological jealousy and delusional ideas of a jealous type. The person who unconsciously pursues, in every possible way, the role of the deceived husband, with his paradox behaviour, instead   of  blaming himself for undermining his happiness, he renders to his wife a tendency to infidelity, he becomes suspicious of her, and is even capable of  throwing jealous outbursts.

Kouretas, by using the dynamic model, believes that the forbidden by the superego homosexual desires remain unconscious and through compromise formations manifest themselves in numerous symptoms, such as hallucinations, phobias, obsessions, perversions, or  idiosyncratic character structure, resulting in some  way in "non-specific symptoms" which remain hidden  or are presented in a disguised  manner in dreams, free associations and other manifestations of the unconscious.

The second, in my opinion, interesting text by Dimitris Kouretas, is the one titled "Psychoanalytic Interpretation of the Myth of Danaides" (1955). His sources for this essay come mainly from the "Iketides" (Suppliants) by Aeschylus.

Following Professor Kouretas’ style of writing, I’ll present in a concise way, the mythological elements and subsequently his psychoanalytic interpretation.

Danaides, all fifty of them, were the daughters of the king Danaos of Libya. Danaos, had a twin brother called Aegyptos, who had fifty sons, and was reigning Arabia. In order for Danaos to elude the fifty sons of his brother, who demanded vehemently to marry his daughters, he deserted his faraway country and took refuge to his ancestral country, Argos. Goddess Athena who helped him to escape, also advised him as to the means of the escapade, that is, a ship equipped with fifty oars. This ship was called "pentikontoros".[1]

Danaides were far from ordinary girls (Kerenyi, 1996). They were portrayed as human beings who had no feminine voice and who were taking part in harness racings. The Danaides were already armed and ready to fight against their cousins, the sons of Aegyptos who wanted them to be their wives. They not only armed their ship themselves but  they  also served as oarsmen. This refers to the image of fifty amazons, even though they were never called like that, fifty women-warriors, who were fighting against the men, the same way the so-called Amazons did. Against the Amazons Hercules and Theseus also at some point had to fight.

When Danaos arrived in Argos, he asked for shelter from Pelasgos, the king of Argos. He appealed to their blood relations and their common descent coming from Io. Pelasgos provided shelter and Danaos and his daughters resided in Argos. But, soon after having being given shelter, the unquenchable and sinister sons of Aegyptos arrived in Argos. Danaos pretends that he consents to this marriage, that in reality, he does not want.

At that point, both father and daughters contrived a nasty plot. Danaos gave to each one of his daughters a dagger. The very same night that the wedding took place, the forty-nine brides killed their husbands. Only, the fiftieth one, the one called Hypermistra, was moved by her contact with the adolescent cousin, who was given to her as husband, fell in love with him and did not kill him. But this love made her a traitor towards her father and her sisters. Hypermistra’s attitude was totally consonant with her feminine nature. But Danaos got angry, imprisoned her and decided that she has to go on trial. The myth of "Danaides" by Aeschylus describes this trial. 

Hypermistra, accepting her femininity and maternity, lays the foundations of the regal dynasty, out of which not only Prometheus but also Hercules came from. On the contrary, the rest of the Danaides, which rejected their biological fate, were sentenced by the Olympian Gods. Their sentence amounted to this: they had to eternally fill in the bottomless vessel which was next to Sisyphus, who had his own known torment to go through. The bottomless vessels of the Danaides which can never be filled in, represent the proverbial expression of an endless but futile struggle.

By taking a psychoanalytic approach to the myth, Dimitris Kouretas believes that the Danaides express the idiosyncratic feminine psychic make-up of these women, who are overwhelmed by the fear of motherhood and the rejection of their femininity. This results in an anaphrodisia and a hostile attitude and rivalry towards the male sex. He interprets this rivalry, as being the emanation of a sense of envy and bitterness towards the sexual merits that nature endowed men with.  These women, because of their inability to compete with men on the physical level, they transpose the competition on an emotional and moral level. But this unnatural pursuit results in self-punishment as expressed through not only the creation of a neurotic structure but also through privation of the joy of life. Thus, the ungainly and tortuous filling in of a bottomless vessel, in a psychoanalytic sense, symbolizes the futility of the Danaides’ efforts to carry out the male sexual act, which does not agree with their feminine nature and consequently is doomed to become ineffectual and sterile.

Kouretas also states that this psycho-sexual deviation, in psychoanalytic terminology, is being described with the terms "Androidism complex" (Marie Bonaparte) or the "Artemis complex" (Charles Baudouin).

He further suggests a term of his own, believing that it describes better this particular deviation: "crypto-phallism". And he continues: This complex, which is unconscious, is manifested through a respective neurotic behaviour and is the reason as to why there is a disharmony in marital life. Also, it affects unfavourably the   emotional upbringing of their children.

He further interprets the emotional reactions of Danaides, as being emanating from their oedipal attachment to the father, who, in this case, was the master of their will and their revolt. At this point, we can add that only Hypermnistra was the one who disengages from the oedipal father and transfers the love from the father to the husband.

But, his psychoanalytic approach does not go further. He reports that he cannot give more details but refers to the writings of women psychoanalysts like Ruth Brunswick, Jeanne de Groot, Melanie Klein, Helen Deutsch and Marie Bonaparte, who managed to come closer to the resolution of the feminine psychic riddle.

We know that Dimitris Kouretas was fond of ancient Hellenic literature, a long time before starting his studies in psychiatry and psychoanalysis. We also know, that after his training as psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, he continued the study of the ancient Hellenic literature. One of the reasons for this, was his way of overcoming the opposition he met with, in his efforts to introduce psychoanalysis, in the Hellenic scientific world. But, probably, we might also assume, that the main reason for this endeavour, was the one that is being described through the words of Erwin Rohde. These very same words Kouretas himself uses in the preface of his last work, which also deals with Oedipus, that: " The deepest and the boldest thoughts, the most pious and the most sacrilegious for the gods, the world and the human nature, appeared in ancient Hellas". Moreover, Kouretas himself, wrote: "It does not really matter, if these occurrences actually occurred, or if they are the product of imagination; some of the occurrences of ancient Hellenic mythology refer to psychological truths which are of universal and eternal value".


Atzina Lena: The long introduction of psychoanalysis in Hellas. Athens, Exantas, 2004

Κerenyi Κ: Hellenic Mythology. Athens, Estia, 1996

Κouretas D: Psychoanalysis-Psychiatry-Neurology. Selection of research and studies of themes relevant to psychoanalysis-neurology-psychiatry-psychobiography-history of medicine, Athens, Parisianos, 1975

Κouretas D: Recollection of psychoanalysis in Hellas. In: Psychoanalysis and Hellas. Editor: A. Tzavaras, Athens, Moraitis School, 1984                                 

[1] Pentikonta=fifty

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