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Salud mental

Print version ISSN 0185-3325


LEIJA ESPARZA, Mauricio. Oedipus and his psychiatrists. Salud Ment [online]. 2010, vol.33, n.1, pp.31-37. ISSN 0185-3325.

Introduction Over a hundred years have elapsed since Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams was first published. Publication of this work obviously marked a new stage in the history of psychiatry and psychology. Since then, the Oedipus complex has been one of the pillars supporting the psychoanalytical view of the mind and a model for understanding the normal development of individuals as well as psychopathology. Many historians and psychoanalytic scholars believed that Freud was the first to suggest a pathway to understanding psychopathology by using characters from the theater as models for mental illness. However, in the second half of the nineteenth century, psychiatry had already considered the interface linking the sciences of the mind to the works of the great dramatists as a topic for study. Sigmund Freud and his desert island: The ignorance of the contributions of XIXth psychiatry How did Freud manage to chart a new course in an area that had already been explored and described by the psychiatrists that preceded him? The answer may lie in Freud's medical and intellectual isolation. A propos of this, there is an interesting analogy he draws between himself and a famous character: <<For psycho-analysis is my creation; for ten years I was the only person who concerned himself whit it […] Meanwhile, like Robinson Crusoe, I settled down as comfortably as possible on my desert island.>> It is important to note that in Daniel Defoe's novel, Robinson Crusoe managed to live with at least some of the comforts available to the people of his time. Thanks to his ingenuity, he was able to obtain a series of artifacts. Likewise, Freud devised psychological theories and explanations that already existed in his time and even beforehand. The difference was that Freud thought he owned the patent. Joseph Raymond Gasquet (1837-1902) and a model to understand psychopathology: Oedipus Rex Born on 24 August 1837, Joseph Raymond Gasquet was the oldest son of Raymond Gasquet, a surgeon who spent most of his working life in London. Gasquet was a brilliant student, studying medicine at University College Hospital in London and graduating with distinction in 1859. After the opening of St. George's Retreat, Gasquet accepted the post of assistant physician and played an active role in the growth and development of this asylum. He was a great admirer of the work of Charcot, whom he regarded as <<one of the greatest of modern physicians.>> As a result, Gasquet, like Freud, had a special interest in the phenomena of hypnosis and hysteria. He contributed to the dissemination of the knowledge of British psychiatry, writing for various publications. He spent his free time studying philosophy, theology, and universal literature, while his extensive knowledge of classical works enabled him to become familiar with ancient and modern schools of thought. In April 1872, Gasquet published an article on The Madmen of the Greek Theatre in the Journal of Mental Science and a few months later, in 1873, published a continuation of this work subtitled The Ajax and Oedipus of Sophocles. Both articles, published in a well-known specialist journal, were several years ahead of the psychoanalysts interested in looking to Greek theater for models for psychopathology. Gasquet published his observations on Oedipus 26 years before Freud, also contributing studies on Orestes, Hercules and Cassandra to the same journal. Gasquet vs. Freud: contrasts and similarities with psychoanalytic thought Due to Gasquet's significant contributions to the Dublin Review, two years after his death, a compilation of several of his works was published in a book called Studies Contributed to the <<Dublin Review.>> This work included an article called Hypnotism written in April 1891, in which Gasquet attributes the start of the scientific study of hypnotism to Charcot. The most interesting fact about the article on Hypnotism is that Gasquet dealt with the issue of the unconscious nearly a decade before Freud published his descriptions. His deductions about the unconscious were so accurate and profound that, through Gasquet, we seem to be listening to the father of psychoanalysis. Another aspect worth mentioning is the seriousness with which Gasquet felt hypnosis should be used. Here we find an enormous contrast with Freud who, four years after Gasquet wrote this, would confess to his abuse of this form of therapy in Studies on Hysteria. Like Freud, Gasquet was a psychiatrist profoundly interested in the subject of religion. Gasquet analyzed the issue of religion in works such as The Physiological Psychology of St. Thomas, The Present Position of Arguments for the Existence of God, Lightfoot's St. Ignatius and the Roman Primacy, The Canon of the New Testament and The Cures at Lourdes. In this last work, Gasquet described his experience of examining several cases of miraculous cures of pilgrims that visited the city of Lourdes. It is also important to mention that Gasquet described slips of the tongue (lapsus linguae), attributing them to an unconscious origin, over a decade before Freud. In a footnote to his article Lightfoot's St. Ignatius and the Roman Primacy, written in 1887, Gasquet highlighted William Cureton's mistake in quoting a Greek text from a letter from St. Ignatius: <<Cureton unconsciously paraphrases by >> Lastly, we should mention that Gasquet's interpretation of the myth of Oedipus significantly contrasted with Freud's a few years later. Gasquet did not highlight parricide and incest as Freud did but rather Oedipus's self-mutilation in the presence of a high degree of mental anguish. From Gasquet's perspective, this self-mutilating behavior, which some have called the <<Van Gogh Syndrome>>, could well be an <<Oedipus complex>> applicable to seriously disturbed patients and all the mentally ill that resort to self-injuries to certain extent.

Keywords : Oedipus; psychoanalysis; greek theater; history of psychiatry.

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