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Pegasus

Salyard (1988) states that Freud chose the immortal winged horse to describe how he felt in the deepest depths of his “neurosis” following his father’s death. Pegasus, a horse symbolic of natural, blind instinct and desire, was born on a remote island, the offspring of Poseidon’s rape of none other than Medusa (who lies at the heart of castration anxiety) in Athena’s temple. It was because of this despoiling violation that Athena cursed the beautiful Medusa and made her hideous. Pegasus sprang from the neck of Medusa when she was beheaded by Perseus - the narcissistic self beneath Freud’s single act of matricide. Pegasus was wild and swift, refusing to let anyone approach him.

In his comment to Fliess, Freud was quoting from the poem entitled “Pegasus in Harness” (Schiller, 1861). In this poem, an impoverished poet takes the great steed to market to sell. A farmer, thinking to tie his wings, makes him the leader of a team to pull a wagon. But no sooner was Pegasus strapped to the wagon when he took off with double speed:

True the impetuous instinct to,

Field, fen and bog, he scampers through.

The frenzy seems to catch the team;

The driver tugs, the travelers scream.

O’er ditch, o’er hedge, splash, dash and crash on . . .

(Schiller, 1861: 107)

So the farmer tied the winged horse and an ox at a plough together. Pegasus tries desperately but in vain to take flight:

The unwilling griffin strains his might,

One last strong struggle yet for flight . . .

Until, worn out, the eye grows dim,

The sinews fail the foundered limb,

The god steed droops; the strife is past.

He writhes amidst the mire at last!

(p. 107)

The “mire at last” as “the eye grows dim” (or closes) and failing sinews points to Freud’s shame as Pegasus, true offspring of Medusa. Pegasus might as well be Narcissus gawking at himself in the reflecting pool. Here is the shame he has projected onto the mother who had to be decontaminated and quarantined. This image links his shamed, infant self with his mother Medusa who evokes dread and petrifaction.

Given the one-room living quarters of his parents during infancy and early childhood, it is certainly plausible to think that Freud’s early experiences included many sightings of his nude mother, especially the sight of her genitals (and her sightings of his masturbation). There is in fact one widely reported incident of Freud having seen his mother nude when he was four years old (Lerman, 1986: 5). Freud caught sight of Medusa: “It would appear that the Medusa image served as a symbol of Freud’s pervasive, complex, frightening, and sexually stimulating experiences connected with his relationship with his mother” (Salyard, 1988: 413). Salyard postulates that the image of Pegasus yoked to the plough suggests intense stimulation of the primal scene as well as maternal seduction (p. 415), the symbiotic mother to whom he remains yoked, an enslavement to dependency. Perhaps Freud had the meaning of Medusa backwards: it is not an image, as he consciously thought, of the castrated genitals of the mother and need for the identification with the father. It is, rather, an image of his unconscious fear of her uncastrated, horrifyingly sexual and seductive power, and his fascinated yet shame-filled attraction.

For her part, there are signs that Freud’s mother suffered from “megalomania,” meaning a false concept of self-importance. The name she gave to her son means “savior of the world,” and, like Liriope, she had a strong desire to confirm his great, portentous destiny. This led her to consult a peasant seer. He predicted that she had given birth to a child who was destined to become an extraordinary man. Like Narcissus, Freud’s life was blessed with the prophecies received by his mother. He was born with a caul which was believed to ensure future happiness. And growing up basking in his mother’s glowing reflections, he came to possess an attitude of considerable grandiosity. Consider the following passage of a letter Freud wrote to his betrothed, Martha Bernays, in 1885 (also take note of the Sphinx image which echoes Oedipus’ solving of the riddle):

I have just carried out one resolution which one group of people, as yet unborn and fated to misfortune, will feel acutely. Since you can’t guess whom I mean I will tell you: they are my biographers. I have destroyed all of my diaries for the past fourteen years, with letters, scientific notes, and the manuscripts of my publications. Only family letters were spared. Yours, my dear one, were never in danger. All my old friendships and associations passed again before my eyes and met their doom . . . all my thoughts and feelings about the world in general, and in particular about how it concerned me, have been declared unworthy of survival . . . But the stuff simply enveloped me, as the sand does the Sphinx, and soon only my nostrils would show above the mass of paper. . . . Let the biographers chafe; we won’t make it too easy for them. Let each one of them believe he is right in his “Conception of the Development of the Hero:” even now I enjoy the thought of how they will go astray.

(quoted in Jones, 1953: xii)

His famous comment on Adler’s death is wickedly sarcastic. Freud said that Adler’s death was proof of “how far he had got on. The world really rewarded him richly for his service of contradicting psychoanalysis” (Jones, 1953: 52). And here are more of Freud’s seasoned thoughts on human nature coupled with his own reflections on how he ranks:

I have found little that is “good” about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or none at all . . . If we are to talk of ethics, I subscribe to a high ideal from which most of the human beings I have come across depart most lamentably.

(Jones, 1953: 61-62)

Anzieu (1986) references a paper by Besdine, who studied the special kind of relationships that mothers of geniuses-to-be have with their children. “He discovered that Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Goethe, Heine, Balzac, Proust, Sartre, Dostoevsky and, of course, Freud all had mothers who developed veritable

‘Jocasta complexes’ towards their sons. Such a woman mothers to an extreme degree by not only transferring her incestuous love on to her son, but ‘doing so in a deeply symbiotic relationship, thus fulfilling the two vital conditions for the emergence of a genius’ (1986: 204). Freud offers the same idea:

if a man has been his mother’s undisputed darling he retains throughout life the triumphant feeling [elsewhere translated as the feeling of a “conqueror"], the confidence in success, which not seldom brings actual success along with it. And Goethe might well have given some such heading to his autobiography as: “My strength has its roots in my relation to my mother."

(1964c: 156)

The love and pride Freud received from his mother included her wish for his success and victory, but Freud struggled with her insistence. He writes:

Such prophecies must be made very often; there are so many happy and expectant mothers, and so many old peasant women and other old women who, since their mundane power have deserted them, turn their eyes towards the future; and the prophetess is not likely to suffer for her prophecies.

(quoted in Jones, 1953: 5)

Narcissistic coenesthesis is projected upon the mother in order to recreate the unity lost by leaving the womb at birth. This takes place through the face or gaze of the mother, which essentially becomes a substitute for the womb - this, in fact, is why the eyes are symbolic of the womb. Mother’s gaze is a source of narcissistic confirmation (Ayers, 2003: 34-60). The Oedipus Complex for Freud was a recapitulation of a symbiotic stage of infancy, and so, by logical extension, a working out of primary narcissism. Fromm, in commenting about the strength sexuality plays in the Oedipus Complex, suggests that Freud missed the dependency aspects of the relationship of a child to his mother in his theoretical formulations because of his own lifelong and unacknowledged dependency on his mother (1959: 15). Is this what happens when mother’s face reflects her own need for mirroring, as it did for Narcissus who clung to his own reflection and her absence to him?

 
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