The Descent of the Soul: katabasis and depth psychology

Descent of the Soul: katabasis and depth psychology

See tentative panels and proposals below conference description.

Summer 2019 – conference dates: 5-6th July 2019 at Freud Museum, London UK

Jung regarded the Nekyia as a ‘meaningful katabasis …a descent into the cave of initiation and secret knowledge (CW5). He saw this as an appropriate model for deep self-descent toward healing. Famously he allowed himself to drop deep within the Self during a time of near-psychosis, and encountered the archetypal figures who formed crucial elements of his psychology: the old man, the hero, anima and animus. Included in this insight is acknowledgment of the paradoxical idea of one of his often cited sources, Heraclitus: descent and ascent are the same.

From Poe to Nietzsche, the self has always presented as an ‘abysmal’ problem as it was also for the ancients: the self is a dilemma to be resolved in confronting the risks of staring into the depths, exposing oneself to the risks, and moving on, possibly to acceptance …

Seneca advises ‘…[that even the bravest of men go] blind with dizziness if he looks down on an immense depth (vastem altitudinem) when standing on this brink (in crepidine eius) (57.4)

‘So cast, the brink of life begins to resemble the brink of nothingness … and the point is that the destitution of the self is not an aberration: it is one of the commonest ways in which subjects are formed in antiquity. Self-destitution paradoxically is a finely honed technique of the self, a practice that produces, literally constitutes – the self.’ (Porter, Foucault Studies 2017).

Using these insights as a springboard we want to explore the formation of self as a look into the abyss: as Poe proposed in ‘The Imp of the Perverse’ staring into the abyss was dangerous because it looked back at you. Nietzsche attests to this in more dire terms in Beyond Good and Evil. Yet Seneca would scoff at fear of this examination of the self; the momentous problem of self-formation was an ethical imperative.

And in his essay about the collective unconscious, projection of universal anxieties that the ‘rumours’ of flying saucers attest to, Jung quotes Goethe’s Faust: ‘Then to the depths!/I could as well say height:/It’s all the same.’

The achievement of the Self is a life-long endeavour involving confrontations or engagements to dissolve elements of projection that split the self into dissociated fragments. It could be argued that fragments or multiplicity is also what Jung meant by Self. This has been a considered motif since ancient times, in many cultures. During this conference the different modes of self-formation, as problem, or rather as self-fashioning endeavour/process or one of discovery can be seen through depth psychology’s enterprise as a therapy to heal the soul, or the self.

We are looking for papers exploring the abyss, and how it constitutes and heals the Self, or does not. We are particularly looking for work that focuses on depth psychology in relationship to Ancient Greek and Roman writers. Papers will be accepted that explore aspects of this problematic of descent/ascent into the depths within the frame of analytical and all theoretical orientations of depth psychology and archaic thought.

Any questions, please contact Leslie Gardner on both email addresses: and

With great pleasure we announce that poet Ruth Padel (KingsCollege, London) will read from her new book.

Conference is co-endorsed by Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Essex and International Association of Jungian Studies.

5th July +morning of 6th July 2019: Freud Museum, Hampstead London

Fees: GBP£80 (GBP£25 for students). Contribution toward wine Friday late afternoon during presentation by Ruth Padel from her new book Emerald. Light lunch available Friday; coffees during the day.

Leslie Gardner, Visiting fellow, Dept PPS (University of Essex),Richard Seaford, Professor emeritus of classics and ancient history (University of Exeter),Paul Bishop, Professor, William Jacks Chair in Modern Languages (University of Glasgow),Terence Dawson, (independent scholar),Ben Pestell, Dept PPS, Member Centre for Myth Studies (University of Essex)


Proposed abstracts – not complete and suggested order


Panel 1:

Catriona Miller

Contextualising Inanna’s Descent:What has the mistress of all lands done?

 The Sumerian culture of the Ancient Near East goes back at least five and half thousand years, though the goddess Inanna has roots going back even further.    The striking thing about Inanna even to modern eyes is that she is not a domestic goddess: she controls many of the Sumerian me, attributes of civilisation which vary from carpentry and kindling a fire, to the art of song and kissing⁠.The Descent of Inanna. describes the goddess’s descent to the underworld ruled over by her sister goddess Ereshkigal.  Much has been written about this work from a feminist perspective, however, the poem is only one of several texts about Inanna that have survived and the stories they have to tell about this goddess puts a different slant on the Descent.  Drawing on Jung’s model of the psyche which promotes the concepts of balance and of leaving a space for the unconscious to speak, it is clear that Inanna is a character in need of reflection and stillness: she is not beaten in battle, and she is not defeated in debate, nor is she put in her place by a lover or partner.  She is a ruler, a holder of knowledge, an active warrior and lover, and it is only the goddess of the underworld herself who can ‘pause’ Inanna, by insisting that she strip away her persona, her outward symbols of power and enforces ultimate stillness upon her hanging her as a piece of meat on a hook.  The Descent of Inanna tells the story of Inanna’s decision to look into the abyss which creates balance to Inanna’s otherwise highly active character. This paper will re-evaluate The Descent of Inanna from both a feminist and Jungian perspective. 

 Paul Bishop, The archaic and the abyss


In his sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, the German mystic Johannes Tauler quotes Psalm 42:2, ‘deep calls unto deep’. In  this sermon, Tauler exhorts his listeners: entsink, entsink in den grunt , i.e. ‘sink into thy inmost soul, into they nothingness’, and he goes on to draw a link between the exhortation and what Pseudo-Dionysus the Areopagite says about the soul’s knowledge of God. Now in the late 1930s, classical scholarship noted the similarities between these passages in Tauler and one of Jung’s major intellectual reference points, the Presocratic thinker Heraclitus. These similarities turn around the concept of the abyss. Using a specific interpretative framework, this paper explores the link in Heraclitus between the archaic and the abyss, and it concludes (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde) that we are all in the abyss, but some of us are looking at the stars.


 Panel 2

Suzanne Lye

Self as Story: Static Odysseus and the Narrative Usefulness of Katabasis

When Odysseus stands at the edge of Underworld in the Nekuia (Odyssey 11), he does not conceive of it as an inapproachable abyss or engage with it as a way to discover his inner self. Unlike later writers and psychologists who have allegorized Underworld encounters as journeys towards self-realization and knowledge, the Homeric poet uses the motif of katabasis to portray a very specific version of Odysseus as a character and hero. The primary goal of the Nekuia, as a story, is to influence how external audiences perceive the epic’s protagonist. In this episode, Odysseus relates a certain version of his “self” that would be most palatable to the Phaeacians. The poet portrays the Nekuia’s Underworld, therefore, as a place for the selective display of identity where the “self” is carefully narrated to meet the requirements of external pressures rather than internal desires. By making an Underworld journey, Odysseus fulfills the divine mandate given to him by the sorceress Circe and, through his harrowing tale, persuades his Phaeacian listeners to give him the resources he needs to complete his nostos. Despite his conversations with the ghosts of family and friends, Odysseus himself does not evolve as a character in any substantive way. By narrating a journey to Hades, Odysseus crafts his audience’s perceptions of who he is from his own perspective – a devoted son, a peer to famous Greek leaders, and an equal of the greatest mythic heroes. The Odysseus who emerges from the Underworld episode is essentially the same one who enters – his sense of self remains intact, even as people and situations change around him. Odysseus remains the storytelling hero who uses narrative to construct a different “self” for each audience. Through the Nekuia episode, the poet suggests that the “self” is malleable, changeable, and responsive to the needs of one’s story.

 Leslie Gardner: 

In Lucian’s ‘True Histories’ we find multiple examples of ‘conjectural rhetoric’ which I propose to explore alongside Darko Suvin’s influential definition of science fiction : that sci fi engages in ‘cognitive estrangement’. This estrangement is accomplished in a variety of means, and depends on assumptions about ways of knowing, and ideas of what is truth – based on empirical science or perception. In Jung’s essay ‘Flying Saucers’ he explores psychological ramifications too for accommodating estrangement: the ‘true lying ‘ that Lucian claims he engages in speaks to a belief in a way of knowing that Jung contests in his psychological examination of belief in fiction by empiric means. Jung demonstrates perhaps with a degree of irony, that scientific truths also rely on a kind of lying. Lucian’s Menippean-styled satire alludes to his dialogue of Cynic Menippus’ descent into hell, echoing the exotic journeying the travellers engage in on their trip to the moon, the Blessed Isles, into a whale. The first issue to tackle is that flying to the moon can be a metaphor for sinking into the abyss, and I will use Lucian’s ideas to do so.

 Madeleine Scherer

Straits of Memory’: Archetypes, Anabasis, and Abandonment in Wilson Harris’s Palace of the Peacock

At the end of late Caribbean writer Wilson Harris’s 1960 Palace of the Peacock, the main character and the novel’s meta-textual narrator ascend the eponymous Palace of the Peacock to reach enlightenment. While the majority of the novel follows the format of a katabasis, a descent into the jungles of Guyana inspired by both Homeric and Virgilian models, the end of the novel traces a Plantonic ascent. The protagonist loses all sense of individuality as he enters the ‘straits of memory’ of the Palace, and transcends the boundaries of his own persona and perception to become one with a higher entity, perhaps even the universe itself. He abandons the sphere of historical or any other man-made version of time, and enters a realm of simultaneity, a timeless space of enlightenment. The protagonist’s journey as a metaphysical ascent towards an archetypal knowledge of the world’s history, memory, and mythology is a quest for a spiritual, healing reality: as the protagonist is able to see the repeating cycles of oppression, both in the memories he accesses in his transcendence, and the colonial oppression he has witnessed over and over during the course of the novel, he is able to conceptualise a healing process for these cycles of tyranny, which can lead him to ‘freedom and strength’. This paper discusses Harris’s Palace of the Peacock as an example of a Jungian-inspired katabasis/anabasis narrative which places the discovery of archetypal structures at the end of an underworldly journey towards enlightenment. Comparisons to modern media such as the 2017 video game Senua’s Sacrificewill also be drawn to show the contemporary legacy of akatabasis narrative whose climax leads its protagonist towards a de-personalised viewpoint, as well as the discovery of archetypal narratives and metaphysical enlightenment.

Panel 3:

Richard Seaford:

In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (probably 6th century BCE) Persephone is gathering flowers when the earth gapes open, Hades emerges from it, siezes her, and in his chariot takes her down to the underworld. This is more than a mere katabasis: the earth suddenly opens up and she is forced deep downwards into the abyss, the first one in European literature.We know from vase-painting that it was for the Athenians a way of imagining the wedding. In the Homeric Hymn she is sought all over the world by her mother Demeter, who is eventually reunited with her at Eleusis. The myth was an aetiology of mystic initiation at Eleusis. Mystic initiation was a rehearsal of death, in which the initiand passed from anxiety to joy, from ignorance to knowledge, and from isolation to belonging to a group. The descent and return of Persphone from Hades were in some way (secret even then) enacted in the Eleusinian ritual. That is to say, the initiands experienced in some way Persephone’s terrifying descent and her ascent that ended in joy. This is one example of how ancient ritual may enact experiences which for us are confined to individual fantasy and relegated to the unconscious.

 Sulagna Sengupta

The Descent of Soul: Katabasis and Depth Psychology

The abyss (Naraka in Sanskrit for hell) is described as a purgatory space in Indian texts from where souls rise when the cycle of karma ends. This ancient religious belief takes on compelling psychological meaning in Savitri’s story where soul’s descent is narrativized. This paper brings an extraordinary sun myth from India and a woman’s journey into the depths, juxtaposed with a cult film, to show Self’s underpinnings in Yama’s netherworld. King Asvapati’s daughter Savitri (earliest reference in Vyasa’s Mahabharatha), encounters the god of death Yama through a curious turn of events in her marriage. The spirited Savitri prepares for what she has been forewarned – the death of her beloved. Following her husband in underworld Savitri encounters Yama, a myth that I relate to the tragic aftermath of India’s postcolonial history, recreated in a cinematic classic. The mythic motifs depict psyche’s descent and ascent, in individual and collective realms, showing how the Self may be conceived when a catastrophe has torn apart an existing order. Jung wrote that the entrances of Hades were the scenes of katabasis, crevices from where souls ascended after having conquered death, disintegration and madness or places where opposites came together and where ‘the adept’s soul was not only impressed by it but radically altered.’ We look into ancient and contemporary Indian material to examine Jung’s insights, exploring how the psychological essence of katabasis may be grasped in today’s turbulent and unsettling times.


Panel 4:

 Roula-Maria Dib

Katabasis in Middle Eastern Female Hagiography: a Post-Jungian Perspective 

 The role of katabasis, or ‘descent’ in the development of the spiritual psyche is a topic that has been relatively unexplored in hagiographic literature, particularly in the stories of the Byzantine Greek Orthodox matericon, or ‘mothers of the church’ in the Middle East. These female saints have, in one way or another, escaped patriarchy, embarking on journeys of ascension towards spirituality, but through the routes of descending into various circumstances of self-destitution. A post-Jungian revisiting of this literature will show how, in addition to eliding a patriarchic social system, female saints such as Barbara, Tala, Marina, and Anna-Simon have achieved spiritual development, or individuation, by seeking refuge in maternal landscapes;they fled to camouflaging natural environments, katabatic womb-like abysses such as dark settings, cavernous spaces, and forests, which were sites of an inner coniunctio. Some post-Jungian studies may be helpful in approaching this subject, especially those that have looked into topics such as the heroine (Coline Covington and Maureen Murdock), women in war (Elizabeth Eowyn Nelson), pregnant darkness (Shepherd Bliss), the goddess culture (E.C. Whitmont), ecocriticism (Susan Rowland), light inside dark times (Michael Meade), and sexuality and the religious imagination (Bradley TePaske). Synthesizing these post-Jungian perspectives, and revisiting this hagiographic literature through the lens of this fusion allows for a new reading beyond the classical one. The latter type focuses on the ascension and reflects a challenge of ‘worldly’ patriarchy in favor of a ‘father god’. However, a new reading highlighting the psychically-nourishing aspects of descent into nature, withdrawal into the self and thus the ‘underworld’ of the psyche will show the fruitful katabasis resulting in the heroism of ‘sainthood’.

 Maria Chriti

The Neoplatonic Katabasis of the Soul to the World of the Senses: Language as a Tool for Regaining Self-Conscience 

The debt of Carl Jung to Neoplatonism has been acknowledged by scholarship: his“universal archetypes” and “archaic patterns” of the soul have significant counterparts in the Platonic transcendental Forms and the Neoplatonic residual innate content of the psyche. According to the Neοplatonists, the soul kept this content after its fallfrom the One (= Neoplatonic “paradise”) to the sensible world. This specific katabasis resulted in oblivion of the soul’s genuine identity, but also to the necessity of recollection. Stimulation of the soul’s forgotten knowledge by means of reckoning with deities has also been pointed out for Proclus by contemporary scholars, focusing, however, on theourgia and not on the means of language, given that: a) Proclus is the first to explicitly associate language with bringing forward the soul’s divine remnantswith help from linguistic phantasia, and b) his student Ammonius and the latter’s students, Simplicius and Philoponus explicitly consider language as the only conventional tool for the psyche to be reminded of who she was. These philosophers from the School of Alexandria lay stress on the urgent and compulsory presence of human vocal sounds in contrast to the once-upon-a-time divine non-linguistic communication among the souls, emphasizing the uniqueness of linguistic expression as regards recollection. It can be said that contemporary psychology could be more profited from the Neoplatonic tradition as regards the first occurrence of the relation between language and recollection, than from the Neoplatonic theourgia; it is important that from Ammonius onwards, linguistic utterance is rendered as the only instrument by means of which the psyche can bring forward what is deeply hidden, the only way to remember its unification with the universal soul, as Carl Jung would put it, the only way to come closer to her genuine self.  

Pierre Cardascia

In analytical psychology, katabasis, ‘journey to and from’/return (this is very important) – to the underworld is explicitly related to the Jungian school through the nekyia. Although Jung borrows the word from the Greek tradition, the concept encompasses a wider multiplicity whose contours cross cultures and eras. The hero, the heroic soul, voluntarily explores itself to the abyss, and meets the dead. Or death? In other words, the hero meets an inhabitant of the subterranean world, and returns changed, damaged but not deteriorated. If what the abyss is intended to be is incorporated in one way or another into the soul, then it is important to knows its nature… but this is the difficulty – the abyss is something whose nature is unknowable. We will establish this point through study of examples, sometimes contradictory, sometimes convergent definitions. This epistemic approach will serve us to explore another such journey back and forth, the reading of Descartes by Lacan in the ‘Logic of Fantasy’ where he argues that fantasy has two names for one and same substance:desire and reality – a relationship of texture without interruption- there is only one and the same stuff that has a back and a forth, we go from one face to another without noticing it.

 Panel 5:

Lyat Friedman

The Abyss of the Machine: A Deleuzian Response to Psychoanalysis 

Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia is a text dedicated to the destruction of an Oedipal self. Written by Deleuze and Guattari in 1972, it attempts to undo the therapeutic process by which one can gain insight into oneself and re-establish a coherent narrative of oneself. It opposes the practice by which one can rediscover oneself by exploring an unconscious past and exposing unacknowledged desires. The text attempts to undo the abyss of the self, so central to the Western tradition. Offering a schizoanalysis, instead of psychoanalysis, Deleuze and Guattari write: ‘In its destructive task, schizoanalysis must proceed as quickly as possible, but it can also proceed only with great patience, great care, by successively undoing the representative territorialities and reterritorializations through which a subject passes in his [or her] individual history.’ (Anti-Oedipus, 318). This presentation seeks to present the difficulties Deleuze and Guattari find in the analysis of the self in psychoanalysis and to clarify the problematic mental construction of the oedipal identity. Caught in a “mother-father” dyad, without any “lines of flight,” one cannot but escape the oedipal scene by entering into an oedipal narrative. It is, as Deleuze and Guattari argue, a trap. But not only is the process of acquiring a self stifling, it is also a process by which the individual is required to neglect oneself and one’s desires and disregard one’s personal history, for the sake of a universalizing history of one’s parents, cultivated with sexualized themes. It is an abyss well versed and traversed. This presentation also seeks to explore the alternative narrative Deleuze and Guattari propose: the narrative of the machine. In so doing, it will attempt to show that a machine can have an abyss, but it is an open one. It is open to the company of others.

 Christian McMillan

The Neykia journey and wholeness in the thought of Jung and Deleuze. 

In his 2007 work Deleuze and the Unconscious, Christian Kerslakewrites that ‘The notion of a ‘second birth’, rebirth or renaissance is fundamental to [the work of Gilles] Deleuze from the beginning’. He adds that ‘large tracts of Jung’s Transformations and Symbols [of the Libido, CW. Vol. 5, 1912] (the work to which Deleuze most frequently refers) are devoted to the myth of rebirth which Jung discovers in the background to the mythologies handed down by history’ (p. 81). The myth of the hero who enters on a ‘night sea journey’ (Neykia – the Journey into Hades) is one that preoccupied the work of Deleuze and his collaborator Félix Guattari. In this paper I consider the extent to which Deleuze differs from Jung in his positive appraisal of the role of modern art in the Neykia journey, paying particular attention to James Joyce’s novelUlysses on which Deleuze and Jung commented at some length whilst reaching quite different conclusions about the nature of what it is to be ‘whole’. ‘Wholeness’, another theme that is evident in all of Jung’s writings, is a central philosophical concern of Deleuze’s post-structuralist thought. Deleuze’s frequent celebrations of the fragmentation of wholes seems to be at odds with Jung’s positive elaboration of therapy as tending towards healing as a whole-making enterprise. Even at his most ‘metaphysical’ Jung sometimes advocates a vision of reality as an organic ‘whole’ in which, borrowing from the Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370bc): ‘There is one common flow, one common breathing, all things are in sympathy. The whole organism and each one of its parts are working in conjunction for the same purpose and each of its parts are working in conjunction for the same purpose’ (cf. Jung, 1952, para. 925). This organicist, holistic vision of the cosmos (and the psyche) might explain why Jung is reticent when dealing with modern art works such as Ulysses(cf. Jung, 1932) whose vision of wholeness gestures to a notion of individuation which is fundamentally critical of this kind of organicism.


Gabriella Calchi Novati

“Abyssal Self”: Psychoanalytical Reflections on the Age of Digital Biopolitics

In this paper I instigate a dialogue between what I call digital biopolitics and psychoanalysis. With the advent of Web 2.0, the space of the virtual has eroded our daily space of experience, becoming the space of our being par excellence. Jaron Lanier, a major pioneer of the self-generated technology of Web 2.0 has voiced his doubts about any constructive potential of such technology, claiming that ‘you have to be somebody before you can share yourself’, for ‘persons’ have become ‘rarities’ in the twenty-first century ‘lifeless world of pure information.’ Digital rather than existential, the contemporary abyss is not a space where one could spiritually travel, but has become the place for narcissistic fascination and digital vertigo. Boaventura de Sousa Santos reminds us that the travel motif not only is symbolically double, but also always contains its own opposite, namely the idea of a fixed home – domus and oikos. To me the self is domus and oikos, in that it is the individuation journey’s point of departure and point of arrival. Such a journey, however, in the age of digital biopolitics, is in crisis for, what a person is, in the truest sense, counts less than the virtually infinite number of self-generated copies, aliases, and avatars of that self. And since we have moved far beyond the post-modern era of simulacra, in our age of digital biopolitics the self has become vertiginously abyssal. Thus, I propose to apply de Sousa Santos’ concept of ‘abyssal thinking’ to delve into what I call “abyssal self”. By employing a Lacanian lens of investigation, where the Real and the Symbolic can be understood via Aristotle’s distinction between tuché and automaton, I conclude by advancing that one of the main traits of the “abyssal self’ is its incessant fall outside of signification.  


Panel 6:

 Alan Cardew

Anabasis: The Chariot as Vehicle and Metaphor

When considering Katabasis and the myth of the descent, whether into the Underworld or the Unconscious, it important not to forget brighter realms, and, if only for the sake of symmetry, to consider the contrary movement; Anabasis, the ascent to the heavens, the spaces of light and the holy. To expedite the ascent through vast and complex spheres of angels angels, gods, and stars it is best to have a vehicle. Pasternak said that man is forced to use metaphor because he is too short-lived for the tremendous task that is imposed upon him. The chariot is perhaps the most powerful of such metaphors, a device of speedy transport to higher levels that appears in both Western and Eastern spiritual traditions.The paper will begin with the image of the chariot as it appears in Parmenides and the Phaedrus of Plato, move to Ezekiel and Merkabah mysticism, and conclude with the divine immobility of the Bhagavad Gita.


Kurt Lampe: Orestes’ Katabasis

 ὦ θεοί, τί λεύσσω; τίνα δέδορκα νερτέρων;

“O gods, what do I see? What underworld denizen do I gaze upon?”

(Menelaus addressing Orestes, Eur. Or. 385)

With the exception of his “descent into madness,” at first sight Orestes does not appear to fulfill the theme of katabasis. But if we are thinking with post-Jungian psychology, we cannot bracket “descent into madness” as a “mere metaphor”; we must remember that metaphors are vehicles through which unconscious forces find expression. Once we start down this path, we will notice that many signs indicate Orestes’ confrontation with Clytemnestra corresponds to what Jung, his follower Erich Neumann, and their fellow traveler Mircea Eliadeanalyse as the struggle against the Terrible Mother (Jung 1956: esp. §419-619, Neumann 1970: 152-69, Eliade 1958: 1-40). Katabasis features in this struggle as incest (return to the womb), ingestion by the maternal dragon, or descent into the monster’s lair. In the first part of my paper, I will draw on a wide range of ancient literary, visual, and religious evidence in order to outline these correspondences. For the sake of this argument, I will adopt the hypothesis that these sources manifest the same transpersonal archetype, and hence can be read without detailed attention to their artistic unity or cultural contexts. Prominent features of this pattern include representations of Clytemnestra as a dragon or serpent, or as a threat to Orestes’ maturation, identity, or life; andrepresentations of Orestes’ ritual initiatory segregation, of his becoming the monster he kills, sacrificing parts of himself (blood, hair, a finger), identifying with solar divinity, and dying by snake-bite. 

Much of this will complement recent Jungian readings of Aeschylus’ Oresteia as a paradigm for individuation (e.g. Trousdell 2008, Pestell 2018). Yet I will also highlight Marie Delcourt’s criticism of Jungian readings; far from being an exemplar of transformation, she suggests, Orestes more often exemplifies depression, confusion, and violent repetition (1959: 79-80, 88-90). Delcourt is wrong about Greek religion, but right about Greek literature. In part two of this paper, focusing primarily on Euripides’ Orestes, I will explain why Orestes remains one of the νέρτεροι – the denizens of the underworld. Psychoanalysts have pathologized him in intrapsychic, Oedipal terms (e.g. Wertham 1947, Rubinstein 1969, Green 1979: 35-87). My explanation will instead focus on the malaise of the Euripidean gods, which I will read psychosocially. For this I will synthesize perspectives not only from archetypal and developmental post-Jungian thought, but also from Bernard Stiegler’s philosophy of “spirit” (e.g. Stiegler 2013; cf. Lampe 2018: 241-51).

Craig Stephenson

Proteus, the lost play of Aeschylus Oresteia

In Aeschylus’ tragic trilogy The Oresteia, a succession of three literary dreams propels the mythic action forward. Returning from exile to revenge his father Agaememnon’s death, Orestes plots to kill his mother Clytaemnestra. Hearing the Chorus describe Clytaemestra’s dream of a snake (in The Libation Bearers), he claims to apprehend itsmeaning, and the Chorus agrees with his interpretation of the dream as prophesying his own return. But something is left out of his interpretation, something Orestes only experiences after he murders his mother. Her snake resurrects in a second dream, a hallucinatory nightmare from which Orestes flees in mad terror. Finally, in The Eumenides, this dream of the snake materializes into outer reality for all Athenians to witness, allowing Aeschylus to dramatize a collective response to the third dream’s demands. Aeschylus wrote a satyr play entitled Proteus to conclude his Oresteia, but there exist only a few fragments. How might a Jungian reading of the three snake dreams contribute to discussions about this missing fourth piece, which theatre historians suppose was replete with a chorus of satyrs and the appearance of the god Proteus?Can we imagine the last play as dreaming onwards the snake dreams of the trilogy? How does our modern psychological understanding of this ancient Greek classic alter if we locate the lysis of Aeschylus’s snake dreams not at the end of the trilogy but in the lost play?


Panel 7

 Shane Butler

Freud’s Roma Quadrant

In a famous passage in Civilisation and its Discontents, Freud compares the psychic apparatus to the city of Rome—or rather, to a fantastic version of Rome in which the city’s many stacked layers of history were all instantly available to the observer. Understandably, the passage has received much attention, including from classicists. But the fact that it was prompted by some very specific reading by Freud seems to have gone unnoticed. This paper follows the links—bibliographical, archaeological, etymological—back to an obscure chapter of Rome’s archaic history, which leads us simultaneously up into the sky and down into the Underworld. We finally emerge, surprisingly, through Freud’s other famous figure for the psyche: the Mystic Writing Pad. And along the way, we consider a crucial debt (and possible defect) that depth models owe to the logic of the page.

Terence Dawson

Katábasis and Virgil’s Orpheus and Eurydice: an Epicurean Theory of Myth

Many scholars regard Roman adaptations of the Greek myths as banalisations of their earlier counterparts. This paper looks at Virgil’s rendering of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, which Robert Graves regarded as “mythologically absurd”. Virgil embeds the myth within a story of his own contriving: a story about Aristaeus having lost his bees. In the course of his search for his lost bees, Aristaeus speaks first with his mother, and then with Proteus, who tells him the story of Orpheus and Eurydice as if it will help him to find his lost bees. The first part of Virgil’s adaptation involves a katábasis, a “descent” from a social space into an imaginal space which corresponds to the depression into which he has fallen as a result of his loss and grief. Some refer to this space as the other. Psychoanalysts call it the unconscious. Jung saw it as a space in which inarticulate hunches and intuitions take shape and become conscious thoughts or feelings. Aristaeus cannot grasp why Proteus has told him the myth. It is left to his mother to interpret the myth for him.

Virgil was an Epicurean. This paper shows how he separates the myth from religious belief in order to reconsider it as an expression of human and psychological tendencies. It argues that this represents an extraordinary contribution to the understanding of myth. Instead of seeing myth as a reflection of a specific cultural moment, he sees myth as the expression of a pressing psychological challenge of which the subject has no inkling and which requires the help of an “other” to interpret. In short, it suggests that Virgil has a claim to being the father of emphatically psychological readings of myth.


Panel 8 – Ruth Padel – reading from her new book of poetry Emerald

introduced by Craig Stephenson – – wine reception (contribution GBP£2)





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