Canongate Myth Series no. 3
Like Oedipus, we live in ignorance of the wishes so offensive to morality with which nature has burdened us and following the unveiling of which we should no doubt all rather look away from the scenes of our childhood. – Sigmund Freud, Interpreting Dreams
Sigmund Freud lies ill. A man whose work, whose very life, has depended on the power of speech has now been all but silenced by cancer of the jaw. In the waking darkness he received a strange visitor, who has come to tell a story that Freud will recognize: the tale of Oedipus.
For those who do not know exactly what happen in Oedipus, here’s the gist of it:
Oedipus, the son of Laius, King Thebes, and Jocasta, is exposed as an infant because an oracle had informed the father that his as yet unborn son would be his murderer. He is rescued and grows up as the son of a king at a foreign court until, unsure of his origins, he consults the oracle himself and is advised to avoid going home since he is destined to become the murderer of his father and husband to his mother.
On the way from what he thinks of as home, he encounters King Laius and kills him in a fight that erupts swiftly. He then approaches Thebes, where he solves the riddle posed by the Sphinx barring the way; the grateful Thebans express their thanks by making him king and giving him Jocasta’s hand in marriage. He rules for many years in peace and honour and , together with the women he does not know to be his mother, has two sons and two daughters – until a plague breaks out, occasioning a fresh consultation of the oracle, this time by the Thebans.
Shattered by his unwittingly performed atrocity, Oedipus blinds himself and abandons his homeland. The words of the oracle are fulfilled.
The tale of King Oedipus is perhaps the most unsettling for me, for two reasons. One, due to the horror of patricide and the incestuous affair. Second, perhaps why his fate grips us is because it might also have been our own. From our first sexual stirring at our mother, our first hatred and violent wish at our father; our dreams persuade us of that, and Oedipus tragedy is simply the wish-fulfillment of our childhood years.
The story of Where Three Road Meet begin with the Thebans oracle meeting with Oedipus. But this is a different account of what happened when Oedipus met his father at the place where three roads meet.
The point where a road divides and one arm strikes northwest in a steep defile towards Delphi, while the other skirts the foot of Parnassus and winds eastward towards the fertile plains of Daulis. Depending on your point of view, it could be a place of divergence of convergence.
The third road, leads back to Thebes, a t this point, the road branches; and on the other hand, here is where the two roads – the one from Daulis, the other from Delphi connect with each other. So it’s a matter of which way you happen to travelling, a widening of choice, or a narrowing.
From the god’s perspective all ways are the same and all roads will be travelled in the end. It’s only a matter of time.
It is a delightful read, except that I have to backtrack several times to make sure whose words that is uttered by whom. The myth series at least for this book and Girls meet boys by Ali Smith take this unspecified voice dialogue approach, which can be quite confusing. We were made to understand the strange visitor that visited Freud might be the result of Freud’s palliative intake and hallucination, the Theban oracle, Tiresias. I like the ending when the fate of Oedipus and Freud are converged. This book is a different account of what happened when Oedipus met his father at the place where three roads meet. The retelling of the story of this great tragedy is enlightening as well as unexpected. It is also a deeply moving portrait of the last days of Freud.
The ambiguity of religious pronouncement merely encourages a mystification designed to bolster the authority of those who make the pronouncements. – Freud page 49
I am reading this for A to Z challenge.
Paperback. Publisher: Canongate 2007; Length: 197; Setting: Greek Mythology Finished reading at: 12 May 2010
About the writer:
Salley Vickers was born in Liverpool in 1948. Her mother was a social worker and her father a trades union leader, both members of the British communist party until 1956 and then very committed socialists. She was brought up in Stoke-on-Trent and London, and read English Literature at Cambridge University. Following this, she taught children with special needs and then English literature at Stanford, Oxford and the Open University and was a WEA and further education tutor for adult education classes.
She then trained as an Jungian analytical psychotherapist, working in the NHS and also specialised in helping people who were creatively blocked. She gave up her psychoanalytic work in 2002, although she still lectures on the connections between literature and psychology. She now writes full time and lives in London.
Her father was a committed supporter of Irish republicanism and her first name, ‘Salley’, is spelled with an ‘e’ because it is the Irish for ‘willow’ (from the Latin: salix, salicis) as in the W B Yeats poem, “Down by the salley gardens” a favourite of her parents. She has two sons from her first marriage. In 2002, her second marriage, to the Irish writer and broadcaster Frank Delaney, was dissolved.
In 2002, she was a judge for the Booker Prize for Fiction.