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Freud, Classics and Cryptomnesia

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Sigmund Freud’s proverbial obsession with the Classics persisted even in his late years. At the age of 81, the Viennese neurologist realised that one of the chief tenets of psychoanalysis was not an original idea, but rather an ancient one. Freud, in an essay entitled ‘Analysis Terminable and Interminable’ (1937), recognised that the credit for his dual instinct theory – that is, the perennial struggle between what he called the death instinct (Todestrieb) and the life instinct (Lebenstrieb) – really belonged to Empedocles of Acragas, a Presocratic philosopher from the fifth century B.C. My presentation will look at ways in which Freud’s premises do and do not coincide with those of Empedocles, and the extent to which such an unconscious influence of classical sources (what Freud considered a case of cryptomnesia, i.e. hidden memory), within the historical-theoretical framework of psychoanalysis, might offer a more complex model for reception itself.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Classical Reception Seminar Series series.

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