The Laius Complex

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20130313

Before the performance of 'Oedipus Rex', the 'opera-oratorio after Sophocles' by Stravinsky, Paul Allen sets a millennia old injustice to rights in a provocative illustrated essay, 'The Laius Complex'.

Who, he asks, was really the guilty party in Thebes in 1000 (or thereabouts) BC? The finger has always been pointed at Oedipus, and it's true, he did kill his father and sleep with his mother. Sigmund Freud took the story and made all men feel guilty. Allen lays the blame elsewhere: who started the fight at the place where three roads meet? Laius, the father, and it's Laius, who should have a syndrome named after him.

There are many more instances of fathers killing their sons than sons killing their father in the great myths. Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac. In 'The Orphan of Zhao', the great Chinese epic dating back to roughly the same period as Sophocles (now being staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company), a doctor sacrifices his own son to save another baby. More recently, Rudyard Kipling drove his son Jack to enlist and fight in the First World War when he really wasn't fit.

This is emblematic of all young men sent off to war or other kinds of conflict by old men. Freud himself fell into this pattern... just why did he disinherit his son Martin when it came to the succession of fashionable psychoanalysis? Freud installed Jung as his psychoanalytic heir and even talked of formally adopting him; his son Martin never recovered, remaining erratic for the rest of his life.

Illustrated by Sophocles, James Fenton's version of 'Zhao', some Kipling, the Old Testament and Freud's biograhy biography, Paul Allen enquiries seriously, but lightly of touch, into the nature of the father and son relationship in 'The Laius Complex'.

Producer: Julian May