MEDEA: Myth and Unconscious Fantasy, by Esa Roos

‘The Dark Continent’: Myths of Femininity


According to Freud (1933) the theory of the instincts is so to say our mythology. Instincts are mythical entities, magnificent in their indefiniteness. In our work we cannot for a moment disregard them, yet we are never sure that we are seeing them clearly. They can conceal something serious and powerful. Freud understood how significant the fantasy world is to us.

Unconscious fantasies can be embedded in the old-age myths and fairy-tales or shaped in art and literature. Their messages are timeless and they help us  understand the workings of the human mind. Some myths resemble nightmares. Often the unconscious becomes nearest to our consciousness in the middle of tragic events.

Myths contain a whole compact worlds in themselves. They are attempts to understand reality. The myths of Kore and Oedipus tell us about the great secret wishes of the girls and boys in relation to their parents. The myths of Echo and Narcissus tell us what it means to live without any kind of mutuality. The secret of love is mutuality. Without mirroring love tends to die off.

Jason_and_Medea_-_John_William_Waterhouse (1)

‘Jason and Medea’ by John William Waterhouse (1907)

This book, taking Euripides’ Medea as its starting point, studies womanhood, its fortunes and misfortunes, creativity and destructiveness. Medea was a refugee in her country. Having fallen in love with Jason, she fuses with him and helps him in many radical ways, for instance, by helping to kill her brother, who persecutes the fleeing couple. When Jason rejected his wife Medea, she killed their two children as a revenge. Medea has been known as a heroine and a murderer. Euripides describes Medea as a barbarian in whom hatred is stronger than reason: “And I know what evil I am about to do, but my fury against Jason is stronger than my counsels of softness, and it is fury that leads to the greatest evils for mankind”. Love cannot tame her hatred. She continues: “But in my case, this thing which has struck me so unexpectedly, has broken my heart. I am lost. I have forfeited all joy in living, my friends, and I want to die”. Medea broke the bonds of motherhood, which normally are strong and inviolable.

Women´s attack on their own creativity is studied, and the `Medea fantasy´ is introduced as an unconscious determinant of psychogenic sterility, fantasy that may form an unrecognized and dissociated part of the self-representation leading women to believe that their lovers like Jason would deceive and abandon them and this would cause them to react violently towards their children. For them it is imperative to forgo any creative femininity.

Also examined in this book is a particular type of female masochism having a strong influence on the life of a couple, thus destroying the possibility of genuine mutuality between the spouses. The masochistic element is manifested in that the woman abandons her own world and possibilities of creativity to immerse herself in the partner’s world.


Maria Callas in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film of ‘Medea’ (1969)

This book compares different interpretations of the ancient Medea story and focuses on the comparisons between the original drama of Euripides and the modern versions of Medea by Lars von Trier and Pasolini.

The book also deals with the negative and positive aspects of motherhood, pregnancy, abortion, maternal ambivalence, loving and hating the baby, shame, ideals and idealisation of motherhood. Medea calls into question the role of the mother as the giver of life and carer of her infants.

Freud once wrote that “everything in the sphere of the first attachment to the mother seemed to me so difficult to grasp in analysis – so grey with age and shadowy and almost impossible to revivify – that it was as if it had succumbed to an especially inexorable repression. But perhaps I gained this impression because the women who were in analysis with me were able to cling to the very attachment to the father in which they had taken refuge from the early phase that was in question. It does indeed appear that women analysts … have been able to perceive these facts more easily and clearly because they were helped in dealing with those under their treatment by the transference to a suitable mother-substitute”. It does not mean that the boys and men do not know anything of their mother´s motherhood. Even fathers can in occasion be mother-figures.

The topics also include sister fantasy, the problems between mother and daughter, war children’s traumatic losses of having two mothers, and the female destructiveness as reflected in the famous fairy-tales (Cinderella, Little Snow-White, Sleeping Beauty and Mother Holle). Edith Södergran’s life and poems are taken as the illustration of the sister fantasy.  The sister fantasy may serve a bridge to separateness, and as a fetish to deny separateness as well as the feeling of insufficiency and not being lovable. In the close friendships of girls and women, the sister fantasy is present in a sublimated form. There is also a discussion on the relationship of Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham. The book studies the fate of a war child who had two mothers – the real (Finnish) one and the new (Swedish) one, and how she handled the conflict between them. It discusses her traumatic reactions, feelings of emptiness, rage, shame, helplessness and ego identity.


‘Medea’ by Frederick Sandys (1868)

Can anyone say what makes love happy or unhappy? Socrates says that he heard the truth of love from a woman (Diotima). What we love is valuable to us. Love as a source of joy and delight is, in the first instance, a value in itself.  Love and hatred are not only female passions, they concern us all as human beings. There is a widely-held opinion that Sigmund Freud had little to say about love and that he equaled love with sexuality. This is a mistake.

Psychoanalysis is nowadays particularly interested in motherhood. The social devaluation of women and mothering is unfortunately still quite common. This book continues on the increasing interest in the significance and dimensions of womanhood. Also discussed is what factors may lead to disappointment and failure of love and what factors lead to the hoped-for results, that is, to a happy union of individuals as well as a cohesive society.

These carefully written articles by seven experienced European psychoanalysts study the so called ´dark continent`, hidden or unknown areas of womanhood, often felt to be difficult to approach, understand, or conceptualize.

36954List of the authors: Marianne Leuzinger-Bohleber, Laura Tognoli Pasquali, Pirjo Roos, Elina Reenkola, Anneli Larmo, Barbara Mattson and Esa Roos.

Esa Roos was born in Helsinki in 1942, where he graduated in psychology in 1971. After training in psychoanalysis (1971-1975) he became Assistant in the Department of Psychology in the University of Helsinki, whilst also working in forensic psychology in both a mental hospital and state prison. He has trained candidates from Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Russia, and lectures in Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Spain, France and the USA. He is currently a consultant and supervisor at various institutions in Finland.


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