A Compulsion for Antiquity

9780801443022: Hardback
Release Date: 17th February 2005

9780801473333: Paperback
Release Date: 18th September 2006

2 line drawings, 2 halftones

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 322

Series Cornell Studies in the History of Psychiatry

Cornell University Press

A Compulsion for Antiquity

Freud and the Ancient World

"If psychoanalysis is the return of repressed antiquity, distorted to be sure by modern desire, yet still bearing the telltale traces of the ancient archive, then would not our growing distance from the archive of antiquity also imply that we are in...

Hardback / £60.00
Paperback / £26.99

"If psychoanalysis is the return of repressed antiquity, distorted to be sure by modern desire, yet still bearing the telltale traces of the ancient archive, then would not our growing distance from the archive of antiquity also imply that we are in the process of losing our grip on psychoanalysis itself, as Freud conceived it?"—from Chapter 1

As he developed his striking new science of the mind, Sigmund Freud had frequent recourse to ancient culture and the historical disciplines that draw on it. A Compulsion for Antiquity fully explores how Freud appropriated figures and themes from classical mythology and how the theory and practice of psychoanalysis paralleled contemporary developments in historiography, archaeology, philology, and the history of religions. Drawing extensively from Freud's private correspondence and other notes and documents, Richard H. Armstrong touches on Freud's indebtedness to Sophocles and the Oedipus complex, his interest in Moses and the Jewish religion, and his travels to Athens and Rome.

Armstrong shows how Freud turned to the ancient world to deal with the challenges posed by his own scientific ambitions and how these lessons influenced the way he handled psychic "evidence" and formulated the universal application of what were initially isolated clinical truths. Freud's narrative reconstructions of the past also related to his sense of Jewishness, linking the historical trajectory of psychoanalysis with contemporary central European Jewish culture. Ranging across the breadth of Freud's work, A Compulsion for Antiquity offers fresh insights into the roots of psychoanalysis and fin de siècle European culture, and makes an important contribution to the burgeoning discipline of mnemohistory.

Richard H. Armstrong is Associate Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Houston.

"In this intriguing book, Richard H. Armstrong excavates Freud's vast and diverse ancient 'archive,' showing in wonderful detail the ways in which psychoanalysis was built on archaeological, mythological, and historical analogies and evidence. Armstrong has done a wonderful job of documenting Freud's imaginative reconfiguring of the neoclassical tradition, and showing how his sources of resistance to it—his Jewish identity and his debts to French and English anthropology and natural science—were also incorporated into his conception of the psyche. Finally, Armstrong poses a very timely question: if, as seems likely, twenty-first-century culture is no longer so deeply entangled with the ancient world as was Freud's fin de siècle, is psychoanalysis, too, obsolete?"

Suzanne Marchand, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge

"This book, to use Richard H. Armstrong's own words, 'hovers around Freud's couch' to record the fascinating dialogue between the ancient world and the architect of psychoanalysis. Armstrong's interests are not to use psychoanalysis to interpret classical thought, but rather to show how classical thought shaped psychoanalysis. I know of no more riveting or detailed account of the complex role classical antiquity played in Freud's life and works."

John Peradotto, University at Buffalo, State University of New York

"For his boldness of argument, astonishing breadth and depth of learning, gift for apt quotation, and stylistic verve and panache, Richard H. Armstrong should be awarded the yellow jersey of Freud studies. His tour de force provides the first comprehensive account of how antiquity is implicated in psychoanalytic theory and argument, and how Freud's 'compulsion for antiquity' in turn provides a paradigm for the entire reception of classical culture in the age of High Modernism."

Peter L. Rudnytsky, University of Florida

"A Compulsion for Antiquity is a lively and enlivening, deeply scholarly, work on the dynamic relationship among Freud, the development of psychoanalysis, and the role of the resurrected and re-created nineteenth-century images of classical, biblical, and Middle Eastern antiquity. It stands out among the already fine literature on Freud's intellectual and spiritual matrix."

Bennett Simon, MD, Training and Supervising Analyst, Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute; Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and author of Mind and Madness in Ancient Greece

"Intellectual historians will be grateful for this path-breaking humanistic exploration of a subject that has been unduly neglected until now."

American Journal of Psychiatry

"This is an important contribution to Freud/psychoanalysis studies and the history of 19th and 20th c. German(-Jewish) Bildungsbürgertum. In many ways it is a superb example of a cross-disciplinary study, for it drives home that while we social scientists may well have gained much from specialization, those scholars able to breach modern disciplinary boundaries can reveal a great deal about our collective historical archive as well as our continuing interest in (the history of) psychoanalysis."

David D. Lee
Journal for the History of the Behavioral Sciences

"This wonderfully reasoned, scholarly book eloquently addresses the many meanings to Freud of the ancient statuettes that he collected and cherished. Armstrong sees these statues as symbols of themes that fascinated Freud—for example, Greek and Egyptian culture as a way of understanding the underpinnings of world civilization. The author makes a case for Freud's narrative reconstructions of the past of individuals as related to his own Jewishness, a thorny point for some scholars, Peter Gay among them. Armstrong backs up ideas with close readings of Freud's voluminous correspondence, his formal writings, and the writing of his patients, H.D. among them; all comment on the statuary and Freud's use of them in analytic conversation. Contemplating Freud's education and his worldview in fresh ways, this book puts Freud in historical context. His notions about mythological figures such as Oedipus and his interpretations of Moses, or Leonardo, shed new light on his creation of psychoanalysis. A book for all who are interested in psychoanalysis. Summing Up: Essential."


"Altogether, a serious, profoundly scholarly, and provocative addition to the growing volume of interdisciplinary literature on psychoanalysis and its evolution."

The Institute for the History of Psychiatry Annual

"It is surely no sign of neurosis to find the questions discussed in this book as compelling as they are timely. In an entirely non-clinical sense, everyone engaged in cultural history, cultural studies, and the history of ideas will be anxious to read it."

Paul Bishop
Times Literary Supplement

"A most subtle, ingenious and sophisticated intervention into debates concerning Freud's legacy."

Vanda Zajko
Journal of Hellenic Studies