There is no denying that Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) is one of the most important and influential psychiatrists of the world. Although he was a physician, Freud dealt mostly with psychology and created the branch of “psychoanalysis”. In his long psychoanalysis researches, Freud discovered that many of the psychological problems of his patients were related to their childhood memories and especially to their psychosexual situation and memories. Freud’s theories, which were completely against norms, taboos of the society created anger and negative reactions against him during his lifetime. However, his ideas were also embraced with enthusiasm by many psychologists. His ideas on the nature of human influenced not only psychology but also some other branches like philosophy and political science. In this assignment, I am going to analyze Homer’s “The Iliad”, famous Sumerian myth “The Gilgamesh” and the movie “Troy” in the light of Sigmund Freud’s conception of Eros in his book “Civilization and Its Discontents”. I am going to first give information about the book and make a summary of Freud’s important ideas that are related to our discussion. Secondly, in the light of these ideas I am going to analyze these works. Thirdly and lastly, I am going to compare and contrast these masterpieces and discuss their characteristics comparatively.
Civilization and Its Discontents is one of the most popular books of Freud which war written and published in 1929, ten years before Freud’s death. It is the one of the last books of Freud and has a very pessimistic viewpoint. Freud wrote this after the death of his daughter in poor health conditions at the age of 73. These negative aspects might have effected Freud’s psychological situation while writing this book. This book is also very important to understand and evaluate Freud’s political views since he talks about the human nature and puts forward his negative views on communism in many parts of the book. In the introductory paragraphs, Freud investigates the meaning of “oceanic” feeling in relation with the religion discussion. As we know, according to Freud, there are basically three dimensions that determine people’s behaviors and attitudes: ego, id and superego. Id is the animal and strongest part of human beings which is full of desires (mostly sexual), appetites and away from reason. Ego is the center of the self which tries to balance id in Freud’s view. Superego on the other hand, is the place of ethics and societal norms in people’s minds. Superego similar to ego tries to suppress uncontrolled and wild desires of id and orientates individuals to act flawlessly. In Freudian thought, superego is created with civilization and tries to limit people’s unlimited sexual desires. Eros on the other hand plays a very important role in Freud’s theory. Eros is the love God in Greek mythology and also the symbol of men’s unlimited desire for sexual lust, their sexual power or libido.
One of Freud’s main concerns in this book is that the civilization is responsible for our misery and desperate search for happiness. According to Freud, human happiness is in fact pleasure oriented. However, the civilization and the norms of social life do not allow men to satisfy their sexual needs. Freud explains the formation of families as men’s aim to guarantee their sexual (genital) satisfaction with their partner. In order to be able to satisfy this strongest need regularly, Freud thinks men engaged in forming families. In Freud’s view, women also supported this process since they were trying to save and raise their young and unprotected children (Freud, pg 53-54). So, in Freudian though families were formed with these two motives; men’s need to keep their sexual objects (women) near them and women’s consent to this situation in order to raise their children safely. However, Freud argues in this process the family was still in the absolute control of the “chief” father and civilization had to weaken the ties between family members. Civilization had to create some limitations of men’s Eros since it aimed people to live in large communities. So, taboos, laws and customs were created to force men to live socially in the community and gets away from the family. Incest was banned to make men to go out from their houses. In order to suppress men’s greatest source of pleasure, men had to work long hours in the factory or in the field. This led to men’s careful balance in spending his energy and facilitated the practice of monogamy. Since men had to work all day, their libido power was not as much as before and they were satisfied with the genital satisfaction from a single woman. The civilization also forced men to engage in a different kind of relationship in the work, which is friendship. Since women were dealing with the household and men were working in the fields, in the factories they formed relations called as friendship.
According to Sigmund Freud, psychoanalytical works show that neurotic people are those who cannot stand to the sufferings of the civilization which tries to change the human nature (Freud, pg 64). In his theory, human is nature is controlled primarily by the “id” part and men had enormous desires for violence and especially for sexuality. Neurotic people generally try to find other ways to suppress their dissatisfaction but these strange discoveries like sadism, masochism are not enough to return to their real characteristics like the primordial men. So, in his theory “neurosis was regarded as the outcome of struggle between the interest of self-preservation (ego) and the demands of the libido, a struggle in which the ego had been victorious but at the price of severe sufferings and renunciations” (Freud, pg 76). Freud asserts that the civilization in order to suppress human nature also led to the emergence of religions and traditional rules, values like “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Freud, pg 65). Freud rejects this view and says that the human pleasure and motive in “love” relations is personal benefit which is dominated by the need for genital satisfaction. Freud completely believes in the “homo homini lupus (man is a wolf to man)” and thinks that the civilization is nothing but an effort to change man’s true nature to live in big communities. Men are selfish creatures but in social life due to norms, regulations and internalization institutions (i.e. schools, courts) men learn what is wrong, what is right and suppress their Eros. Freud also claims that communists are wrong to believe that if the private property is abolished, all problems would be handled and the true nature of man is good. Freud rejects this view of communists. So, in short he does not believe in communism and says that the abolishment of private property would not end struggles, fights and violence in the world. Freud thinks that human nature is very dark, selfish and that is why it is difficult for men to be happy in the modern society. Moreover, Freud further thinks that the Eros contains also some instincts of death. In his idea, the hidden instinct of death caused by Eros shows itself in the external world with aggressiveness and destructiveness, two motives related to death again (Freud, pg 78). Freud believes sadism and masochism also caused by this inherent but hidden aspect of Eros. So, Eros contains both live and death motives and orientates people towards civilization.
Now, I am going to analyze these works in the light of Freud’s ideas. In the epic of Gilgamesh, we see Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, as a super creature of two-thirds God and one-third human. Gilgamesh is a hero and a strong king in the eyes of his people but he does not hesitate to oppress his people. Gilgamesh as a living above humans can do whatever he wants and he acts according to his true nature. So, he does cruel things to other people, forces women to sleep with him, fights with weak men in accordance with his nature. “Gilgamesh does not leave a girl to her mother, the daughter of the warrior, the bride of the young man…” (The Epic of Gilgamesh, pg 5). From a Freudian perspective, Gilgamesh’ libido is uncontrolled because of his superior situation and that is why he shows the qualities of a real man: he always makes love and he always fights. However, after the creation of Enkidu, Gilgamesh understands that there is someone who could defeat him. Enkidu is not civilized and rational unlike Gilgamesh although they both have strong ids to be satisfied. Enkidu can be easily deceived like he was deceived in the forest by Shamhat, the prostitute. Because of each other’s presence they began acting in conformity with the rules of the society because they know that they are not invincible anymore. There is also a kind of homoerotic relationship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh which can be explained as a sexual attraction between two people who cannot be realized due to the norms of the society. While telling his dream, Gilgamesh says “I loved it and embraced it as a wife. I laid it down at your feet, and you made it compete with me” (The Epic of Gilgamesh, pg 11). Due to their not totally controlled wild nature, they begin to fight first but they later make peace. We see that after this peace, they both get normalized and do not act cruelly to the people of Uruk. After unifying their power, instead of terrorizing people, Gilgamesh begins thinking about making good to people. However, their aggressiveness caused by the human nature, leads to the search of glory and violence. This can be interpreted as a neurotic crisis from a Freudian perspective because although everything was good for them, they decided to make a journey to kill Humbaba. After killing Humbaba violently Enkidu dies and Gilgamesh seems depressed. However, later another neurotic crisis takes place and Gilgamesh begins to seek the formula for being immortal. We clearly see that although he was a very well-educated and civilized man, Gilgamesh could not control his instincts since he is the supreme ruler of the city and makes crazy things which are full of sexuality, violence and aggression.
In the Iliad and the film Troy we see Achilles as the protagonist that should be analyzed from a Freudian perspective. Achilles is a very strong, brave and manly character who can never be defeated. In fact, Achilles has some supernatural, godlike, features and he is almost invincible except from his weakness from heels which would later cause his death. In the Iliad, there are some quotations showing Achilles’ bravery such as “Achilles, swift of foot…”, “…peer of the plume-waving war God…” (Homer, book 22, pg 145). Achilles has also a very strong personality and he can oppose even to king Agamemnon. “What a worthless, burn-out coward I would be called if I would submit to you and all your orders” (Homer, book 1, paragraph 23). This sentence shows Achilles’ brusque attitude towards King Agamemnon. We can claim that he does not have any respect to any authority. Achilles fights only for himself not for his city of the king or for his people but only for himself in order to achieve glory and satisfy his desires. In the film also, we see Achilles as a very undisciplined and selfish man who does something only for himself. In the film also he was warned by his mother that this Trojan War might cause his death, Achilles accepts the risk since it would bring him enormous reputation. We can analyze this search for glory again with Freud’s neurosis conception since Achilles is not happy of his life although he has everything. Achilles has a tendency to influence people around him due to his honorable situation. Homer states in the Iliad “Patroclus did as his dear comrade had bidden him” (Homer, book 1, paragraph 31, line 1). Also, in the same work there is the quotation of Agamemnon, “That man is worth an entire army, the fighter Zeus holds dear with all his heart” (Homer, book 11, pg 141-142). Moreover, violence and the risk of death can be explained as the lack of real human qualities in the civilized life and the immense power of Eros. Achilles’ attitude towards women is also a sign of his uncontrollable instincts. To sum up, we can say that Achilles both in the film and in the Iliad, is the most dominant character although there are many others. This is not surprising because having enormous physical power and being nearly immortal, Achilles can act according to his true nature and lives in the way he wants. Even another character of complete freedom, Agamemnon, who could do whatever he wants (for instance starts a big war because of his stubbornness), fears from him.
If we make a comparison between Achilles and Gilgamesh, we see that both characters are very strong both physically and considering their character. Because of being very strong and nearly invincible, they can act according to their true nature and societal norms, rules, laws do not affect them too much. From a Freudian perspective, we know that human nature is very dark and selfish and humans are oppressed in the civilized life for not acting according to their true nature which can be summarized as “homo homini lupus”. Since these two extraordinary gentlemen have super powers, they have the luxury not to obey to the rules and eat, drink, fight, live like a primordial man, free from all bonds, laws of civilized life. We see that after the creation of Enkidu Gilgamesh sees that there is someone other who could defeat him and he becomes normal, he stops doing cruel things to his people. Achilles also due to Agamemnon does not do whatever he wants all the time but even Agamemnon affraids from him since he is nearly immortal. Both characters have enormous physical and sexual power and they cannot be satisfied with monogamy. They have relations with many women. In addition, they are both exposed to neurotic crises due to their violent nature. Freud explains neurotic crisis as “the struggle between the interest of self-preservation (ego) and the demands of the libido (id)”. Gilgamesh’s desire to kill Humbaba, his search for glory and immortality and Achilles’ insistence in participating into the war although there is a huge risk of death, are good examples for these character’s crises. Somehow, we can say that they both seek immortality and they love violence and the risk of death. Although their acts are not rational and civilized, these two strong men cannot control themselves because they cannot freely perform the necessities of their characters. Their search for immortality and glory, their desire to engage in war are examples of distorted libido power. Other people although have similar characteristics according to Freud, could not act like them since they have not got super powers. These two crazy men’s search for wars is the proof of their sadism and masochism. Since they cannot act as true men, these two men show neurotic symptoms. Gilgamesh cuts off Humbaba’s head violently and similarly Achilles kills Hector without any doubt. The difference between them is that Gilgamesh has a really good and close friend Enkidu and there is a kind of lovely relationship between them which was not explicit in the myth.
Finally, we can say that both Achilles and Gilgamesh are characters that can be easily analyzed from a Freudian perspective since they show enormous signs of sexuality and aggression in their lives. Their unusual deeds can be explained by the Freudian concept of neurosis and Eros. If we think within the same way of Freud, we can say that in order to save civilization from destructive people like these two men, we should get rid of giving too much power to a single person because a man with huge power will start to act according to his true nature and do terrible things.
- “The Epic of Gilgamesh”, 1989, California: Stanford University Press
- Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com
- Iliad by Homer, translated by Samuel Butler, “The Internet Classic Archive”, http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/iliad.html
- Homer, 1984, “The Iliad”, Oxford: Oxford Press
- Freud, Sigmund, 1961, “Civilization and Its Discontents”, London: W.W. Norton Company
- Freud, Sigmund, 1996, “Uygarlığın Huzursuzluğu”, İstanbul: Metis Yayınları
 “One may suppose that the founding of families was connected with the fact that a moment came when the need for genital satisfaction no longer made its appearance like a guest who drops in suddenly, and, after his departure, is heard of no more for a long time, but instead took up its quarters as a permanent lodger” (Freud, pg 53):
 “Taboos, laws and customs impose further restrictions, which affect both men and women” (Freud, pg 59).
 “We said there that man’s discovery that sexual (genital) love afforded him the strongest experiences of satisfaction, and in fact provided him with the prototype of all happiness …” (Freud, pg 56).
 “Since a man does not have unlimited quantities of physical energy at his disposal, he has to accomplish his tasks by making an expedient distribution of his libido” (Freud, pg 59).
 “The element of truth behind all this, which people are sp ready to disavow, is that men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness” (Freud, pg 68).
 “In abolishing private property we deprive the human love of aggression of one of its instruments, certainly a strong one, though certainly not the strongest; but we have in no way altered the differences in power and influence which are misused by aggressiveness, nor have we altered anything in its nature” (Freud, pg 71).
 “If civilization imposes such great sacrifices not only on man’s sexuality but on his agressivity, we can understand better why it is hard for him to be happy in that civilization” (Freud, pg 73).