The Freud Museum


Analysis of a Passion 3

"My longing to travel was no doubt also the expression of a wish to escape from that pressure, like the force which drives so many adolescent children to run away from home. I had long seen clearly that a great part of the pleasure of travel lies in the fulfilment of these early wishes - that it is rooted, that is, in dissatisfaction with home and family. When first one catches sight of the sea, crosses the ocean and experiences as realities cities and lands which for so long had been distant, unattainable things of desire - one feels oneself like a hero who has performed deeds of improbable greatness. I might that day on the Acropolis have said to my brother: 'Do you still remember how, when we were young, we used day after day to walk along the same street on our way to school, and how every Sunday we used to go to the Prater or on some excursion we knew so well? And now, here we are in Athens, and standing on the Acropolis! We really have gone a long way!"
A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis, 1936.

This essay was written by Freud to honour his friend, Romain Rolland, on the occasion of his 70th birthday. Freud was 80 at the time. It recounts a journey to Athens which Freud made with his brother Alexander (also ten years younger than Freud) some 35 years earlier. In the essay Freud tells how the opportunity unexpectedly presented itself for the brothers to travel to Athens, but instead of feeling pleasure they were both plunged into a gloomy mood, and made their travel arrangements with little enthusiasm. When they finally arrived on the Acropolis Freud had a strange experience - what he called a 'de-realization'. The thought came into his head "So it really does exist! I can't believe it!".

Freud analyses both his depression at the prospect of going to Athens, and his feeling when he got there, in terms of guilt about 'going further than one's father'. He does not mention it in this essay but, in terms of his theory of the Oedipus complex, that ultimately means the phantasy of (re)possessing the mother. This is the prize for the hero who performs 'deeds of improbable greatness' - to return once more to the place from whence he came. In this case the mother is represented perhaps by Athens (named after the goddess Athene), or Greece itself as 'the cradle of civilization', or by the limitless sea ('la mer') which silently beckoned on the horizon.

Discussion topics: Running away from home. The idea of a journey as a return to where you first started. Experiences which we may have had which were similar to Freud's.

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