Nightmare Hieroglyphs

An afternoon talk by Dr. Eleanor Dobson

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4 October, 2019, 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

£6 - £10

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Mummy Bandages, Egyptian (c) Freud Museum London

Freud famously related the interpretation of dreams to the translation of hieroglyphs.

He provided an account of one of his own ‘hieroglyphic’ dreams in which nightmarish bird-headed figures are sexually-threatening hieroglyphic characters come to life. Freud’s willingness to address the sexual nature of Egyptian iconography was notably at odds with most contemporary Egyptologists.

While scrutiny of their private papers and photographs reveals that they were actually far more willing to grapple with images of ancient Egyptian sexuality than they implied, in their publications Egyptologists skirted around sexual imagery and spoke in euphemisms. This culture of outward coyness did, however, change as a result of Freud’s influence.

Several authors who had read Freud’s work wrote tales of nightmarish, monstrous bodies connected to zoomorphic hieroglyphs. From Algernon Blackwood and H. P. Lovecraft to H.D., writers responded to Freud’s interpretation of animal-headed gods and their written counterparts as entities that posed not only a psychological but a sexual threat: in their works, an interest in hieroglyphic characters or the animal-headed gods they represented – as this talk shows – can be seen to stand for dangerous and unnatural sexual impulses latent as part of a universal stratum deep within the psyche, inherited from antiquity.

Dr Eleanor Dobson is Lecturer in Nineteenth Century Literature at the University of Birmingham. Her doctoral thesis investigated the cultural exchanges between literature and Egyptology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including an analysis of the significance of the works of Sigmund Freud in these contexts. More broadly she is interested in the supernatural and the occult in literature and history across the past two hundred years.


This talk is held in conjunction with our autumn exhibition Freud & Egypt: Between Oedipus and the Sphinx
4 August – 27 October 2019.


4 October, 2019
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
£6 - £10
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Freud Museum London
20 Maresfield Gardens
London, NW3 5SX United Kingdom
020 7435 2002

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