Is the Egyptian king, Akhenaten, the Archetype of Oedipus?
October 27-28, 1999 (revised October 14, 2001)
Dr. William Theaux, who developed Plural Analysis to replace the linear psychoanalysis Freud began, proposed that the ancient Egyptian king, Akhenaten, was also Moses as well as Oedipus. Not only did he attempt to make multi-cultural and multi-religious links to make this proposal possible, but the debate itself has to be multidisciplinary. With this multifaceted approach in mind, I bring to bear an aspect of Developmental Psychology* to question at least one aspect of Dr. Theaux's proposal: can Akhenaten be associated with Oedipus on the basis of classical psychoanalysis?
*Note: my use of the Term "Developmental Psychology" is not restricted to to that branch of Psychology, but includes all the neurological and other brain function research that has since been associated with this branch of study.
To be fair, I have voiced my doubts about the validity of the psychoanalytical approach to the past (and to the present!) elsewhere. I still do not wish to debate the issue here, but, rather, to offer an alternative which has a direct bearing on Akhenaten and his potential or alleged incest.
What if Freud misinterpreted the Greek myth of Oedipus/Electra?
In Developmental Psychology the biological imperative of a toddler (1-3 years old) is to explore the 'concrete' world of its surroundings. The child does so following a rule: feeling safe with someone familiar (usually the mother), it explores the 'strange'. Anyone can observe a 1 year old child perform this 'dance' of going from the safety of its mother into a strange room and back to the mother without being a Piaget.
Soon after exploring its immediate surroundings, a growing child will begin to explore its greater surroundings, nature itself - if allowed. The rule is the same: to go from the familiar to the strange. The end result is to gain confidence in the 'concrete' world or, if possible, in 'nature', until that concrete world becomes 'safe' and familiar. Any child who learns to fear the physical world and nature will lack the foundations, or the roots, for the next developmental stage.
Around the age of 7, the biological imperative suddenly shifts dramatically from concrete logical development of the brain and body to the development of abstract logic. The child's brain becomes a living sponge for symbols like letters and numbers and for abstract concepts like aesthetics and social values. Ideally, the child will explore this new field of abstractions from the familiarity, or the foundations of its concrete logic. But if there are no such foundations, then the intellectual development will become rootless as well as ruthless.
During this stage when the intellect develops, a child still has two further concrete realities to deal with. One is exploring the greater social realities outside the family setting. The other is exploring sexuality.
Although a child's introduction into society was symbolically performed by the parents at the child's Baptism, Christening or Circumcision (in our Western cultures), the actual introduction proceeds according to the formula of going form the familiar to the strange. It is usually the parents or close family members who will take children into new social situations.
Following its own biological formula of going from the known to the unknown, who represents the 'safe' and the 'familiar' sexual object for the child from whose comfort it can explore sexuality? Ideally, it would be nature where the observation of animal sexuality would become part of a child's familiar 'concrete' world. But in urban societies from the beginning of ancient city-states, exploration of nature has been seriously curtailed, if not outright prevented.
Most likely, then, a child will fall back upon its parents as sexual role models and come face to face with a cultural dilemma: for a male child, it is female sexuality that requires 'exploration', and for a female child it is male sexuality that requires 'exploration, but just how 'familiar' can a child become with an opposite-gender parent? It depends on moral/religious boundaries.
The point is that in an urban setting there hardly any chance for a child to develop sexually according to its own genetically programmed agenda. I am not just talking 20th or 21st century urban life, but also early Mesopotamian city states, Greek city states, European medieval city states - anywhere where the urban mode is paramount. It is the urban environment that functions as the trend setting precedent, and children's sexual development has been long hijacked by other functions such as incest, homosexuality and pedophilia. This essay is not a condemnation of the historical process, but hopefully will be an eye opener for people who, in our own time, have drifted 'naturally' into incest or homosexuality, or have been abused. Nor do I claim that urban development is the only cause of sexuality other than heterosexuality. What I am interested in, personally, is whether or not the entire issue of the Oedipus complex happens only when a child misses out on its second matrix, Nature.
When it comes to 'exploring' sexuality, a child's role models would be its parents, as well as animal mating, whether domestic or wild. Its object of experimentation will be its own peers: other children. But when the child has neither a role model nor a peer available, the child will turn back to its parents for its experimentation. In cultures where incest is either accepted or practiced, this pairing of child-parent will seem natural. Such cultures are not aware of the denial of 'nature as a matrix' to their children. In cultures where incest is a taboo, usually a majority of all cultures according to Fraser in his Golden Bough, the sexually exploring child will be rebuffed by its parents. The child, driven by its genetic programming will continue to initiate sexual exploration, and the parents will continue to rebuff these initiatives until the child's natural programming is shut down.
As soon as the child, who already knows the gender differences, begins its sexual awareness, that child faces a developmental crisis. I propose that the child will respond to sexuality the same way that an adult responds to terminal cancer: with a serial response of denial, anger, fight and acceptance.
Having been rebuffed, the child will at first deny its parents' sexuality. Next, the child will become angry with the opposite-gender parent, especially if the parents still demonstrate vital sexuality. Then the child will fight sexuality itself, claiming that it is not interested. Eventually the child will accept sexuality and begin to explore it, hopefully with the opposite gender. By the time this process returns to sexual exploration, a child may already have started its own sexual maturity: sexual exploration of a 5 year old child is entirely different than sexual exploration of a 13 year old.
It would take a Developmental Psychologist to work out the details such as age, hormone levels and such, but my own observations over the past ten years working in a small private (Waldorf) school with my own two children and working closely with other parents leads me to believe that the above described developmental crisis occurs with sexuality.
Freud lived at a time when he was competing against the observations of the Austrian Philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, who noted the biological cycles of children and devised an educational system (the Waldorf Curriculum) to support those natural cycles of development. Freud came up with a very clever psychoanalytic system, but, ignoring the work of his contemporary, he may have misinterpreted children's sexual development and wrongly likened it to the Greek Oedipus/Electra myths.
Freud also missed the evolution of Developmental Psychology which received its initial boost by such researchers as Piaget and Eriksson in the 1950s. It is a branch of Psychology which is science based, with such studies at its base as neurology and genetics, among others. In light of the Developmental model, those who persist with the Oedipus/Electra complex as per Freud may be perpetrating a fraud (no pun intended!). I believe that Psychoanalysis would be far more effective if it dealt with developmental analysis and strove to reconnect people's unrooted intellect with their emotions and imaginations.
As for Akhenaten, the developmental model proposed above could account for his incest in both directions, with his mother as well as with his daughters. His incest may have been a manifestation of his sexual explorations with the 'familiar'. I agree with Marianne Luban and Dr. William Theaux that Akhenaten most likely had no boundaries.
I welcome your comments, although I would not be able to defend this proposal properly without further intense study.
Go on and read Essay 5, The Role of Death in History!