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Art and Images in Psychiatry |

Oedipus at Colonus

James C. Harris, MD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;67(5):438-439. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.50.
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Sophocles' tragic story of Oedipus, King of Thebes, was deemed by Aristotle to be the perfect tragedy. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) emphasized it in his book The Birth of Tragedy. Sophocles' plays were rediscovered in the 16th century and revived again in the 19th. When Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), who first read Oedipus the King in Greek at age 17 years, later attended performances of the play, he was intrigued by the modern audience's intense response to the prophecy that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother. It was a psychological dynamic he found within himself in his self-analysis after his father's death and recognized in his patients.

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Fulchran-Jean Harriet (1778-1805), French. Oedipus at Colonus, 1798. Oil on canvas, 157 × 134 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art. Mr and Mrs William H. Marlatt Fund, 2002.3.

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Figure 1

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), French. Oedipus Explaining the Enigma of the Sphinx., 1808. Oil on canvas, 1.89 × 1.44 m. R.F. 218. Countess Duchâtel bequest, 1878. Louvre, Paris, France/The Bridgeman Art Library.

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Figure 2

Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), Swiss. Oedipus Cursing His Son, Polynices. 1786. Oil on canvas, 149.8 × 165.4 cm (59 × 65⅛ in). Framed: 177.2 × 191.8 × 12.3 cm (69¾ × 75½ × 413/16 in). Paul Mellon Collection, 1983.1.41. National Gallery of Art. Image Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

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