Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

Dodds, in his very interesting work; The Greeks and the Irrational, has traced the way in which the Greeks gradually developed a sense of guilt. In Homeric times, the Greek culture was a shame culture, in which fear of losing the good opinion of others was the chief sanction. Gradually this sanction became internalised, and men came to fear the rebukes of their own conscience. In Homeric times, all the -forces which we should regard as unconscious were projected outside the self and described as gods or daimons; it was part of this process that gods appeared to reproach one for evil actions, intended or committed. The effect of this charge in specifically sexual matters is beautifully demonstrated- by the myth of Oedipus and his incestuous relationship with his mother. In the version of Sophocles, Oedipus is not only overcome with horror and guilt, but is also blinded, a common symbol of castration. This is the version of which Freud was thinking when he pointed out how the myth reflects the emotions which arise in any son’s relation with his mother. But in the earlier Homeric version, Oedipus suffers no penalty or remorse; he becomes king and reigns in honour for many years. Evidently some change had taken place in the mind of the Greeks between the time when the stories which Homer collected were first composed, say 1200 B.C. and the time of Sophocles, say 500 B.C.

Romantic writers have claimed that the Greeks were wholly free of guilt. This is hardly true. We first find a word for consciousness of guilt being used in the Classical age: ‘Ancient Greek‘ and in the same period we find a growing preoccupation with the idea of pollution: ‘Ancient Greek‘. (68) In Homer, it was possible to become polluted by one’s own action, but it was not possible to become polluted accidentally or by infection from another. In the Classical age this fear of infection became common. In psychoanalytical practice the fear of contamination is such a well-known sign of repressed guilt that one is safe in inferring something of the sort here. And there is much evidence: the Greeks, like the Jews, held that evil deeds created their ‘Ancient Greek‘ — a punishment which would be visited on the children if not on the father. And there was a growing fear of the jealousy of the gods, who, it was thought, would resent too much success — an obvious projection of personal fears and resentments.

The solution to which the Greeks turned was catharsis: ritual purification. And the mystery religions offered powerful rituals of this sort, in which the candidate died, his sins dying with him, and was reborn in purity.

In the same way, the early Greeks had conceived the after-life as a dim underworld existence, and had shown little interest in it. The worship of Dionysos held out no promise of personal immortality, and there was certainly no promise that man would join the gods: between the two worlds, human and divine, a great gulf was fixed. But suddenly we find a series of movements loosely known as Orphism, which asserted not merely that one could temporarily become a god through intoxication, but that one could become permanently divine through spiritual ecstasy. (117) The Orphic declared: “A god am I!” It was a religion of non-violence, asserting that all men were brothers; and it asserted that the source of evil was man’s carnal appetites. He must therefore avoid flesh and beans, and avoid bloody sacrifices. Since the first Indian books appeared in Greece about 500 B.C., following the extension of Cyrus’ empire to the Indus in 510, we may suspect the influence of the Vedas. (196)