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Carl Jung: Odysseus was presented by fate with a nekyia


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Jung had used this motif in a metaphorical sense in 1912 in Transformations and Symbols of the Libido: “like Odysseus, I have sought to allow this shade [Miss Frank Miller] to drink only as much so as to make it speak so it can give away some of the secrets of the underworld” (CW B, §57n).

Around 1910, Jung went on a sailing trip with his friends Albert Oeri and Andreas Vischer, during which Oeri read aloud the chapters from the Odyssey dealing with Circe and the nekyia.

Jung noted that shortly after this, he “like Odysseus, was presented by fate with a nekyia, the descent into the dark Hades” (Jung/Jaffe, Erinnerungen, Triiume, Gedanken, p. 104).

The passage which follows depicting the prophet’s revival of the child paraphrases Elisha’s revival of the son of the Shunammite widow in 2 Kings 4:32-36. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 304.

A figure like the prophet, which is clear and complete in itself, arouses less curiosity than the unexpected form of blind Salome, which is why one may expect that the formative process will first address the problem of Eros.

Hence an image of Eve appears first, together with images of the tree and the serpent.

This apparently refers to temptation, as already encapsulated in the figure of Salome. Temptation brings about a further movement toward the side of Eros.

This in turn forebodes many adventurous possibilities, for which the wandering of Odysseus is the fitting image.

This image stimulates and invites adventurousness; it is as if a door opened to a new opportunity to free the gaze from the dark confinement and depths in which it was held fast.

Hence the vision opens onto a sunny garden, whose red blooming trees represent a development of erotic feeling, and whose wells mean a steady source.

The cool water of the well, which does not inebriate, indicates the Logos. (Therefore Salome also speaks later of the deep “wells” of the prophet’)

This suggests that the development of Eros also means a source of knowledge. And with this Elijah begins to speak. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 366.