AGAVE, SALOME AND THE ENCHANTED HEADS

Mind and Body Dialectics in Euripides' and Oscar Wilde's Work

Salome by Jindrich PevnyPsychopathology has inspired dramatists across the world through-out the ages. This paper will explore the affinity between two classic characters of world drama, namely, Agave from Euripides' tragedy The Bacchae and Salome from the Oscar Wilde play of the same name. The climax of both plays is the scene in which the heroine, in a state of frenzy, addresses the severed head of the male protagonist in a dramatic monologue. Is there a unifying motive behind the apparent insanity and murderous dancing that brings about the beheading of Pentheus and Jokanaan in The Bacchae and Salome, respectively? I will attempt to show that both playwrights shared some common ground in the way they perceived the mind-body interaction as well as the psychopathology arising from a disequilibrium between the two. 

It is the symbolic dance between the body and the intellect that absorbed my attention in both plays. Both women characters constitute a poetic allegory of the explosion of bodily desire against a harassing and oppressive intellect and their dance becomes the symbol of this "revolt." The dance serves as the turning point in which the rights of the body, either suppressed, silenced, or never fulfilled, retaliate—leaving no space for the intellect or head. Decapitation becomes, symbolically, the price for the concealment of bodily desire and need, suggesting the end of the psychosomatic equilibrium and the approaching explosion of madness. From this perspective, death serves as the irrevocable answer to a wandering demand for union and contact that never found its fulfillment in a recipient's embrace. 

It is not simply the collapse of norms mid logic that we are witnessing when watching or reading these plays. It is not only a description of two clinical cases dressed up in the garments of …

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Psychoanalytic Review, 96(4), August 2009