Abstract

The Aeschylean Trilogy, the Oresteia, contains precious psychoanalytic knowledge
about the origins of revenge. The Oresteia is not only a great myth that has garnered myriad
interpretations, but it also illuminates some of the most critical psychoanalytic themes that
Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan engaged with throughout their teaching: the murder of
the father, the neurotic’s debt, the impulses, myth, jouissance, desire, and das Ding.
This article argues that “revenge,” a signifier that appears at the center of the
Aeschylean Trilogy, represents an act, an impulse, and perhaps a desire. Examining the
concept of revenge from a Freudian and Lacanian point of view, this essay inquires whether
revenge is an act that is based on castration (i.e., that is in the direction of desire and
subjectivity) or an act that is dipped in ravaging, repetitive, destructive jouissance, and
raises the question of whether the latter contradicts the former. Lacan developed the term
desire in the first years of his teaching in Seminar VI, where he explores the meaning of
desire via his reading of the play Hamlet. Jouissance is a term that was present throughout
Lacan’s teaching but received a new sense in his later teaching, particularly in Seminar XX:
Encore.
I follow Lacan and Freud’s constructions of Totem and Taboo (Freud), Oedipus Rex
(Sophocles), and Hamlet (Shakespeare) in my reading of the myth of the Oresteia,
uncovering the logic of the relationship between desire and jouissance. Based on the
Oresteia, I explore the convergence of desire and jouissance in an interpretation of Lacan’s
later teaching. I analyze how the myth of the Oresteia and the act of matricide uncover the
psychic picture of revenge and draw conclusions that aim to serve as a compass in the
psychoanalytic clinic.

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