The Laius complex revolves around the paternal wish for filicide, particularly for the extinction of the male heir, in an attempt to ensure one will have no successors.
Indo-European mythology contains a number of stories of foundlings, like Cyrus the Great or Romulus and Remus, outcast after a prophesy that they will replace the dynasty into which they are born. In Greek mythology, Cronus (Roman Saturn) had devoured his young because of his fear that one would supersede him. Laius in the story of Oedipus similarly casts the latter out to die as an infant because of (in the words of Sophocles) "some wicked spell … . Saying the child would kill its father".
From myth to complex
Whereas Freud had laid stress on Oedipus’s filial violence against his father, George Devereux in 1953 introduced the term 'Laius complex' to cover the corresponding feelings on the part of the father – what he called the "'counter-oedipal' (Laius) complex". Later explorations of masculinity have placed the aggressive aspects of the Laius complex within the broader frame of mammalian aggression against their young: what Gershon Legman called "the killing of the male (i.e. sexually uninteresting) children by the father".
Two specific psychosexual aspects of the complex have been particularly highlighted. One lays stress on the magical thinking behind the complex – the unconscious belief that if one has no successors, one will be effectively immortal. The other emphasises the narcissism in the Laius/Oedipus relationship – the belief that there is only room for a single figure to exist in life, leading inevitably to the destruction of the one or the other competitor, father or son.
How far the playing down of the Laius neurosis (in orthodox psychoanalysis) can be linked to what Julia Kristeva called Freud's "paternal vision of childhood", remains for the 21st century an open question.
- J. Marino, in R. Preiss ed., Childhood, Education and the Stage in Early Modern England (Cambridge 2017) pp. 232–3
- F Guirand, New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (London 1968) p. 91
- Sophocles, The Theban Plays (Penguin 1973) p. 58
- G Devereux, Dreams in Greek Tragedy (1976) p. 52
- J. M. Ross, What Men Want (1995) p. 10
- G Legman, Rationale of the Dirty Joke I (1973) p. 79
- J. Marino, in R. Preiss ed., Childhood, Education and the Stage in Early Modern England (Cambridge 2017) p. 234
- H. Faimberg, The Telescoping of Generations (2005) pp. 72–3
- H. Faimberg, The Telescoping of Generations (2005) p. 231
- J. Kristeva, Desire in Language (New York 1980) pp. 274–5
- J. Marino, in R. Preiss ed., Childhood, Education and the Stage in Early Modern England (Cambridge 2017) pp. 229–31
Iris Levy, ‘The Laius Complex: From Myth to Psychoanalysis’ International Forum of Psychoanalysis 20 (2011) 222-8
S-M Weineck, The Tragedy of Fatherhood (2014)