A matrix of interests: Freud, the sexologists, and the legacy of Greece

S. Kool


The use of classical scholarship in nineteenth century debates on
sexuality forms the focus of this paper. It is argued that German
Hellenism played a crucial role in providing Freud and German
sexology with a counter discourse to the theory of degeneration, a
doctrine that had steadily gained currency in the latter part of the
nineteenth century. Sexology and psychoanalysis were contemporaneous
areas of investigation that focussed primarily on
sexuality and were considered marginalised domains that operated
outside the scientific establishment of the day. This exclusion was
due in part to their subject matter, but it was further compounded by
their widespread rejection of degeneracy, a theory that labelled both
Jews and homosexuals as deviant members of society. The complex
network of association that existed between psychoanalysis and
sexology in Austria and Germany is often neglected and the common
ground that they shared is overlooked. This is unfortunate as they
explored related fields of interest and their members were largely
drawn from similar backgrounds. A significant number of these men
were Jewish, a large number were homosexual or homosocial, and
most of them were excellent classical scholars. Classical studies
provided the foundation upon which the elite German educational
system, the Gymnasium, was built, and while the Gymnasium
curriculum was designed to inculcate the values of reason, selfdiscipline
and idealism, it also allowed an access to the world of
Greek sexuality. It is argued that the divergent attitudes towards
sexuality revealed in Greek art and literature provided many of these
sexual pioneers with a legitimate challenge to the medical and
psychiatric definitions of normal and abnormal sexuality.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7445/58-0-148


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