Gods and Humans: Reading Hesiod’s Theogony with Freudian lens

In taking Peter Struck’s Mythology class at UPenn (via Coursera), I learned that Sigmund Freud made many contributions not just to psycho-analysis, but also to literature. He tells us that myth s dramatize events in every individual’s mental or psychological development.


Freud thinks that hidden messages inside a myth are always going to be about just you and me as individuals, developing, working our way through the developing of our psychological state. In his book, The Interpretation of Dreams (~c 1900), Freud explains the psyche: a repression barrier that blocks the expression of our unconscious desires from our conscious desires.


Freud says that myths are the dreams of an entire culture. So what we get when we take a look at myths is we get this kind of displaced and condensed expression of primal desires in a culture that are displaced onto now more acceptable targets for those desires.

Sigmund Freud would have had an absolute field day with Theogony.

I mean, I don’t think you could call Hesiod’s Zeus in any way repressed. Here’s a King-god dead set on taking the throne to the cosmos and not being challenged. Why would a culture want to tell itself a story like this? Overthrows the father-figure, carries out his mother’s crazy wishes, makes siblings (Cyclops and Hecantosheires) his soldiers and weapon makers, overthrows all his aunts and uncles and chains them for all eternity in a pit, divides the universe between him and his brothers but gives the short end of the stick to the other two, mates with all of his aunts and sisters!

Perhaps because a culture wants to go back to the drawing board and completely consolidate order and power in one single entity and produce an empire unchallenged. Or, perhaps a culture wants to tell itself, look, we’re going to be this great empire, because look at the Gods we worship – Zeus was a powerful god who ruled supreme and because we worship him, we’re going to inherit the Mediterranean.

We don’t care if it’s forbidden or how we get there (through cruel means/ gross misconducts), creating an empire is going to be ugly and we’re going to get there. Maybe that’s the repressed cultural dream or goal coming out in a historical context. Maybe it’s all peacocking.

The Prometheus myth, read with a Freudian lens, transposes this expression of angst against the unjust politicians/parents on Greek Gods as mythological deities.

(Going back to Freud’s statement that myth is an expression of dreams of a culture (in this case dreams of justice) or “myths dramatize events in every individual’s psychological development”, so “I’m trying to, as a citizen of the polis, try and figure out why my political leaders are doing such and such”. I prefer to think of parents, though, simply because of the genealogical theme in Hesiod… like ‘why didn’t dad give me fire today’, or ‘why did dad give me all the good meat to eat and save only thigh bones for himself’. And maybe, with a Freudian lens, it’s then possible to see it as, human beings are these younger, less important, stepchildren of Gods on Mount Olympus, and the overbearing parents/father figure in Zeus makes these judgment calls about fire and sacrifice, and more important siblings (such as Prometheus) totally influenced how things developed before we got a chance to grow up and get a say in it, so… that’s life! It’s not fair, you know, but my brother ruined stuff for me and my dad — this is his way of just being a controlling parent — and since Prometheus is busy getting his liver pecked out, let’s just lay low and try to go with it.

Zeus’ battle with the Titans is really interesting from Freudian ‘repressed subconscious / desire to mate with forbidden parents’ point-of-view.

Because, unless I read it wrong, it looks as if Zeus gets rid / puts in chains in Tartarus all the male Titans from the alpha generation. But puts all the females in Mount Olympus and marries/mates with all of them, creating a new generation of gods. He wants to usurp in this case, Kronos’ role not just as ruler of the universe, but also as chief mate of all the first generation goddesses and himself swallows Methis for wisdom. It’s an expression of reproductive supremacy and hereditary legacy. Maybe he swallows Methis to prove he’s better than Kronos, ‘I’m smarter than you, dumbass, let me swallow her before you do…’. I mean, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but I don’t think you can say that in Zeus’ case. He really got busy!


Suspending disbelief, Disney-style

Disney is all about sparking the imagination.  The imaginary world allows us to open doors, change our world, and be a better person. Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov come to mind. Were they just awesome predictors of the future? Or did they just have a vision of the future so compelling that they bent a generation?



They got us to: “Completely suspend my disbelief.”


Walt Disney understood the power of story;  he recognized that a story told across boundaries was even more powerful. Was Disneyland the original “transmedia” experience? Theme parks that served as places you could walk into stories and live with ones of these characters. Not designed as synergy references story (reference story in a another medium — which they also do, but it’s not what we’re talking about).

In Tron, Sean Bailey (who is Tron Legacy Producer / Walt Disney Studios President) says, we’re going to tell this story with different components that synergizes into a bigger story but with different elements told in different mediums (and are still part of the same universe). What a disruptive thinker.

Walt Disney is constantly innovating. It has never embraced the status quo because it recognizes that the forms of narrative are changing. This affects the relationships between the audience and the storyteller, relationships between the actor on stage and the viewer. TV is episodic. Movies are visual. Games expect us to engage (lean forward into a boundless story).  Authors have to think of story systems and participants.

In 1952, Imagineering started as Walt’s very own private think thank outside rhte company. Today, it employs 1500 people from 140 different disciplines (sculptors, scientists, etc). They have a couple of rules:

1. Tell great stories

2. Bring characters to life (Now: in the real world, in the same, shared, space)

3. Make great places that fit right in with the story’s potential, present opportunities to explore and discover, and live alongside characters

4. New ways of engaging: new technologies, entertainment.

Here’s the sad fact that Scott Trowbridge openly admitted: “We don’t know how to make magic. We fake the magic through technology as a proxy, telling stories in a compelling manner.” And this is getting more sophisticated. The blueprint for it is completely global. “The sun never sets on a Disney experience.”

Audiences are changing. They have greater expectations and more access to information, which informs the immediacy with which they expect a story to come to you on your own terms. Stories now have to be much more engaging, to leave space for and to be more participative (the audience become co-authors).

Imagineering has been experimenting in stealth mode for a few years. For example, Legend of the Fortuna was run as a play-test during an opportunity in one of their theme parks. Guests were invited to live in a story. It was super creepy. They put hidden cameras everywhere. They got families who visited for 48 hours to participate in long-form role playing.

Another example was a detective story called Starlite Detective Agency, a detective story where they recruited people on Facebook, and then put players in a park so that they could collect evidence and upload videos on Facebook to get families and friends they were connected to, to text message them. So the people who were at home and in the park got to play.

This stuff is incredibly hard to scale. Especially in the real world.

For mainstream and emergent narratives, there is a lot of work done on behind-the-scenes technology: Story Engine is an Artificial Intelligence unit that creates stories in real time to allow it to evolve. They define the parameters of the storyworld, run a real-imer planner (like I2), and then interface it with a system that gets information out to players they need. It is like telling a computer how to tell a story, with multiple outcomes. “It works, mostly.”

Living Worlds program is Walt Disney’s show of commitment. They created a grant program for people who want to tell stories and make them happen. The “once-upon-a-time” program is open to everyone who wants to submit an idea. (You own the idea).


Dialogue is a two-way narrative. With the development of the Prometheus movie in 2011, “inside the box” content was stuff on a big screen. But audiences of Prometheus were not getting into that box until 2012 (a year later). There is a huge demand from audiences to tell more stories connected back to this world. What is this movie’s relationship to previous Alien movies? Instead of giving interviews to the New York Times, the makers decided, “let’s go put that content in a box… We’ll do a TED TALK for Weyland (with Guy Pearce giving the talk)…. Let’s do a commercial with Michael Fassbender as a robot…. ” (they were given the free rein by Universal to do this).

Damon Lindelof thinks of stories as metaphorical icebergs where you have to construct the whole iceberg but only the top part above the water level is ever seen. He speaks of LOST as connecting to a mythology so complex that it was getting hard to see the iceberg above and below the waterline. They were building a fan community that was incredibly impassioned. And making a case to do this. Which brings us to monetization. And the topic of marketing vs narrative. Marketing is what Disney spends to get people to come and see the narrative.