queen of thebes

Analysis || Shinji and Misato, the New Century Oedipus and Electra :||

To celebrate the milestone of 1000 followers for this blog, we’re offering you a detailed analysis post about the similarities two of the most loved main characters of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shinji Ikari and Misato Katsuragi, share with two tragic, old and yet immortal dramatic characters, two protagonists of many plays and famous books, symbols of both modern philosophy and ancient Greek theater productions: Electra and Oedipus.

We can’t talk about them, though, if we don’t know what their story is about before - their legend, often matter of school studies too.  Let’s start with maybe the most complex character, that shares great analogies with out favorite insecure pilot: Oedipus, often considered one of the most famous (or maybe infamous) protagonists of Greek mythology.

THE MYTH

The loved king and queen of Thebes, Laius and Jocasta, were good and right rulers. One day, the king asked the oracle of Delphi (a sort of fortune-teller gifted by the Sun God Apollo) if the queen would have soon given him a heir - and unfortunately the oracle had a very clear answer for him: the magician reccomanded the king not to have a baby with the queen, since the child would have grown up to be a calamity for the city of Thebes and its people. As if it wasn’t enough: the oracle also predicted that the boy would have killed his own father and sexually joined his mother.
Laius never forgot the horrible prophecy and - after some time - when the queen Jocasta gave birth to a boy, he took the newborn baby and abandoned him on a hill, thinkiing animals or criminals would have done the rest; before leaving him though, Jocasta pierced the soles of the baby’s feet with two nails.

However, a shepherd named Forba - allerted by the cry - found the baby and took it to another city, Corinth. The king of Corinth, Polybus, couldn’t have children with his wife and Forba happily offered him the infant. There, Polybus gave him the name Oedipus - which literally means “swollen feet”.

Years passed and Oedipus grew strong and vigorous, surrounded by so much love. But one day, during a banquet, a young prince mentioned how Oedipus was a foundling welcomed into the king’s palace. At those words Oedipus decided ask the oracle of Delphi to know the truth of his origins. The only thing he got to know was that his return to Thebes would have been a tragedy of some sort. 
Angry and outraged, the boy didn’t return to the palace and started travelling the world, seeking for a place to stay. 
On the way, Oedipus came to a place where three roads crossed each others. There he encountered a chariot driven by his birth-father, Laius. They fought over who had the right to go first and Oedipus killed Laius when the charioteer tried to run him over. 

Bad luck wanted that he reached the doors of Thebes, one day; there he met a monster, sent by Hera, a goddess: a sphinx that killed and ate all the men who wanted to enter Thebes but that couldn’t answer her riddle -  “What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?”. Oedipus knew the answer and replied with “A man” - killing the monster and saving the city. 
He became the hero of Thebes and Jocasta, the just widowed queen, fell in love with the boy. They married and had four children, fullfilling the ancient prophecy. After the marriage though, a great plague started decimating the population of the city. The oracle was questioned again and confirmed that the pestilence would have stopped when the killer of Laius had left the city and exiled.. Panicked, Oedipus called another very old magician to his palace that finally explained him the truth about his origins and parents; the boy also understands he killed his father, Laius, on his way to Thebes.

Jocasta tried to convince the magician that her baby had died years and years ago. But, as she saw the soles of Oedipus’s feet - still with the signs of having been pierced - she fell into despair and shame. The queen of Thebes killed herself and Oedipus escaped the city and its anger.

EVERY CHILD IS A LITTLE OEDIPUS

Sigmund Freud often mentioned these words when referring to very young male children. It’s not unusual to see small boys being overly attached to their mothers, after all - but what does a baby boy thinks of his mother? And what about the father? This led to the formulation of the so-called “Oedipus Complex”.

The Oedipus complex occurs during the phallic stage of someone’s psychosexual development (3-6 years old) and it’s later repressed into the unconscious of the boy. It also seems to lead into the formation of both Ego and Libido - so it seems to be pretty a crucial step for children’s minds. The irrational competition with the father for the possession of the mother, the awareness of their own bodies, the understending of the differences between male and female bodies and the curiosity that leads them to often undress for fun… all these (and many more) features and sensations seem to occur around the phallic stage of a child. It’s being said that the love for a mother is even more complicated to explain, because it actually begins right after a baby is born, with the oral stage - where the baby finds pleasure by drinking milk from his mother’s breasts.

The mother remains the parent who primarily gratifies the male child’s desires, Freud said, as a first source of libidinal energy for a little boy. This leads the child to be jealous, most of the time, of his father; that would explain why little boys often wish to sleep together - innocently - with their mother, or to follow them into the bathroom. Moreover, to facilitate the desired exclusive union with the mother, the boy’s Id ( uncoordinated instinctual trends ) wants to kill his own father.
At the same time, though, the boy fears the adult male presence of his father. The Ego ( rational thoughts ) of the child prevents him from practically killing the hated parent; he knows that the father is the stronger of the two males competing to possess the woman.  Nonetheless, the boy remains ambivalent about his father’s place in the family, and often manifests the so-called fear of castration by the physically greater father; the fear is an irrational, subconscious manifestation of the infantile Id.

The resolution of the Oedipus complex is important for development of the the male infantile Super-ego: by identifying with a parent, the boy internalizes Morality, choosing to comply with societal rules, rather than reflexively complying in fear of punishment.

THE CASE OF SHINJI IKARI

Some critics have recognised how much Evangelion’s story can resemble the famous Oedipus myth. It’s easy to find various analogies with the series.
Shinji - just like Oedipus, can be called a “son of a prophecy”. If the Secret Dead Sea Scrolls had predicted the Third Impact and the arrival of the Angels, then, they also predicted the arrival of Shinji too, in some way. Or at least, his destiny was programmed even when he was too young to understand it: Yui knew, after all, how much her son would have suffered for a greater good.

It’s easy to understand how Oedipus is similar to Shinji by looking a the different paternal figures the two boys had. King Laius, who thought abandoning his only son and leaving him to die would have gone against the fullfillment of the propechy, was killed by his own son for a quirk of fate. Oedipus didn’t know the man he killed on the road was his biological father. 
Shinji, on the other hand, is well aware of who his father is. From the moment he abandoned him as a child, Shinji started feeling like an unwanted human being and the anger and hate he feels for Gendo are indeed some of the results of Gendo leaving his son growing up with a teacher/his uncles in the manga. But there’smore… as Shinji soon starts “competing” for Rei’s attentions, going against his own father: from the moment he notices Rei talking and smiling to Gendo in private, he starts trying to get the girl’s attention; of couse, we know who Rei Ayanami really is and we clearly remember the famouse episode…

SHINJI:  Oh, when we were cleaning room today, you were wringing the floorcloth… to me you looked like a mother.
REI:  A mother?
SHINJI:  Yeah, that was just like the mother’s way of wringing. I bet you’ll become a housewife.

Shinji couldn’t have known, at that time, how painfully true his words were being. In fact, he only discovers the truth about his mother and Rei during the last scene of episode 23, and that only leaves him more angry and confused than ever. Let’s remember though that Shinji never felt true sexual attraction for Rei Ayanami, rappresentation of the non-carnal pure “maternal” love, the Eros (with Asuka being the sexual impulse of both love and death, Thanatos) for Shinji’s heart and mind.

Yet, that still remains a sort and form of attraction. And it doesn’t stop Shinji from hating his father even more. Both Gendo and his son, competing for the love of the “woman”… a clear yet insane example of the famous “Complex”.
In Shinji’s mind, while Yui appears as an angelic being caressing his cheeks - with very fair and long hair and a perfect body - Gendo is often depicted as a disproportionately tall man, with flashing angry eyes and sometimes skin of different innatural colors.

Is the the fear of castration - Freud often mentioned - present in Shinji? Well, he isn’t a baby anymore but in the series he is, without any doubt, a teenager stuck into the “oral stage” he never truly resolved, because of the trauma of Yui’s death when he was barely 3. Still, the desire of killing the hated father has often taken adavantage of Shinji’s mind and thoughts. These primal impulses are very common in our protagonist - and often destructive too: from the time he tried to escape Tokyo-3 alone, to the moment he chose to masturbate in front of the comatose Asuka (and still, this wan’t a real impulse… he had the time to lock the door, probably doing something to the camera and then dress her up again).
Some examples: after Toji was injuried, Shinji tried to destroy the pyramid of the Geofront, in the manga he also tried punching Gendo after being hospitalized and being called to his office… always in the manga, in a nightmare, he even manages to kill his father. And finally Gendo himself confesses to Shinji how much he came to hate his son for the love of Yui. Is Gendo another kind of “Oedipus”? Well, we can’t consider his words fully honest, if we look at the last chapters of Sadamoto’s work anyway.

In conclusion: the desire to kill the father for the love of the mother is very present in Shinji’s case… sometimes it appears as a latent feeling, sometimes not. The sort of Oedipus Complex Shinji has for Rei is not entirely real or wrong, considering he doesn’t feel sexual attraction for the blue-haired pilot. Yet, he is seen associating Rei to his mother and that’s what brings him to enter the “competition” for her attention.

THE MYTH

You remember the tale of Troy, no? Well, princess Electra was the daughter of queen Clytemnestra and king Agamemnon, the one who actually fought the Trojan War. Their palace was located in the city of Mycenae, where Electra and her brother Orestes grew up along with their mother - waiting for Agamemnon to return from war.

As we know, the Greek forces won over Troy and that meant the king of Mycenae could have finally returned to his kingdom, after ten years of absence. But meanwhile Clytemnestra, the queen, had fallen in love with her own cousin Aegisthus, after having being seduced by the man - and forgetting the love she felt for her rightful husband.
So when the king returned home safe and sound, the queen and Aegisthus began plotting his death; some versions of the myth also say that Clytemnestra still couldn’t forgive her husband for another crime: Agamemnon had sacrificed their eldest daughter Iphigenia to the gods to assure himself a good war and fortune. First the queen and her lover killed Cassandra, the war prize the king had bought with him (a fortune-teller that had already given birth to two bastard twins), and then managed to assassinate the King with poison.

The city fell into panic and despair and Orestes and Electra, both barely teenagers, were sent to Athens to live in the house of a distant relative of theirs. The siblings never parted and stayed there for a couple of years. After some time, the sister convinced the brother to return to Mycenae to visit the tomb of their father.
The two secretly entered the city and arrived to the resting place of Agamemnon. It’s being said the poor girl’s desperate cry were so loud and painful to hear ( an ancient greek tradition says that, at a funeral, the girls would have cried, screamed, pulled off their hair and scratched their cheeks - moistened by tears ) that even Orested was brought into tears. Desperate for the death of the loved and awaited father, Electra convinced Orestes to plot against their own mother, and their stepfather.

Clytemnestra - who had no problems admitting of having killed her husband and that was now ruling the kingdom with his lover - recognised the two siblings who came to avenge their father’s death. Electra killed their mother, Orestes their stepfather. Before dying though, the queen cursed both of her sons; Orestes, in particular, would have been forever tormented by Furies, whose duty it is to punish any violation of the ties of family piety while Electra lived ther rest of her life in misery with a shepherd.

THE ELECTRA COMPLEX

As explained for the male counterpart of the Complex, a child who grows up in a family with both a mother and a father, should feel greater attachment to the parent of the opposite sex. Freud and Jung explained that even little girls behave like Electra, by loving the father way more than the mother. The resoultion of the complex happens when the child identifies him/herself with the parent of the same gender.

Just like the Oedipus one, the Electra complex occurs in the third—phallic stage (ages 3–6) of the psychosexual development stages. Of course Freud explains how castration anxiety is absent in the girl, that actually feels what is called the “penis envy” once she starts understanding the differences between the male and female bodies.
He says that to form a discrete sexual identity (Ego) a girl’s decisive psychosexual experience is in fact the daughter–mother competition for possession of the father; when a little girl’s initial attachment to her mother ensd with the discovering that she has a body similar to hers; she then transfers her “libidinal desires” and attachment to her father, increasing what it’s supposed to be the so-called “sexual competition” with her mother.  

THE CASE OF MISATO KATSURAGI

Misato doesn’t like talking about her father too much and the audience is led to think, by her first sentences, that the girl actually hates him. This is not entirely correct: as we enter Misato’s deepest and most private thoughts in the last two episode of the series or in the End of Evangelion, we can understand how much she - especially as a little girl - seemed to both love and hate his father.

Misato blames him of loving too much his work, of having abandoned her mother (”who always cries”) and of having never understood his own daughter. Still, she can’t forget how that man, so obsessed with his work, that 13th September 2000, chose to sacrifice himself to protect and save from certain death Misato. The sign, the silver cross he gives her before being erased from the world, a testimony… a proof of strenght and paternal love in this case - that Misato is always seen wearing and often clutching againt her chest in some dramatic moments…
The loss of her paternal figure soon leads the girl to years of mutism and catatonic state, from which she seems to recover before completing her studies and entering university. Did Misato avenged her father? Ritsuko knew well that Misato’s enthusiasm in fighting Angels can be considered her “revenge”, even though Misato firmly denies such motives.

Misato fell in love only with only one man: Ryouji Kagi, a boy she met in her univeristy years. This relationship lasted some years, the two really were in love. Until…

MISATO: I am sorry that I insisted to separate at that time. I told you that I had another one to love, yet it was a lie. Did you find that?
RYOUJI: No.
MISATO:  I found that you had something that resembled to my father. I was looking for the appearence of my father. When I found that, I feared. I feared everything. I feared to be with you. I feared to be a woman. I feared everything. Although I’d hated my father, I happened to love a man looking like my father. To forget everything, I joined NERV, which, however, was an institute at that my father had been. I have been illuding myself to revenge him fighting the Angels. I tried to escape… to escape my father’s curse! I’m a coward!

We never get to see Dr. Katsuragi’s face. In some scenes and flashbacks he appears as a tall man with long dark hair tied in a little ponytail - exactly how the adult Kaji is seen thoughout the series by Shinji and the others. If Misato’s words are true, then the spy really resembled her deceased father and that was - for her - one of the reasons why she actually fell in love with him years before the story takes place, during their college years. Also, the shame of recognizing of being attracted to a man who resembled her father that much is what brought Misato to end her relationship with the boy.

But what about her “revenge”? What role Kaji has in her plan against the Angels?
Can Kaji’s character be associated with Agamemnon, the father figure?
For Misato, probably not. 
In a play about Electra and her tragic story, a scene very similar to the one we see at the end of episode 21 takes place: the princess Electra receives a message informing her of her beloved brother Orestes’ death. The girl starts crying and sobbing without control in front of a handmaiden and a young servant before the ashes of Orestes are given to her; at that confirmation, Electra faints, falling on the ground. We can assume Orestes resembled Agamemnon (being his only male son) and that Electra really loved him as a sister: not only he helped Electra having her revenge against the queen, but he was now the only family she had… her only brother. 
Kaji must have had a similar role, for Misato. Her mother was totally absent in her life and only with Kaji she probably felt like being with her father/family again. Can Ryouji’s character be associated with Orestes in the Greek tragic myth? Probably. As Orestes did for her sister, the spy also helped Misato a lot by leaving her all of his data e informations about the Impacts, Lilith, the arrival of solidiers inside Nerv, the last Angel and Seele’s plans. Plus… in the play, after Electra finally had become conscious of Orestes’ fate, she promises to return home to claim the throne as rightful queen, the same decision we can feel and see in Misato’s eyes. He let her and helped her “get closer to the truth”.

MISATO:  I ain’t irritated anymore by the telephone that does not ring, since I now understand what you wanted me to know.

In conclusion: the anger and shame for having loved for years a man who looked a lot like her father is still present inside Misato’s memories and thoughts, as the last two episodes also confirm, till the very end of the original series. Is this a real, clear, example of the Electra Complex? Not quite, since Misato doesn’t take her place in the mother-daughter competition – supposedly because the sacrifice of her father happened when she was already a teenager, not a child. It can be related to the Complex for other reasons… of course, we can’t know that for sure, but it is unlikely that the mere good appearance of Kaji was the only reason she loved him and became his girlfriend. 

A human’s mind is way more complicated to understand than that – than all of this, no matter what.
   
   

“I KNOW THAT I KNOW NOTHING”  -  Socrates

Isis and Nefertari, from the Tomb of Nefertari, New Kingdom (mural), Egyptian 19th Dynasty (c.1297-1185 BC) / Valley of the Queens, Thebes, Egypt / Giraudon / Bridgeman Images

The story of Oidipous (also spelled Oedipus) is the subject of Sophokles’ tragedy Oedipus the King, which was followed by Oedipus at Colonus and then Antigone. Together, these plays make up Sophokles’ three Theban plays.

The central character of this play is the tragic hero Oidipous, the son of King Laios and Queen Jocasta of Thebes. The King was told by an oracle that his son was destined to kill him and marry his wife, Jocasta, and in an attempt to prevent this prophecy’s fulfillment, when Jocasta indeed bore a son, Laios had his ankles pierced and tethered together so that he could not crawl; Jocasta then gave the boy to a servant to abandon on the nearby mountain. However, rather than leave the child to die of exposure, as Laios intended, the sympathetic servant passed the baby onto a shepherd from Corinth and then to another shepherd.
The infant eventually came to the home of the childless King Polybus and Queen Merope in the city of Corinth, and they raised him as their own.

As a young man in Corinth, Oidipous heard a rumor that he was not the biological son of Polybus and Merope. When Oidipous questioned the King and Queen, they denied it, and then he visited the Delphic Oracle. The oracle, instead of answering his question, told him that he was destined to “Mate with [his] own mother, and shed/With [his] own hands the blood of [his] own sire”. Desperate to avoid fulfilling the prophecy, Oidipous left Corinth in the belief that Polybus and Merope were indeed his true parents and that, once away from them, he would never harm them.

On the road to Thebes, he met King Laios of Thebes, his true father. Unaware of each other’s identities, they quarreled over whose chariot had right-of-way. King Laios moved to strike the insolent youth with his sceptre, but Oidipous threw him down from the chariot and killed him.

Shortly after, Oidipous solved the riddle of the Sphinx: “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three in the evening?” To this Oidipous replied “Man” (who crawls on all fours as an infant, walks upright later, and needs a cane in old age), and the distraught Sphinx threw herself off the cliffside. Oidipous’ reward for freeing the kingdom of Thebes from the Sphinx was the kingship and the hand of Queen Jocasta, his biological mother. Like that the prophecy was fulfilled, though none of the main characters were aware.

Oidipous and Jocasta had four children: two sons, Eteokles and Polyneikes, and two daughters, Antigone and Ismene.

Many years after the marriage of Oidipous and Jocasta, infertility struck the city of Thebes; crops no longer grew on the fields and women did not bear children. The plague also struck the livestock of Thebes.
Oidipous asserted that he would put an end to the infertility. He sent Kreon, Jocasta’s brother and his uncle/brother-in-law, to the Oracle at Delphi, seeking guidance. When Kreon returned, Oidipous heard that the murderer of the former King Laios must be brought to justice, and Oidipous himself cursed his wife’s late husband’s murderer, saying that he would be exiled. Kreon also suggested that they try to find the blind prophet, Tiresias who was widely respected for his accurate tellings.
Tiresias warned Oidipous not to seek Laios’ killer, and in a heated exchange, Tiresias was provoked into exposing Oidipous himself as the killer, and the fact that Oidipous was living in shame because he did not know who his true parents were.
Oidipous angrily blamed Kreon for the false accusations, and the two proceeded to argue fervently. Jocasta entered and tried to calm Oidipous by telling him the story of her first-born son and his supposed death. Oidipous realized that he may have murdered Laios and so brought about the plague. Suddenly, a messenger arrived from Corinth with the news that King Polybus had died. Oidipous was relieved concerning the prophecy for it could no longer be fulfilled if Polybus, whom he considered his birth father, was now dead.

Still, he knew that his mother was still alive and refused to attend the funeral at Corinth. To ease the tension, the messenger then said that Oidipous was, in fact, adopted. Jocasta, finally realizing that he was her son, begged him to stop his search for Laios’ murderer. Oidipous misunderstood the motivation of her pleas, thinking that she was ashamed of him because he might have been born of low birth.
Jocasta in great distress and disgust then went into the palace where she hanged herself.
When Oidipous sought verification of the messenger’s story, he learned that the infant raised as the adopted son of Polybus and Merope was the son of Laios and Jocasta. Thus, Oidipous finally realized that so many years ago, he had killed his own father, King Laios, and subsequently married his mother, Jocasta.

Events after the revelation depend on the source. In Sophokles’ plays, Oidipous went in search of Jocasta and found she had killed herself. Using the pin from a brooch he took off Jocasta’s gown, Oidipous stabbed his own eyes out, and was then exiled. His daughter Antigone acted as his guide as he wandered blindly through the country, finally perishing at Colonus after being placed under the protection of Athens by King Theseus.
However, in Euripides’ plays on the subject, Jocasta did not kill herself upon learning of Oidipous’ birth, and Oidipous was blinded by a servant of Laios. Some older sources of the myth, including Homer, state that Oidipous continued to rule Thebes after the revelations and after Jocasta’s death.

2

Niobe, in Greek mythology, is Queen of Thebes, wife of Amphion and daughter of Tantalus. She was the mother of seven sons and seven daughters, which prompted her to boast of her fruitfulness, stating that she was much worthier of worship than Leto who had only two children. Apollo and Artemis, angry at this insult to their mother, killed all Niobe’s children. She endured nine days of abstention from food during which time her children lay unburied. She later fled to Mt. Sipylus, where Zeus turned her into a stone image that wept perpetually.

Mummy on a funeral bed with various divinities, from the Tomb of Nefertari, New kingdom (wall painting), Egyptian 19th Dynasty (c.1297-1185 BC) / Valley of the Queens, Thebes, Egypt / Bridgeman Images