From the collections of the Freud Museum London
This is a bronze statuette of Athena, the Greek goddess of war and wisdom, and the patron of the ancient city of Athens. This object is nearly 2000 years old. It was created in the Roman period (1st - 2nd century CE), but it is actually a copy of a Greek statue from the 5th century BCE. Here we can see Athena wearing her helmet and battle armour. In one hand she once held a spear, but this has now been lost. She also holds a bowl used for prayer and making offerings. Real women in ancient Greece had very little role outside their homes or in the public sphere including in warfare. However religious rituals were the exception and women played an important role in carrying them out.
The statue was owned by Sigmund Freud, the Jewish-Austrian founder of "psychoanalysis". In 1938, Freud fled from his home in Vienna to London to escape the Nazis and the Athena statuette was one of the items he chose to smuggle out of the country with him, before he knew he could rescue his entire collection. Soon after his arrival in his final home, he put the figure back in its special place in the middle of his desk - where it can still be visited in the Freud Museum today in The Study with many more of Freud’s objects.
Freud was fascinated by ancient history and archaeology and he used lots of his collection of ancient objects to start conversations with his patients about their inner thoughts and feelings. The Athena statuette played an important role in Freud’s therapeutic sessions with a patient and American writer who called herself H.D. (Hilda Doolittle). H.D. talked to Freud about her gender identity and her sexuality. H.D. identified as a woman, but she felt that her personality also combined masculine and feminine characteristics. H.D. was also bisexual - she had relationships with men, but also had a female partner called Bryher (Annie Winifred Ellerman).
When Freud showed H.D. the Athena, he said “She is perfect… only she has lost her spear”. Freud wanted to link the statues’ missing spear to his idea that many women unconsciously feel that they are ‘missing’ a penis. He thought this unconscious belief came from an incorrect childhood theory which had persisted into adulthood and caused psychological distress. However in a later poem H.D. indicated that she disagreed with Freud and stated that “woman is perfect”, without qualification.
|Credit||Images reproduced by permission of the Freud Museum London|
Entry in the Freud Museum London online catalogue
|Date||1st - 2nd century CE|