The Higher Self and the Lower Self: Theseus and the Minotaur

An 1843 sculpture, by Antoine-Louis Barye, of Theseus slaying the Minotaur:

File:Theseus Slaying Minotaur by Barye.jpg

Theseus’s entering the center of the Labyrinth at Knossos and slaying the Minotaur has sometimes been associated with Apollonian order and culture overcoming the bestial elements of body and psyche. And in the way that Barye has depicted Theseus above, there is a fusion, a twinning at the belly, with the Minotaur, as if to suggest that the higher and heroic self (the disciplined self) must, with composure and focus, dominate, and even slay, the bestial self. But the intimate and sensual “joining at the pelvis” of Barye’s bronze makes one wonder if the death of the bestial might constitute a mortal blow to the Apollonian as well. The Minotaurian shadow—or double—needs honoring as well as controlling, yes?

The idea that each human has two selves (the higher and the lower), and that the higher self is more important, has been both a boon and a curse to humanity, bleeding (literally and disasterously) into our politics: the Hegelian State is our collective higher self to which individual lower selves must submit.

Here’s an image of the sculptor. A bit stout, he appears to have carried Theseus in his head and the Minotaur in his belly. I wonder if he might also have been an enthusiast for Hegel:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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