The CPC Prize Essay Committee is pleased to announce that the winning essay for 2016 is “’I Could Eat You Up’: Philomela, Trauma and Enactment,” submitted by Nanette Auerhahn, Ph.D. Some of you may recall that Dr. Auerhahn received our prize in 2011 for her essay -“Evolution of Traumatic Narratives: Impact of the Holocaust on Three Children of Survivors”. Her current essay explores the question of how trauma that is neither symbolized nor represented in some other fashion is made known to one’s self and others. Dr. Auerhahn sees the problem as one of a powerful defense against the terror of the trauma, and in seeking a paradigm for symbolizing and then understanding of the terror – and then of the trauma – offers the myth of Philomela.
In the myth as told by Ovid, Procne asks her husband Tereus, King of Thrace, to let her see her sister, Philomela, who lives in Athens. Tereus agrees to travel to Athens and to bring Philomela back to Thrace for a visit. He goes to Athens, meets Philomela, immediately lusts for her, and on the return trip rapes her. Then he cuts out her tongue when she threatens to tell her sister. Philomela then weaves a tapestry depicting the story and sends it to Procne who, enraged, kills her son by Tereus, boils him, beheads the body and serves the body as a meal to her husband. The two women then present the severed head to Tereus, making him aware of his cannibalism. Desperate to escape his revenge, they pray to the Gods to be turned into birds; the gods oblige by transforming all three: Procne into a swallow; Philomela into a nightingale; and Tereus into a hoopoe.
Dr. Auerhahn proceeds to dissect the steps in our management of trauma and to demonstrate how the myth offers a general symbolization of the process. She uses several apt clinical examples to bring this to life and ends with an intriguing suggestion that the Philomela myth may offer a way of seeing the connection of pre-oedipal and oedipal functioning.
Dr. Auerhahn will present her paper at a meeting of the Cleveland Psychoanalytic Center on Friday, January 6, 2017, at which time her prize will be presented.