Discussing the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesj, a tale of the quest for immortal¬ity, and digressing from time to time towards the epics of Homer, the author searches for the essence of the literary hero. The psychoanalytic reading offered here does not aim to uncover some underlying truth about the author or his characters, but rather to elucidate the functioning of the text in relation to the reader. This functioning turns out to be multi¬layered. At first the epic offers its reader the possibility of imaginary identification. But it does not stop there: archaic heroism invariably turns out to be connected with the theme of death. Death, in epical context, represents the ultimate lack no hero can overcome. Faced with the inevitable failure of the hero, the reader also cannot escape from con¬fronting this lack. The positive note of the epic resides in the fact that it shows how this lack can be the foundation of the journey the hero undertakes, the story that develops around him, the subjectivity he symbolizes.
Since Freud, psychoanalysis has recognised in mythology its own double: mythology as a discourse that gives voice, albeit encrypted, to the unconscious. In this relationship, psychoanalysis sometimes saw itself in the role of disciple, but more often and more eagerly took the role of master. This is why the original creative exchange between the two has often been reduced to more sterile, more simplistic relationships. Robert Eisner has pointed out how psychoanalysis has tended to narrow down mythical narratives to restrictive, authoritarian moulds that tend to impede, rather than to create, new meanings and possibilities. This paper sets out to demonstrate how lacanian psychoanalysis could pave the way for an alternative, more fertile approach to myth. Although Lacan, in contrast with Freud and Jung, is rarely mentioned in relation to myth, the study of mythology has played a major role in his ‘return to Freud’. It was only by drawing inspiration from the structural myth analysis of Lévi-Strauss that he conceived of the unconscious as a linguistic web, the symbolic connections of which had to be analysed and spun out rather than ‘understood’. Lacan approaches myth as he approaches the speech of the analytic patient: not as a secret to be pried open by a master, but as a network of relations, clustered around an ‘impossibility’ that asks to be explored. By engaging in the dialogue on equal terms, and by daring to acknowledge the ‘mythical’ status of psychoanalysis, Lacan breaks through the mirror between myth and psychoanalysis.