Freud and the Iceberg Metaphor

The recent “Google doodle” celebrating the 160th anniversary of Sigmund Freud’s birth presents a welcome opportunity to highlight not the influence Freud exerted on Stefan Zweig, as seen in such works as Der Amokläufer (Amok, 1922) and Schachnovelle (The Royal Game, 1942), but the effect Zweig himself may have had on the legacy of psychoanalysis.

The iceberg metaphor attributed to this day to Freud as his visual explanation of the unconscious mind may well be more accurately ascribed to his longtime friend and correspondent Stefan Zweig. As pointed out by Fredonia Professor of English Birger Vanwesenbeeck in his essay, “A Stefan Zweig Revival?”, the symbol of the iceberg, which nowhere appears in Freud’s own writings, may well have stuck to psychoanalysis as a result of Zweig who employs it in his book on Freud, Die Heilung durch den Geist (Mental Healers, 1931).¹

In this work, Zweig describes “the destructive possibilities of an iceberg only upon the ground of what is visible above the surface of the water, whereas nine-tenths of the colossus lie beneath the waves” in reference to the unconscious depths and power of the human mind.² Vanwesenbeeck’s study underscores both the collaborative respect and influence both individuals had on one another, as well as the impact that Zweig may well have exerted on one of the most enduring tropes of modern-day psychology.

From the Zweig Collection at Fredonia

The first page of Worte am Sarge Sigmund Freuds, Zweig’s eulogy to Freud, given in London on 26 September 1939.

Freud eulogy001

The Stefan Zweig Collection, H206
Daniel A. Reed Library Archives & Special Collections
State University of New York at Fredonia


  1. Birger Vanwesenbeeck, “A Stefan Zweig Revival?” in Stefan Zweig and World Literature: Twenty-First-Century Perspectives, ed. Birger Vanwesenbeeck and Mark H. Gelber (Rochester, New York: Camden House, 2014), 16.
  2. Stefan Zweig, Mental Healers: Franz Anton Mesmer, Mary Baker Eddy, Sigmund Freud, trans. Eden and Cedar Paul (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1962), 292.
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