When Sigmund Freud fled Nazi-occupied Vienna in 1938, at age 82, there was only one prized object among his many earthly possessions that he couldn’t imagine life without: a Roman copy of a 2nd-century bronze statue of the goddess Athena. For years, this female deity of reason, war, and handicraft occupied center stage on the desk where the founder of psychoanalysis wrote his pioneering theories on the unconscious. She was just one member of an enormous audience of statuettes that watched the Austrian doctor work from the edges of his desk and the cabinets lining his office.
In addition to being a collector of dreams, psychological conditions, and verbal slips, Freud was also an avid collector of antiquities. “The psychoanalyst,” he said to an early patient famously dubbed the Wolf Man, “like the archaeologist in his excavations, must uncover layer after layer of the patient’s psyche, before coming to the deepest, most valuable treasures.” Freud spent his career exposing his patients’ countless psychic layers, but by the time of his death, just one year after leaving Vienna for London, he had also managed to amass over 2,000 physical treasures from ancient kingdoms in Egypt, Greece, Rome, India, China, and Etruria.