Chapter

The Classical Legacy

Elizabeth Archibald

in Incest and the Medieval Imagination

Published in print May 2001 | ISBN: 9780198112099
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191708497 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198112099.003.0003
The Classical Legacy

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This chapter considers the legacy of classical writing and mythology, much studied in the Middle Ages even though largely pagan. The classical approach to incest tended to be fatalistic, focusing on cause and effect; sin could not be cancelled out by repentance, but usually led to further violence and transgression, to death, and sometimes to metamorphosis (except in the case of the gods, who committed incest with impunity). Classical writers can show sympathy for incestuous protagonists, and accept that such desire really occurs even in civilized societies. Medieval writers knew and adapted the Oedipus story. Ovid tells some lurid tales of incestuous desire in women, as well as men; his works were school texts in the Middle Ages, and the Metamorphoses was retold with Christian moralisations in the influential Ovide Moralisé. Other classical incest stories frequently retold in medieval narratives include Semiramis and Apollonius of Tyre.

Keywords: fatalism; violence; metamorphosis; gods; Oedipus; Ovid; incestuous women; Semiramis; Apollonius of Tyre

Chapter.  21419 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)

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