Mothers and Sons

Elizabeth Archibald

in Incest and the Medieval Imagination

Published in print May 2001 | ISBN: 9780198112099
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191708497 | DOI:
Mothers and Sons

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This chapter on mother-son incest (the most serious kind for the Middle Ages) considers two main types of plot. When the incest is consummated, the issue is whether the protagonist(s) will confess, do penance, and be saved. Saints' lives sometimes include a story of incestuous birth, and also double incest (unknown in classical stories), where the incestuously conceived son later unwittingly marries his mother, and sometimes kills his father too. The discovery of this sin drives him to penance, and later he becomes a pope (Gregorius) or a saint (Albanus). Here the Oedipus story finds a spiritually happy ending. In the case of Judas, however, the incest and parricide cannot be absolved. In exemplary versions, the mother is the protagonist, and knowingly sleeps with her son, but confesses in the end. In near-miss incest stories (often romances), the son and mother recognize each other in time, and a family reunion is the happy ending.

Keywords: mother-son incest; saints' lives; double incest; penance; Gregorius; Judas; parricide; near-miss incest; romances

Chapter.  18248 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)

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