Siblings and Other Relatives

Elizabeth Archibald

in Incest and the Medieval Imagination

Published in print May 2001 | ISBN: 9780198112099
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191708497 | DOI:
Siblings and Other Relatives

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Sibling incest seems to have been regarded in medieval writing as less serious than parent-child incest, and is usually a sub-plot rather than the main theme in medieval literature, though more popular in early modern ballads and folksongs. The main focus here is the Arthurian legend: why is the great hero Arthur made to sleep with his unrecognized half-sister and beget a son who will kill him? Is this incest a metaphor for original sin? Were Arthurian writers influenced by similar stories about Charlemagne's begetting of his nephew Roland? The story of Mordred is discussed as a mirror image of the Gregorius legend. The Arthurian version resembles classical incest stories in its fatalism, and lack of a happy ending. Other types of incestuous relationship are also discussed briefly here: in-laws, step-parents and step-children, uncles and nieces, and spiritual kinship occur more frequently in records of court cases than in literature.

Keywords: sibling incest; Arthur; Mordred; Charlemagne; Gregorius; in-laws; step-parents; step-children; uncles; nieces

Chapter.  16900 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)

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