Chapter

Conclusion: Sex, Sin, and Salvation

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/9780198112099.003.0007
Conclusion: Sex, Sin, and Salvation

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Incest seems an ever-present danger in medieval literature, although it can be absolved by repentance and grace. The genetic consequences of inbreeding are ignored: children of incest are usually heroic and beautiful (Adonis), with a few exceptions (Mordred). Medieval incest narratives are compared with Renaissance drama, where incest leads to many deaths and represents corruption in society, not individual sinfulness. The one exception to the taboo is the Virgin Mary, regularly described in medieval texts as the mother/sister/daughter/bride of Christ. Her ‘incest’ is necessary for Christian salvation; it happens only once, and is spiritual not sexual, a victory rather than a moral defeat. It is suggested that this trope may have developed as a response to the carnality of the pagan gods, and to the frequent accusations of sexual misbehaviour aimed at the early Christians. Medieval incest stories reflect a strong sense of human sinfulness, but incest is also a productive literary theme.

Keywords: grace; inbreeding; children of incest; Adonis; Mordred; Renaissance drama; Virgin Mary; pagan gods; early Christians

Chapter.  6636 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)

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