Incest and the medieval imagination

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This wide-ranging collection tracks the contradictory roles of incest in Anglo-American literature, politics, and culture from the Middle Ages, a period Elizabeth Barnes states is considered unrivaled for its "unblinking acceptance of many varieties of incest," to the present. Barnes explicates the role of incest in Anglo-American literature and culture, and in doing so sheds new light on the familiar story of incest as a vice of barbarians and a privilege of the elite.


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This unprecedented critical treatment of the subject speaks comprehensively to the greater attention placed on the occurrence of incest in the last several decades even as it provides a critical grasp of the topic from complex theoretical and historically nuanced perspectives. The essays range across a variety of methodological approaches--including psychoanalytic, cultural-historical, biographical, and queer theoretical.

In this seminal work in the field, Elizabeth Barnes clarifies the role of literature as a privileged site for the inquiry into incest. She links literature's ability to "tell trauma"--a theoretical issue of the book--to the personal, political, and cultural approaches to incest that the volume addresses. The result is a collection, unlike many of such broad scope, whose essays flow seamlessly and coherently from one focus to the next. There are extensive sources and documentation; pertinent citations are always translated.

Terms are meticulously defined The Appendix contains succinct but thorough summaries of incest stories; the bibliography is exhaustive, making this book a substantial research tool and reference for a powerful literary theme. Anyone working on the theme of incest in medieval literature should read this book.

Anyone who appreciates excellent scholarship in general will want to read this book for the pure pleasure of it. Times Literary Supplement Elizabeth Archibald's book makes an admirable introduction to the whole topic. Medieval Incest Law - Theory and Practice; 2. The Classical Legacy; 3.

Mothers and Sons; 4. Fathers and Daughters; 5. Reviewed by: Linda M. Rouillard University of Toledo linda.

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Incest | Bookends UCC

Elizabeth Archibald's recent book is most welcome scholarship on a fascinating topic with a long literary history: incest in all its permutations. Archibald's earlier publications, including Apollonius of Tyre Cambridge, , along with numerous articles, made this title an eagerly awaited work. It does not disappoint.

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Both senior scholars and graduate students will find in this book a well-documented and well-articulated history of this literary theme from a variety of genres in Old French, Old Norse, Middle English, Medieval Latin, Spanish, Italian, German and Celtic sources. The Introduction beginning with a most appropriate quote from Huxley's Brave New World , explains and presents the daunting task of organizing such a long-lived literary theme. Archibald organizes her corpus according to type of incest mother-son, father-daughter, sibling, etc. She rightly contrasts our own century's confrontation with incest and that of the Middle Ages, concluding that the essential difference lies in the medieval concern with the salvation of the soul rather than with the state of the family unit.

03.01.13, Archibald, Incest and the Medieval Imagination

Chapter I, "Medieval Incest Law, Theory and Practice" begins with a review of anthropological models which clearly demonstrate the relativity and variability of incest definitions across cultures and throughout history. Likewise, Church definitions changed over time, evolving into a complex set of regulations addressing consangineous relationships, ties created by affinity, and spiritual relationships or compaternity.

Since medieval canon law, in general, was greatly inspired by Roman law, and medieval incest interdictions were no exception, this chapter includes a useful and informative overview of Roman definitions and regulations in various commentaries, law codes and customaries, as well as in literary sources.

In fact, the interdiction of marriage between godchild and godparent dates back to Justinian's Codex. From Herodotus to Seneca, the accusation of incest was the most classical of insults. Let us not forget that it is the choicest of epithets in our own times!

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In the Greek and Roman political arenas, taunts, slurs and insinuations of incest were strategic weapons aimed against "excessive appetite and abuse of power. Early Christians were often subject to the charge of incest, an accusation taken up by Minucius Felix and Tertullian. There was also the sticky issue of the "need" for incest as a consequence to the Genesis account of creation. Additionally, there were other troubling accounts of incest in the Old Testament: the marriage of Abraham to his half-sister Sarah and the story of Tamar who seduces her father-in-law Judah and conceives twins, to name two instances.

Incest Medieval Imagination, Softcover

In his City of God , St. Augustine took it upon himself to to reconcile those problematic tales of incestuous behavior described in Judaic texts with Church dogma. He appeals to logic by stating that in the beginning of creation, humans were simply not numerous enough to procreate without committing incest. But, by his point in time, incest interdictions forced people to create and maintain relationships far afield from the family, a definite asset.

Augustine is later seconded by St. Thomas Aquinas who both "acknowledged that the supposedly natural and universal law prohibiting incest was in fact socially constructed, and thus open to interpretation and alteration by the Church authorities. Archibald summarizes the increasing complexity in Church definitions of incest until it reached its apogee in the the twelfth century, forbidding marriage between two persons related as far as the seventh degree, in terms of consanguinity or affinity, and between persons related as far as the fourth degree in a spiritual connection.

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