Dec. 23, 2013
Colt family residence (photo News.com.au)
The tabloid feverishness which has greeted the finding of an incestuous, intergenerational family in rural New South Wales in Australia presents the incest taboo in full view.
by Binoy Kampmark
“The rationale for the incest taboo has never been satisfactorily explained despite a host of theoretical attempts to do so.” – Alan Dundes, The Flood Myth
It is sometimes forgotten, let alone known, that one of the most familiar romances of the medieval world centred on a coupling of incest. The romance of Apollonius of Tyre begins with king and daughter. The daughter does not leave home under the relentless sexual advances of her monarch father, who rapes her. “Spurred on by the frenzy of his lust, he took his daughter’s virginity by force, in spite of her lengthy resistance,” wrote Marina Warner in her article “The Virtue of Incest,” published in the London Review of Books (Oct. 7, 1993.)
A complicit nurse encourages the traumatized girl to avoid suicide. Stay the course. Father knows better. A task is then set by the king: He will give his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who can answer a riddle. Mistakes will result in death. The suitor Apollonius has no such desire to either get the riddle wrong or be killed, and answers correctly: “Nor did you lie when you said, ‘I eat my mother’s flesh’: look at your daughter.”
Indeed, the insistent repudiation of incest as an aberration, its criminalization as an abomination, can be taken as proof of its repeated occurrence through history. After all, the very idea of a creation myth – where humankind came from – is bound to find itself in some incest bind, a lingering question as to how a species is initially perpetuated. As Sally Falk Moore claimed in her contribution to the American Anthropologist in 1964, “Any myth about the creation of man which postulates a single first family is bound to give rise to some incestuous riddles. Who married the children of the first couple?”