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The fable of Oedipus, with a theme of inadvertent incest between a mother and son, ends in disaster and shows ancient taboos against incest as Oedipus is punished for incestuous actions by blinding himself.

In the "sequel" to Oedipus, Antigone, his four children are also punished for their parents' incestuousness.

The English word incest is derived from the Latin incestus, which has a general meaning of "impure, unchaste".It was introduced into Middle English, both in the generic Latin sense (preserved throughout the Middle English period Before the Latin term came in, incest was known in Old English as sib-leger (from sibb 'kinship' leger 'to lie') or mǣġhǣmed (from mǣġ 'kin, parent' hǣmed 'sexual intercourse') but in time, both words fell out of use.Terms like incester have been used to describe those interested or involved in sexual relations with relatives among humans, while inbreeder has been used in relation to similar behavior among non-human animals or organisms.A common justification for prohibiting incest is avoiding inbreeding: a collection of genetic disorders suffered by the children of parents with a close genetic relationship.Such children are at greater risk for congenital disorders, death, and developmental and physical disability, and that risk is proportional to their parents' coefficient of relationship—a measure of how close the parents are related genetically.

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