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The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 28 Mar 1974

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; Reprint edition (28 Mar. 1974)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140442979
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140442977
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,067,939 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Peter Abelard was a French philosopher and the greatest logician of the 12th century. He taught in Paris, where Heloise was his pupil. After the tragic end of their marriage, she became a nun & he a monk. Betty Radice was the editor of the Penguin Classics during the 1960-70s & an acclaimed translator from Latin, Greek & Italian. Michael Clanchy researches at the Institute of Historical Research UCL & the Warburg Institute. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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There are times when example is better than precept for stirring or soothing human passions; and so I propose to follow up the words of consolation I gave you in person with the history of my own misfortunes, hoping thereby to give you comfort in absence. Read the first page
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46 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Ruth Ludlam VINE VOICE on 6 Feb. 2004
Format: Paperback
This collection contains not only the letters exchanged by Heloise and Abelard in later life, but also Abelard's autobiography (the 'Historia Calamitatum') in the form of a letter addressed to an anonymous friend. This is well worth reading because it is one of the earliest forms of autobiography ever written, and tells the story of Abelard's eventful and controversial life from his own point of view. It is a fascinating character study (Abelard even seems to change whilst writing it) and reveals a great deal of egomania and possibly a persecution complex. It is also amazing to see how he can be such a gifted philospher and theologian, yet fail to understand other people at all. Despite his sometimes colossal arrogance, Abelard's attitude to God is one of great humility and I find it quite moving. The narrative is centred around the disastrous event of his castration, which he accepts very humbly. On the other hand everything else that goes wrong is blamed on other people wholesale, with Abelard casting himself as the misunderstood and persecuted saint, and there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth on his part. I love his persecution complex, too - he claims that his monks tried to murder him by poisoning the chalice from which he was taking communion!
The letters in the rest of the book date from after Abelard's autobiography was published, and if you read them closely you'll see just how clever Heloise really is. They're worth reading anyhow, because of the breathtaking passion they convey, but if you look you'll notice she manages to use his own philosophical doctrines to defeat him and rewrites the Historia Calamitatum for him from her own perspective.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 23 Jan. 2006
Format: Paperback
This high-medieval love story, which the reader traces in an exchange of exquisitly written letters between two brilliant minds of the time, raises all sorts of issues. The medieval idea of the body and sexuality, what is right and wrong in terms of what is pleasing/unpleasing to God, but ubove all it is about the expression and the working out of the idea of love, both towards the divine and between man and woman.
It also gives us an interesting take on medieval life of the intellectual class. What life was like in Paris at the time of the founding of its first University is mapped out in the historia calamitatum, but also the real historical threat of heresy accusation under which Abelard laboured for his philosophical and theological insights. Also the issue of the place of women must be considered. It is interesting that Heloise was one of the very few lettered women in her time - a lone voice in the otherwise silenced abyss of time - yet she certainly does her education justice!!
Ubove all, this makes intense reading. History is brought to light on these pages in such an intimate and immediate way. For those who are interested, there is a book called "The Lost Letters of Abelard and Heloise", which is suspected to be their letters of exchange in the heat of their love affair (This book contains their letters from when they are cloistered up).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER on 27 Jun. 2010
Format: Paperback
This contains the complete letters: the `personal' as well as letters of `instruction'. Whether they are authentic or not i.e. whether these really are letters written by Abelard and Heloise is still disputed academically, as they might be learned imitations, especially the letter of Heloise.

But whatever their status, they are a fine insight into C12th mores, not least the roles available to medieval woman, and the problematic relationship between sexuality and holiness.
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By D W on 14 Jun. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is very accessible, given the age of the letters, and provides a fascinating insight into the attitudes of the time. An excellent and extremely readable translation tracing love through catastrophic tragedy and separation.
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