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The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 28 Mar 1974
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About the Author
Peter Abelard (1079–1142) was a medieval French scholastic philosopher, theologian and preeminent logician. The story of his affair with and love for Héloïse has become legendary. The Chambers Biographical Dictionary describes him as "the keenest thinker and boldest theologian of the 12th Century". --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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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).
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. You get the feeling he fell in love with her for her mind, and she proves that even after ten years locked away in a convent her wits are as sharp as ever. However, Abelard's replies start off quite cool and unresponsive; he is irritated rather than impressed by her ability to outwit him and seems keen to terminate their correspondence. Yet she manages to change him as it progresses, from severe misogyny into acceptance of women's role in the world and particularly in the religious life. What a woman.
And when he says "Heaven is like so many palaces..." the word he uses in Latin is 'Palatia'. It's an odd word in context, so why does he choose this particular one? 'Palatium' is also the name of his hometown, where he took Heloise to give birth to their child, and where they lived together for a short but happy time. So... he's secretly trying to say that Heaven is like the time they spent together before disaster tore them apart. This is the closest he gets to telling her he loved her.
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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