Essay, Research Paper: Abelard And Heloise


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The twelfth century was divided into two phases: Early Middle Ages or Dark Ages
and the High Middle Ages. It’s during the High Middle Ages when things started
to take a turn both mentally and physically. Churches developed more stamina and
papal bureaucracy was created. The government was revived. Urbanization
increased and most of all a sudden increase was brought in cultural
revitalization and courtly love was an important aspect of this awakening.
Courtly love is defined as humility, courtesy, adultery and religion of love.
This is what I believe Abelards’s and Heloise’s relationship was based on in
Abelard’s Historia Calamitatum and his letters to Heloise. Abelard was a
well-known figure of the twelfth century that taught dialectic philosophy.
Abelard was in his late thirties when he first met Heloise in Paris. And it was
her knowledge and gift for writing letters, which was so rare in women at the
times that attracted Abelard to her. Heloise was the niece of one of the
Cannons. She was about seventeen when she met Abelard; this was not considered a
big deal for back then it was pretty common to have big age difference in
marriages. Heloise was considered atypical because women were rarely educated at
all back then. She was strong willed and she had a pretty good sense of logic
and this is what brought them together. Heloise struck a deal with Heloise’s
uncle to educate her and gained full access to her pleasures. Their relationship
encompassed the maximum in personal freedom. “Her studies allowed us to
withdraw in private, as love desired and then with our books open before us,
more words of our love than of our reading passed between us, and more kissing
than teaching. (Radice 67). Later Heloise became pregnant and Abelard could not
successfully sidestep the rules of the society because the society of a time
just wouldn’t accept a premarital sexual affair. I believe Abelard and Heloise
got engaged in the first “modern” love affair. Because they enjoyed each
other both sexually and intellectually, just as how it’s perceived in
today’s world. Though Heloise’s attitude towards marriage and love was quite
different from the other women of the twelfth century. She resisted the idea of
marriage because she thought it was more of an economical and political idea
than real love and that she would rather be called a whore or a mistress instead
of a wife. (Radice 74). This tells us about her individuality and also that she
didn’t consider marriage part of love unlike most of the women of her time.
Love is portrayed in many forms in this book. Like for example love of learning.
The first thing Abelard does in his writing of Historia Calamitatum is portray
himself as an individual just like Heloise. He denounced the popular and
glorious life of a soldier and in order to study words and philosophy. I believe
in writing this he shows his clever and different way of thinking by referring
to dialectic. “I chose the weapons of dialectic to all the other teachings of
philosophy and armed with these, I chose the conflict of disputation instead of
trophies of war.” (Radice 58). In the beginning Abelard’s and Heloise’s
relationship was based heavily on passionate love. So later after their entry
into religion, Heloise accused Abelard of lust rather than love for her, which I
believe, is not true. “It was desire, not affection which bound you to me, the
flame of lust rather than love. This is not merely my opinion, beloved, it is
everyone’s.” (Radice 116). I wouldn’t agree with Heloise here. Abelard was
mostly attracted to her because of her knowledge and because of her gift of
writing letters. Also he worried about her as much as he was concerned about
himself and his career. He agreed to marry Heloise even though it would put his
career and reputation in danger. Also at one time he says “all our laments
were for one another’s troubles and our distress for each other, not for
ourselves.” (Radice 69). I don’t think this would fall under lust because if
he had only desired sex then he wouldn’t have cared for her the way he did.
Abelard and Heloise’s relationship was based on courtly love of their time and
also I believe that their love was the creation of modern ideal of marriage
which was founded on the voluntarily shared tenderness of a couple who shelter
each other from the harshly competitive world, just like today’s.
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