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Abelard and Heloise

The Love Affair

By

Abelard

Abelard

Abelard and Heloise are one of the most celebrated couples of all time, known for their love affair... and for the tragedy that separated them.

In a letter to Abelard, Heloise wrote: "You know, beloved, as the whole world knows, how much I have lost in you, how at one wretched stroke of fortune that supreme act of flagrant treachery robbed me of my very self in robbing me of you; and how my sorrow for my loss is nothing compared with what I feel for the manner in which I lost you."

It's perhaps the most tragic love story ever ... Abelard and Heloise were two well-educated people, brought together by their passion, then separated by the act of her uncle's vengeance.

Peter Abelard (1079-1142) was a French philosopher, considered one of the greatest thinkers of the 12th century. Among his works is "Sic et Non," a list of 158 philosophical and theological questions. His teachings were controversial, and he was repeatedly charged with heresy. Even with the controversy that surrounded him at times, nothing probably prepared him for the consequences of his love affair with Heloise, a relationship destined to change his life in dramatic ways.

Heloise (1101-1164) was the niece and pride of Canon Fulbert. She was well-educated by her uncle in Paris. Abelard later writes in his "Historica Calamitatum": "Her uncle's love for her was equaled only by his desire that she should have the best education which he could possibly procure for her. Of no mean beauty, she stood out above all by reason of her abundant knowledge of letters."

Wishing to become acquainted with Heloise, Abelard persuaded Fulbert to allow him to teach Heloise. Using the pretext that his own house was a "handicap" to his studies, Abelard further moved in to the house of Heloise and her uncle. She was supposedly a great beauty, one of the most well-educated women of her time; so, perhaps it's not surprising that Abelard and she became lovers. Also, she was more than 20 years younger than Abelard... And, of course, Fulbert discovered their love, as Abelard would later write: "Oh, how great was the uncle's grief when he learned the truth, and how bitter was the sorrow of the lovers when we were forced to part!"

They were separated, but that didn't end the affair. Instead, they discovered that Heloise was pregnant... She left her uncle's house when he was not at home; and she stayed with Abelard's sister until Astrolabe was born.

Abelard asked for Fulbert's forgiveness, and permission to marry Heloise; then with Fulbert's assent, Abelard tried to persuade Heloise to marry him. In Chapter 7 of "Historia Calamitatum," Abelard wrote: "She, however, most violently disapproved of this, and for two chief reasons: the danger thereof, and the disgrace which it would bring upon me... What penalties, she said, would the world rightly demand of her if she should rob it of so shining a light!"

When she finally agreed to become Abelard's wife, Heloise told him, "Then there is no more left but this, that in our doom the sorrow yet to come shall be no less than the love we two have already known." In regard to that statement, Abelard later wrote, in his "Historica," "Nor in this, as now the whole world knows, did she lack the spirit of prophecy."

Secretly married, the couple left Astrolabe with Abelard's sister. When Heloise went to stay with the nuns at Argenteuil, her uncle and kinsmen believe Abelard had cast her off, forcing her to become a nun.

Violently incensed, they laid a plot against me, and one night while I all unsuspecting was asleep in a secret room in my lodgings, they broke in with the help of one of my servants whom they had bribed. There they had vengeance on me with a most cruel and most shameful punishment, such as astounded the whole world; for they cut off those parts of my body with which I had done that which was the cause of their sorrow.

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