<![CDATA[Peter Abelard presents one of the first historic individuals whose personality we can really know. Beforehand, the only people who presented realistic traits were mystical characters or legendary heroes. In 'The Love Sonnets of Abelard and Heloise' however, we can see the original, real human character, and the basis of all modern protagonists. Abelard's personality and the events in his twelfth-century life could have been lifted from any modern soap opera. From an early age, he was a precocious intellect. Son of a wealthy lord, Abelard followed the liberal arts and became an academic, instead of following his father’s military career. Abelard quickly made a name for himself by challenging established conventions. In doing so, he was condemned as an acolyte of the Antichrist by some of the most important theologians of the time, and labelled a heretic in 1140. As much as he was challenged by some, Abelard was revered by others. He claimed that he had thousands of students who followed him while he was in exile from the university in Paris. At the height of his renown, Abelard encountered someone who would become one of his most important students. A young woman with a fierce intelligence, Heloise d’Argenteuil was a remarkably capable woman whose knowledge of classical languages encompassed Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Initially employed as a tutor for Heloise, Abelard soon became her lover. Abelard boasted of his seduction and conquest of his student; in his autobiography, Abelard describes their lessons as “our speech was more of love than of the book which lay open before us; our kisses far outnumbered our reasoned words.” When Heloise’s uncle, Fulbert, discovered their relationship, he separated the two of them. In defiance of Fulbert’s decree, they continued to meet in secret. Their salacious romance was discovered, however, when Heloise became pregnant. Abelard sent Heloise to his relatives in Brittany, where she gave birth to their son whom she named Astrolabe, after an astrological instrument; little is known about Astrolabe’s life. Abelard, in an attempt to appease Fulbert, proposed a secret marriage to Heloise. Revealing herself to be a principled woman in a vehemently patriarchal world, Heloise opposed the marriage on the grounds it would interfere with Abelard’s academic career. The two were eventually married in secret, but Fulbert made their union public. To protect her from her uncle, Abelard sent Heloise to a convent. Fulbert believed that Abelard had sent Heloise to a convent in order to get rid of her. In retaliation for this perceived slight, Fulbert sent a band of men to attack Abelard. Fulbert’s men snuck in to Abelard’s room one night, enacting a brutal attack and castrating him. It is in the letters exchanged between Abelard and Heloise that the reader can gain a real feeling for their love. Romance is not just found in modern novels, it can be found in the lives of real people in history. 'The Love Sonnets of Heloise and Abelard' allow us to glimpse some of the few historical people from this period we can really empathise with. Their letters allow us to view a medieval relationship as it was lived between a prickly and articulate man - who inspired derision and celebration in equal measure - and his lover, the student he seduced.
The Love Sonnets of Abelard and Heloise
by Peter Abelard