Convey the story Essay
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Heloise and Abelard by James Burger has its place among the most famous biographies that were written about the pair of lovers who lived in Medieval Age, and which is based on the correspondence the two held. It opens a new perspective on the life of the Dark Ages, on its institutions and philosophies, and most of all, on its theology. The lovers who became the victims of the religious age they lived in, that could not admit their love, or any other type of love, for that matter, except religious love.
The characters themselves are besides the initiators of free love, the ones who foresee the escape from the too rigid, rule-based religion of the Medieval centuries: “Let us read after this the famous Colloquy of Erasmus, “The Franciscan”, and we will find repeated all the essential ideas of Heloise: Christ preached but one religion, the same for layfolk and monks; the Christian renounces the world and professes to live only for Christ, and St.
Paul did not preach this doctrine for monks but for everyone; layfolk, even the married, are bound to chastity and poverty quite as much as monks; in short, the only rule binding the Christian is the Gospel. Once she has adopted this course, Heloise’s frank and direct reason would not let her stop. Carried away by her own logic she was to touch, one after the other, almost all the critical points on which the humanists and reformers of the sixteenth century are so insistent. Why forbid meat to monks? Meat in itself is neither good nor bad. Let us not attach religious importance to things which in fact have none.
Nothing counts save what can lead us to the kingdom of God. Let us forget, then, these exterior practices common to truly pious souls and to hypocrites, It is only interior acts that really count for the Christian. The rest is Judaism. ” (Gilson, 132) Thus, the point that the story of Heloise and Abelard is trying to make, is that theirs was the one of the most tragic examples of the many failures of the Medieval Age, which persecuted through religion and rigid commandments, trough enclosing monasteries and punishments of all kind, instead of opening the road to what true spirituality means.
The touching and tragic story of the lovers impresses because of the nobility of their thoughts and feelings, and also to the spectacular love story, which remains intense throughout their lives. Love is blended with the Christian doctrine, and the lovers try to find a bridge between the two, something that will only be found later in the history or religion, with the advent of humanism. 2. Explain who Heloise and Abelard were. What is their background and upbringing? What brings their paths together?
Heloise and Abelard form one of the most famous couples known for their romantic love, so often compared to such immortal stories like that of Romeo and Juliet. However, their story is the real account of a twelfth century couple that lasted throughout the centuries both because of the unusual love story that united them, and also because of the startling sincerity and openness of the letters that favors a clear view of their characters and lives, and of the circumstances of the century they lived in.
Pierre Abelard was a well-known philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages, whose studies have been concerned with mainly with logic and dialectics in the early years, and then with ethics and theology later on in his life. Of the account he himself gives of his early life in the letter addressed to his friend Philintus, we find that in his early youth he discovered his “natural genius for study”, and became “smitten with love for books”, so much so that he decided to renounce at once the fortune that father had bestowed on him as his eldest son, to his brothers and to dedicate himself entirely to learning.
His passion and ambition to become a great logician soon brought him notoriety inside the circles of scholars, and he stood out as one of the most reputed teachers of his time. It is in the midst of his glory as a philosopher that the event that will change his life forever occurs: he sees Heloise, the niece of a certain Fulbert. She is belongs to a lower social class than he but she is equal in all else to him: she is literate and very learned, perhaps even surpassing him in depth of thought and feeling. All these were unique and very rare qualities in a medieval woman.
Abelard concocts the perfect means of making her acquaintance, with a clear intention to conquer her and make her his mistress. He talks to the uncle, and after having offered him a sum of money, he obtains the latter’s assent to instruct his daughter as her teacher. Heloise, who has reason enough to admire him for his knowledge and brilliant mind, soon falls in love with him and becomes his lover, without the slightest resistance. It is here that their fascinating but tragic story actually begins. 3. Who was William of Champeaux?
Discuss his influence in the life of Abelard. Why did Abelard achieve both acclaim and notoriety? Abelard has been, because of his originality of thought, in controversy with many of the philosophers of the age, among these, William of Champeaux, who began by being his teacher, but who was soon outwitted in the lectures he gave by his student. This naturally created animosity between the two, and it became even more founded when Abelard started teaching himself, and drew to his side most of the students that formerly had been instructed by Champeaux:
“I put myself under the direction of one Champeaux, a professor who had acquired the character of the most skilful philosopher of his age, but by negative excellencies only as being the least ignorant! He received me with great demonstrations of kindness, but I was not so happy as to please him long; for I was too knowing in the subjects he discoursed upon, and I often confuted his notions. Frequently in our disputations I pushed a good argument so home that all his subtlety was not able to elude its force.
It was impossible he should see himself surpassed by his scholar without resentment. It is sometimes dangerous to have too much merit. Envy increased against me in proportion to my reputation. ” ( I) Abelard was many times an envied scholar, and later on, he was even accused of heresy for his ideas, by the enemies he always made in his circle. But, nevertheless, he became more and more notorious, because of the originality and novelty of his ideas, and especially because of his passion and ability for logic and argumentation. 4. How do Heloise and Abelard fall in love?
What challenges must their relationship overcome? What were the consequences for both Abelard and Heloise? What is transcendent or universal about their love story? Together in the house of Heloise’s uncle, under the assumed masks of teacher and student, Heloise and Abelard begin their love story. As it becomes clear from Abelard’s own confessions in the letters to her, and from the imputations she brings on him, in her turn, the beginning of their of their affair was due more to his lust and incontinence rather than to his feelings for her:
“Was it not the sole thought of pleasure which engaged you to me? And has not my tenderness, by leaving you nothing to wish for, extinguished your desires? Wretched Heloise! you could please when you wished to avoid it; you merited incense when you could remove to a distance the hand that offered it: but since your heart has been softened and has yielded, since you have devoted and sacrificed yourself, you are deserted and forgotten! ” (II) Heloise however, seems to have given herself completely to her feelings to him, from beginning to end of their love story.
After they remained together for the space of a few months, but their love was son discovered by Heloise’s uncle, who, enraged, demanded compensation from Abelard for his offense against the family honor. Abelard decides to marry Heloise, and when the latter becomes pregnant he sends her away to Britanny, to the care of his sister. The actual situation of the two lovers can not be fully comprehended without placing it in the Medieval context.
Thus, it would perhaps seem natural to a modern reader that marriage be a solution for Abelard and Heloise, one that would confer legitimacy on their bond, both from the point of view of religion and from that of moral. However, this was not the case at all, for a few clear reasons. First of all, both Abelard and Heloise were both learned people, with such strict and high spiritual aspirations that they were incompatible with the idea of lay marriage. Abelard wanted for himself the kind of pure life that he admired in Saint Jerome or Seneca, and which would bring him the glory he longed for.
For Heloise his glory would have been her glory too, so she was actually the one who withstood all she could the idea of marriage. In the strict sense of the world, according to the Medieval moral and religious laws, Abelard had the right to marry, without losing by this act the right to teach or his clerical dignity. The actual danger was that they, as all Medieval scholars, regarded marriage as a form of weakness and incontinence, that would inevitably and permanently drive a scholar away from his prayers and philosophical inquiries.
Marriage was therefore considered degrading, and not a lot better than fornication for the ones who aspired to become theologians, because it had the same consequences – surrendering to sensual pleasures and forgetting one’s duty to God: “”If therefore laymen and pagans have lived thus, without the restrictions of a religious profession, how much the more is it your duty to do so, you who are a cleric and a canon, lest you should come to prefer shameful pleasures to the divine service, lest you cast yourself into the gulf of Charybdis and perish, lest you should destroy yourself in these obscenities to the mockery of the whole world.
” (III) It is precisely in this conflict between their great passion and their aspiration for spiritual heroism, that the tragedy of Heloise and Abelard begins, even more so, when we consider that the spiritual ideals they tried to attain were not imposed on them from the outside, but were their own, and therefore as powerful as their love. It is this context that makes possible the famous and extraordinary statement of Heloise to Abelard, in which she declares that she would rather be his mistress or his prostitute than his wife:
“You cannot but be entirely persuaded of this by the extreme unwillingness I showed to marry you, though I knew that the name of wife was honorable in the world and holy in religion; yet the name of your mistress had greater charms because it was freer. The bonds of matrimony, however honorable, still bear with them a necessary engagement and I was very unwilling to be necessitated to love always a man who would perhaps not always love me. ” (II)
As she herself declares it, Heloise believed in the disinteresedness of love, and considered, ahead of the time she lived in, that marriage does nothing to preserve the purity of love, but, on the contrary, makes it the slave of ambition or other advantages that are not love itself. Love is not to be confused with mere life or be put under the same necessities as the latter, as it would happen in a marriage, and this is seemingly what the story of Heloise and Abelard signified: a love that surpassed in intensity and nobility the limitations of simple life:
“You have very justly observed in your letter that I esteemed those public engagements insipid which form alliances only to be dissolved by death, and which put life and love under the same unhappy necessity. (… )With what ease did you compose verses! And yet those ingenious trifles, which were but a recreation to you, are still the entertainment and delight of persons of the best taste. The smallest song, the least sketch of anything you made for me, had a thousand beauties capable of making it last as long as there are lovers in the world.
Thus those songs will be sung in honor of other women which you designed only for me, and those tender and natural expressions which spoke your love will help others to explain their passion with much more advantage than they themselves are capable of. ” (IV) Heloise already takes pride in their love story as something universal that will be used as a ground for comparison for future couples who will be bound by so great a love. The two loved each other with such great ardor and nobility, that their love is pure in spite of their sin.
In spite of Heloise’s noble attitude that can not consent either to the loss of glory by the man she loves or to the degrading of noble and free love by binding it to the hearse of marriage, the two eventually contract a “secret marriage”, a compromise imposed by Abelard, so as not to lose Heloise but at the same time, to maintain his respectfulness in public. Abelard sends his wife to the monastery of Argenteuil to avoid further rumors about their marriage, already dressing her in the nun habit, without knowing that she will wear it forever afterwards .
The climax of these happenings comes with the barbaric act of revenge that Heloise’s uncle commits. He bribes the servants of Abelard and these allow for someone to enter the room of their master by night and castrate him. This terrible and symbolic revenge is perhaps what made the love story between Heloise and Abelard legendary. Afterwards, they both retire in convents, Heloise being the first to put on the veil, at Abelard’s command, who not being able to posses her anymore, shuts her up from the world in his jealousy, so that she might never belong to anyone else.
This is perhaps the greatest and incontestable act of love and sacrifice she performs for him, surrendering herself completely, and renouncing the greatest thing for him: not the world, as he thought, but him, the man she loved. Their love becomes transcendental and universal through the very passion that fettered them when they were together, but which also manifested itself in their acts of renouncement.