January 04, 2024

#08-373: Abelard and Heloise

Abelard and Heloise surprised by Master Fulbert (Wikipedia)

Note: This may be the weirdest love story you've ever heard--and it really happened!

Get Ready: What do you think is a fitting punishment for a man who marries a woman against her parents' or guardians' wishes?

Peter Abelard was a famous French medieval philosopher, poet, and musician who lived in the 11th-12th centuries. But despite his many accomplishments, he is best remembered for his tragic affair with the much younger Heloise, the niece of a churchman named Fulbert.

Heloise, who lived on the grounds of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, was the best-educated woman in Paris, knowing Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Abelard was an internationally famous scholar, a superstar with crowds of students, but he took a special interest in this bright young woman.

His romantic pursuit of her was his downfall. When her uncle discovered the affair, he tried to separate them, but they continued to meet in secret. Abelard got the girl pregnant and sent her to his family's estate in Brittany. When their son was born, she named him Astrolabe, after a state-of-the-art scientific instrument. The child was raised by Abelard's sister in Brittany, and later became a churchman like his famous father.

Although Abelard and Heloise were (secretly) married, he continued to live as a monk, and sent her to live in a convent, dressed as a nun. Nevertheless, Fulbert was incensed, and sent a gang of thugs to break into Abelard's room at night and castrate him.

The subsequent scandal saw the culprits punished by the law, and Fulbert leaving his position in the church. For his part, Abelard's career as a scholar was damaged by the ridicule he suffered for losing his manhood.

The two lovers published letters and carried on a lively correspondence (in Latin) from a distance, involving both personal and theological/philosophical matters. Their letters are still read today, and have inspired numerous books, novels, works of art, and musical compositions, as well as a long poem by Alexander Pope, Eloisa to Abelard.

When Abelard died, his remains were placed in the care of Heloise. When she died (on the same date 21 years later), they were interred together and, though their remains have been moved several times since, a tradition has made their current graves a place for lovers and lovelorn singles to leave letters petitioning for true love.


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. castrate
  2. culprits
  3. downfall
  4. incensed
  5. interred
  6. lovelorn
  7. petitioning
  8. scandal
  9. subsequent
  10. thugs
  1. people who have committed a crime
  2. extremely angry
  3. following
  4. placed in a tomb or grave
  5. unlucky in love
  6. a public shaming
  7. ruin; disgrace
  8. requesting; begging
  9. hoodlums; dangerous bad guys
  10. cut off a male's genitals

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 4, 2024

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. j; 2. a; 3. g; 4. b; 5. d; 6. e; 7. h; 8. f; 9. c; 10. i