Ex Abaelardi epistulis ad Heloisam
The well known story of Héloïse d’Argenteuil tells us about a young brilliant woman of the 12th century remarkable for her knowledge of classical letters, which extended beyond Latin to Greek and Hebrew, and her passionate love with her professor Abelard. The affair interfered with Abelard’s career and once it was found out, the two lovers were separated, nevertheless they continued to meet in secret. Héloïse became pregnant and was sent by Abelard to be looked after by his family in Brittany, where she gave birth to a son. Abelard proposed a secret marriage so as not to mar his career prospects. Héloïse initially opposed it, but the couple were married. The marriage was eventually disclosed, and Abelard sent Héloïse to the convent at Argenteuil, where she had been brought up. Héloïse dressed as a nun and shared the nun’s life, though she was not veiled. After being castrated by Heloise’s uncle, Abelard decided to become a monk at the monastery of St Denis, near Paris.Before doing so he insisted that Héloïse take vows as a nun. Héloïse sent letters to Abelard, questioning why she must submit to a religious life for which she had no calling. Despite her intelligence, culture and passion, it seems like Heloise was not free to decide for her own life, a common condition for young women not only in the Middle ages. In the text, from The letters to Heloise written by Abelard, we can see the very beginning of their love from Abelard’s point of view.
1079 ADAbelard, originally called “Pierre le Pallet”, was born in Le Pallet, in Brittany, He was the eldest son of a minor noble French family. His father, Berengar was a knight. He encouraged Peter to pursue his scholarly leaning: he received early training in letters. He studied with enthusiasm dialectic and latin by following the logic of Ar- istotle and became an academic. Abelard wandered throughout France, debating and learning. He first studied in Loire under the tutelage of Roscellinus of Compiegne, a famous French theologian and philosopher who is considered founder of nominalism and then he attended William of Champeaux’s lectures, and entered into debate with William over the problem of universals. Abelard bested his teacher in debate, and gained his reputation as a dialectician of note, teaching at several schools. He grew to see himself as the only “undefeated” philosopher in the world.
Beginning of 12th centuryAbelard set himself up as a lecturer, first at Melun and then at Corbeil, competing mainly with William of Champeaux (his ex teacher). He became a famous philosopher, logician and poet. During this period Abelard’s health failed, and he returned to Brittany for several years.
1108 AD - 1113 ADAbelard returned to Paris with his health restored and his ambition intact. Abelard decides to study theology.
1113 ADstored and his ambition intact. Abelard decides to study theology. He sought out the most eminent teacher of theology of his day, Anselm of Laon, and became his student. It was not a good choice: Anselm’s traditional methods did not appeal to Abelard, and, after some time, Abelard returned to Paris to continue on his own. That was the last time he studied with anyone.
1116 ADUpon returning to Paris, Abelard became scholar-in-residence at Notre Dame, a position he held until his romantic entanglement with Héloïse.
EX ABAELARDI EPISTULIS AD HELOISAM
Bernard de Ventadorn, Can vei la lauzeta mover, 12th century
Bernard de Ventadorn was a French troubadour who lived in the 12th century. He was active among 1147 e il 1170. He wrote about forty-five compositions (including nineteen melodies). In his poems Bernard de Ventadorn contemplates female beauty and sensuality, alternating with meditations on the passing time and the fading of youth. “Can vei la lauzeta mover” is one of the most popular Bernard’s songs (Dante himself paraphrased its opening in his Paradiso). The song begins with a natural image in which the poet compares himself with a skylark (bird). The poet impersonates the character of the unhappy lover (typical of Provencal poetry) because of his beloved who does not correspond to his love. At the end Bernard condemns all women for their lack of piety and he comes to the conclusion that love does not elevate the soul but destroys it. The original song includes seven strophes composed of eight alternating rhyming verses ABABCDCD and four-part leave. The melody used for each strophe is usually determined by the form of the stanza, in that phrase length often corresponds to line length and melodic and lyrical cadences tend to coincide.
Miniature from “Codex Manesse”, 14th century
The miniature represents Horheim Bernger Von Horheim (late 12th century), a German poet of the court of Henry IV. In this image the poet is depicted with his beloved holding a dog in her lap, a symbol of fidelity, while he holds a sword, symbol of the ‘armor of the spirit’. Their hands join in the tree that seems to bloom upon their contact. It comes from “Codex Manesse”, also known as the “Great Heidelberg Book of Songs” (around 1300). It is the most comprehensive collection of ballads and epigrammatic poetry in Middle High German language which includes many miniatures.