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Peter Abelard's Heloise: On Being A Woman In Europe's Middle Ages.

1592 words - 6 pages

This essay will evaluate the text to illustrate the lives of women in European society during the Middle Ages by giving a synopsis of this couple's life, the setting in this period of history and finally what impact this world had on women as well as the role women made in shaping their social status.Peter Abelard (1079-1142), a French philosopher and theologian, was an early exponent of scholasticism. After studying in Paris he soon became a recognized teacher himself. His brilliant academic career was cut short in 1118-19, however, by the consequences of his love affair with Heloise (1098-1164, his junior by 22 years), the young niece of Canon Fulbert of Notre-Dame. Castrated by order of Fulbert and publicly disgraced, Abelard became a Benedictine monk. He continued to devote his vast energies to theological studies and writing, but Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, doubting the orthodoxy of Abelard's teaching on the Trinity, instigated the burning of one of his books on the subject at the Council of Soissons (1121). In 1125, Abelard established a convent called the Paraclete near Troyes, France - Heloise became prioress and a famous teacher there.Abelard's intentions were not for instructing the already unusually well-educated Heloise but to turn her lessons into a more agreeable form of activity ("We exchanged more kisses than learned propositions -my hands returned more often to her bosom than to our books.") This led to a child, Astrolabe (a high-tech christening). Although they married - against Heloise's will, for she preferred the title of lover to that of wife - Abelard kept the marriage secret and sent Heloise off to a convent at a time when a church career was becoming incompatible with marriage. Since Abelard had no other refuge but the monastery after his mutilation, he insisted that Heloise, as his wife, must first become a nun. She says in her first letter that she became a nun (abbess) not for love of God, but for love of Abelard.The letters sent between these two individuals after these events - while both had become celibate (except for one letter documented incident in the sacristy of a church)give us a sense of what was expected of the sexes during this time. The most insistent theme in the letters they exchanged is the status of women. Heloise claims that women are inferior to men and require their protection. Abelard insists that, on the contrary, God hears women's prayers more readily than men's. Both cite numerous biblical passages as evidence - Heloise mostly from the Old Testament while Abelard sites from the New. Some of Abelard's view seems to stem from the popular veneration of the Virgin Mary as opposed to the idea of women being also identified with Eve and the fall of man. It appears both of these women identities were used simultaneously to keep the social status quo.In order to make sense of the way woman lived, ideas about women must be addressed. At this period in history (12th century) most of Europe was a...

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