Peter Abelard

On Romantic Love

Introduction by Constant Mews

Abelard says: "In fact, there was in that same city of Paris a certain young woman by the name of Heloise, the niece of a canon who was called Fulbert, who loved her so much, that he was desirous that she might study the science of letters in everything that he could provide. Of no mean beauty, she stood out above all by reason of her abundant knowledge of letters."

Original Latin

Abelard's Side of the Story

In this passage of the Historia calamitatum, Abelard describes his past relationship with Heloise as a consequence of being “inflamed by love”. He emphasizes her exceptional gift in letters, but also the crassness of his own desire to find an opportunity to seduce her. He considers that her uncle, Fulbert, was blinded by his love for his niece and Abelard’s own reputation for continence. By emphasizing the lustful character of the amor by which he was driven, Abelard prepares the reader for the punishment which would follow -- in his view, painful and humiliating as it was, it was a punishment that served a greater good.

Abelard glides over the intellectual and literary aspect of their relationship (so much treasured by Heloise), and instead presents their love affair purely in terms of physical indulgence. He does not comment on the ethics of their relationship, except to present it as manifestly self-indulgent, at least from his perspective. He recalls the drama of the situation when they were discovered by her uncle, and Heloise's intense emotions when she reported to him that she had become pregnant. This led him to send her to Brittany to give birth to the child, Astralabe, in the company of his own sister, Denise.

Abelard does not seek to celebrate his love for Heloise, but rather to describe his behavior as meriting the castration that would follow.