Peter Abelard

On Man and Wife

Introduction by CJ Mews

Peter Abelard says: “...the Lord appears to have created the woman separately, in some place, from which he brought her afterwards. Or "brought" is said [of the time] when he gave her away to her husband and established her as wife.  “Of my flesh.” [Genesis 2:23] Though above none of Adam's flesh is said to have been taken away to form the woman, but only the rib. From this it is given to be understood that some quantity of flesh adhered to the rib which went over into the flesh of the woman.”

Original Latin

Strong women and equal partners

Following medieval use, Abelard understands virago to refer to a woman of a strong or virile spirit. Such a woman is called virago, which derives from the Latin word for man, vir.  Adam calls Eve a virago at Genesis 2:23, after the passage that recounts her creation from his rib. Though her substance came from that of a man, she became an equal person in her own right. And as Abelard points out, nowadays we do not refer to every woman as a virago, but only to women who are strong in spirit -- heroic women. 

Because a man and his wife are so closely conjoined in substance, he should love her deeply.  Abelard also picks up on I Corinthians 7:4-5, emphasizing that man and woman are equal in their rights to each other in a physical way, and that one should not dominate over another. While St Paul used the word similiter, Abelard employs aeque, suggesting he was stressing equality more than similarity.