Héloïse d'Argenteuil  

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Héloïse d’Argenteuil (1101? – 16 May 1164) was a French nun, writer, scholar, and abbess, best known for her love affair with Peter Abélard, which has become the best known example of early romantic love, documented in Letters of Heloise and Abelard.

Contents

Background

Héloïse (variously spelled Helöise, Héloyse, Hélose, Heloisa, Helouisa, Eloise, and Aloysia, among other variations) was a brilliant scholar of Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and had a reputation for intelligence and insight. Abélard writes that she was nominatissima, "most renowned" for her gift in reading and writing. Not a great deal is known of her immediate family except that in her letters she implies she is of a lower social standing (probably the Garlande family, who had money and several members in strong positions) than was Abélard, who was originally from the nobility, though he had rejected knighthood to be a philosopher.

What is known is that she was the ward of an uncle, a canon in Paris named Fulbert. By some point in her life, probably already as a teenager, she was renowned throughout Western Europe for her scholarship, and she became the student of Pierre Abélard (Peter Abelard), who was one of the most popular teachers and philosophers in Paris.

Tragic events

In his writings, Abélard tells the story of his seduction of Héloïse and their subsequent illicit relationship, which they continued until Héloïse bore him a son, whom Héloïse named Astrolabius (Astrolabe). Abélard secretly married Héloïse, but both of them tried to conceal this fact in order not to damage Abélard's career. Fulbert's ensuing violence against Heloïse caused Abélard to place her in the convent of Argenteuil.

The accepted view is that Fulbert believed Abélard abandoned Héloïse, and, in his anger, wreaked vengeance upon Abélard by having him attacked while asleep and castrated. An alternative view is that Fulbert divulged the secret of the marriage and her family sought vengeance, ordering the castration of Abélard. After castration, Abélard became a monk.

At the convent in Argenteuil, Héloïse took the habit and eventually became prioress. She and the other nuns were turned out when the convent was taken over by the abbey at which Abélard had first taken his monastic vows. At this point Abélard arranged for them to enter the Oratory of the Paraclete, an abbey he had established, where Héloïse became abbess.

Correspondence

About this time, correspondence began between the two former lovers. After Abélard left the Paraclete, fleeing persecution, he wrote his Historia Calamitatum, explaining his tribulations both in his youth as a philosopher only and subsequently as a monk.

Héloïse responded, both on the behalf of the Paraclete and herself. In letters which followed, Héloïse expressed dismay at problems Abélard faced, but scolded him for years of silence following the attack upon him, since Abélard was still wed to Héloïse.

Thus began a correspondence both passionate and erudite. Héloïse encouraged Abélard in his philosophical work and he dedicated his profession of faith to her.

Ultimately, after telling Héloïse of instances where he had abused her and forced sex, Abélard insisted he had never truly loved her, but only lusted after her, and their relationship was a sin against God. He then recommended her to turn her attention toward the only one who ever truly loved her, Jesus Christ, and to consecrate herself fully from then on to her religious vocation.

Some scholars consider Abélard was attempting to spare her feelings (or his feelings, altered from disrupted hormones) and others point to the damage of his hormones and psyche, but from this point on, their correspondence focused on professional subjects rather than their romantic history.

Astrolabe, the son of Abelard and Héloïse, is mentioned only once in their surviving correspondence, when Peter the Venerable writes to Heloise: "I will gladly do my best to obtain a prebend in one of the great churches for your Astrolabe, who is also ours for your sake".

The Problemata Heloissae (Héloïse's Problems) is a collection of 42 theological questions directed from Héloïse to Abélard at the time when she was abbess at the Paraclete, and his answers to them.

Burial

Héloïse's place of burial is uncertain. According to the Père-Lachaise Cemetery, the remains of both lovers were transferred from the Oratory in the early 19th century and were reburied in the famous crypt on their grounds.

The Oratory of the Paraclete claims Héloïse and Abélard are buried there and that what exists in Père-Lachaise is merely a monument. There are still others who believe that while Abélard is buried in the crypt at Père-Lachaise, Héloïse's remains are elsewhere.

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