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Abelard and Heloise Between Voice and Silence

  • Babette S. Hellemans
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

This chapter studies both the letters of Heloise and Abelard and elements of their still-controversial reception. Its aim is to consider voice and silence as types or expressions of rhetorical individuality. I begin with a stance against what I see as a persistent idea about the famous letters exchanged between Abelard and Heloise: namely, that they are actually true letters, written between a couple in a consecutive order and revealing to the reader a sense of growing insight into their existence, both as a couple and as two individuals. My approach in this chapter draws on certain aspects of the debate that surrounds these letters in European scholarly tradition, and especially in Germany, where the tendency is arguably to emphasize the historical context of a source, as opposed to what might be described as the more politically engaged, gender-focused scholarship predominant in North America.1 My aim on these pages is a modest one, namely, to consider a particular historiographical approach to a body of commonly discussed sources.

Keywords

Letter Exchange Diffi Culty Spiritual Exercise Divine Love Moral Certainty 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    For example, Linda Olson and Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, Voices in Dialogue: Reading Women in the Middle Ages (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    An overview of recent work on identity and premodernity pertinent to this chapter is Alois Hahn, “Wohl dem, der eine Narbe hat: Identifikationen und ihre soziale Konstruktion,” in Unverwechselbarkeit: Persönliche Identität und Identifikation in der vormodernen Gesellschaft, ed. Peter von Moos (Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 2004), 43–62.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Claude Lévi-Strauss, L’Identité: Séminaire interdisciplinaire dirigé par Claude Lévi-Strauss, professeur au Collège de France, 1974–1975 (Paris: Grasset, 1977).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    On twelfth-century Humanism, see Richard W. Southern, Scholastic Humanism and the Unification of Europe, 2 vols. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995–2001).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For the remaining corpus of extent letters written by Peter Abelard, translated into English, see Jan M. Ziolkowski, Letters of Peter Abelard: Beyond the Personal (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2008).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See, for instance, Bernard of Clairvaux, Letter 11, in Sancti Bernardi Opera, ed. J. Leclercq, H. M. Rochais, and Ch. H. Talbot, vol. 7, Epistolae, I: Corpus epistolarum 1–180 (Rome: Editiones Cistercienses, 1977), 224; Reprint, SC 425 (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1997).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    The notion of the “voice” is essential in the work of the American philosopher Stanley Cavell. “I propose here to talk about philosophy in connection with something I call the voice, by which I mean to talk about the tone of philosophy and about my right to take that tone.” Cavell, A Pitch of Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 3.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Peter Abelard and Heloise, The Letter Collection of Peter Abelard and Heloise, ed. and rev. trans. David Luscombe, after Betty Radice (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2013), 218–19.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Jerome, Select Letters, trans. F. A. Wright (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1933), 420. The date of Jerome’s letter is AD 411.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    M. Tullius Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes, ed. M. Pohlenz (Leipzig: Teubner, 1918), 4.75.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    See B. S. Hellemans, “The Man without Memory: Peter Abelard and Trust in History,” in On Religion and Memory, ed. B. S. Hellemans, W. Otten, and M. B. Pranger (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), 45–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 14.
    Aaron J. Gurewitsch, Das Individuum im europäischen Mittelalter (Munich: Beck, 1994), esp. Chapter 3.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Peter von Moos, “Occulta cordis: Contrôle de soi et confession au Moyen Age,” in Entre Histoire et littérature: Communication et culture au Moyen Age (Florence: SISMEL—Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2005), 579–610.Google Scholar
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    On the broad topic of body language and the notion of spontaneity in medieval culture, see Jean-Claude Schmitt, La raison des gestes dans l’Occident médiéval (Paris: Gallimard, 1990).Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    Bonnie Wheeler, ed., Listening to Heloise: The Voice of a Twelfth-Century Woman (New York: St. Martin’s, 2000).Google Scholar
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    Carolyn Walker Bynum, “Did the Twelfth-Century Discover the Individual?” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 31.1 (1980): 1–17;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. expanded version in Carolyn Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982), Chapter 3.Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    See, for instance, the article of M. B. Pranger, “Elective Affinities: Love, Hatred, Playfulness and the Self in Bernard and Abelard,” in Medieval and Renaissance Humanism: Rhetoric, Representation and Reform, ed. Stephen Gersh and Bert Roest (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2003), 55–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Peter von Moos, Mittelalterforschung und Ideologiekritik, der Gelehrtenstreit um Heloise (Munich: Fink, 1974).Google Scholar
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    Peter von Moos, Entre Histoire et littérature: Communication et culture au Moyen Age (Florence: SISMEL—Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2005), 3–43.Google Scholar
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    Andrea Grun-Oesterreich, “Aposiopesis,” in Encyclopedia of Rhetoric, ed. Thomas O. Sloane (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  22. 25.
    This passage refers to Cavell’s notions of acknowledgment and the voice; Stanley Cavell, The Cavell Reader, ed. Stephen Mulhall (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), 22.Google Scholar
  23. 27.
    Godman, Paradoxes of Conscience in the High Middle Ages: Abelard, Heloise and the Archipoet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 28.
    See, for instance, A. A. Long’s view on the representation of the self (phantasia) in Long, Stoic Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), especially Chapter 12.Google Scholar
  25. 29.
    For further reading, see especially Christopher Gill, The Structured Self in Hellenistic and Roman Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), and in particular, Chapter 6.5 on Epictetus.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 30.
    See Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, ed. Arnold Davidson, trans. Michael Chase (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), esp. 206–13 and the editor’s introduction.Google Scholar
  27. 31.
    Giles Constable, “Monastic Letter Writing in the Middle Ages,” Filologia mediolatina 11 (2004): 1–24.Google Scholar
  28. 32.
    On the connections between the fields of logic and divinity, see Eileen Sweeney, “Literary Forms of Medieval Philosophy,” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013 Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta. Online at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/medieval-literary/.Google Scholar
  29. 34.
    I use the notion of project similar to Martha Nussbaum “as in the debate between the Greek tragic poets and their opponent Plato. It is the project of a dialogue … in pursuit of the human question, ‘How should one live?’” Nussbaum, Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 289.Google Scholar
  30. 37.
    Richard Weingart, The Logic of Divine Love: A Critical Analysis of the Soteriology of Peter Abailard (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 203–204.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Irit Ruth Kleiman 2015

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  • Babette S. Hellemans

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