Images of Abelard and Heloise
There is a mythic quality to the lives of Peter Abelard and Heloise that has never ceased to fascinate readers of their letters and to provoke controversy about the significance of their ideas. The outer contours of their lives are well known through Abelard's so-called Historia calamitatum, or History of My Calamities.1 He tells the story of his life as a moral lesson on how worldly success could lead to disaster while the most difficult situations could always be turned to the good. He explains how, after arriving in Paris from his native Brittany around 1100, he established himself as a brilliant and controversial teacher, who outshone both William of Champeaux in dialectic and then Anselm of Laon in divinity. He devotes much attention to putting his side of the story about which rumor was rife, his love affair with Heloise. Explaining what happened as if it were a fable, he presents his behavior as simply the consequence of lust. The love affair became the subject of wide gossip and was eventually discovered by her uncle, Fulbert, a cleric and Abelard's host. When Heloise became pregnant, Abelard had her escape to Brittany. Abelard endeavored to make amends to her uncle by forcing her (against her will) into a secret marriage. This failed to placate Fulbert, who had him castrated. At Abelard's behest, they both entered the religious life, she at the Abbey of Argenteuil and he at the royal Abbey of St.-Denis.
Abelard explains these events, difficult as they were to accept, as all serving a higher end. In a similar vein, he argues that the machinations