Heloise and Abelard

Heloise and Abelard

Les Amours d’Héloïse et d’Abeilard, by Jean Vignaud. 1819.

The pursuit of truth–intrepid, fierce, endless. In the face of the greatest obstacles. In the face of a rising tide of ignorance, bigotry and anger. Abelard and Heloise epitomize the conjunction of the ideal pursuit of knowledge with the explosive complications of carnal love. I see them both, living in the 12th century, feeling completely out of step with their times, wanting to change them desperately. Abelard did. Heloise could have, if not for her station in life as a young woman in a segregated land.

But she changed him. He loved her mind and her body, the nexus, blood and spirit. He loved everything she was and said and knew. We, however, are denied the passion of her intellect as he saw it, outside those letters that came later, looking back. The Middle Ages would have forced her to hide the incandescence of her mind all too often, which impacted our ability to really know her now. Why did Abelard fight against his love for her later? Why did he allow his shame and guilt to overwhelm the truth?

Far from perfect. Far from always heroic. Though he went through something that would alter the core of any human being.  He had the ultimate excuse. And we finally gain some compromise of sorts, some merger, some overall dynamic encompassing his love, his doubts, his shame and guilt, and her incredible support, forgiveness, resignations. Her incredible loyalty . . .

He was a rock star in his day, before all of that was shattered. Students crowded around him by the hundreds. He used his wit, logic, and great oratory skills to actually change philosophical discourse in the France of his time. In that world, it was possible to defeat someone so decisively in public contests of rhetoric that the effects were similar to our presidential contests. He did. He helped pave the way for the ascension of Aristotle in the next century. Europe would never be the same.

Too well known the consequences of his love for Heloise. Too well known her own reduced choices. The convent. The son, Astrolabe. The shift into piousness for him. Away from the intrepid search for truth at all costs.

Are we selfish beyond measure looking back, expecting this person and that person to never fail, to remain liberated, beyond chains, to never cave in to any pressures, any extreme, tragic event? Armchair judges. Scolds and nags, never satisfied with even the momentary appearance of great hearts and minds. As if we would have done more . . . As if we would have shaken the earth for longer, made more noise, shouted we . . . are . . . free until the end of our days!!!

Feet of clay. We all have them at times. The thing is to find enough moments wherein we walk with hard soles to fill a life, or two or three.

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