Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Peter and Heloise

When I was in college, I was required to take a Medieval History course. It was a Humanities course, so we didn't just study history. We studied philosophy (a lot), literature, poetry, religion, and history. It was taught by a very kind older man, who loved, I mean loved, the Middle Ages. I didn't think I would like this period in time, and was terrified of studying philosophy (everyone I knew told me it was DIFFICULT!) This professor, though, was great. He made the study of these classic works really interesting. Yes, they were difficult to read and understand, but he had a way that made them come alive. He especially liked to read to his students (something very old fashioned), and we spent most every day listening to him read to us. One particular favorite of mine were the letters written by Peter Abelard to his lover, Heloise. My professor had a real affinity for St. Augustine and Peter Abelard. He loved them both, and we spent the majority of the semester studying these two men.

Our classical study group has just finished reading through 1001 Stories of the Arabian Nights. This series of stories was really enjoyabled, far more enjoyable than I thought possible. I had only read Ali-Baba (years ago), and while familiar with the tale of Alladin (thanks to Disney), had not really spent any time at all reading the other stories. I am glad we spent a couple weeks reading through them -- they are all great moral tales -- stories that make you chuckle a bit, but leave you with a definite impression of good/evil, wrong/right, etc.

As we close out our early Medieval readings, we begin to turn towards more significant "classical works" (not to put down Ali-Baba, but we are talking about Dante here!) Our next several readings will take us through the end of the year. These include the former mentioned letters of Peter Abelard, the Song of Roland and Summa Theologica (briefly chucked in between), then the power house book, The Divine Comedy. The latter will take the majority of our reading time, approx. 10 weeks to complete (probably longer, given the nature of the text). However, before we press on into the Middle Ages, we need to address the little letter written by Friar Peter Abelard (c. 1079-1142). Fr. Pierre Abélard, a 12th century philosopher, theologian and logician, is called "the keenest thinker and boldest theologian of the 12th Century" (by Chambers Biographical Dictionary). His love affair with Heloise is legendary -- true Medieval Soap Opera. We will only have time to read one letter, but the story itself is worth the investment of time.


I am not going to post a bio of Peter Abelard, because this one over at Wikipedia is pretty good:

Our text is coming from the following resource at Fordham University (Internet Medieval Sourcebook). We will read the introduction and overall guide to the letter first. The actual letter will be read the following week. Both are short readings -- not more than a few pages -- so this week and next will be rather light (giving our readers time to finish up Arabian Nights, if they need to).

Discussion will be limited, unless our readers have insight or questions.

Up Next

The Song of Roland (four weeks only)

Summa Theologica (just one essay - one week)

The Divine Comedy (ten weeks)