Uncle Fulbert: Abelard, Heloise, and the Culture of Narcissism
It was the love story of the Middle Ages, and one of the greatest love stories of all time.
Abelard, the premier philosopher of the twelfth century and an instrumental force in the rise of the University of Paris, had become attracted to the comely young Heloise, a teenage girl about twenty years his junior, who had already gained a reputation for her learning.
He approached Heloise’s Uncle Fulbert (her guardian) and proposed to live with him and take Heloise under his erudite wing. Fulbert eagerly agreed, proud that his smart niece had been chosen by the leading intellectual light of Europe for special instruction. Fulbert turned Heloise over to Abelard, giving him constant access to her, the right to direct her studies night and day, and even to administer corporal punishment. Under such circumstances, it didn’t take Abelard long to seduce Heloise. They carried on an affair in Fulbert’s house for months, Fulbert blind to it. (Abelard would later write, citing St. Jerome and referring to Fulbert, that a man is invariably the last to know what is going on in his own home; everyone knows what a woman is up to before her father or husband.)
Fulbert eventually learned of the affair and tossed Abelard out of the house. But Abelard had fallen passionately in love with his victim, so they carried on … Read the rest