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Peter Abelard

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Peter Abelard

Illustration from A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times

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This profile of Peter Abelard is part of
Who's Who in Medieval History

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Peter Abelard was also known as:

Pierre Abélard; also spelled Abeillard, Abailard, Abaelardus, and Abelardus, among other variations

Peter Abelard was known for:

his significant contributions to Scholasticism, his great ability as a teacher and writer, and his infamous love affair with his student, Heloise.

Occupations:

Places of Residence and Influence:

Important Dates:

    Died: April 21, 1142

Quotation from Peter Abelard:

    "The first key to wisdom is defined, of course, as assiduous and frequent questioning."
    ---- Sic et Non, translated by W. J. Lewis

    More Quotations by Peter Abelard

About Peter Abelard:

Abelard was the son of a knight, and he gave up his inheritance to study philosophy, particularly logic; he would become renowned for his brilliant use of dialectics. He attended many different schools seeking knowledge from a variety of teachers, and often came into conflict with them because he was so headstrong and certain of his own brilliance. (The fact that he really was brilliant didn't help matters.) By 1114 Peter Abelard was teaching in Paris, where he met and tutored Heloise and became a notable figure of the twelfth-century Renaissance.

As a philosopher, Peter Abelard is well-remembered for his solution to the problem of universals (definitive qualities of any given class of things): he maintained that language itself cannot determine the reality of things, but that physics must do so. He also wrote poetry, which was very well received, and established several schools. In addition to these scholarly efforts, Abelard wrote a letter to a friend, which has come down to us as the Historia Calamitatum ("Story of My Misfortunes"). Together with letters written to him by Heloise, it provides a great deal of information about Abelard's personal life.

Peter Abelard's affair with Heloise (whom he had married) came to an abrupt end when her uncle, wrongly believing Abelard was forcing her to become a nun, sent thugs to his house to castrate him. The scholar hid his shame by becoming a monk, and his philosophical focus shifted from logic to theology. Abelard's subsequent career was extremely rocky; he was even condemned as a heretic at one point, and the work the Church deemed heretical was burned.

Because Abelard was so cocksure, applied logic so ruthlessly to matters of faith, criticized anything he found worthy of contempt and frequently insulted fellow clerics, he was not well-loved by his contemporaries. However, even his harshest critics had to concede that Peter Abelard was one of the greatest thinkers and teachers of his time.

For more about Peter Abelard, his relationship with Heloise, and the events that followed, visit your Guide's feature, A Medieval Love Story.

More Peter Abelard Resources:

A Medieval Love Story
Online Text of Abelard's Historia Calamitatum
Quotations by Peter Abelard
Encyclopedia Article about Peter Abelard
Abelard and Heloise Picture Gallery
Peter Abelard in Print
Peter Abelard on the Web

Philosophy & Theology
Monasticism
Medieval France

Abelard & Heloise on Film
The link below will take you to a site where you can compare prices at merchants across the web. More in-depth info about the film may be found by clicking on to the film's page at one of the online merchants.

    Stealing Heaven
    Based on the fictional novel by Marion Meade, this 1989 film was directed by Clive Donner and stars Derek de Lint and Kim Thomson.



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