Peter Abelard

Philosopher

Born: c. 1079
Died: 21 April 1142
Birthplace: Le Pallet, Brittany (now France)
Best known as: The Scholastic thinker who had an affair with Heloise

Name at birth: Pierre Le Pallet

Peter Abelard (also Abelaird or Abaelardus) was a 12th century scholar and theological pot-stirrer whose fame as a critic was eclipsed by his tortured love affair with a pupil, Heloise d'Argenteuil. Born into nobility, Abelard made his career around Paris as a teacher, and by all accounts was both brilliant and arrogant. He was among those Scholastics who revived Aristotle's dialectic, approaching theological problems with the principles of logic. Abelard's writings brought charges of heresy in 1121 and 1141, and his secret marriage (and son) with Heloise brought revenge (from her father, an official at Notre Dame) in the form of castration. Abelard became a monk and Heloise became a nun, and their letters put them in the history books as legendary separated lovers. His writings from the 1130s, including the correspondence with Heloise, are the basis of his fame, and most of what is known about his life comes from his memoir, The Story of My Calamities. He's important in European history because his clever arguments were early attempts to reconcile faith and reason, and his collection Sic et non forced later theologians to confront contradictory writings from church fathers.

Extra credit: One of the most famous representations of their love affair is the poem Eloïsa to Abelard, by Alexander Pope.

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More on Peter Abelard from Fact Monster:

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  • Peter Abelard: Bibliography - Bibliography See D. E. Luscombe, The School of Peter Abelard (1969); D. W. Robertson, Jr., Abelard ...
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  • Peter Abelard: Life - Life Abelard went (c.1100) to Paris to study under William of Champeaux at the school of Notre Dame ...
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