Neoplatonism Through the Renaissance
What is the romantic story involving Peter Abelard and Eloise?
The story of Peter Abelard (1079–1149) and Eloise chronicles one of the most
poignant romantic relationships in the Western tradition. It was referred to in the 1999 movie about a doorway that leads into the head of the actor John Malkovich (Being John Malkovich in which John Cusack’s character refers to Peter and Heloise in the salacious dialogue of one of his marionette shows.) Well before this movie, Cole Porter wrote: “As Abelard said to Eloise, Don’t forget to drop a line to me, Please.”
In real life, Eloise had written to Abelard: “The name of wife may seem more sacred or more worthy but sweeter to me will always be the word lover, or, if you will permit me, that of concubine or whore.”
Abelard, at the peak of his fame and popularity, assumed the position of tutor to Eloise. They fell in love, and he is said to have seduced her. She became pregnant, and they were secretly married. Eloise’s uncle discovered the whole affair. Claiming to be incensed by the secrecy of their marriage, he publicly denounced Abelard and then had him castrated. Peter himself recounted these events in his autobiographical work, Historia Calamitatum.
Abelard told Eloise to become a nun and he himself became a monk. They carried on a correspondence of passionate love letters. Eloise was more enamored of Abelard than he was of her. Although castration was not an unusual punishment for the kind of betrayal of trust committed by Abelard, he was humiliated by his maiming for the rest of his life, and more or less retreated into his studies. Eloise became the highly successful abbess of a convent. Peter and Eloise were eventually buried together.