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The Male and Female Self in European Civilization - Essay Example

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The Male and Female Self in European Civilization

Two of these personalities were Heloise and Abelard who became famous for their disastrous affair which shook the church in France during the Middle-Ages. Peter Abelard, a renowned philosopher and priest, fell in love with his beautiful and convent-educated student Heloise who eventually became pregnant. The affair ended in a tragedy when the couple secretly got married. When Heloise's uncle found out about the illicit affair and the marriage, he ordered Abelard castrated. Abelard spent the rest of his life in a monastery and Heloise decided to take vows as an Abbess, both embittered and separated from each other. Heloise's and Abelard's letters, written to each other at the height of their affair, compiled by Constant Mews, in a book called 'The Lost Love Letters of Heloise and Abelard,' radically and eloquently described the transcendent nature of their love. These collection of letters found and translated by Mews, only manifested that although men mainly dominated this period, the voices of women in that generation could never be silenced by constraints on gender or the established religious institutions. In one of her letters, Heloise wrote to Abelard she preferred love to chains and freedom to marriage as marriage was done merely for conventional purposes.

And if the name of wife appears more sacred and more valid, sweeter to me is ever the word friend, or, if thou be not ashamed, concubine or whoreI preferred to love to wedlock, freedom to a bond. I call God to witness, if Augustus, ruling over the whole world, were to deem me worthy of the honour of marriage, and to confirm the whole world to me, to be ruled by me forever, dearer to me and of greater dignity would it seem to be called thy strumpet than his empress. (Constant 27)

Heloise altered her definition of 'self' from being 1'a woman of great wisdom and prudence and religion' to someone who is not 'chaste.' Constant Mews mentioned this as 2'an incredible insight into Heloise's perception of the hypocrisy of religious life.' A part of Heloise identification of the 'self' was her strong views about gender issues of her time questioning the functions of Christian women in religious life and how this life could be made to suit them and not the other way around. Mews added that 3'the traditions [Heloise] inherited were one in secular level' quite distinct from the love based on the Scriptures that Heloise had to follow or the love that '[was] talked about in monastic life.' The Middle-Ages were the period in which society identified women as the cause of decay and corruption and Heloise defied this prevailing idea by developing a notion of love which at best was liberal and beyond her time. In another letter to Abelard, Heloise wrote 4'I do not consider the friendship of those who seem to love each other for riches and pleasures to be durable at all since the very things on which they base their love seem to have no durability.' In many of her letters in which she professed love to Abelard, Heloise stressed equality and friendship as essential to love and relationships.
For the most part, Abelard agreed with Heloise's view about love saying that they could live ...Show more


The Middle Ages, for many scholars, evoked notions of a hierarchal structure in which everyone occupied a carefully defined place and status in society. The idea of self and identity was cautiously tied to class, religion, gender or kinship and the functions of women were closely linked to the social standing of their husbands or the men who revolved around them…
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The Male and Female Self in European Civilization essay example
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