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September 30 , 2008

The Medieval Mind - Volume II of II


The romantic growth and imaginative shaping of chivalric love having been followed in the fortunes of its great exemplars, Tristan, Iseult, Lancelot, Guinevere, Parzival, a different illustration of mediaeval passion may be had by turning from these creations of literature to an actual woman, whose love for a living man was thought out as keenly and as tragically felt as any heart-break of imagined lovers, and was impressed with as entire a self-surrender as ever ravished the soul of nun panting with love of the God-man.
There has never been a passion between a man and woman more famous than that which brought happiness and sorrow to the lives of Abaelard and Heloïse. Here fame is just. It was a great love, and its course was a perfect soul’s tragedy. Abaelard was a celebrity, the intellectual glory of an active-minded epoch. His love-story has done as much for his posthumous fame as all his intellectual activities. Heloïse became known in her time through her relations with Abaelard; in his songs her name was wafted far. She has come down to us as one of the world’s love-heroines. Yet few of those who have been touched by her story have known that Heloïse was a great woman, possessed of an admirable mind, a character which proved its strength through years, and, above all, a capacity for loving—for loving out to the full conclusions of love’s convictions, and for feeling in their full range and power whatever moods and emotions could arise from an unhappy situation and a passion as deeply felt as it was deeply thought upon…
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