Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Love hurts... If only we could have a spotless mind

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd.

~Alexander Pope, Eloisa to Abelard

I am currently reading a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine, by Alison Weir. I've often heard of her, and have even seen the academy award-winning Katherine Hepburn/ Peter O'Toole film, The Lion in Winter, but somehow my knowledge of who she is in history is pretty hazy.

I haven't made it very far in the book, but I did stumble upon a fellow named Peter Abelard, who Eleanor would have witnessed debating his contemporary, Bernard, in the 1100s.

I make mention of Abelard because he is a famous lover, and as a romantic, I take note of and remember famous lovers of history. He was very learned and famous in his time, and had the misfortune to fall in love with one of his students, the lovely Heloise. They secretly married, and produced a child, but when her uncle found out, he decided to have revenge. He and a few others broke into Abelard's house, and castrated the poor fellow. Obviously, Abelard could no longer perform the duties of marriage (nor, I imagine, feel much passion for his young wife), so she became a nun, and he devoted himself to learning and theology and himself became a monk.
Apparently, the two did correspond in later years, writing both of their love, and of shared philosophical interests. At some point, he denied that he ever loved her, pointing out that he had beaten her and forced her to have sex with him. He reduced any feelings that he had ever had or her as springing completely from lust.

If what he writes in true-- that it was only lust which prompted his passion, then perhaps I don't feel as sorry for him in his castration. On the other hand, I would expect an old man who had been rendered sexless because of his dalliance with a young woman, to be bitter when he looked back upon it. The story sounds much better as a result of ill-fated love, rather then some medieval John Bobbitt story.

I think of Heloise, who was so beautiful and clever, giving up her life to don a habit and enter the nunnery. How infuriating it is for him to write to her late in life and tell her that he never loved her. Ahhh, men!

Anyhoo, the above excerpt is from an Alexander Pope poem. It contains the now-famous "eternal sunshine of the spotless mind" quote, which, in context, refers to Heloise wishing she could forget. I have felt, and indeed, feel the same way myself. Here's to love...

Also, supposedly they're buried together in my favorite cemetery: Pere Lachaise. It's in Paris, and definitely worth the trip if you're ever in town. It's a bit of a hike to get there, but well worth it.

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