Homeopathy Papers

Eloisa to Abelard by Alexander Pope – Message No. 4 from the IHZT, Meissen

Written by Siegfried Letzel

Homeopath Siegfried Letzel shares more stories about the life of Hahnemann and the little known projects he was involved with. ‘Eloisa to Abelard’ was a verse epistle by Alexander Pope. It was translated by Hahnemann.

Dear friends of Dr. Samuel Hahnemann and of the history of homeopathy. Our  present newsletter No. 5 from Meissen covers the same period of time as newsletters three and four. We have learned about the onset of modern chemistry and Hahnemann‘s deep involvement in its development. Dr. Hahnemann and his growing family have not yet found the stable ground necessary for a secured existence. Hahnemann did his best to make use of and selling his many vocations.

Remember, this young physician has now arrived in the city of Dresden. In the beginning, his stay was not accompanied with a secure income. His private clinic grew quite slowly and he was only moderately affluent. Hahnemann described his situation with the words, ‘I did not play a major role.’

Still, his Dresden years contributed much to his general development. He enhanced his medical knowledge and his scope of medical activities. He continued to satisfy his scientific aptitudes, he pursued the growth of his family and last but not least, he continued to translate and to publish works of scientific and general interest.

Richard Haehl, author of an exhaustive biography of Hahnemann, mentioned that he even met with Antoine Laurent de Lavoisier, the best known chemist of the time, who was in Dresden. It is said that Lavoisier’s greatest accomplishment in chemistry was to have changed it from a qualitative to a quantitative science.

Hahnemann also continued his medical advanced training when municipal physician Dr. Wagner gave him the chance to get acquainted with the work as a forensic physician. Then, for a whole year and with the permission by the municipal administration, he supervised all local hospitals as substitute of the diseased municipal physician. This was a great honour for a young physician who had just arrived in town.

Besides numerous articles written by the founder of homeopathy, one book stands out. It is the translation of the true medieval love story of Abaelard and Heloise. A love story published by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann?  To me this is something totally unexpected.

We can guess how Hahnemann got the idea of translating such material. It is known that he got acquainted with both librarians of the Electoral Library. They were privy councilor Adelung and librarian Dassdorf. They assisted him in selecting appropriate works, and it seemed that a German translation of this book of considerable church historical importance may become successful on the book market.

‘Eloisa to Abelard’ was a verse epistle by Alexander Pope which was published already in 1717. Its fame resulted in a large number of English imitations throughout of the century.

For his translation of this romance, Hahnemann used a copy of Joseph Berington’s book telling the 12th-century story of Heloise d’Àrgenteuil’s illicit love for, and secret marriage to her teacher Peter Abaelard, a famous Parisian philosopher some twenty years her senior.

Her family took brutal vengeance on Abaelard and castrated him. He then entered a monastery and compelled Heloise to become a nun. Both led successful careers. Abaelard wrote his Historia Calamitatum (History of misfortunes). It fell into Heloise’s hands and reawakened her passion for him. They exchanged four letters written in Latin. In an effort to make sense of their personal tragedy, these explored the nature of human and divine love. But their incompatible male and female perspectives made the dialogue painful for both.

Here are words by Heloise, ‘Among those who are wedded to God I serve a man, among the heroic supporters of the Cross I am a poor slave to a human passion; at the head of a religious community I am devoted to Abaelard only“.

After writing this epistle, Pope was said to have been one of the forerunners of the Romanticists. The fact that emotion was given primacy over reason may be the cause of this successful new literary trend.

In Europe, there exists a translation by Johann Joachim Gottlob am Ende (1704-1777). Several editions of which were published in German from 1742 onwards. But when it was sent to the Pope himself by the author, he found it inelegant though faithful.

Maybe this led him to advise Hahnemann for treating this epistle with his linguistic expertise. His work was rated by the ‘General German Library’ which in 1792, Hahnemann translates faithfully and fluently and it is right to justly recommend his work to those who wished that this interesting subject had gotten better treatment long ago.

Haehl in his Hahnemann biography added, that during these years of 1785-1789, Hahnemann published 2200 printed pages while running his private clinic and supervising the local hospitals. And he was only 30-34 years old! It is an example of the great versatility and mental elasticity of this man.

Without becoming superficial, and still remaining satisfied with the simple rendering of his translation, he displays on every occasion a new goal, and is as much at home in chemistry as in medicine. Hahnemann developed equally independent ideas in technical science and found enjoyment in the study of foreign classic literature.

But this Dresden time was only a prelude to the man’s real individual work in the later decades…

Maybe at this point readers may abandon this essay, because we leave Dr. Hahnemann now. For those interested in Abaelard’s and Heloise’s story, I give a summary. Anyway, it is a part of Dr. Samuel Hahnemann’s oeuvre…

This is their story:

Abaelard and Heloise were of very different characters. He was a man of logic and rationality, she a virtuous, lovely person. She couldn’t write, and it is not passed on whether she was able to read or not. She was a beautiful, gracious lady, gentle, mild and erudite, an owner of a soul full of love with a blazing heart.

Book I

Abaelard also had a mild spirit and he was open for all scientific teachings. He became a philosopher. Different from today, then, during the dark ages, studying something meant permanent or continuous engagement in a dispute. It was logic which was the fundamental ground of knowledge. One of his teachers was Roscelin, one of the most pedantic logicians. With the age of 16, Abaelard left his teachers because he felt that he couldn’t learn much anymore from them. It was as if they slowed down his investigative mind.

He then visited several provincial schools and at the age of twenty, he arrived in Paris. He knew that the schools there carried a great authority. During this time, he became a master in grammar, in the art of debate, logic, ethics and natural sciences.

Like Hahnemann during his time in Meissen when he attended the school St. Afra, Abaelard lived in the house of his teacher who was overwhelmed by the wit of his student.

Abaelard has already started challenging his teacher increasingly more. His annoyance against Abaelard grew steadily, and finally his brightest student had to leave classes.

When he was 22, Abaelard started searching for a place where he could begin teaching. His goal was to become a professor. He found one in Melum, about ten hours of travelling away from Paris. After some time he relocated his activities to Corbeil, which was only 5 hours away from Paris.

Abaelard’s former professor Champeaur was not very happy when he learned that his rival teacher went closer.  It then happened that both professors started some kind of a competition, one visiting the lectures of the other, much for the pleasure of their audiences. While their disputes started on eye level, soon Abaelard succeeded in beating his own teacher, and his enemy retreated with consternation.

 

It did not take long when Abaelard had to return to the Bretagne, the county where he was born. He has fallen sick and had to recover.

When he was 28 years old, he could return to Paris, his health being restored. And again he became a student of professor Champeaur and very soon they started their disputes once again. And once again Abaelard was the winner and his teacher had to retreat another time. After this, Abaelard was the only generally recognised professor in Paris.

BOOK II

After this achievement he needed to head for new horizons. He found them in the studies in the field of religion. In this effort he went to Laon, 27 hours of travelling away from Paris, where he studied under famous Anselm. This teacher only taught students belonging to the most noble families in the country. Abaelard was disappointed by Anselm, ‘From the distance he appeared like the brightest tree, but when you get closer, then you only see the leaves and no fruits’.

Abaelard began teaching again. His lectures reached far beyond his audience.        Students from other countries arrived to listen to him. What was so special with Abaelard? At the time, it was not sufficient for a professor just to summarise the contents of earlier works. Intellectuals always searched for deeper meanings between the lines and Abaelard’s splendid mind masterfully dissected those texts. There was nobody in reach who was able to cope with him.

During those days, while we focus on Abaelard, Europe has not been as peaceful as it seems to be. Quarrels and wars happened all across the countries, leaving a deep impact on the people. For the people it got increasingly difficult to survive. Fights and hunger prevailed. The inveterate foes had agreed that weapons had to fall silent from Wednesday to Monday so that the ordinary people could assure a little livelihood. The other days one kept on fighting those fellows with whom one peacefully cooperated just before.

In Paris, there lived a beautiful young lady. She was a very bright person whose scholarliness was quite amazing. Heloise was 18 years old. She lived in the house of her uncle and she was the pride of his family. The uncle spent a lot for her education while he was very stingy in all other aspects. No wonder why she was taught by the best teachers available.

Her name was already well known in the city of Paris and even beyond. She was already well-versed with the authors of old Rome and she was inaugurated with insights of contemporary philosophy. She knew what wise men in antiquity were teaching.

The house of her uncle was close to the public schools in Paris. It did not take long until Abaelard and Heloise met in the neighbourhood. He got acquainted with her and soon he became aware that she had all the traits his heart could wish for.

By this time, Abaelard was already 40 years old and he fell in love with her – well aware, that it had been better if he were her friend rather than her lover. After some time, Abaelard was a welcome friend at the table of Heloise’s uncle. He started teaching her. The uncle advised him that he should be a strict teacher and gave him permission to punish her if necessary and when she did not pay close attention.

It did not take long and a wild romance begun. Abaelard lost interest in doing all the teachings and he started to write poems and affectionate arias. Sometime later he mentioned that the sound of his voice and the gracefulness of his singing could conquer any woman’s heart.

The people pretty soon were well aware about their love, only her uncle Fulbert was not. As months had passed by, and what had been almost unavoidable, Heloise told Abaelard that she had become pregnant. There was no other way out for her than to leave her uncle’s house.

Abaelard still had friends in the Bretagne and secretly they fled there. Abaelard was dressed in a nun’s habit for not getting identified during this travel. When Heloise found shelter at the house of Abaelard’s sister Dionysia, he returned to Paris. Heloise gave birth to a son. She called him Astrolabius. Her own name was related to the sun and the son’s name should refer to the stars.

In the meantime Abaelard has asked her uncle to give permission for their marriage. They exchanged hugs to confirm the permission. Much later, Abaelard has written down that the conciliatory behaviour by the uncle was an artifice for bringing him down much easier afterwards.

When he returned to the Bretagne, Abaelard told Heloise that he would take her back to Paris for marrying her. She just laughed because she assumed that he was joking. She told him that she would never admit to be his wife. She told him that her uncle was irreconcilable. She also did not have the privilege to wrest him from church and school. Still, she promised him that he will always remain the center of all her wishes.

Abaelard insisted on the marriage. Heloise said that the consequences will be sadness much stronger than their happiness before. They could not know how prophetic this sentence really was. They married in Paris, secretly, in the presence only of the uncle and a few friends.

They did not want that the uncle’s house would suffer more kudos than it did anyway. But it did not take long until everybody in Paris knew about this marriage. When admiring friends congratulated Heloise, she played her game of astonishment and unawareness.

Abaelard brought his teachings to new heights and his students were happy that philosophy has won over a married life.  As Heloise had anticipated it, her uncle was really mad about her marriage with Abaelard. He really wanted to see collapse his exalted position.

This is the reason why Heloise really had to suffer a lot in her uncle’s house. He treated her badly whenever he had the chance to. Abaelard couldn’t help than to take her to a convent nearby.

It took only a few weeks until uncle Fulbert found out where Heloise got hidden. Now he wanted true revenge. He urged for the worst revenge which finally would chip away Abaelard’s outstanding image…

One of Abaelard’s servants was bribed to help in a crime that doesn’t bear thinking about. After the servant had secretly opened the door, five of Fulbert’s helpers sneaked into the professor’s house during midnight. The intruders entered Abaelard’s sleeping room.

He didn’t have the slightest chance to defend himself and he got pressed down by the intruders. One of them had a knife in his hand. There was no intention for killing him. This would have been just a slap on the wrist. No, Fulbert’s plan was to see Abaelard suffering from this night all life long. So he got emasculated by a few cuts with the knife…

The intruders quickly escaped and Abaelard got help from his other servants rushing at him because they were startled from of all the shouting. There was blood everywhere.

BOOK III

In the end, Abaelard survived this attack. He knew that from now on he was an object of ridicule and sarcasm. This meant that he had to begin his social life from the very beginning. Should he return teaching students? How would he be able to face their derision? Well, to be honest, he had betrayed Heloise’s uncle. And he got betrayed in return.

Abaelard decided to move to a monastery and he advised Heloise to enter a convent. She was not yet 20 years of age. Should she really give up her secularly life? She first asked Abaelard if it would be fine with him if she would bolt herself in by her own will without taking vows to a convent. He neglected vehemently. Heloise had to obey and this broke her heart. From now on she was separated from the world and from her husband.

Abaelard entered another monastery. He hoped that the world would forget about him. But this was not the case. His students wanted him urgently back to the schools while they kept on neglecting the other professors. They literally besieged Abaelard‘s monastery.

During that time, the monks and the abbot had already been tired from Abaelard’s steady complaints because of their flagitous lives. The wanted to get rid of him anyway. They solved the problem by sending Abaelard to a small village on the countryside where he opened a school just a few days later. He was very successful and up to 3000 students at a time attended his classes. But things would have been too easy if this was the end of the story.

Other professors had lost their influence because of Abaelard. So they accused him of heresy with all sorts of sophistry. For this reason, a convocation was convened. The charges against Abaelard proved to be insupportable. But all pooled forces against him were still too strong. They could overrun justice. Finally it was decided that Abaelard was taken under control of another monastery where he was meant to spend the rest of his life. But the new abbot was loyal to him and gave permission so that he could leave to his first monastery in St. Denys.

It did not take long that Abaelard’s free mind led to new accusations against him which were sent to the king for this time. The charges were couched in a way so that they had to raise much anger by the king. Feeling that he was facing real danger, Abaelard managed to escape from the monastery and he fled.

It seemed that Abaelard had forgotten about Heloise who still was immured in her convent. He was content about her situation and due to all of the problems around him he was not able to focus on anybody else, not even on his wife.

BOOK IV

In the meantime Abaelard found protection by the count of Champagne and he was allowed to live in the house of a loyal friend. But he had to leave once again for his former enemies appeared once again. He took a very long walk until he found a remote forest inhabited by wild animals and unfortunate people. It was a good place to build a chapel. It was made from branches and ropes, like the hut that he had built to get shelter.

This now was the happiest time in his life. He lived in peace of mind.

But then his students returned even there at this no-man’s-land. They built their own shelters and Abaelard taught again, now in a forest. One year later he had 600 students, all living under the pretty adverse conditions of a forest. The professor sat under a tree and his students listened while sitting on benches made from branches.

Abaelard’s opponents still kept on tracing him. They still wanted to disturb his doing even there, in the privateness of a remote forest in the Champagne. Abaelard was very poor. The families of his students were rich and so he still could maintain a living. He taught and his listeners cared for him.

Just at the time when Abaelard had to stop teaching once again due to his pursuers, the abbot of an old monastery which was built in the 5th century had died. The remaining monks had voted that Abaelard should occupy the vacant place. He travelled to the Bretagne, the area where he was born.

At his new destination, problems couldn’t be worse. The monks lived pretty earthly lives with mistresses and their own children. The financial situation wasn’t any better…

Heloise now was a prioress in the convent of Argenteuil. She had spent 7 years in this prison, observing silence. And even now, her life was of such monotony, that the story of one day would equal the story of a whole life: Praying, studying, working, meditating, sleeping. She became a prodigy of learning.It just happened that Guger, the leading opponent of Abaelard had a visit to the pope, lying at him, that the life in Heloise’s convent also was dissolute and secularised and that he, Guger, should be assigned to take care for that convent from now on. The pope accepted the proposal. Very soon, after Guger took over, Heloise was an outcast without any support left.

Abaelard went to the Champagne asking Heloise, whether she would like to help him caring for his vision: the Paraclete, which in Christian religion is the threefoldness of God – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It was neglected by the many priests and monks. She admitted readily, together with two nieces of Abaelard.

The couple existed of two persons of completely opposing personalities and nature. He was cold as marble with a darkened mind which grew from his philosophy and all the persecution he had suffered in the past. She, now 28 years old, was so beautiful, she had a soft soul still full of love for Abaelard.

He donated to her his Paraclete with his self-built church and house, the land belonging to it which was given to him before by the original owner of the area. Now Heloise was the abbess of the new institute in the forest. Abaelard then returned to St. Gildas in the Bretagne. The Paraclete developed nicely with the help of the people and aristocracy.

Bishops regarded Heloise as their daughter, abbots as their sister and the people as their mother.  Abaelard, at the same time, faced several attempts of him getting poisoned, because he kept on criticising his monks. They even hired assassins waylaying him when he had left the monastery. But Abaelard was always lucky avoiding them.

Only, he had an accident on a horse ride causing a serious injury at his neck which kept on bothering him for the rest of his life.

His life remained a sad one while the Paraclete, where Heloise spent her life, developed beautifully. The number of nuns has grown and also their resources have accumulated considerably. Pope Innocenz gave a papal edict that all the belongings of the convent may never be demanded by anybody. Otherwise he would hand out the hardest punishment.

BOOKS V and VI

1134, was the time when Abaelard wrote down the history of his life. He sent it to Heloise. When she read it, she commiserated with him and she felt her love for him even more. Grief has befallen her.

She answered him with a letter. She told him how much he has disregarded her over the many years. He didn’t visit her, he didn’t write her words of consolation. She confirmed her love for him and wrote about all the losses she has suffered because of him. Always she had sacrificed herself just for him.

She also wrote that he could neglect her so easily because he always knew about her true love for him. If he were uncertain about it, he would have cared more about her.

She invited him to give her as much of himself as possible and be it only letters so that she knew more about him, just as a kind of reassurance. Her last words in her letter were, „My only friend, fare thee well!“

This was the start of the exchange of a number of letters between Heloise and Abaelard in which they opened their souls and deepest thoughts.

BOOK VII

Iniquitousness kept being a steady companion in the life of Abaelard. The permanent offences against him made him writing two letters to the Pope in Rome and he left for travelling to the pontiff.

In the monastery of Cluni he stopped for taking a rest. After a while of staying there with his benevolent brothers and living there in peace, he fell ill with scurvy. He then was brought to St. Marcellus so that he could recover there. But what was meant to bring about amelioration seemed to accelerate his end of life! He died.

In Cluni the news of his passing were received as a shock. The friends bewailed this unbearable loss and they informed Heloise.

She knew that it was Abaelard’s wish to get buried at the Paraclete. She sent a request to the monastery at Cluni that they may translate his ashes to her. While in Cluni they wanted to bury Abaelard within their walls to the honour of their monastery, they still followed Heloise’s wish.

When his remains arrived at the Paraclete, Heloise’s heart broke with unbelievable grief. She still lived for another 21 years, being well honoured throughout her life.

Like Abaelard, Heloise fell ill with the age of 63. It is unrecorded which disease she suffered. But she must have felt that these were the last days of her life. On May 17 in 1147 she passed away. Her last wish had been to get buried beside beloved Abaelard.

This is the end of the story. It is not just a love story. It is a piece of human history. It tells us how it was when living in the Middle Ages. It explains the accepted or unaccepted values of that time, the ambiguity within. How did the earthly and religious authorities reign? What was a human life worth?

The International Hahnemann Center Torgau, now residing in Meissen, is very happy that we care for one original print of this rare book. As we see it as our duty to preserve Dr. Samuel Hahnemann’s life and work in all aspects possible, this work is as important to us like any other work he has written about homeopathy. We are glad that with the steady support of Hpathy’s ‘Homeopathy for Everyone‘ we get the     medium of publication to share and exchange stories like this with you. By putting everything in reach together, it will give us a more complete picture about the founder of homeopathy, a rare genius.

About the author

Siegfried Letzel

Siegfried Letzel is a biologist and he also qualified as a natural health professional specializing in TCM and homeopathy. For the last couple years, he has been studying historical papers and the works of early homeopaths in search of the original and true homeopathy. Letzel is the curator of the Hahnemann Exhibition of the International Hahnemann Center Torgau and a board member of the umbrella Association of Hahnemann Sites in Meissen, the city where the founder of homeopathy was born. He has also contributed to various books on homeopathy.

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