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Open Access Heloise’s First Letter as a Response to the Historia Calamitatum

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The twentieth-century novelist George Moore, who wrote a novelized version of the letters of Abelard and Heloise in 1921 (Héloïse and Abélard), had a curious notion of the function of the Historia Calamitatum as it pertained to the rest of the collected correspondence of the famous twelfth-century couple. His views come to light in a preface he wrote for Scott Moncrieff’s first integral English translation of the letters, The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (1926) and in the accompanying correspondence with Moncrieff. Moore believed that the authentic correspondence began with Heloise’s first letter (letter 2). He deemed letters two through eight to be genuine letters exchanged by Abelard and Heloise but, in his words, the Historia was: “A literary forgery, designed to create a background and a justification for the rest.” In other words, he thought that a forger had come across seven authentic letters by Abelard and Heloise and, finding them in need of an introduction which would unify the whole, created the Historia. Moore conjectured further that to make the forgery cohere with Heloise’s first letter, the falsifier also composed the first two paragraphs of Heloise’s letter, thus sewing this hoax onto the fabric of the whole. In this scenario, then, it was the forger who invented the awkward chance receipt by Heloise of Abelard’s letter to a friend. In the early decades of the twentieth century, it was not known that the French translation of the correspondence attributed to Jean de Meun was extant. Moore felt that if the Jean de Meun text lacked the Historia (we know today that it includes it), this would show the Historia to be a later composition. But given the high degree of inter-connectedness between the Historia and Heloise’s first letter, in a correspondence which seemingly moves forward from the Historia to each succeeding letter, to say nothing of the numerous specific references Heloise makes to the content of the Historia, Moore’s theory has the air of the bizarre for the modern scholar.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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  • Until a short time ago, in German speaking countries there has neither been a periodical dealing primarly with interdisciplinary research of the Middle Ages, nor has there been a forum for regular publications in other languages. Wishing to close this gap, the journal «Mediaevistik» therefore pursues two aims: 1. To publish research methods and results which deal with studies within the different categories of the Middle Ages as a subject, and 2. to offer a forum for studies in all other important European languages and thus stressing and furthering the internationality of this particular field of research. The time frame is approx. the 8th to the 16th century, corresponding with the geographical boundaries of Latin Christianity in the High Middle Ages.

    All articles in Mediaevistik are published as full open access articles under a CC-BY Creative Commons license 4.0. There are no submission charges and no Article Processing Charges as these are fully funded by institutions through Knowledge Unlatched, resulting in no direct charge to authors.

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