Romantic love has been surmised to have begun in the Middle Ages. The true story of Pierre Abelard and Heloise, famous lovers, who lived in the 12th century gives veracity to this idea. Abelard was of noble birth and 18 years the senior of Heloise. He was a prominent lecturer in philosophy and considered one of the foremost progressive thinkers in the 12 century. Heloise was intelligent and fluent in three languages,and came from a lower social standing than Abelard. Abelard became Heloise’s tutor and while living with her under her uncle Fulbert’s roof, they fell in love. They had a clandestine affair and Heloise bore a child, Astrolabe, out-of-wedlock. They later married secretly in Paris, as Heloise did not want their marriage to be known for fear of ruining Abelard’s career. Fulbert sought revenge and had Abelard assaulted by a hired thug and castrated, and Heloise entered a convent. Abelard was later exiled to Brittany, where he lived as a monk.
It is thought that they wrote over 113 love letters in Latin to each other during this period. Some have been translated and are presented on-line and they are both passionate in their remembrances of their lost love.
Heloise writes of the power of love letters in the following quote from one of her love letters to Abelard:
“I have your picture in my room and never pass it without stopping to look at it;and yet when you are present with me I scarce ever cast my eyes on it. If a picture, which is but a mute representation of an object, can give such pleasure, what cannot letters inspire? They have souls; they can speak, they have in them all the force which expresses the transports of the heart; they have all the fire of our passions, they can raise them as much as if the persons themselves were present; they have all the tenderness and the delicacy of speech, and sometimes even a boldness of expression beyond it.
We may write to each other; so innocent a pleasure is not denied us. Let us not lose through negligence the only happiness which is left us, and the only one perhaps which the malice of our enemies can never ravish from us. I shall read that you are my husband and you shall see me sign myself as your wife. In spite of all our misfortunes you may be what you please in your letter. Letters were first invented for consoling such solitary wretches as myself. Having lost the substantial pleasures of seeing and possessing you, I shall in some measure compensate this loss by the satisfaction I shall find in your writing. There I shall read your most sacred thoughts; I shall carry them always about with me, I shall kiss them every moment, if you can be capable of any jealousy let it be for the fond caresses I shall bestow upon your letters, and envy only the happiness of those rivals. That writing may be no trouble to you, write always to me carelessly and without study; I had rather read the dictates of the heart than of the brain. I cannot live if you will not tell me that you still love me; but that language ought to be so natural to you, that you cannot speak otherwise without violence to yourself.”
Heloise and Abelard are buried together in Paris, and many lovers seeking to find or be reunited with a loved one place their love letters on their gravesite.
I hope this tragic story of love lost may inspire you to write love letters to the ones you love close at hand.
Your friend, Cherie