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Heloise, “Letter I, Heloise to Abelard” (1132)

Opening Questions: How did you come to this text based on your life experiences? What drew you most to the letter?

General topics discussed:

What is essential to marriage? How has that changed over time?

What are the purposes of a marriage? How has that changed over time?

What are the commonalities and differences between marriage and friendship and lust?

How much agency does Heloise have in the affair? in the marriage?

Does she claim more agency than she had?

If so, is that a rhetorical device or a misunderstanding on her part?

What does she mean when she claims “Freedom of thought but slavery to him”?

What claims does she make about being a concubine as opposed to a wife?

What rhetorical techniques does Heloise use to get a response?

In what ways does she use guilt?

What are Heloise’s intentions? Does she accomplish her aim?

In what ways are Abelard’s legacy and Heloise’s legacy similar and different?


Other works mentioned in our discussion:

Aristotle’s Children by Richard Rubenstein

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. (Specifically, Dagny Taggart’s and Hank Rearden’s relationship)

The Imitation Game movie (2015)

Paris: The Secret History by Andrew Hussey

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

“Sonnet 116” by William Shakespeare: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments…”



•A short reading with several excerpted parts, so some meaning might be lost

•Would have perhaps benefitted from being paired with another reading, possibly Diotima’s speech


Further reading suggestions:

Additional letters, perhaps a series between Heloise and Abelard

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