Ruys, Juanita Feros, The Repentant Abelard: Family, Gender, and Ethics in Peter Abelard's 'Carmen ad Astralabium' and 'Planctus'.
Enduringly popular, intellectually significant, and quintessentially controversial, Peter Abelard remains a popular subject of research and academic inquiry. The historiography is voluminous. Now comes another tome. Happily, this one is worth sustained consideration. Juanita Feros Ruys's study is massively learned and erudite. Peter Abelard is reintroduced to medievalists as a figure beyond the heady days of his public life and Ruys sheds new and important light on other dimensions of this complex and fascinating personality. The text produced by Ruys is noteworthy and stands without antecedent or peer both for originality and interpretation.
Abelard's career hardly requires a resume, as it is so well known among medievalists. His reputation as a teacher and controversialist is beyond dispute, his celebrated affair with the irresistibly larger-than-life Heloise has been the subject of much spilled ink, and the elusive life of their oddly named son Astralabe, are matters of common knowledge. Ruys does not bother reiterating the obvious. Instead, she delves deeply and profoundly into two later writings of Abelard, which have been strangely neglected by scholars. The Carmen ad Astralabium is a long didactic poem wherein the aging master provides advice to his estranged son. The Carmen engages in a protracted delineation of ethical and theological ideas while the series of six laments, the Planctus, is directed at his former lover and wife, Heloise, wherein Abelard conveys similar concerns through the voices of figures embedded in the texts of the Hebrew Bible. Both texts are generally known but have rarely been subjected to the relentless interrogation that characterises Ruys's methodology.
Twice condemned as a heretic, ruthlessly castrated, misunderstood, and at times despairing of life, Abelard turns to the family he rejected years earlier. Ruys points out that Abelard appears to find solace in his family in the sting and disappointment of theological, pedagogical, and monastic initiatives. It is apparent that Ruys believes the best way to come to terms with the older, repentant Abelard is by means of a complete study of the Carmen ad Astralabium and the Planctus. This book fulfils that vision. A literary analysis of both texts, along with a conceptual delineation, provides an entirely new context from which to evaluate Peter Abelard.
Along with these analyses, Ruys makes available to the reader the Latin texts of both the Carmen and the Planctus, English translations of each, and a multitude of well-informed critical notes. The study is supplemented by an international, up-to-date bibliography. It is essential to read carefully Ruys's Introduction in order to grasp the context and to appreciate the scope of the work that follows. This is not a book for the fainthearted and it cannot be mastered in haste. There is a wealth of detail and much technical discussion. Various manuscript recensions, their transmission, and manuscript annotations are skilfully discussed. One has the sense of being in the hands of one who knows exactly what she is talking about.
What we encounter in The Repentant Abelard is a man at odds with his own humanity, who is both drawn to and repelled by familial relations. The textual issues latent in the Carmen ad Astralabium and the Planctus reveal, I think, a brilliant mind restlessly and rebelliously grappling with the larger questions of life who refuses to adhere to established categories and who resists the pull of convention and tradition. It is as though Abelard has been shown the grain and has chosen actively to go against it. The Carmen ad Astralabium, especially, reveals the convictions and conclusions of a great thinker and these are not concealed: there are no easy answers, he tells his son, hard questions are preferable to easy answers, and pilgrims have advantage over settlers. Abelard appears oblivious to the fact that he has made no concession to the youthfulness of his son. One of the critical issues raised in this book is the ethics of memoria, which demands further attention.
Ruys utterly dispatches arguments about the authenticity of authorship. The feeble, politically motivated work of Edelstrand du Meril is gutted and discarded. These texts reflect an Abelard family affair. Of significance is the fact that Ruys recognises and delineates the common features shared by both texts. This is an important book with mesmerising themes that reveals also, and no less importantly, that Peter Abelard loved Heloise to the end. The scholarship underpinning The Repentant Abelard cannot be too highly praised.
THOMAS A. FUDGE, University of New England
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|Author:||Fudge, Thomas A.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2015|
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