The Ethics of Rhetoric and Friendship in the Epistolae duorum amantium and Related Works
Chapter 5analyzes the early twelfth-century Epistolae durorum amantium as they are known to the scholarly world, the so-called “lost love letters of Abelard and Heloise,” which scholars posit with increasing persuasion were written by the lovers earlier in their lives during their courtship. This chapter argues for the convergence of ethical and rhetorical models of friendship in the Epistolae and related works. The lovers take the Ciceronian language of friendship seriously in their attempt to merge erotic love with disinterested and ennobling amicitia. This chapter pays serious attention to the vocabulary of friendship in the Epistolae because most studies have focused so intently on erotic love, or the question of ascription, that friendship in the Epistolae has been neglected. The friendship described by such vocabulary is often enacted by the Man or Woman as a kind of speech act through the letters. This chapter therefore considers the textuality of the lovers’ friendship. Letter writing did not simply further the relationship between the Man and Woman but substituted for it insofar as reading and writing are emphasized as the primary activity through which love and friendship occur. Textuality becomes an activity, and a largely rhetorical one. Still, the women of these letter collections are remarkably well-learned in De amicitia and often use its ideals of virtuous love to take their male lovers to task when they become sufficiently frisky. For both the men and the women of these letters, Ciceronian friendship is never entirely divorced from eroticism, but it is to the women’s minds a more noble form of romantic love than unqualified Ovidian amor.