chapter  6
26 Pages

Rhetorical Friendship in the Letters of Heloise and Abelard

WithR. Jacob McDonie

Chapter 6considers the problematic friendship that develops in the letters of Abelard (c. 1079–1142) and Heloise (c. 1090–c. 1164). Abelard and Heloise both make ample reference to and quote De amicitia. Heloise, perhaps the most rhetorically accomplished of all the writers in this study, remains intent on inserting herself and Abelard into the discourse of Ciceronian amicitia for the active role that it allows her to claim. Abelard often sees Heloise as a function of his conversion narrative, in which he tries to contain her; she is the temptress responsible for his fall and the docile nun now in need of his spiritual guidance (hence, a Jeromian model of friendship). But Heloise focuses on the rhetorical appropriateness of their friendship playing out in a more classical-Ciceronian realm in which both parties are equals and can make demands of the other. Heloise employs the discourse of classical amicitia for the equality that it brings to her and Abelard’s relationship. Heloise, moreover, employs various textual, rhetorical, and performative strategies to engage Abelard in competing discourses of gender, sexuality, autonomy, spiritual development, debts and duties, sympathy, and role-playing, all constitutive elements of the different versions of friendship that Abelard and Heloise envision.