On this day in 1140 a chap by the name of Peter Abelard was found guilty of heresy. He probably would have been sentenced to death, but he got past that by heading off to Rome to plead for clemency and dying on the way. Smart move.
The name may be ringing a bell with you. If so, yes, you’re right. This is Peter Abelard of Abelard and Héloïse, the couple who had the great love affair. Apparently. I have my doubts about this. Is it really true love when, after popping his lady love’s cherry, the popper goes around bragging about it to his mates? See, I don’t really think so. To me, it’s more the medieval equivalent of pulling in a nightclub, going back to hers, making her sleep in the wet spot and then leaving before she wakes up and, of course, not leaving your phone number.
That said, he didn’t leave her. The continued their illicit relationship, but were found out by Héloïse’s guardian, Fulbert and forced to separate. They did, but were still getting up to their filthy shenanigans in secret. So much so that Héloïse got pregnant. Abelard, ever the gentleman, sent her off to a convent to give birth. Here, again, we can find parallels with modern behaviour. You know how people love to laugh when celebrities give the fruits of their loins unusual names like, Apple or Fifi Trixibelle, or Dweezil or even Moon Unit. These slebs are so far behind the times. Héloïse called her son, Astrolabe after the scientific instrument. Nice. Anyway, by this time Fulbert the guardian is a bit pissed off, so Abelard suggests they have a secret wedding. Héloïse isn’t too keen, but somehow she gets talked into it. Why secret? Well, it wouldn’t be good for Abelard’s career as king of all the philosophers and the best teacher in all the world, if he were married and anyway, all the sex is having a deleterious effect on that career. Yet again, Héloïse finds herself carted off to a nunnery and this time Fulbert decides that Abelard is abandoning her, so he decides that he’ll put a stop to the whole thing, which he does by hiring some blokes to attack him in the middle of the night and to, well not to put too fine a point on it, cut his nuts off. That’s right, Abelard was to spent the rest of his life castrated and nutless.
That pretty much put the kibosh on the love affair and Héloïse stayed in the nunnery, eventually becoming prioress, even though she hated being a nun, and Abelard joined a monastery and became a monk. The legend of their “romance” is held in the letters they then wrote to each other, but frankly, some of those letters just tell the story of Abelard taking advantage of a young woman, being a bit of a dick, getting her pregnant, abandoning her and always putting his career first. On those grounds an awful lot of women are having great love affairs these days and they should stop being so bloody miserable about being taken for granted and be happy that in a thousand years time someone will be writing about them and being all “Aw, isn’t it romantic!” or some bitch will blog about them saying “what a shit relationship that was!”
Anyway! None of this was the reason that Old Peter the porker got convicted of heresy, although it does show some of the character
traits that made him enough of a dick to make powerful enough enemies to get him to a place where they decided to take the fucker down. The thing is, Abelard was a brilliant man (and for the record, Héloïse was a brilliant woman who was far too good for him). He was a genius philosopher and changed the direction of western philosophy. He was also a sought after teacher and famous throughout the known world. All of this stuff went to his head and he thought that he was King Cock of Christendom. This sort of arrogance is bound to make you a powerful enemy or several and his particular nemesis was Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard was one of those dead holy blokes who gets all “you can’t say that” if people get a bit rational and all about the human reason. When Abelard used this method to discuss the Trinity, Bernard was not a happy chappy. What followed was basically twenty years of recriminations, Abelard being all “I know you are but what am I?” until finally, Bernard got his wish and a Council of Bishops decided that Bernard was right, Abelard was a heretic and whatever. Personally, I think that the bishops had just had enough of two old men going at it over and over and over again, so they just decided to go along with Bernard, who was the one giving them the most earache. Historic decisions have been reached for far more flimsy reasons.
And then, dear readers, Abelard ended up in Cluny and died. Apparently his dying words were “I don’t know”. What is less well publicised is that they were the answer to the question “If you had to shag one of them or die, would you do Hale or Pace?”
Today was the birthday of Tony Curtis, but do you know what? I think he was an utter prick, so that is all we will say about Mr so-called Curtis today.
Instead, I’d like to talk about another birthday person: Josephine Baker. Ms Baker was, to put it succinctly, an amazing woman. She grew up dirt poor, she worked as a servant for a while, but she was abused by the women she worked for and left to live on the streets when she was still a child. She made money by dancing on street corners and that’s how she was discovered. She went on to be the best paid chorus girl in Vaudeville and then a company she was with toured Europe starting with France. She pulled out of her US contract, went to work at the Folies Bergères and became one of the biggest stars in the world.
Starting out as a dancer who sang a little, she became a singer with a big and powerful voice. She was the muse to many artists at the time including Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Picasso and Christian Dior. She made three movies, becoming the first ever black leading lady and she was adored.
The adoration grew during the war. She was such a big star that even the Nazis were loath to treat her badly. She, however, hated them and worked for the resistance, helped refugees and was an all round top woman. For her efforts she won the Croix de Guerre, the Rosette de la résistance and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by Charles de Gaulle. Unable to have children, she adopted her rainbow tribe, twelve children of differing nationalities and ethnicities. She continued to perform and although no longer an American citizen she became active with the NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement in the US. She spoke at the March on Washington in 1963 and in 1968,
when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, his widow asked her to take over leadership of the movement. Josephine eventually turned the offer down because her children were too young and still needed her.
After one final performance, which received rave reviews, Josephine suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and died peacefully a few days later. She left behind a fine legacy. Her talent will long be remembered, but more importantly, her humanitarian work, her generosity, her fearlessness and the fact that she made it on her own in a time when that was hard for any woman, let alone a dirt poor black woman. She was a damn fine woman and it’s a shame that she had to travel to another country for this to be appreciated. But she did, it was and there ain’t many of us can say that.
Happy birthday, Josephine.