Historia Calamitatum, The Story Of My Misfortunes, Including Comments Whenever I Think Abélard Is Insufferable

In June, I began reading and writing a commentary on Abelard’s “Historia Calamitatum.” Once I am done with my commentary, I plan on self publishing the book on Amazon. However, due to working on other projects, such as editing and querying my novel and applying for new jobs, I took a break from working on this particular project. That being said, I have gone back to it. I’ve decided to post a little of the beginning as a preview of my commentary.

Enjoy!

Note:

I wanted to read Abélard’s Historia Calamitatum: The Story Of My Misfortunes but when I did I could not stop rolling my eyes at how goddamn insufferable and annoying and whiny he is. I still wanted to read it, however, there was absolutely no way I was going to be able to get through the text without making A LOT of notes in the margins. I tried reading it online so I wouldn’t completely destroy a good book. That was not going to work for me. 

Ultimately I decided to make this book instead. (I got the idea from all those My Immortal Commentary fics I read in high school.) My comments are in bold directly under the lines I am reacting to. When I make a comment in the middle of a sentence I will put […] to indicate I have done so at the end and beginning of the sentence I separated. For the majority of the book, my reactions were made during my first read of the text. Due to this, my opinions may change as I make more comments.

As of the time I am creating this (2021) I am not a professional medievalist. However, I have done a lot of research on the medieval period (mainly Early English history/the Anglo-Saxon period) so while I am not completely uneducated, some of my interpretations may be historically inaccurate. 

Because this is for entertainment purposes only, my language will be extremely casual. My comments will include pop culture references, memes, and occasionally text speak (such as “lol”) to indicate when I am joking. 

Foreword

Often the hearts of men and women are stirred, as likewise they are soothed in their sorrows, more by example than by words. 

All right, I find this to be true. I can agree with this.

And therefore, because I too have known some consolation from speech had with one who was a witness thereof, am I now minded to write of the sufferings which have sprung out of my misfortunes, for the eyes of one who, though absent, is of himself ever a consoler. 

Gonna assume he’s talking about Jesus. Or God.

This I do so that, in comparing your sorrows with mine, you may discover that yours are in truth nought, or at the most but of small account, and so shall you come to bear them more easily.

Peter. Pierre. Petrus. Buddy. Friendo. Besides the fact that comparing yourself to Christ is SUPER arrogant, I do not think being brutally crucified for suggesting people be nice to each other is comparable to whatever nonsense you’ve been through. 

Also comparing yourself to God is NEVER a good look.

(Or are you talking to your readers and NOT Christ? Sometimes medieval writers talk directly to God in their works. Eh. I think he’s talking to Christ here.)

Chapter 1 Of The Birthplace Of Pierre Abélard And Of His Parents

Know, then, that I am come from a certain town which was built on the way into lesser Brittany, distant some eight miles, as I think, eastward from the city of Nantes, and in its own tongue called Palets. Such is the nature of that country, or, it may be, of them who dwell there—for in truth they are quick in fancy—that my mind bent itself easily to the study of letters. 

I have no idea what “quick in fancy” is supposed to mean (and Google is not helping), but is he calling the people in his hometown stupid/prone to imaginings while claiming to be so much smarter?

If so, I am rolling my eyes at Abélard’s Pick MeTM attitude.  

If not, ignore this comment and laugh at my ignorance.

Yet more, I had a father who had won some smattering of letters before he had girded on the soldier’s belt. And so it came about that long afterwards his love thereof was so strong that he saw to it that each son of his should be taught in letters even earlier than in the management of arms. 

I respect that Papa Abélard wants his sons to be educated academically before they are educated in the art of war.

Thus indeed did it come to pass. And because I was his first born, and for that reason the more dear to him,[…]

Of course you claim to be the favorite. (Maybe Abélard was. I don’t know. However, based on him maybe, possibly, probably comparing himself to Jesus in the Foreword I would not put it past him to think he was the favorite!)

[…]he sought with double diligence to have me wisely taught. For my part, the more I went forward in the study of letters, and ever more easily, the greater became the ardour of my devotion to them, until in truth I was so enthralled by my passion for learning that, gladly leaving to my brothers the pomp of glory in arms, the right of heritage and all the honours that should have been mine as the eldest born, I fled utterly from the court of Mars that I might win learning in the bosom of Minerva. 

All right, all right, we get it! You’re better than your brothers (and everyone else too I guess) because you like reading. Get over yourself. 

And is giving up your inheritance supposed to be a brag? Oh wow, look at you Abélard. You’re so amazing because you like to read so much you gave up money. Whoop-dee-do. 

Your Mars and Minerva comparison is also worthy of an eye roll. (Seeing that Mars is the Dumb War GodTM and Minerva is the Smart War GodTM.)

And since I found the armory of logical reasoning more to my liking than the other forms of philosophy, I exchanged all other weapons for these, and to the prizes of victory in war I preferred the battle of minds in disputation. 

Pretentious. Thanks, I hate it.

Thenceforth, journeying through many provinces, and debating as I went, going whithersoever I heard that the study of my chosen art most flourished, I became such an one as the Peripatetics.

I’m sure everyone loved listening to you debate them./s

What Happened When a Medieval Monk Was Deathly Sick?

Thanks to the pandemic, illness and death are prominent thoughts in most people’s minds. For medieval monks, death and the possibility of Heaven were supposed to be constant thoughts throughout their lives as monastics. The thought of their own mortality must have been especially potent whenever one of their fellow brethren fell deathly ill. 

If a monk seemed to be close to death, it was more important to focus on the state of his soul, rather than his earthly body. The Monastic Constitutions of Lanfranc offers an extremely detailed set of step-by-step instructions for what a monastic community was to do to help their ill brethren’s spiritual wellbeing. 

An architectural frame with Moses holding the tablets in a curtained Tabernacle (left), a dying monk under an arch (centre) and an angel speaking to men at an altar (right) | Add MS 42555 f.56r | Source: The British Library

When the sick monk felt as though he may be dying, he was to let the infirmarer know he wanted to be anointed. The infirmarer took his request to the abbot (or if the abbot was away, whoever was in charge at the present moment) at the next chapter meeting. Once the request was approved and chapter finished, the priest of the week, the sacrist, and four converses went to the church and collected the materials needed for a proper anointment. (Converses were monks who joined the monastery as adults.)

The priest and the converses went by the chapterhouse in a procession with the materials. The procession order and items are as follows:

  • The first converse carried holy water.
  • The second converse carried a cross. 
  • The third and fourth converses carried candlesticks.
  • The sacrist carried holy oil.
  • The priest, wearing his alb, stole, and maniple, carried a book.

Lanfranc’s Latin does not specify what book the priest carried. It only says “portans librum.” David Knowles translates this phrase to “carrying the book.” However, we can make an educated guess that the book is probably a bible, psalter, or religious text of some kind. 

As the procession passed the chapter house, all the monks there stood up. Because someone was dying, a wooden board was struck. This was standard practice to announce that someone was dying. After this happened, the rest of the community followed the procession while chanting the seven penitential psalms:

  • Psalm 6 
  • Psalm 31
  • Psalm 37
  • Psalm 50/51
  • Psalm 101/102
  • Psalm 129/130
  • Psalm 142/143

Depending on your bible/psalter’s translation, the psalms might follow either the Greek or Hebrew numbering system. To make sure you have the right translation, psalm 50/51 should be the “Miserere” psalm. 

They chanted the seven penitential psalms until the entire community had gathered around the dying monk’s bedside. The monks stood in their hierarchal order. Or if the space around the dying monk’s beside were too small, his brethren would do it as practically as possible. 

Once everyone was there, they sprinkled the dying monk with holy water. When the community finished chanting the seven penitential psalms they sang several more prayers including the Kyrie eleison and the Confiteor. 

When this was over, the entire community absolved the dying monk and vice versa. By forgiving each other of their sins, everyone could have a clear conscience. To cement feelings of goodwill, everyone kissed the dying monk. 

The priest anointed the dying monk. After doing so, he washed his hands and disposed of the water. Lanfranc suggested the dirty water either be thrown into the fire or down the sacrarium. (The sacrarium was a drain in the church.) The priest and the converses left the dying monk to fetch the Eucharist. 

Once they returned with the Eucharist, everyone knelt as a sign of respect. The dying monk had his mouth washed before receiving Communion. However, if he already received Communion that day, he did not receive it again. After having Communion, the dying monk was not allowed to eat any more meat. However, if he happened to miraculously get better instead of actually dying he could eat meat again. 

The rest of the monastic community continued to pray every day for their dying brother:

  • At the Morrow Mass during the Secret and post communion:
    • “Almighty everlasting God, the eternal salvation of those who believe in Thee”
  • The Morrow Mass itself
  • During the High Mass after the Sanctus:
    • Psalm 6 (sung in silence)
    • Kyrie eleison
    • Pater noster/ the Lord’s Prayer
    • Psalm 85/86
    • Mitte ei Domine auxilium de sancto 
    • “Almighty everlasting God, the eternal salvation of those who believe in Thee”

These prayers were dedicated to the monk until he either got better or took a turn for the worse. 

Sources:

Lanfranc. The Monastic Constitutions of Lanfranc, translated by David Knowles, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd, London, 1951, Medieval Classics. 

Praying The Seven Penitential Psalms