Part 2: Historia Calamitatum: Including Comments Whenever I Think Abelard is Insufferable

Last year I started reading Henry Adams Bellows’ translation of Peter Abelard’s Historia Calamitatum: The Story Of My Misfortunes. I found Abelard so insufferable I could barely get through the book, so I started writing a commentary on it. I kind of forgot about this project, so I never finished writing the commentary. However, I did comment up to around chapter six. I might go back to working on it.

If you want to read the first part, you can find that here. I recommend reading that section first as it gives some context to how I formatted my commentary.

Chapter 2 Of The Persecution He Had From His Master William Of Champeaux—Of His Adventures At Melun, At Corbeil And At Paris—Of His Withdrawal From The City Of The Parisians To Melun, And His Return To Mont Ste. Geneviève—Of His Journey To His Old Home

Based on this chapter title alone I know this one is about to be a doozy!

I came at length to Paris, where above all in those days the art of dialectics was most flourishing, and there did I meet William of Champeaux, my teacher, a man most distinguished in his science both by his renown and by his true merit.

Okay, at least you are praising someone other than yourself.

With him I remained for some time, at first indeed well liked of him; but later I brought him great grief, because I undertook to refute certain of his opinions,[…]

Ope. There it is.

[…]not infrequently attacking him in disputation, and now and then in these debates I was adjudged victor.

You sound like a delight to teach, Mr. Pretentious. Though I’ll give you points for admitting you weren’t always the winner.

Also I wonder if I can insert the eye roll emoji here…

Now this, to those among my fellow students who were ranked foremost, seemed all the more insufferable because of my youth and the brief duration of my studies.

Yeah, I don’t think they were the insufferable ones Pierre.

Out of this sprang the beginning of my misfortunes, which have followed me even to the present day; the more widely my fame was spread abroad, the more bitter was the envy that was kindled against me.

Christ, you are full of yourself!

It was given out that I, presuming on my gifts far beyond the warranty of my youth, was aspiring despite my tender, years to the leadership of a school;[…]

The wording here is kind of awkward but I think he’s trying to say that he wants to run his own school despite the fact he’s still pretty young? A good enough goal I guess. And at least he’s somewhat self-aware he’s too young to do that. (How old is he though?)

[…]nay, more, that I was making read the very place in which I would undertake this task, […]

Never mind about him being self-aware. I am a fool for giving him too much credit.

[…]the place being none other than the castle of Melun, at that time a royal seat. My teacher himself had some foreknowledge of this, and tried to remove my school as far as possible from his own.

I wonder if the teacher does this to avoid competition or because he just can’t stand Pierre. (It’s funnier if I call Abélard by his first name. I don’t know why.)

Working in secret, he sought in every way he could before I left his following to bring to nought the school I had planned and the place I had chosen for it.

That’s super petty and I kind of love it.

Since, however, in that very place he had many rivals, and some of them men of influence among the great ones of the land, relying on their aid I won to the fulfillment of my wish; the support of many was secured for me by reason of his own unconcealed envy.

Sooo…people are only supporting you because they hate your teacher (William?). Not because of your own merit? Not a thing to be bragging about Friendo.

From this small inception of my school, my fame in the art of dialectics began to spread abroad,[…]

*Eye Roll*

Very humble of you.

 […]so that little by little the renown, not alone of those who had been my fellow students, but of our very teacher himself, grew dim and was like to die out altogether.

Your arrogance is amazing and I fear it will only get worse. Christ on a bike, how more boastful can you get???

Also putting others down isn’t a good look.

Thus it came about that, still more confident in myself, […]

Oh, I have no doubt you are confident in yourself!

I moved my school as soon as I well might to the castle of Corbeil, which is hard by the city of Paris, for there I knew there would be given more frequent chance for my assaults in our battle of disputation.

So dramatic!

No long time thereafter I was smitten with a grievous illness, brought upon me by my immoderate zeal for study.

Okay, I can relate regarding over working yourself. Take care of your mental health readers!

This illness forced me to turn homeward to my native province, and thus for some years I was as if cut off from France.

Aren’t you still in France? Pierre, you are from France. Or did your nervous breakdown affect you so much that you were in a dissociative state? If so, that’s rough and this is the first time so far I feel kind of bad for you.

And yet, for that very reason, I was sought out all the more eagerly by those whose hearts were troubled by the lore of dialectics.

I no longer feel bad for you.

But after a few years had passed, and I was whole again from my sickness, I learned that my teacher, that same William Archdeacon of Paris, had changed his former garb and joined an order of the regular clergy. This he had done, or so men said, in order that he might be deemed more deeply religious, and so might be elevated to a loftier rank in the prelacy, a thing which, in truth, very soon came to pass, for he was made bishop of Châlons.

While I do not doubt people tried to seem more religious to get a higher place in the church, I can’t help but think Pierre is either projecting here or gossiping about William because he does not like him/thinks he’s better than him.

Nevertheless, the garb he had donned by reason of his conversion did nought to keep him away either from the city of Paris or from his wonted study of philosophy; and in the very monastery wherein he had shut himself up for the sake of religion he straightway set to teaching again after the same fashion as before.

To him did I return, for I was eager to learn more of rhetoric from his lips; and in the course of our many arguments on various matters, I compelled him by most potent reasoning first to alter his former opinion on the subject of the universals, and finally to abandon it altogether.

Bragging, bragging, bragging!

Now, the basis of this old concept of his regarding the reality of universal ideas was that the same quality formed the essence alike of the abstract whole and of the individuals which were its parts: in other words, that there could be no essential differences among these individuals, all being alike save for such variety as might grow out of the many accidents of existence. Thereafter, however, he corrected this opinion, no longer maintaining that the same quality was the essence of all things, but that, rather, it manifested itself in them through diverse ways. This problem of universals is ever the most vexed one among logicians, to such a degree, indeed, that even Porphyry, writing in his “Isagoge” regarding universals, dared not attempt a final pronouncement thereon, saying rather: “This is the deepest of all problems of its kind.” Wherefore it followed that when William had first revised and then finally abandoned altogether his views on this one subject, his lecturing sank into such a state of negligent reasoning that it could scarce be called lecturing on the science of dialectics at all; […]

We are throwing lots of shade here!

[…]it was as if all his science had been bound up in this one question of the nature of universals.

Thus it came about that my teaching won such strength and authority that even those who before had clung most vehemently to my former master, and most bitterly attacked my doctrines, now flocked to my school.

Braggy McBragerson.

The very man who had succeeded to my master’s chair in the Paris school offered me his post, in order that he might put himself under my tutelage along with all the rest, and this in the very place where of old his master and mine had reigned.

Christ on a bike, I am starting to get Mary Sue vibes from Pierre here! But yes, go on about how so amazing and fantastic you are that the chair of the school quit so he could learn under you.

If this were a work of fiction, I would call BS on this plot point. Heck, I might do that anyway! You ARE a very unreliable narrator after all. (At least those are the vibes I am getting!)

And when, in so short a time, my master saw me directing the study of dialectics there, it is not easy to find words to tell with what envy he was consumed or with what pain he was tormented.

He was probably mad an arrogant, annoying little jerk raised the ranks so fast. You are quite annoying Pierre.

He could not long, in truth, bear the anguish of what he felt to be his wrongs, and shrewdly he attacked me that he might drive me forth.

I doubt it’s because he thinks he’s wrong!

And because there was nought in my conduct whereby he could come at me openly, he tried to steal away the school by launching the vilest calumnies against him who had yielded his post to me, and by putting in his place a certain rival of mine.

You just love making enemies wherever you go, don’t you? Here’s a word of advice: if you run into one jerk in the morning, you met one jerk. But if you run into jerks all day, you are the jerk. And you seem to be running into a lot of them lately.

So then I returned to Melun, and set up my school there as before; and the more openly his envy pursued me, the greater was the authority it conferred upon me.

* Eye roll *

Even so held the poet: “Jealousy aims at the peaks; the winds storm the loftiest summits.” (Ovid: “Remedy for Love,” I, 369.)

I didn’t think you could get more pretentious, but here we are!

Not long thereafter, when William became aware of the fact that almost all his students were holding grave doubts as to his religion, and were whispering earnestly among themselves about his conversion, deeming that he had by no means abandoned this world,[…]

Fine, I’ll (reluctantly) give you that. William’s actions (even if I do not think he’s doing it because of envy. I think he’s doing it because he’s sick of your nonsense and thinks you need to be taken down a peg or ten) are NOT very monk like AT ALL. He certainly has not abandoned the world!

[…]he withdrew himself and his brotherhood, together with his students, to a certain estate far distant from the city. Forthwith I returned from Melun to Paris, hoping for peace from him in the future.

I kind of hope you never get peace from this guy.

But since, as I have said, he had caused my place to be occupied by a rival of mine, I pitched the camp, as it were, of my school outside the city on Mont Ste. Geneviève. Thus I was as one laying siege to him who had taken possession of my post.

I feel kind of bad for this rival. He probably just wanted a job or something. Then again, the world of academia can be ruthless. (It’s like a toned down version of Game of Thrones!)

No sooner had my master heard of this than he brazenly returned post haste to the city,[…]

William is NOT acting particularly monk-like. Then again, based on the primary sources I’ve read, medieval monks were some of the pettiest people in the world. lol

Also I can imagine William getting SO MAD when he hears that Pierre has returned and is making that return everyone’s problem.

[…]bringing back with him such students as he could, and reinstating his brotherhood in their for mer monastery, […]

Some grammatical errors on the part of the original translator?

[…]much as if he would free his soldiery, whom he had deserted, from my blockade.

Not sure if you are being literal here with the military references but I guess it makes sense to use “soldiery” and “blockade” metaphorically as you do come from a military family. (One reason why I don’t believe Death Of The Author is a valid form of literary criticism! The author’s life will ALWAYS have an effect on their writing!)

In truth, though, if it was his purpose to bring them succour, he did nought but hurt them. Before that time my rival had indeed had a certain number of students, of one sort and another, chiefly by reason of his lectures on Priscian, in which he was considered of great authority. After our master had returned, however, he lost nearly all of these followers, and thus was compelled to give up the direction of the school.

Oof.

Not long thereafter, apparently despairing further of worldly fame, he was converted to the monastic life.

I wonder if he was actually devastated about losing those followers or if he just had a monastic calling. I am reading this with the impression that our good friend Pierre is a HIGHLY unreliable narrator so it could be either or. Though I suppose losing everything would make one want to run away to a monastery. (That is what we in the writing business call foreshadowing, kids!)

Joining a monastery whenever you suffer even the slightest inconvenience in life comes up a lot in literature in general. (Not just medieval lit!) That’s one reason why chapter 58 of The Rule of Saint Benedict makes it so difficult for adults to join the monastic life!

Following the return of our master to the city, the combats in disputation which my scholars waged both with him himself and with his pupils, and the successes which fortune gave to us, and above all to me,[…]

Yup. It’s definitely all about Pierre. I guess I’ll give you points for PRETENDING like this is not just your own personal victory. (But only half a point as you make it incredibly obvious this is only about you!)

[…]in these wars, you have long since learned of through your own experience.

Are you addressing Jesus here? Or the reader?

The boast of Ajax, though I speak it more temperately, I still am bold enough to make:

When were you NOT bold?

      “… if fain you would learn now
       How victory crowned the battle, by him was
         I never vanquished.”
               (Ovid, “Metamorphoses,” XIII, 89.)

Pretentious and arrogant!

But even were I to be silent,[…]

I think your head would explode if you even TRIED to be quiet. In fact, I don’t think it was physically possible for you to shut up.

[…]the fact proclaims itself, and its outcome reveals the truth regarding it.

While these things were happening, it became needful for me again to repair to my old home, by reason of my dear mother, Lucia, for after the conversion of my father, Berengarius, to the monastic life, she so ordered her affairs as to do likewise. When all this had been completed, I returned to France, […]

WAIT. Shoot, I forgot that at this time Brittany was not a part of France. Okay, disregard my comments on the top of page 13 about Pierre being a native of France. Whenever I look him up, the articles say he’s French. (Which is true now. Whoops.)

[…]above all in order that I might study theology, since now my oft-mentioned teacher, William, was active in the episcopate of Châlons. In this held of learning Anselm of Laon, who was his teacher therein, had for long years enjoyed the greatest renown.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s