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  • Peter Abelard after Marriage. The Spiritual Direction of Heloise and Her Nuns through Liturgical Song
Peter Abelard after Marriage. The Spiritual Direction of Heloise and Her Nuns through Liturgical Song. By Thomas J. Bell. [Cistercian Studies Series, No. 211.] (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications. 2007. Pp. xxxviii, 346. $39.95 paperback. ISBN 978-0-879-07311-4.)

In recent years much interest has been shown in the spiritual writings that Peter Abelard composed for the nuns of the convent of the Paraclete after 1129 when they came to their new house in Champagne. Abelard's wife, Heloise, was abbess, and she persuaded Peter, himself an abbot, to provide new works, including hymns and sequences, that would be suitable for use in the chapel and for reading in the refectory over the full course of the liturgical year. Bell is here chiefly concerned with two liturgical sequences that he considers, upon extensive inquiry, to form a part of these original compositions. Both were inspired by the Song of Songs, and they are known from their opening words as Virgines castae and Epithalamica. They were listed by their incipits in the Paraclete Ordinary and Breviary and set to be sung at Eastertide and on the feasts of saints who were virgins. Mention of them there, along with numerous other musical, liturgical, and homiletic items taken from a wide range of sources, does not necessarily mean that Abelard composed them. But the oldest extant copies are found, with musical notation, in a late-twelfth-century manuscript from Nevers (Paris, BnF, nouvelle acquisition latine 3126) [End Page 109] where they are accompanied by two of Abelard's poetic Planctus. Bell transcribes the sequences from this manuscript only on pp. 16–23. He acknowledges that not all scholars share his conviction over authorship, and he does not seek to "prove" this (p. xxviii), but he does believe that his book deepens and buttresses the case for their attribution to Abelard. He provides a detailed study of their musical setting and their rhetoric, including their rhymes, cadences, and similarities with those found in Abelard's Hymns and Planctus, especially the Planctus, "Dolorum solatium." His enquiries include explorations of verbal and thematic similarities between the sequences and some other writings by Abelard, including his first and thirteenth sermon. He provides an interesting study, too, of the literary traditions on which they drew; I do not recall, for example, previous commentary on Abelard's use of the unicorn legend. Nonetheless, it does seem best to remain cautious over the question of attribution at a time when debates over the wider "Paraclete corpus" are far from over. Bell succeeds in highlighting important issues, but he has not taken into account the essay by P. Dronke and G. Orlandi, "New Works by Peter Abelard?" (Filologia mediolatina, XII [2005], pp. 123–77) nor the earlier studies by G. Iversen and D. Wulstan that are cited there. Finally and sadly, misprints of Latin words are frequent in the text.

David Luscombe
University of Sheffield

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