Southern Methodist University
Ph.D., Brown University
Bonnie Wheeler is Professor of English and Medieval Studies at Southern Methodist University, where she directs the Medieval Studies Program. She completed her undergraduate work at Stonehill College and received her Ph.D. from Brown University. Prior to taking her position at SMU, Professor Wheeler taught at Columbia University…
This course presents the lives, based on the latest scholarly interpretations, of four medieval women who still shimmer in the modern imagination: Heloise, the abbess and mistress of Abelard; the prophet Hildegard of Bingen; the legendary Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine; and the woman-warrior and saint, Joan of Arc.
In Medieval Heroines in History and Legend, Professor Bonnie Wheeler discusses these four remarkable women in the light of the present "golden age" of medieval scholarship. Almost daily, researchers are recovering lost information that corrects our picture of what had been a misunderstood era. As a result, we know more than ever about the roles women played in medieval life.
What did it mean to be a heroine in the medieval world? As the four subjects of this course make clear, it meant shaping and changing that world. In the monasteries and churches where people prayed, the universities where they wrote and thought, and even on the political map of Europe itself, these women made differences perceived not only in our time, but in theirs.
Women of Intellect, Words, and Passion
These lectures are an extraordinary opportunity to study great women of the past in their "own words." Professor Wheeler bases her discussions on recently discovered or recovered written records they left behind, from Hildegard's prodigious scholarship to the personal letters of Heloise and detailed transcripts of Joan of Arc's trial.
With these documents as a basis, you will see Heloise (1101—1163) as a forerunner of Europe's new day. Her letters passionately overflow with the new knowledge of her day. With her star-crossed love, Abelard, she invented a new mode of philosophic thought.
Only now are scholars recovering the long, important second half of the story of Heloise as a woman of power after Abelard's death. Her letters show her to be well versed on such topics as Cicero, classical philosophy, Latin poetry, and rhetoric.
She saw the institution of marriage in her day as little more than a commercial transaction, and its duties burdensome, noisy, costly, and dirty. Her letters reveal her desire to be Abelard's "meretrix" (prostitute) rather than his "imperatrix" (empress). In her discussions on Heloise, Professor Wheeler also covers the long debate as to whether Abelard and Heloise's letters to one another—the first, first-person record of a love affair in human history—are genuine or not.
Hildegard of Bingen (1098—1179), like Heloise a 12th-century abbess, is revealed as the last flowering of antique learning. She lived a dramatic life as a mystic, voluminous writer, and preacher. She was a personal advisor to Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, and her political involvement and passion as an advocate for clerical and imperial reform give her special interest in our day.
Only in the last generation have scholars rediscovered this amazing medieval intellect. Based on her letters, at least four popes and 10 archbishops corresponded with her, not to mention some 100 other individuals notable to history.
Among her many writings, her Book of Simple Medicine was an impressive mini-encyclopedia on what we today would call the natural sciences.
But Hildegard is also known as the "holy hypochondriac," subject to disabling migraines. Were her visions delusions, a result of brainstorms caused by chemical imbalances?
Women of Action and Legend
Eleanor of Aquitaine (1124—1204), Queen of France and then England, mother of at least 10 children, scandalized her contemporaries and has fascinated us ever since. She accompanied her husband, Louis VII, on the second Crusade, and her exploits are a reminder that women were crusaders—not merely camp followers—in numbers that rivaled those of men.
You will learn—based on as-yet-unpublished research by Professor Andrew Lewis—that Eleanor was probably born in 1124, not 1122 as normally thought. As a physically hearty woman of courage, she provides a way for historians to explore the diverse roles that women played in enabling or resisting the Crusades. This is exciting work that will allow us to understand medieval women outside the context of home and family as agents of sometimes-radical change.
Eleanor's life is so amazing that it is easy to see why she has become the staple of legends. Among those you will consider are whether she passionately adored, then fought endlessly with, her second husband, Henry II of England (all too true); whether she poisoned Henry's mistress, Rosamund (no proof); and whether she held "courts of love" to encourage and engage in amatory liaisons (again, unproven).
Joan of Arc (1412—1431) was the illiterate French peasant girl whom Mark Twain described as the "youngest person of either sex to lead her nation's army before the age of 19." Known as "La Pucelle" (the "maid" or "virgin"), she lacked any kind of military training, yet her military instincts seemed impeccable. Although she carried a sword in battle, she never used it to kill a man, and seems never to have become used to the sight of dead or dying men.
Was this young woman who heard heavenly "voices" an incomprehensible quirk, or did she change the course of European and world history? Ironically, this debate is complicated by the detailed transcripts of her trials, which make her one of the best-documented figures of pre-modern times.
Trial records and her letters reveal her as someone who spoke with compelling simplicity, quick wit, and piercing honesty." This girl spoke terribly well," said Albert d'Ourches. "I would really like to have had so fine a daughter."
Professor Wheeler dismisses as myth the notions that Joan was actually of noble birth, or that she never fully developed physically as a woman. These lectures reveal Joan as perhaps most memorable for what she was not: a queen, a mother, a beauty, or an intellectual. Instead, she was a woman of action, and the kind of person who is often an enigma to modern intellectuals: someone of profound religious faith.
Appreciating how these four heroines have been understood and misunderstood will help you understand how history passes judgment on both women and the Middle Ages. The contemporary research upon which this course is based can move us beyond how women "ought" to have been to better knowledge, however precarious, about how women were.
A Professor at the Forefront of Scholarship
As director of the Medieval Studies Program at Southern Methodist University, Professor Wheeler has been at the forefront of recovering depictions of women from the historical record. She is the editor of such titles as Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc and Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady. Her skills as an instructor have made her the six-time recipient of SMU's Outstanding Teacher Award.
My other posts
After the New Testament - The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers
Brad Gregory History of Christianity in the Reformation Era
Discovery of Ancient Civilizations - Brian Fagan
From Plato to Post-Modernism - Louis Markos
Govind Sreenivasan - Europe And The Wars Of Religion
Great Ancient Civilizations Of Asia Minor - Kenneth Harl
Great Figures of the Old Testament Amy-Jill Levine
Great World Religions - Christianity Robert Oden
Great World Religions - Islam
History of Ancient Egypt - Bob Brier
History Of Science - Antiquity To 1700 - Lawrence Principe
Kenneth W. Harl - The World of Byzantium
King Arthur And Chivalry Bonnie Wheeler
Louis Markos The Life and Writings of CS Lewis
Luke Timothy Johnson - Jesus and the Gospels
Michael Sugrue - Plato, Socrates, and the Dialogues
Philosophy and Religion in the West - Phillip Cary
The Apostle Paul Luke Timothy Johnson
The Bible and Western Culture
The Era Of The Crusades
The Foundations of Western Civilization - Thomas F. X. Noble
The Other 1492 - Ferdinand, Isabella, and The Making of an Empire - Teofilo F. Ruiz
The Terror of History - Mystics, Heretics, and Witches in the Western Tradition
Phillip Cary - Luther - Gospel Law And Reformation
Ancient Near Eastern Mythology - Shalom Goldman
Rome and The Barbarians - Kenneth W. Harl
Practical Philosophy - Greco-Roman Moralists
History Of Ancient Rome Garrett G Fagan
James Hall - Philosophy Of Religion
Bob Brier - Great Pharaohs Of Ancient Egypt
Plato's Republic - David Roochnik
Americas Religious History - Patrick N Allitt
Patrick Allitt - Victorian Britain
David Roochnik - Introduction To Greek Philosophy
The High Middle Ages - Professor Philip Daileadeк
Kenneth Bartlett - Italian Renaissance
Jeremy Adams - Thomas Aquinas, The Angelic Doctor
History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts - Robert Bucholz
William Cook - Francis of Assisi
Philip Daileader - The Early Middle Ages
Gary W Gallagher - American Civil War
History of the United States Part 1,2,3 Allen C. Guelzo
Teofilo Ruiz - Medieval Europe
History of Russia - From Peter the Great to Gorbachev - Mark Steinberg
The Odyssey Of Homer - Professor Elizabeth Vandiver
The Iliad Of Homer - Professor Elizabeth Vandiver
Herodotus, The Father Of History - Elizabeth Vandiver