Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Whatever happened to Astrolabe?

The love affair of Heloise and Abelard produced an illegitimate child, a boy, that Heloise named Astrolabe, after the instrument developed by Islamic astronomers. European scholars of the 12th century, such as Heloise and Abelard, must have been deeply impressed by the sophistication of these beautiful devices and by the learning they clearly represented. While students in grungy Paris were debating fine points of trinitarian theology, their counterparts in bright Cordoba possessed a knowledge of the heavens, geography and mathematics that the northern Europeans could only envy. It would be like a woman in a sci-tech backwater today naming her son iPod.

Heloise and Abelard were certainly two of the brightest minds of their time, and their son would have possessed their brainy genes. He was abandoned by Heloise to be raised by her sister, but except for a few brief allusions in letters not much else is known about him. He vanishes into history like the illegitimate child of Albert Einstein and the physicist Mileva Maric, whose little girl, Lieserl, was given up for adoption and followed Astrolabe into sad oblivion.