Book Review of Two Lives of Charlemagne

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After reading both versions of Charlemagne’s life, it is clear that they differ in style, target audience, and emotional tone. These differences provide insights into the life of Charlemagne, a key figure in early medieval European history. However, both versions express great admiration for him and recognize his historical significance.

Einhard, an attendant of Charlemagne, felt it would be a great loss if the deeds of this honorable king were forgotten by history. He firmly believed that he alone should record the story of Charlemagne’s life because he had firsthand experience and was uncertain if anyone else would undertake such a task.

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Einhard asserts that he is the most reliable source for describing these events because he personally witnessed them and observed them directly (pg. 51).

According to the author, he not only witnessed Charlemagne’s life but also actively participated in it. He asserts that his personal involvement and intimate relationship with Charlemagne give him the authority to chronicle his life. The author expresses appreciation for the nurturing upbringing provided by Charlemagne and the warm bond they shared, which has created an everlasting indebtedness towards Charlemagne.

In his account of Charlemagne, Einhard emphasizes that Notker writes his own response to a request. This can be inferred from Notker’s statement that his intended audience is Charles, the great-grandson of Charlemagne. Notker originally planned to confine his brief historical account to Charlemagne.

According to Notker (pg. 161), .. “

Hence, a few assumptions can be made regarding their writing. Initially, as Notker was requested to write about Charlemagne, it can be inferred that he lacked the same enthusiasm and passion as Einhard, who chose to write about him willingly. Secondly, because Notker was writing to a relative of Charlemagne, it is probable that he intentionally omitted any content that could tarnish the reputation of the Carolingian dynasty. It is likely that he only included information that would be pleasing to the reigning emperor.

As previously stated, there are two distinct styles in these two narratives. Einhard, who was a courtier of Charlemagne, wrote with great care as he knew the significance of how history would remember his Emperor and friend.

His writing was well organized as he did not digress into irrelevant tangents regarding Charlemagne’s life. Additionally, he presented the information chronologically, starting with the history of the Carolingians, followed by Charlemagne’s life and ultimately his death. Einhard portrayed Charlemagne from a personal perspective, depicting him as he truly knew him, in contrast to Notker.

Einhard’s portrayal of Charlemagne suggests a close familiarity, as if Einhard was his neighbor. Einhard extensively details Charlemagne’s daily routine, business practices, and parenting style. According to Einhard, Charlemagne staunchly believed in providing his children, both sons and daughters, with a comprehensive education in liberal arts, just as he had received during his own studies (pg. 74, Einhard).

Charlemagne trusted and respected Einhard, who he confided in and held in high regard. He treated his sons, daughters, mother, sister, wives, and daughters with equal respect, never having any conflicts with them. Charlemagne valued these women in his life just as much as he did his mother.

Einhard’s account reveals that Charlemagne experienced profound sorrow in his personal life, particularly when faced with the loss of his children or Pope Hadrian. Einhard’s intimate connection with Charlemagne is apparent throughout his writing, establishing him as a valuable primary source.

The style associated with Notker is reminiscent of fairy-tale-like rhythm. His writing comprises of assorted anecdotes, which may have no connection to Charlemagne’s life. Notker even acknowledges this by stating, “Since the opportunity has presented itself, even though they are unrelated to my topic, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea?”

According to Notker, on page 115, it was mentioned that “…”.

The limited or no relevance of the few hints about Charlemagne’s life largely does not shape the perception of his life. Most of his writings appear to be a collection of narratives that he heard from others. These anecdotes often commence with phrases similar to “At this point I must tell you a story” or “On another occasion.”

He confesses that he has never visited the land of the Franks, only having heard stories. “I am a lazy person, slower than a tortoise, and I have never journeyed to the land of the Franks?”…

“(pg. 133, Notker). In addition, the stories have no order. None flow as smoothly as Einhard’s account.”

If the order of these stories were changed, there would be no impact on the positive or negative outcome. However, they lack coherence and relevance to effectively convey Charlemagne’s story. Notker describes Charlemagne as a heroic figure within his account. Despite it being almost a century since Charlemagne’s rule, he is already being depicted as a brave and heroic character.

According to Notker (pg. 145), Charlemagne, our hero, is fearless and superior. Notker admires Charlemagne as a heroic figure who, with divine authority bestowed upon him by God, rescues people and passes judgments in his kingdom. Notker also suggests that Charlemagne’s reputation surpasses his physical boundaries.

These envoys were unfamiliar with the location of the land of the Franks. “…” (pg.

Einhard did not view Charlemagne in the same way as other historians, such as Notker. While others saw him as simply an emperor, Einhard saw him as a dear friend. This personal relationship greatly influenced how they wrote about Charlemagne, with each historian considering their own role in life.

Einhard was not just a courtier of Charlemagne, but also someone who knew him intimately on a personal level, much more so than the Franks who were living under his rule at the time. Einhard had frequent encounters and conversations with Charlemagne.

In general, we can confirm that Einhard’s account is trustworthy. However, he does display some bias when discussing the hunting prowess of the Franks. He states, “He spent much of his time on horseback and out hunting, which came naturally to him, for it would be difficult to find another race on earth who could equal the Franks in this activity” (pg. 77, Einhard).

Einhard, being of Frankish origin, takes pride in expressing this sentiment. Notker, on the other hand, lacks such personal connection as he never encountered Charlemagne nor lived during his time. It is evident that Notker’s work bears the influence of his life as a monk.

He consistently referred to the fact that God played a significant role in the story of Charlemagne, highlighting the lack of appreciation from those who oppose Christ’s teachings as expressed by the words of the Lord’s Apostle.

“(pg. 169, Notker). Other times he parallels the bible to the Carolingian reign. “Once ? “there was none among them that lacked, as it says in the Acts of the Apostles, then everyone was filled with gratitude” (pg.

Notker (171) presents a continuous connection between Charlemagne’s life and the church, emphasizing their correlation. Though both narratives differ in view, style, tone, and quality, the exceptional nature of Charlemagne remains unchanged.

Both Einhard and Notker write about the same man, but in different styles. Despite their differing approaches, both authors portray Charlemagne as a prominent figure of the medieval era. Regardless of which account is examined, it becomes clear why people viewed him as a hero. Charlemagne was not only the first emperor in the west following the decline of the west Roman Empire, but he was also a symbol of Christianity for all of Europe and a formidable warrior.

What makes people not see him as a hero? It is evident why figures such as Einhard and Notker would write about the life of this righteous man who deserved to be remembered in history.

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Book Review of Two Lives of Charlemagne. (2018, Feb 25). Retrieved from

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