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Book Review of Two Lives of Charlemagne

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    After having read both versions of the life of Charlemagne there is no doubt that they differ greatly in the sense of style, audience, and emotion. By reading these two descriptions of Charlemagne’s life we are able to decipher somewhat of the life he led as a shaper of early medieval European history. However, both of these versions possess the admiration of a noble man who they believe is worthy enough to be noted in history to some degree.

    The first account of Charlemagne’s life was by his courtier, Einhard, who thought it would be a tragedy if history forgot such a noble ruler.Furthermore, not only does he believe that it should be him to write about Charlemagne’s life, but only him. He clearly states that since he himself has witnessed Charlemagne’s life and that he is uncertain if anyone else will ever record it, he should be the one who does so.  ‘.

    .. for I am very conscious of the fact that no one can describe these events more accurately than I, for I was present when they took place and, as they say, I saw them with my own eyes” (pg. 51, Einhard).

    He continues to say that not only did he witness Charlemagne’s life, but was also apart of it and him in his.By stating this he rightfully justifies why it should be him to record Charlemagne’s life. “I mean the care which Charlemagne took in my upbringing and the friendly relations which I enjoyed with him and his children from the moment when I first began to live in his court. By this friendship he bound me to him and made me his debtor both in life and death (pg.

    52, Einhard, emphasis added). Notker, however, is writing his version of Charlemagne because he was asked to. We are able to conclude this because he tells us that his audience is Charles, the great-grandson of Charlemagne.I had originally intended, noble emperor, to limit my short history to your great-grandfather Charlemagne? ‘.

    .. ” (pg. 161, Notker).

    Therefore, we can also assume several things that affected their writing. First, that since he, Notker, was asked to write about Charlemagne that he was not as thrilled or as passionate as Einhard was who freely chose to write about him. Secondly, since Notker was writing to one of Charlemagne’s relatives he more than likely not include anything that would bring shame or disgrace to the Carolingian dynasty. More than likely he only included things that would be pleasing to the current emperor.

    As mentioned earlier, these two narratives have two very distinct styles to them. Einhard, a courtier of Charlemagne’s, wrote very carefully. It was going to be how history remembers his Emperor and friend. He knew that the way he presented him was of great importance.

    His writing was well organized in a sense that he did not go off on random tangents that did not have any relevancy to Charlemagne’s life. Along with relevancy he wrote chronologically. He began with the history of the Carolingians, the life of Charlemagne, and then his death.Einhard, writing so passionately, drew Charlemagne as he knew him, which was on a personal level, unlike Notker.

    One could say that Einhard writes like was Charlemagne’s next door neighbor. He knows what Charlemagne does in the morning, how he conducts his business, and even how he cares for his children. “Charlemagne was determined to give his children, his daughters just as much as his sons, a proper training in the liberal arts which had formed the subject of his own studies” (pg. 74, Einhard).

    Einhard is the type of man that Charlemagne would tell his secrets to. He also chooses to include that Charlemagne had high respect for women.He did not favor his sons over his daughters nor neglected the women in his life, his mother, sister, wives, and daughters. “He treated her with every respect and never had a cross word with her,” “He treated her with the same respect which he showed his mother” (pg.

    74, Einhard). He, Einhard, also gives attention to the intimacy of Charlemagne. He refers to several times that the emperor was brought to tears whenever one of his children died or when Pope Hadrian had died. It is most evident that Einhard knows the person he is writing about extremely well and he himself is a primary source to Charlemagne.

    The style that Notker is identified with is somewhat of a fairy-tale like rhythm. His writing is filled with random stories that at times have nothing to do with Charlemagne’s life. He even goes to admit that they do not. “Since the occasion has offered itself, although indeed they have nothing to do with my subject matter, it does not seem to be a bad idea? ‘.

    .. ” (pg. 115, Notker).

    The ones that do have a hint of Charlemagne’s life have very little or no influence the view of his life. The majority of his writing seems to be a composition of stories that he was told by other people.His stories always seem to start out like a fairy-tale. They begin with things like “At this point I must tell you a story” or “On another occasion.

    ” He admits that he has never even been to the land of the Franks, just heard stories. “I am a lazy man myself, more sluggish than a tortoise, and I have never traveled to the land of the Franks? ‘…

    ” (pg. 133, Notker). Moreover, there is no order to these stories. None flow quite as well as Einhard’s account.

    If these stories were rearranged in different order there would not be any positive or negative outcome.They still have no flow or continuous stream of relevancy that could do any justice to the story of Charlemagne. Within Notker’s account he refers to Charlemagne as a hero. It has been almost one hundred years after Charlemagne’s reign and he is already being portrayed as a fearless figure of heroism.

    “Our hero Charlemagne, on the contrary, knew no fear;” (pg. 145, Notker). Notker looks up to Charlemagne as larger-than-life hero who saves the day with righteous discernment that has been ordained by God to divinely rule and judge those in his kingdom accordingly. Notker makes it seem that Charlemagne reputation is greater than geography.

    These envoys did not know where the land of the Franks was? ‘… ” (pg.

    143, Notker). Not to Einhard though. To Einhard, yes he was an emperor, but also someone who was a great friend. A factor that plays a vast role in how they conducted their writing is their own role in life.

    As mentioned earlier Einhard was a courtier of Charlemagne’s. He knew him on a very personal level. More than the mere Franks that were living under his rule of that time. He saw and spoke with Charlemagne quite frequently.

    For the most part we can conclude that what Einhard writes about is legit.He does become bias at one point when he mentions that Franks have no equivalent when it comes to hunting. “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 a Frank himself, has no shame, but pride, in saying this. When reading Notker we will not find anything of the sort. Notker, however, never saw Charlemagne, let alone live in the same time period as him. We can see that being a monk influenced his work.

    He constantly gave reference to God having his hand within the story of Charlemagne. “How little do the enemies of Christ value the words of the Lord’s Apostle…

    ” (pg. 169, Notker). Other times he parallel’s 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.

    171, Notker). Being a monk he liked to constantly connected Charlemagne’s life with the church and how they correlate. Both of these narratives differ in view, style, tone, and in quality. But not in the quality of the man they are talking about.

    Einhard writes personally about his friend while Notker compiles stories of his hero. They both write about the same man and both exalt him to be a good figure of the medieval era. Looking at either story we get a sense of who Charlemagne really was and why people probably looked to him as hero. He was the first emperor in the west since the decline of the west Roman Empire, a Christian symbol for all of Europe, and a warrior.

    Why wouldn’t anyone look to him as a hero? We can easily see why people like Einhard and Notker would write about such as admirable God fearing man who was worthy of being recorded in history.

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

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