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Alcuin and Charlemagne

Alcuin and Charlemagne: Studies in Carolingian History and Literature

Luitpold Wallach
Volume: 32
Copyright Date: 1959
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 336
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    Alcuin and Charlemagne
    Book Description:

    Scholars of the Carolingian renaissance have long been aware of the major role played by Alcuin of York as the king's teacher in rhetoric, dialectic, and astronomy. In this book, Luitpold Wallach indicates that the "deacon from Northumbria" was much more than a brilliant scholar; he was an accomplished statesman, administrator, poet, writer, and politician. Wallach offers a detailed account of his contributions to the growth of the Frankish state and its cultural development as a central part of Western civilization.

    The book is divided into an introductory chapter and four parts, each devoted to a particular phase of Alcuin's activity in the service of Charlemagne. The introduction and first chapter describe Alcuin's political and historical theories and beliefs. Part I presents his rhetorical textbook as a via regia, a treatise on kingship, addressed to the Roman emperor. Part II demonstrates Alcuin's familiarity with procedures of Frankish law as well as with ecclesiastical and secular legal sources of ancient and contemporaneous times. Part III shows Alcuin in the administrative service of Charlemagne, composing and editing official documents and theological treatises for the ruler and his clergy. Part IV is devoted to Alcuin's literary method and its foundation in classical and patristic Latin literature as apparent in a moralizing treatise, in his epitaph, and in the composition and collection of his letters.

    This volume is a significant contribution both to Carolingian history and to Latin literature. It is solidly based on pertinent Latin historical and literary sources, extending from Cicero, Virgil, and Ovid, through the late classical and patristic literatures to early medieval and Carolingian writers. Codes of Roman vulgar law, Frankish capitularies and formularies, charters of Merovingian and Carolingian rulers, and the Acta of earlier and later synods are among the legal and administrative sources included. Epigraphic sources are represented by inscriptions of the Roman empire and of subsequent periods up to the ninth century. Throughout, Wallach brings to light many new factors-historical, diplomatic, epigraphic, and literary-that will be of interest to historians, Latinists, and students of medieval literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6672-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Luitpold Wallach
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    EINHARD paid tribute to the scholarly reputation of Alcuin of York, associated with Charlemagne as teacher and friend from about 782 to 804, by calling him “a man who in any place would have been thought most learned.”¹ Alcuin was indeed a “vir doctissimus undecumque,” an epithet first bestowed on the Roman polyhistor Marcus Varro by Terentianus Maurus in what Augustine calls a most elegant line. Since the Venerable Bede used the same words of praise for King Aldfrid of Northumbria and for Aldhelm of Malmesbury, Einhard was placing the Saxon deacon from Northumbria where he belonged—in the tradition...

  5. CHAPTER I The Political Theories of Alcuin
    (pp. 5-28)

    THE political activities of Alcuin presupposed adherence to certain political theories, beliefs, or notions, which were—as we shall see—of the same traditional origin as were most of his didactic writings. Not a philosopher, Alcuin never presented his ideas on society and government in a coherent form, except to a limited degree in his Rhetoric.¹ But fragments of the political notions he held were interspersed throughout his numerous hortatory epistles in the form of more or less reasoned reflections on specific issues in society.² These notions are derived from traditional theories on politics and related subjects held by some...

    (pp. 29-34)

    THE Disputatio de rhetorica et de virtutibus by Alcuin¹ has been accepted for centuries simply as the exposition of a system of rhetoric. The purpose of this section is to suggest that the treatise contains more than mere rhetorical instruction. Arthur Kleinclausz² expresses the generally accepted view that the treatise was composed as a textbook to be used for the study of the art of rhetoric within the system of the Seven Liberal Arts. J. W. H. Atkins³ assumes that the book was written by Alcuin in 793 on his return from England to France and that it is the...

  7. CHAPTER II Sources and Date of the Rhetoric
    (pp. 35-47)

    HALM’S edition of Alcuin’s Rhetoric is still the only critical text. Howell reprints Halm’s text with a few emendations of his own. While Halm shows that nearly 60 per cent of the treatise contains borrowed matter, Howell’s statistical inquiry into the sources ascribes almost 80 per cent to Cicero’s De inventione, and Julius Victor’s Ars rhetorica, with Alcuin depending four times as much on Cicero as upon Julius Victor. It is to be regretted that Eduard Stroebel’s textual study of Cicero’s De inventione¹ escaped Howell’s attention, because many of Alcuin’s anonymous references to Cicero were already listed by Stroebel in...

  8. CHAPTER III The Rhetoric as a Littera Exhortatoria
    (pp. 48-59)

    A STUDY of the Rhetoric within the body of Alcuin’s writings will reveal that the treatise has the characteristics of a littera exhortatoria and that it contains the same commonplaces and topics as are found in Alcuin’s hortatory Epistles and treatises.

    The following analysis of the rhetorical topoi¹ iussio, humilhas, contemptus mundi, of cumulatio and brevitas, and of other specific literary elements of Alcuin’s speech and style, which are common to the Rhetoric, to his treatise De virtutibus et vitiis, dedicated to Margrave Wido, and to De animae ratione, written for Eulalia, i.e., Gundrada, sister of Charlemagne’s trusted adviser Adalhard...

  9. CHAPTER IV The Rhetoric as a Treatise on Kingship
    (pp. 60-72)

    THE designation of the Rhetoric as a littera exhortatoria naturally leads to the assumption that Alcuin’s purpose in writing the work was identical with that of the letters he called ammonitiones, litterae ammonitoriae, litterulae, or litterae exhortatoriae.¹ Alcuin frequently expressed his predilection for hortatory epistles. He wrote to Adalhard of Corbie (Epist. 175, D.291.1) that he would welcome exhortatoriae litterae. A nun was told that Alcuin did not mind writing such letters to King Offa of Mercia {Epist. 62, D.105.3) provided that the ruler found time to read them. He took it upon himself to write hortatory letters to every...

  10. CHAPTER V Legal Elements of the Rhetoric
    (pp. 73-82)

    IN the Rhetoric as a via regia Alcuin commends to Charlemagne’s subjects the exemplary deportment of their king, the highest Frankish judge, who, according to the Capitulare Missorum Generale of 802,¹ felt himself personally responsible for the proper conduct of all his subjects. Charlemagne requested that everybody conduct himself in accordance with the Lord’s commandments and his oath of fidelity to the emperor, because the sovereign could not devote to every subject of his empire the necessary personal supervision. This notion of responsibility coincides with Alcuin’s belief that Charlemagne’s imperial dignity entails the task “populo praeesse et prodesse,” so that...

  11. CHAPTER VI The Composition of the Rhetoric: Editions, Manuscripts, and Testimonies
    (pp. 83-96)

    THE literary composition of the treatise (Halm, pp. 525-550), whose title in the MSS is properly listed as a disputatio, can now be analyzed in the following manner:

    A. Literary Frame of Disputatio: epistolary elements of a littera exhortatoria, A 1–3

    D. Metrical propositio ......... p. 525.1–8

    A1. Prose propositio ............ p. 525.9–19

    A2. Exordium: invocatio and captatio bene- volentiae ................ p. 525.19–25

    B. Rhetorical Doctrine: B1 and B2

    B1. Treatment of the five parts of ars rhe- torica ........... p. 525.25–547.18

    B2. Conclusio of and connecting link with C .............. p. 547.18–548.5

    C. ...

    (pp. 97-102)

    ALCUIN’S choice of the quaestiones civiles as the sphere in which he would apply the full force (tota vis) of the art of rhetoric (H.525.10) was not only determined by his academic knowledge of rhetorical doctrine, but also by his practical experience in matters of law. He considered rhetoric a civil science, probably adopting the definition of Cicero (De inv. I.5.6). References to, and quotations from, Roman and canon law books which are found in his correspondence prove his acquaintance with actual law cases and with Frankish procedures of law. This fact is evident from Alcuin’s controversy with Theodulph of...

  13. CHAPTER VII The Quarrel with Charlemagne concerning the Law of Sanctuary
    (pp. 103-126)

    A CLERIC under the jurisdiction of Theodulph of Orléans had been found guilty of some crime in a publicly conducted court action and was subsequently retained in the custody of the bishop of Orléans. He somehow escaped from prison and fled to the Basilica of St. Martin at Tours, claiming the ancient right of sanctuary. Theodulph reported the incident to Charlemagne (no. I*), whose court empowered Theodulph through an indiculus commonitorius (no. 2*) to seek the extradition of the criminal from his refuge. The fugitive was subsequently turned over (D.393.37; 398.14) to messengers sent from Orléans to Tours. But the...

  14. CHAPTER VIII Alcuin’s Theory of the Law of Sanctuary and the “Reception” of the Breviarium Alaricianum
    (pp. 127-140)

    ALCUIN’S outline of his theory of asylum in a church (Epist. 245-246) was designed to supply his friends at the Frankish court with his point of view as opposed to that of Theodulph of Orléans, with whom Charlemagne and his royal court at law evidently had sided. The text compiled by Alcuin consists of instances of canon law and Roman law sources interspersed with historical and pseudohistorical references, dealing, directly and indirectly, with the main topic under consideration. The partly academic nature of the texts cited can hardly have escaped the attention of the compiler. For Alcuin must have realized...

    (pp. 141-146)

    LEGISLATIVE documents from the rulers of Germanic states established in former Roman territories are frequently the work of men of Roman descent. Thus Leo of Narbonne was probably the main helper of the Visigothic King Euric, and the Gallo- Roman Syagrius, of the Burgundian Gundobad. The Ostrogoths had Roman jurists in their service; one of these wrote the Edictum Theoderici. Cassiodorus is the author not only of the Variae, a selection of documents composed by him as chancellor of Theodoric the Great, but also of the Edictum Athalarici. The Merovingians Chlodewig and Childebert I employed GalloRoman administrators; the patrician Parthenius...

  16. CHAPTER IX Alcuin as the Author and Editor of Official Carolingian Documents
    (pp. 147-177)

    TWO major theological issues were decided by the national synod of the Frankish Church over which Charlemagne presided at Frankfurt-am-Main in June, 794.¹ The worship of images (see Pt. IV) and the adoptionist heresies of Felix of Urgel in the Spanish Marches and of Elipand, metropolitan in Moslem Toledo, were publicly condemned.² As far as the condemnation of adoptionism is concerned, four documents are available,³ in addition to the the Frankish Capitulary of 794: a letter by Charlemagne sent to Elipand and the Spanish clergy; the papal excommunication of the adoptionists in the form of a letter by Pope Hadrian...

  17. CHAPTER X The Epitaph of Hadrian I Composed for Charlemagne by Alcuin
    (pp. 178-197)

    ALCUIN is the author of many metrical inscriptions (tituli) for the altars and walls of churches and monasteries and for epitaphs¹ and book dedications. None of his biographers has paid proper attention to this aspect of his work; yet even in the role of epigrapher the versatile Anglo-Saxon is deserving of our interest. Edmond Le Blant² initiated the critical appraisal of Alcuin’s epigraphic work, but since 1856 the subject has been neglected. Available material entitles us to speak not only of the much discussed Scriptorium of Tours but also of the Epigraphic School of Tours.³ The best-known inscription of the...

  18. CHAPTER XI Charlemagne’s De litteris colendis and Alcuin
    (pp. 198-226)

    THE famous letter addressed by Charlemagne to Abbot Baugulf of Fulda is not only one of the most often quoted educational documents of the Carolingian Renaissance, but also, I believe, one of the most frequently misinterpreted historical sources of the period. Usually referred to as Epistola de litteris colendis, the letter was known for a long time only from the eleventh- or twelfth-century transmission of Metz MS 226,¹ until Paul Lehmann published an older version from the Oxford Laudianus Misc. 126, probably of the eighth century.²

    The appraisals of the epistle by historians before and after Lehmann’s study show a...

    (pp. 227-230)

    ONE of Alcuin’s many interests¹ was to develop in the leaders among the laity of a barbarian age² a sense of moral responsibility and a personal culture fit for the commanding positions which these men held. Many of the letters sent by Alcuin³ to Charlemagne and other members of the royal household, to the kings of Mercia and Northumbria, to Frankish and British nobles and government officials, overflow, as we have seen, with advice and requests to mend their ways. With this aim he wrote special works for some of these persons—for one example, the Rhetoric⁴ as a via...

  20. CHAPTER XII Alcuin on Virtues and Vices
    (pp. 231-254)

    THIS treatise¹ of thirty-five chapters may be divided into four parts distinct in style and content. A dedicatory letters opens the treatise, and a brief epistolary peroration (ch. 36) brings it to a close.² The first twenty-six chapters deal with the following topics: wisdom, faith, charity, hope, the reading of the Bible lesson, peace, mercy, forgiveness, patience, humility, remorse, confession, repentance, the return to God, the fear of God, fasting, almsgiving, chastity, freedom from conceit, judges, bearing false witness, envy, pride, wrath, deceit, and perseverance in good works. Chapters 27-34 provide a catalogue of eight principal vices. The last chapter,...

  21. CHAPTER XIII The Epitaph of Alcuin: A Model of Carolingian Epigraphy
    (pp. 255-265)

    SINCE we have reason to believe that Alcuin was the author¹ of the epitaph of Hadrian I, there are grounds for supposing that Alcuin’s epitaph, written by him shortly before his death on May 19, 804, resembled it in epigraphic workmanship.² The elegiacs of this inscription are extant in manuscripts alone; originally they were engraved on a bronze tablet.³ Although it would be an easy task to reconstruct the original epigraphic appearance of the epitaph—undoubtedly in Roman square capitals with the proper ligatures, nomina sacra, and special letters as known to us from the preserved epitaph of


  22. CHAPTER XIV The Origin of the Manuscript Collections of Alcuin’s Letters
    (pp. 266-274)

    PUPILS and admirers of Alcuin are customarily named as the probable originators of the manuscript collections of Alcuin’s voluminous correspondence. Wattenbach¹ assumes that most of the letters are not derived from a “copy-book” as are other collections of epistles.² But contrary to these assumptions, Alcuin kept, if not an actual book of minutes (Konzeptbuch), then at least copies of his letters, which he frequently used later as sources of epistolary formulae. These facts will be substantiated here in connection with the investigation of an unknown AngloSaxon translation of one of Alcuin’s letters.

    The Old English version (OE) of the enlarged...

  23. A. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 275-284)
  24. B. Text Editions Used
    (pp. 285-299)
  25. C. Index of Sources
    (pp. 300-311)
  26. D. General Index
    (pp. 312-325)