Coin struck by Louis the Pious
WALAHFRID STRABOS PROLOGUE
It is generally accepted that it was Einhard
who wrote this life of the most glorious Emperor Charlemagne together with the description
of the historical events which form the background to the life. Einhard was one of the
most highly thought of among all the palace officials of that time, not only for his
knowledge of what really took place but also for his personal character, which was beyond
reproach like himself played a part in almost all the events which he described, so that
he was really able to bring the strictest accuracy to his testimony.
Einhard was born in the eastern part of the
Frankish dominions, in the district which is called the Maingau. As a boy he received his
earliest education in the monastery of Fulda in the school founded by Saint Boniface
himself? It was Baugolf the abbot of the monastery of Fulda, who sent Einhard from there
to the palace of Charlemagne. The reason
for this was not Einhard's noble birth, although, indeed, he came from a distinguished
family; it was because his talents and intelligence were most remarkable and that, even at
so young an age, he gave great promise of the wisdom which was later to make him so
famous. Of all kings Charlemagne was the most eager in his search for wise men and in his
determination to provide then with living conditions in which they could pursue
knowledge in all reasonable comfort. In this way Charlemagne was able to offer to the
culture-less and, I might say, almost completely unenlightened territory of the realm
which God had entrusted to him, a new enthusiasm for all human knowledge. In its earlier
state of barbarousness, his kingdom had been hardly touched at all by any such zeal, but
now it opened its eyes to Gods illumination don. In our own time the thirst for
knowledge is disappearing again: the light of wisdom is less and less sought after and
is now becoming rare again in most mens minds.
This tiny man, then for Einhards lack of inches was a peat handicap to him by reason of his wisdom and probity, achieved such fame at the court of Charlemagne, who was himself a greater seeker after knowledge, that among all the ministers of his royal Majesty there was hardly anyone to be found with whom the most mighty and sagacious King of his time was prepared to discuss more freely the secrets of his private affairs. There is no doubt at all that Einhard deserved this distinction: for not only in the time of Charlemagne himself but under the Emperor Lewis the Pious, too and this indeed is a miracle - when the Frankish state was shaken by innumerable troubles of all sorts and was falling to pieces in many areas, with God to watch over him and with a certain sense of direction in his personal conduct which can only have been divinely inspired, he preserved this reputation for brilliance which laid him open to the malice and ill-will of other men. What is more, he suffered no irremediable harm because of it.
All this I say so that nobody may have doubts
about what Einhard has written, simply for want of knowing the man, the great debt of
praise which he owed to the memory of his patron and the scrupulousness of the truth which
he offered to the inquiring reader.
I, Walahfrid Strabo, have inscribed the headings in this little work and made the chapter divisions as it seemed best to me, so that the reader may more easily consult any particular point in which he is interested.
Einhard's Church, Steinbach
Having once made up my mind to describe the
life and the day-to-day habits of Charlemagne, my lord and patron, and to write the public
history of this most distinguished and deservedly most famous king, I have determined to
be as succinct as possible. My aim has been to omit nothing relevant which has come to
my notice and yet to avoid insulting the intelligence of fastidious readers by explaining
at great length every fresh item of information. In this way my book may please even those
who scorn the tales of antiquity as set down by the most competent and eloquent of
I am sure that there are many men of leisure
and learning who feel that the history of this present age should not be neglected and
that the many events which are happening in our own lifetime should not be held unworthy
of record and be permitted to sink into silence and oblivion. On the contrary, these men
are so filled with a desire for immortality that they prefer, I know, to set out the noble
deeds of their contemporaries in writings which may well have no great merit, rather than
permit their own name and reputation to disappear from the memory of future generations by
writing nothing at all. However that may be, I have decided that I myself should not
refuse to write a book of this kind, 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. What is more, I cannot be absolutely sure that
these happenings will in fact ever be described by anyone else. I have therefore decided
that it would be better to record these events myself for the information of posterity,
even though there is a chance that they may be repeated in other histories, rather than
allow the extraordinary life of this most remarkable king, the greatest man of all those
living in his own period, to sink into the shades of oblivion, together with his
outstanding achievements, which can scarcely be matched by modern men.
Another reason had occurred to me and this, I
think, not an irrational one. Even by itself it would have been sufficient to compel me to
write what follows. 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 I when I
first began to live at his court. By this friendship he bound me to him and
made me his debtor both in life and in death. I should indeed seem ungrateful, and could
rightly be condemned as such, if I so far forgot the benefits he conferred upon me as to
pass over in silence the outstanding and most remarkable deeds of a man who was so kind to
me, suffering him to remain unchronicled and unpraised, just as if be had never lived.
My own meager talent, small and insignificant,
nonexistent almost, is not equal to writing this life and setting it out in full. What
was needed was the literary skill of a Cicero.
Here then you have a book which perpetuates the memory of the greatest and most distinguished of men. There is nothing to marvel at in it beyond Charlemagnes own deeds, except perhaps the fact that I, not a Roman by birth and a man but little versed in the tongue of the Romans, should have imagined that I could compose anything acceptable and suitable in the Latin language, and that I should have pushed my impudence so far as to scorn the advice given by Cicero in Book I of the Tuscalanae Disputationes. Speaking about Latin authors, he says there, as you can read for yourself: For a man to commit his thoughts to writing when he can neither mange them nor bring any new light to bear upon them, and, indeed, when he has no attraction whatsoever to offer to his reader, is a senseless waste of time, and of paper, too. This distinguished orators advice would certainly have deterred me from writing, had I not made up my mind to risk being condemned by other men and endanger my own small reputation by setting these matters down, rather than preserve my reputation at the expense of the memory of so famous a man.