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Charlemagne and Louis the Pious: Lives by Einhard, Notker, Ermoldus, Thegan, and the Astronomer.

Charlemagne and Louis the Pious: Lives by Einhard, Notker, Ermoldus, Thegan, and the Astronomer. Translated, with introductions and annotations, by Thomas F. X. Noble. (University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009. Pp. 307. $84.00.)

The ninth century witnessed the rebirth of the secular biography, as five such Latin vitae were produced, albeit for two rather extraordinary figures, two for Charlemagne and three for his son, Louis the Pious, which are essential to our understanding of Carolingian history from the mid-eighth to the mid-ninth centuries. Thomas F. X. Noble, a leading Carolingian specialist, has done a great service to scholarship by bringing these works into one volume in new translations. Four of them have had previous English translations (for Charlemagne, Einhard, who has been blessed with multiple English translations, as well as Notker, and Thegan, and the anonymous "Astronomer" for Louis the Pious) but are scattered in separate volumes or sections of source books. Of particular value here is the first published English translation of Ermoldus Niger's poetic life of Louis the Pious, In Honorem Hludowici, which wisely has been rendered into prose.

After a very short introduction to the book, Noble follows the same format for each life. Preceding the translations are brief, but excellent, introductions to each writer and his text, followed by a short listing of "Essential Readings" consisting of previous translations, collateral sources, and works of current scholarship on the text and author. The annotations are generally confined to helpful chronological references and explanations of the figures mentioned in the texts.

The translation style is in very accessible English but tends to obscure the Latin that stands behind the translation. For example, legati, missi, missi legati, and nuntii are all rendered as "envoys," among other words. Likewise, civitas, urbs, ecclesia, and even castrum are all translated as "city," while civitas and urbs are also rendered as "town," as is oppidum. Castrum, castellum, and munitio all become "fort," "fortification," of "fortress" rather interchangeably. Auctoritas, potestas, dominatus, and dicio are all translated as "authority." Four different Latin expressions are translated as "general assembly," while five different words and expressions become "assembly." At the same time, individual words and phrases receive inconsistent translations, as when servi sometimes appears as "slaves" and at other times as "servants," making it difficult to know if the distinction, if justified, is due to the author or the translator. Much of Niger's classicizing language is also hidden in the text, as when Tonans, a Roman euphemism for Jupiter, is literally translated as "the Thunderer" once but otherwise is given simply as "God" (and Altitonens becomes "Lord Almighty"). Likewise, at times Mars is translated as "war" and templum as "church." Moreover, there are numerous words and phrases that appear in the Latin texts that are not translated, although the omissions rarely affect the essential meaning of the texts. The work would benefit from more proofreading, and numbered subdivisions or line numbers within the books of Niger would also be of great help.

The new translations of these five lives and their very useful introductions and notes make this work a prodigious achievement and ah extremely valuable and most welcome contribution to Carolingian studies.

Steven Fanning

University of Illinois at Chicago
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Author:Fanning, Steven
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2011
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