Saturday, 1 March 2014

Einhard, Vita Karoli Magni: Charlemagne is a modest eater.



Charlemagne (747/748 – 814) is without doubt the most outstanding ruler of the early middle ages. Under his guidance school reforms took place in the Frankish empire and scholars from all over Europe were attracted to his court for establishing a centre of learning. This is even more remarkable as Charlemagne somehow never managed to write, though he could read.  After his death, Einhard wrote a biography about him, which became widely popular and is about the only source there for the private life of Charlemagne.
Einhard (c. 775 – March 14, 840, also known as Eginhard) had a humble background, but had the fortune to have attended the cloister school at Fulda, where he proved himself to be an excellent student. He got a position at the court, where he was responsible for building projects.
In the following chapter he tells about the eating and drinking habits of Charlemagne. Charlemagne was a modest eater and even a more modest drinker, but when Einhard tells that daily meal consisted of four dishes plus roast meat, I wonder what a lavish meal must have been. The three glasses of wine too at dinner might alarm the modern healthy living and detox mafia…

Einhard, Vita Karoli Magni 1.24 (first part):

In cibo et potu temperans, sed in potu temperantior, quippe qui ebrietatem in qualicumque homine, nedum in se ac suis, plurimum abhominabatur. Cibo enim non adeo abstinere puterat, ut saepe quereretur noxia corpori suo esse ieiunia. Convivabatur rarissime, et hoc praecipuis tantum festivitatibus, tunc tamen cum magno hominum numero. Caena cotidiana quaternis tantum ferculis praebebatur, praeter assam, quam venatores veribus inferre solebant, qua ille libentius quam ullo alio cibo vescebatur. Inter caenandum aut aliquod acroama aut lectorem audiebat. Legebantur ei historiae et antiquorum res gestae. Delectabatur et libris sancti Augustini, praecipueque his qui de civitate Dei praetitulati sunt. Vini et omnis potus adeo parcus in bibendo erat, ut super caenam raro plus quam ter biberet.

cibus: food
potus –us (m.): drink
quippe qui: because
ebriatas –atis (f.): drunkenness
nedum: let alone  
ac suis: i.e. his household
abhominor abhominatus sum: to detest
queror questus sum: to complain
noxia ieiunia esse: fasting (ieiunia) to be harmful
convivor convivatus sum: to organize a banquette
praecipuus: special
caena = cena: meal
praebeo praebui praebitum: to offer, supply
ferculum: means of carrying, dish
assa: roast meat (in Classical Latin assum.)
venator –oris (m.): hunter
veru verus (n.): spit
vescor: to eat
acraoma: piece of music (Greek loanword )
delector (+ abl.): to delight in (in Classical Latin the active is used.)
praecipue: especially
De Civitate Dei: This work, written by Augustine after the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths in 410, concentrates on the difference between this world and the spiritual world of God. It has a loose structure and is not one of the most coherent books ever written, so I wonder if Charlemagne could grasp it.
super caenum:  during dinner
parcus bibendo: moderate in the drinking of

Translation: