Source Translation: An Early Medieval Love Letter

Apparently when I said ‘tomorrow’ I meant ‘on Saturday’; I would have written this up when I got back from Mons yesterday, but I was distracted by some jousting. What this means is that this week is that it’s some more source translation. A few days ago, I was speaking with some friends about work (I have remarkably few other topics of conversation) and the question of love and marriage came up. There have been a few other things I’ve written about this, and these duly came up; but this raised a question which always gets brought up with these things: how far was marriage transactional?

In response, I mentioned one of my favourite little medieval texts, the only surviving early medieval love letter, preserved in the Formulae Salicae Merkelianae, written probably in the ninth century:

[Edit: as a commenter pointed out, this translation is a bit literal. There’s another effort at the end of the post which tries to keep a bit more of the original’s flavour.]

No. 47: Letter to a fiancée [i.e., specifically to a female recipient].

To my sweetest and dearest in everything, my honey-sweet girlfriend [insert name here], I, in God’s name [insert name here], with dearest love and unceasing desire for you who are so very desirable to me. I send you through this letter greetings for as much joy as is contained within the fullness of our hearts, greetings which walk amidst the clouds and which the Sun and his Moon bring to you. When I go to bed, you are ever on my mind; and when I sleep, I dream always of you. Stay well in the day and sleep well at night. Always keep your boyfriend in mind, and do not forget him, for I do not forget you (*). Come up with a clever way, and I’ll one more acquire, through what kind of trickery we’ll fulfil our desire (**).

Codex Manesse 071v Kristan von Hamle.jpg
A cunning plan! (source)

May He who reigns in Heaven and oversees the whole world lead you into my arms (***) before I die.

(This is a great greeting for two young people; the one sends it to the other and neither gets tired of it (****).)

So, what can I say about this? Well, on a personal level I can tell you that, contrary to what’s advertised, it doesn’t actually work as a Valentine’s Day card; but in terms more relevant to our theme, it illustrates much the same thing as some of the dowry charters I’ve written about before: that, however transactional it might have been in real life, it was expected that relationships be cloaked with what is evidently a close relation of the modern language of romantic affection, right down to the same endearments – ‘honey-sweet’ (melliflua) has been translated an adjective here, but could just as easily have been rendered as a noun; or, in other words, ‘hi, honey!’

Particularly interesting is that it’s in a formulary collection. Scholars have recently become more and more interested in formularies, or collections of form letters, and one of the reasons for this is that they contain lots of things that don’t otherwise survive, such as, indeed, love letters. Its inclusion in a formulary implies that there was demand we can’t otherwise see. This is perhaps due to the predominance in written culture of male celibates… What is a little frustrating is the way the nuances are lost. It’s not completely clear whether the tone of this letter is simply ‘I miss you’ or the more passive-aggressive ‘why don’t you write me?’. I’ve chosen to render it in the first way, but it could well be the second, which has interesting implications; not least that there were other letters of a more straightforward kind, of which this is a slightly acidic sub-variation.

I’ll admit, though, either way it’s not as attractive as talking about Vikings

(Short one today b/c I’m on a train back to the UK for a week; this also means there won’t be a post next week at all.)

(*) OK, a more literal translation here is ‘I don’t do that to you’, but that sounds much pissier in English than in Latin…

(**) This actually is a literal translation, insofar as the metre’s off and one of the words doesn’t quite rhyme, even if you assume that the MS’ altero is supposed to be alterum (as other scholars have, I’m not spitballing here).

(***) Lit, ‘give you into my hands’, but that’s a lot more ‘cartoonishly villainous’ than ‘sweetly romantic’.

(****) That last bit is odd; in Latin it’s neminem sufficit, which literally means ‘it suffices no-one’. My initially guess was that the whole sentence was a marginal annotation from a disgruntled youth, but as it turns out the MS is online, and nope, it’s in the text. This phrase in the translation is based off a French translation I found with a quick Google…


Edit: So, here’s version 2:

No. 47: Letter to a fiancée [i.e., specifically to a female recipient].

With affectionate ardour and unceasing desire, I, in God’s name [insert name here], to my utterly affectionate and dearest, my mellow and much-desired amour [insert name here]. I send you in this letter greetings for as much joy as is contained within the fullness of our hearts, greetings which walk amidst the clouds and which the Sun and his Moon bring to you. When I lay me down for bed, you’re always on my mind; and when I close my eyes and sleep, it’s you in dreams I find. Be well in the day, sleep sweetly at might; and always keep your boyfriend in mind, and do not forget him, for I do not forget you. Come up with a clever way, and I’ll one more acquire, through what kind of trickery we’ll fulfil our desire.
May He who reigns in Heaven and oversees the whole world lead you into my arms before I die.
(This is a great greeting for two young people; the one sends it to the other and neither gets tired of it.)


Carolingian Roman Citizenry Follow-Up: Another Charter, Another Formula…

Quick one: following the link very helpfully provided by Charles in the comments to the first post, I was struck to find a reference to an ongoing, albeit low-level form of awareness of Roman citizenship; in particular, the author references something found in a formula collection, the Formulae Imperiales, which seems highly relevant to this discussion: (text here)

Ecclesiastical authority clearly admonishes – and royal majesty is in harmony with the canonical decrees with religious concordance – that anyone whom any church selects from their own familia to be promoted to holy orders should be absolved from the yoke of servitude by a solemn manumission by he who is at that time ruler (rector) of the same church, who should confirm the liberty which was given to him before witnesses by a charter of freedom. Therefore, I in the name of God Einhard, venerable abbot of the monastery of the holy confessor of Christ Servatius, through the authority of ecclesiastical and imperial decree, as was written above, establish this servant of Our church named Magenfred, elected to holy orders by the unanimous opinion of Our venerable congregation, a Roman citizen, and through the gift of this page, which I wrote to confirm his freedom, I absolve him from the chains of servitude, so that from this day and time he might remain free and untroubled by any bond of servitude, as if he had been born or begotten from free parents. Finally, let him proceed in that part which the honour of a canonical institution has conceded to him, having because of this the same opportunities (habens ad hoc portas apertas) as other Roman citizens, thus that henceforth he should owe no service pertaining to those of a harmful or filthy condition (noxiae vel sordide conditionis) either to Us or Our successors, nor any service pertaining to a freedman (libertinitatis); rather, as long as he lives, let him be truly free and untroubled in certain and fullest freedom, as with other Roman citizens, through this title of manumission and freedom, and let him freely do what he  wishes with his personal belongings, which he has now or which he can obtain in future, in accordance with the authority of the canons. And that this authority of manumission and liberty might obtain undisturbed and inviolable firmness, I confirmed it below with my own hand, and similarly asked it be confirmed below by the priests and clergy of Our church, and the noble laymen who were present for this absolution.

Acted at Maastricht, on the Nones of March (07/03), in the 6th year, by Christ’s favour, of the imperial rule of lord Louis [the Pious], in the 14th indiction.

I, Abbot Einhard, confirmed by subscribing with my own hand.

That looks familiar, right? Once again, we have a cleric, being made a free man via being made a Roman citizen (again, it might well be said, by a lay abbot…).  Sarti says in the article that this charter ‘reveals not only that “Romans” remained part of Frankish legal reality, but also that legal Romanness was still continued to be associated with free, although lower, legal status’ (pp. 1044-1045); and certainly I think the first part is fair, but I’m not so sure about the latter…

Sarti is speaking (in this part) to a debate about Roman status in the post-Roman barbarian kingdoms, which I’m not equipped to deal with fully; in particular, she references the Ripuarian Law, which has distinct verbal parallels to this charter (the bit about portas apertas, for instance). In the Ripuarian Law, though, Romans are of less legal worth than Ripuarian free men, and I’m not sure that’s the case in either of these charters. In both, in this one as in Hugh the Abbot’s, the scribe goes out of their way to make the point that being a Roman citizen makes one 100% suitable for church service – Roman citizens aren’t unfree, they’re not freedmen, they aren’t subject to nasty labour demands, and their status is as high as befits holy orders – that is, as befits the section of society instinct with divinity. Maybe in Einhard’s case the Ripuarian influence is why he thumps on about it at length, but both documents seem to imply that the priest’s new status is a high one.

The other interesting thing about this charter relates to something  I didn’t say about the previous document: they’re both from formulary collections. Hugh the Abbot’s charter survives as an exemplary document in a Saint-Aignan collection; Einhard’s is part of the Formulae Imperiales. Clearly, this is happening often enough that it’s worth having a document about how to make someone a Roman citizen to model your own charters on…

Source Translations: Hugh the Abbot and Roman Freedoms

Another new feature! I do a lot of translation, so some of it may as well get polished up and put here for the benefit of other people. To kick things off, a charter of 885, in which the prominent nobleman Hugh the Abbot, in his capacity as abbot of Saint-Aignan of Orléans, makes a cleric named Reginald free, not so much because I have a great deal to say about it, but more because, well, it’s really odd. (Original text here.)

While the most Christian and religious Emperor Louis [the Pious], by the helping aid of celestial protection invincible Augustus, was earnestly improving the holy mother Church, among other efforts of his holy devotion he supported it regarding the very aberrant and reprehensible practice, which seemed for the most part to blacken its reputation, to wit, that people of servile and unfree (originariae) condition had until that point been carrying out sacred and divine ministry against the canonical statutes. By a precept of his authority, they were beaten away from it; and with the consent of his pontiffs and grandees, he took care to establish that thereafter when men of this sort of background were found suitably useful to the Church, they should be rescued from the bonds of servitude and promoted to a suitable condition. The venerable descendant of the same emperor, the invincible King Charles [the Bald], agreed to honour the holy Church of God in equal measure.

Therefore I, in the name of God, Hugh, by the mercy of the Lord abbot of the church of the most glorious confessor of Christ Anianus, in accordance with the precept of the said most pious Augustus, leading you, Reginald the cleric, born of the familia of the same Saint Anianus, that is, from the villa of Achères, before the holy altar and into the presence of the brothers of Saint-Aignan, by the pleasure of the same brothers, at the request of Archbishop Adalald [of Tours], who holds the said villa of Achères in benefice, publicly absolve you from the chains of servitude, for love of our lord Jesus Christ, to whose soldiery you were chosen. I establish you as a Roman citizen, so that from this point, by Christ’s favour, existing under your own right and power, you might thus live as a free man and Roman citizen, as if you had been born of free parents; and owe no injurious service to Us or Our successors. Rather, you should remain during your lifetime in the full and complete freedom which you are worthy of accepting due to the dignity of the sacred order; so that, having been rescued through this absolution from the fetters of servitude to which your birth has until now made you liable, you might, with the Lord’s help, be able to more freely and securely serve divine power. And so, in order that the title of this absolution, venerably celebrate for the veneration of worship, might for all time obtain firm vigour, We strengthened it below with Our own hand, and We determined it should be witnesses by the most noble clergy of Saint-Aignan.

S. Abbot Hugh. S. Archbishop Adalald. S. Waramund. S. Emmo. S. David. S. Martin. S. Solomon. S. Gozbert.

Given on the 3rd Nones of December [03/12], in the 1st year of the reign of Emperor Charles [885].

Hopefully that should be fairly clear. Earlier Carolingian kings (and this charter was composed during the reign of Charles the Fat, grandson of Louis the Pious and nephew of Charles the Bald, who was from the East Frankish branch of the family, so there may be a dynastic agenda here) thought that it simply wouldn’t do to have the unfree carrying out divine service, because it dishonoured the church that its priest were not free men.  Consequently, they agreed that if any unfree person was found who would make a good priest, they should be given the status of a free person so that they could profit the Church without hurting its reputation. As such Hugh, with the permission of Archbishop Adalald, the current possessor of the estate where Reginald lives, grants him freedom so that he can carry out his priestly duties more effectively.

Saint-Aignan today, from Wikipedia

What interests me most about this is that this is expressed in terms of granting Roman citizenry. Documents of enfranchisement are not unknown from this period, but it’s never phrased this way. Roman identity, indeed, is not supposed to have been that important during this period – isn’t the desirable identity that of the free Frank? There are a couple of indicators, mostly from Aquitaine, that the idea of the ‘law of Roman citizens’ was still a going concern in some people’s thought worlds, but quite what prompted Hugh and/or his scribe to decide to phrase this in such a classicising manner, I have no idea…