Original Research - Special Collection: Nicholas Allen Festschrift

Charlemagne as David revisited

Lynton A. Boshoff
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 57, No 1 | a2951 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v57i1.2951 | © 2023 Lynton A. Boshoff | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 01 March 2023 | Published: 30 August 2023

About the author(s)

Lynton A. Boshoff, School of Ancient Languages and Text Studies, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa

Abstract

It was common practice in literate and learned circles at the late 8th-century Carolingian court to give one another personal nicknames. Although this would suggest a world of intimacy and private confidences, these nicknames are also used in the literary and artistic productions of the time. Most notably, Charlemagne himself is called ‘David’, in remembrance of the Old Testament king. While this phenomenon is treated in broad terms in most studies on Carolingian history and culture, as an expression of idealised kingship, the nature of its application and significance in individual instances in literature addressed to Charlemagne has been less well defined. In this article, therefore, I revisit and nuance the idée reçue of Charlemagne as David, the ideal, divinely chosen ruler, the epitome of scholarly learning and wisdom – in short, the image of the king which was actively promoted on the political stage. I consider, as case studies, uses of the David name in the Latin poetry of Alcuin, Angilbert, Modoin, and Theodulf of Orléans. Through close reading of these texts and consideration of the rhetorical strategies of the poet, performance context and audience, as well as the intellectual milieu of the Carolingian court, it is shown that the selected authors make use of David in a consistent and recurrent pattern, which reflects a vision of the king that is unified and unique to the context of a court circle of poets and their literary pursuits.

Contribution: This article aimed to contribute to the field of Latin literary studies through analysis of how the name David, when used for Charlemagne, is treated in poems written at and for the court. This image of the king, which is used in a closed context of the poets in question and their audience, has further implications for the status and goals of the poets at court, as well as the influence which Charlemagne had over the literary revival of the period.


Keywords

Charlemagne; David; Carolingian poetry; Medieval Latin poetry; nicknames in poetry.

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 4: Quality education

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