Past Convictions: The Penance of Louis the Pious and the Decline of the Carolingians

Past Convictions: The Penance of Louis the Pious and the Decline of the Carolingians

Past Convictions: The Penance of Louis the Pious and the Decline of the Carolingians

Past Convictions: The Penance of Louis the Pious and the Decline of the Carolingians

Synopsis

How do people, in both the past and the present, think about moments of social and political crisis, and how do they respond to them? What are the interpretive codes by which troubling events are read and given meaning, and what part do these codes play in suggesting specific strategies for coping with the world? In Past Convictions Courtney Booker attempts to answer these questions by examining the controversial divestiture and public penance of Charlemagne's son, the Emperor Louis the Pious, in 833.

Historians have customarily viewed the event as marking the beginning of the end of the Carolingian dynasty. Exploring how both contemporaries and subsequent generations thought about Louis's forfeiture of the throne, Booker contends that certain vivid ninth-century narratives reveal a close but ephemeral connection between historiography and the generic conventions of comedy and tragedy. In tracing how writers of later centuries built upon these dramatic Carolingian accounts to tell a larger story of faith, betrayal, political expediency, and decline, he explicates the ways historiography shapes our vision of the past and what we think we know about it, and the ways its interpretive models may fall short.

Excerpt

For a great many years there lived in Rue de la Harpe one of those men of stay-at-home habits for whom the only distraction consisted in occasional visits to the flower market and who, on returning home, would rediscover with ever-renewed pleasure his modest lodgings where order and cleanliness reigned everywhere. One day, as he hurried home, his landlord stopped him in the stairway and told him that the house had to be demolished because of some street repairs and that he would have to find another place to live for the next trimester. On hearing the news the poor lodger remained paralyzed with surprise and chagrin. Returning to his apartment, he immediately took to his bed and stayed there several months, the victim of a profound sadness accompanied by a raging fever. In vain his landlord tried to console him, promising him a more comfortable lodging in the new house that was going to be built on the land of the old one: “It will no longer be my lodging,” he responded with bitterness, “the one I loved so much, that I embellished with my own hands, where, for thirty years, I had all my habits and where I cherished the hope of finishing my life!”

The eve of the day fixed for the demolition, he was warned that he must absolutely give back his keys the following day by noon at the latest. “I will not return them,” he responded coldly. “If I leave here, it will only be feet first.” Two days later, the commissaire was required to force open the door of the stubborn lodger. He found the poor man dead; he had suffocated from the despair of having to leave the abode he cherished too much.

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