The Royal Frankish Annals

Ah, the Annals. Really the starting point for figuring out Pepin and Charles, when working from the primary sources. Punchy, pithy, and without (much) guile, the Annals are a readable, and even enjoyable, year-by-year chronicle of the doings of the great and the good and the not so good in the Frankish kingdom.

The Annals begin in 741, with, “Charles, mayor of the palace, died,” and that’s it. Which is perhaps the soul of brevity. However there are two versions of the Annals: the original, terser version, and the one called “Revised” by the scholars. The Revised version for 741 goes on to include news about Charles’ three sons, and the beginnings of a fantastic family drama, worthy of Tolstoy, that played out over the next few years. The translations I’ve seen show the original version, and then any emendations by “the Revisor.” The multiple authors of the Annals are unknown, but putting forth candidates and shooting them down seems to be great sport in academia.

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This would have meant nothing to Charlemagne

There you are in the year 774, court astronomer to Charles, son of Pepin, and you have some exciting news. You burst in and tell him, “Terra ingenti impetu gamma radios ictus est, duo facit atros concursu!”1.I have no idea how accurate Google Translate is with a sentence like this – they only added Latin a year or two ago, and of course modern scientific terms and concepts don’t always come across in ancient languages. Although I remember a column in the NY Times, decades ago, describing the use of Latin for terms like space shuttle. Which, in finding it now, makes me realize that I embarrassed myself not long after the article came out. He would have looked at you blankly, and, depending on the king’s mood, either laughed at you or had you tossed into the rain to make your way back across the Channel to your cold Irish monastery.

What else could he do? You had just informed him that the Earth had been hit by a tremendous gamma ray burst, caused by the collision of two black holes. It hardly makes sense today.

Scientific American has the scoop, although the news was carried fairly widely. Not completely relevant to anything here, but interesting nonetheless.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. I have no idea how accurate Google Translate is with a sentence like this – they only added Latin a year or two ago, and of course modern scientific terms and concepts don’t always come across in ancient languages. Although I remember a column in the NY Times, decades ago, describing the use of Latin for terms like space shuttle. Which, in finding it now, makes me realize that I embarrassed myself not long after the article came out.