Friday, October 2, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Notker the Stammerer

[While nothing is preserved directly from Charlemagne (he never succeeded in learning to write), there are many tales told about him. The truth of these tales may be arguable, but one may hope there is still at least some trace of memory of the character of Charlemagne preserved in them.]

One day when Charlemagne was on a journey he came to a great cathedral. A certain wandering monk, who was unaware of the Emperor's attention to small detail, came into the choir and, since he had never learned to do anything of the sort himself, stood silent and confused in the midst of those who were chanting. Thereupon the choirmaster raised his baton and threatened to hit him, if he did not sing. The monk, not knowing what to do or where to turn, and not daring to go out, twisted and contorted his throat, opened his mouth wide, moved his jaw up and down, and did all that he could to imitate the appearance of someone singing. The others present had not the self-control to stop laughing. Our valiant Emperor, who was not to be moved from his serenity by even the greatest events, sat solemnly waiting until the end of the Mass, just as if he had not noticed this pretence at singing. When it was all over, he called the poor wretch to him and, taking pity on his struggles and the strain he had gone through, consoled him with these words: 'My good monk, thank you every much for your singing and your efforts.' Then he ordered him to be given a pound of silver to relieve his poverty.

 Notiker the Stammerer, 840-912 AD, Charlemagne (lived 742-814 AD), Book I, 8, translated by Lewis Thorpe, Einhard and Notker the Stammerer: Two Lives of Charlemagne, Penguin Books, 1969, p.101)

How should we respond when put in a situation that is beyond our abilities? How can we help someone in that situation?

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