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Critical analysis of the letter collection of Einhard

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  1. If some medieval letters survived, they must have been intentionally preserved and copied
  2. The letters compiled in this collection were intentionally chosen
  3. To what type of medieval letter-collection do Einhard's letters belong to?
  4. What was the aim of the compiler?
  5. To what extent these letters have been written by Einhard?

During the Carolingian Renaissance, the practice of writing and collecting letters was promoted both by the advance in communications within the Carolingian empire and by the renewed interest in classical literature and learning . Einhard' letters are an example of such a revival, along with the Alcuin and Lupus de Ferrières' letters. The extant corpus of medieval letters is varied; it contains informal letters, business letters, love letters, etc. Regarding them, the first question that comes to mind is: how did these letters come to us? How were they preserved?

Einhard'letters, which are available to us today, were preserved in a 10th century manuscript, probably written by monks/scripts at St-Bavo. The collection is composed of around 70 letters, probably written between 820 and 840. The historical context seriously matters, since a lot of letters refer to the beginning of vassalage practices which became very common only at the end of the 9th century. We will see later why it is so important in the comprehension of the compilation. Some letters also refer to political problems under Louis the Pious' reign, especially the sons' rebellion in 830.

In his edition, Paul E. Dutton maintained the arrangement of the 10th century manuscripts because he thinks that ?the original context and placement of a piece in the strata of this collection have informative and meaningful values of their own?. How should we understand the process of compilation? Is there a signification behind the apparent chaos? Thus, my thesis is: if Einhard may have kept drafts of his letters when he was alive, the extant collection of letters was most probably assembled by a later compiler (in the beginning of the 10th century). First, I will argue that Einhard's letters, which are available to us today, were intentionally chosen, preserved and copied. Then, I will argue that subjects of letters chosen for the compilation throws up clues about who compiled the letters and his purpose in doing so.

[...] The collection may also belong to the didactic type because it is a kind of formulary to instruct the art of letter-writing[13]. In this type of letters, there is no clear distinction between business and literacy, as it is the case in Einhard's collection. Secondly, subjects of letters chosen for the collection should be analyzed in order to understand the aim of the compiler. As Mary Garrisson argues, letters could be assembled either from the sender's drafts or from the receiver's copies[14]. [...]


[...] As Constable argues, the form and the style of a letter tended to be correlated to its purpose, in this instance, administrative business. Letters concerned with everyday affairs may have been written directly; they are much shorter and less elaborate than the letters regarding spiritual matters[18]. The difference can be easily seen when we compare these letters with those in Lupus de Ferrieres collection. The last question which can help us is: to what extent have these letters been written by Einhard? [...]

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