Monday, June 17, 2013

A Further Offering on Parental Advice

Now that Father's Day recedes safely in the rear view mirror, it's a good moment to remember one of the most extraordinary books I've ever encountered--the Handbook for William, subtitled "A Carolingian Woman's Counsel for Her Son," written by one "Dhuoda" in the middle of the century and ably translated from its original Latin by Carol Neel.

"Dhuoda" was the wife of Bernard, count of Septimania, whom Neel identifies as "one of the most prominent Frankish magnates of the generation after Charlemagne."  William, there elder son, was born in 826; a second son, unnamed, was born in 1841.  During most of the intervening years, Bernard was away from home--not, strictly speaking, on a frolic, but rather attempting to maintain or secure his position in the lethally unstable milieu of the children of the great emperor.  At last Bernard accepted the authority of Charles the Bald, Charlemagne, but (for Dhuoda, at least) at a terrible price: Bernard delivered William up to Charles as hostage against the possibility of betrayal.  The second son was taken also, although his story is less clear: Dhuoda refers to him in her manuscript as the one "whose name I still do not know."

Dhuoda prepared her manuscript, then, in a vain effort to provide guidance to these two absent children.  Her purpose is not earthly practical advise; rather, she seeks (in Neel's words) "to teach her children how they might flourish in God's eyes as well as men's."  She says:
Read the words I address to you, understand them and fulfill them in action.  And when your little brother, whose name I still do not know, has received the grace of baptism in Christ, do not hesitate to teach him, to educate him, to love him, and to call him to progress from good to better.  When the time has come that he has learned to speak and to read, show him this little volume gathered together into a handbook by me and written down in your name.  Urge him to read it, for he is your flesh and your brother.  I, your mother Dhuoda, urge you, as if I even now spoke to both of you, that you "hold up your heart" from time to time when you are oppressed by the troubles of this world, and "look upon him who reigns in heaven" and is called God.  May that all-powerful one whom I mention frequently even in my unworthiness make both of you, my sons--along with my lord and master Bernard, your father--happy and joyful in the present world.   May he make you successful in all your undertakings, and after the end of this life may he bring you rejoicing to heaven among the saints.  Amen.

Dhuoda apparently never saw either of her sons again,  and may have known nothing of their fate.  In the event, Bernard was executed by Charles the Bald and William died in trying to avenge his father's death.  The unnamed second son "probably was" (Neel's judgment) the child who becomes Bernard Plantevelue-Hairyfeet--and founds the duchy of Aquitaine.  His son, her (probable?) grandson became William the Pious, who endowed the great Benedictine abbey at Cluny.

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