Charlemagne Quotes

Words of wisdom attributed to the great Frankish king

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Snell, Melissa. "Charlemagne Quotes." ThoughtCo, Apr. 21, 2017, thoughtco.com/charlemagne-the-great-quotes-1789339. Snell, Melissa. (2017, April 21). Charlemagne Quotes. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/charlemagne-the-great-quotes-1789339 Snell, Melissa. "Charlemagne Quotes." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/charlemagne-the-great-quotes-1789339 (accessed September 23, 2017).
A bust of Charlemagne
Sascha Schuermann / Stringer / Getty Images

In the action-adventure film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy and his father, professor of Medieval History Dr. Henry Jones, are running for their lives from a Nazi fighter plane strafing them with bullets. Finding themselves on a rocky beach, the senior Jones (played with aplomb by Sean Connery) pulls out his trusty umbrella and, squawking like a chicken, uses the large black apparatus to frighten a flock of seagulls, who take startled flight into the path of the plane.

There they meet a gruesome fate, crashing into the windshield, getting caught in the propellers, and sending the plane careening into the hillside.

As Indy (the inestimable Harrison Ford) looks on in stunned silence, his father twirls the umbrella on his shoulder and strides jauntily back up the beach. "I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne," he explains. "Let my armies be the rocks, and the trees, and the birds in the sky."

It's a terrific moment and a wonderful line. Unfortunately, Charlemagne never said it.

I've checked.

From Einhard's biography to Bullfinch's Legends of Charlemagne, there is no record of this quote before it appeared in Last Crusade in 1989. It must be the creation of one of the screenwriters -- most likely Jeffrey Boam, who wrote the screenplay, or possibly George Lucas or Menno Meyjes, who devised the story. Whoever came up with it should be commended for its poetry -- it is, after all, a terrific line.

But they should not be referenced as a historical source.

But then, the "quotes" that have been attributed to Charlemagne, which go much further back than 1989, may have been creations of other writers. One source, in particular, the Monk of Saint Gall known as Notker the Stammerer, wrote a colorful biography in the 880s -- 70 years after Charlemagne's death -- that, while informative, should be taken with a grain of salt.

Here are a few quotes attributed to Charlemagne.

  • "Ah, woe is me! that I was not thought worthy to see my Christian hands dabbling in the blood of those dog-headed fiends."
    -- Of the Northmen (Vikings) who had retreated before Charlemagne could engage them in battle; as related by Notker the Stammerer in De Carolo Magno, 9th century.
     
  • Right action is better than knowledge; but in order to do what is right, we must know what is right.
    -- "De Litteris Colendis," in Jean-Barthélemy Hauréau, De la philosophie scolastique, 1850.
     
  • To have another language is to possess a second soul.
    -- attributed; source unknown
     
  • Would that I had twelve clerks so learned in all wisdom and so perfectly trained as were Jerome and Augustine.
       This was in conversation with Alcuin, who replied, "The Maker of heaven and earth has not many like to those men and do you expect to have twelve?"
    -- Related by Notker the Stammerer in De Carolo Magno.
     
  • You nobles, you sons of my chiefs, you superfine dandies, you have trusted to your birth and your possessions and have set at naught my orders to your own advancement; you have neglected the pursuit of learning and you have given yourselves over to luxury and sport, to idleness and profitless pastimes. By the King of Heaven, I take no account of your noble birth and your fine looks, though others may admire you for them. Know this for certain, that unless you make up for your former sloth by vigourous study, you will never get any favour from Charles.
    -- To noble-born students whose work was poor while lesser-born children had worked hard to write well; as related by Notker the Stammerer in De Carolo Magno.
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