A Legend of Charlemagne

From Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millenium, (trans. Patrick Creagh), from the start of memo 2, on “quickness,” an exquisite anecdote:

I will start by telling you an ancient legend.

Late in life the emperor Charlemagne fell in love with a German girl. The barons at his court were extremely worried when they saw that the sovereign, wholly taken up with his amorous passion and unmindful of his regal dignity, was neglecting the affairs of state. When the girl suddenly died, the courtiers were greatly relieved — but not for long, because Charlemagne’s love did not die with her. The emperor had the embalmed body carried to his bedchamber, where he refused to be parted from it. The Archbishop Turpin, alarmed by this macabre passion, suspected an enchantment and insisted on examining the corpse. Hidden under the girl’s dead tongue he found a ring with a precious stone set in it. As soon as the ring was in Turpin’s hands, Charlemagne fell passionately in love with the archbishop and hurriedly had the girl buried. In order to escape the embarrassing situation, Turpin  flung the ring into Lake Constance. Charlemagne thereupon fell in love with the lake and would not leave its shores.

Calvino glosses the legend (which he finds in a book of unpublished notes by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, in the Pléiade edition of the author’s works, 1.1315) thus: What we have here is a series of totally abnormal events linked together: the love of an old man for a young girl, a necrophiliac obsession and a homosexual impulse, while in the end everything subsides into melancholy contemplation, with the old king staring in rapture at the lake. Beautifully.

While I haven’t found Calvino’s fiction often to my taste, I would recommend this short book, Six Memos for the Next Millenium, to all and sundry.

1 Comment

  • Still a better love story than Twilight.


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