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I send greetings of pleasant love to father, bishop eagle from across the sea on the wing of the sacred swan.
I observed, looked forward and was desirous of: and see I have watched for that but it does not come: and I hoped for that, I did not consider that I was wishing but I was not receiving. The expectation was what disappointed me, hope was purged from me. And if only instead of the hope it was present, now I would have been full of joy. But, before the expected joy, unexpected feelings creep up, grief, anticipation, sadness. My misfortune blocked my way of coming to you and I took away the gladness of rejoicing.
You present your love so I accepted your happy soul, which I became aware that you had arranged with affection. However, judgement came out happy with duty, so he groans out of sorrow at your absence of supreme happiness. But how is this? You are alive without Christ, he is present with soul but is absent in being, while God comes to present happiness and bless you, who is strong and never limited. The Lord God in his own sympathy will accomplish with purpose his own means and will guard you everywhere, kind brother!
Alcuin was born in around A.D. 732 in Northumbria (http://www.oxforddnb.com.ezproxy.lib.le.ac.uk/view/article/298), it is debated as to whether he came from a noble family, but they certainly had limited wealth even if they ‘often subordinated to others of higher standing' (http://www.oxforddnb.com.ezproxy.lib.le.ac.uk/view/article/298). From an early age he had a ‘missionary devotion' (Allott, 1987: 1) and attended a monastic school in York. At the time that he attended the school, Egbert, the brother of King Edbert, was archbishop. It is believed by some historians (Allott, 1987: 1) that it is this exposure to royalty at an early age that enables him to be so open with his opinions towards Charlemagne in his later life. Alcuin did not hold a great desire to travel the world or even to leave York, but he was sent on a trip to pay homage to the Pope and it is this trip that introduced him to Charlemagne, King of the Franks. Alcuin was invited to educate Western Europe in reading and writing, something that Charlemagne felt was lacking in his kingdom, Alcuin was instrumental in implementing Charlemagne's reforms of the church (Fox, 2005: 219). He is not described as being a ‘great and innovative speaker', (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/vikings/alcuin_01.shtml#two & http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01276a.htm) but is said to have been a brilliant scholar and teacher. Alcuin first taught at Aachen and then in the great monastery of St. Martin at Tours where he was appointed as abbot. Above all, his letters show him to be ‘a man who made warm friendships' (Allott, 1987: 140). Along with some of his letters that survive Alcuin also produced books on rhetoric, grammar, theology and poetry, most of which were commissioned by Charlemagne (Fox, 2005: 220).
Arno, to whom this letter is addressed, was a bishop in Salzburg and had previously been Alcuin's pupil (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01276a.htm); it is rumoured that he was the subject of Alcuin's homosexual desires (Boswell, 1981: 250). This may just be down to the way in which modern historians have translated the text. In one letter, written in late A.D. 790, Alcuin writes ‘how quickly I would embrace you and how eagerly I would kiss not only your eyes, ears and mouth but also each finger and toe not once but many times' (Allott, 1987: 140). Is this evidence of a homosexual relationship or merely a letter between two close friends? The friendship that Alcuin shared with Arno was probably the closest of Alcuin's life and he describes Arno as ‘his own true brother' (Allott, 1987: 140). In the letters Alcuin addresses Arno in an affectionate manner calling him ‘Bishop Eagle' (as in the above translation) or in another letter he addresses him as ‘the truly beloved Eagle' (Allott, 1987: 143), an example of how close their relationship was, whether it was sexual or not.
By studying the set text above and looking more closely at other letters written by Alcuin to Arno the relationship between them seems very close. There is no doubt that they wrote to each other often and were in close contact, evidence of which is in the number of letters which survive between them. Alcuin's letters express animatedly his feelings for the subject. He does not use mediocre words to describe what he feels but descriptive, colourful adjectives which make parts of the letters seem more like a story rather than a letter ‘the burning desire of my heart awaits the sight of your face...' (Allott, 1987: 141). The way in which the writing is laid out however indicates a communication between two people, the fact that the letter is written in first person and the use of the pronoun ‘I' is frequent, but also the use of rhetoric, which is a common trait of Alcuin's letters. Cicero is well known for rhetoric in his work and Murphy says the aim was to ‘persuade an audience by speech' (Murphy, 2005: 1).
In order to highlight Alcuin's point and his upset at not having had a reply from Arno he uses language that would invoke the feeling of guilt in his friend. The phrase ‘hope was purged from me' in the above letter shows his despair, and perhaps in making the situation sound so desolate he is trying to invoke a response out of guilt from his companion. Sentences of his feelings are, though repetitive, effective in making Arno realise the extent of the hurt Alcuin feels at not receiving a letter in reply. The content of the letter is quite amusing, Alcuin is writing to Arno to describe his disappointment at not having heard from him, this content seems to be a common reproach in a lot of letters, indeed Cicero has obviously received a letter of a similar nature when he replies that ‘I have really nothing to write to you about' (Cicero: Letter 59).
When examining the text, the opening is set out with an addressing sentence; this is a common layout of many letters. For instance, in Ælfric's letter to the Monks of Eynsham it starts “Abbot Ælfric to the brothers of Eynsham: Greetings in Christ” (Jones, 1998: 111). Rather than in a modern letter where we would just say ‘To' or ‘Dear' they send greetings and expectedly have an ecclesiastical reference as seen in the above example. To illustrate the point of a simple address we can look to Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, which starts with a letter, ‘To Mrs Saville, England' (1992:13). The style seen in Alcuin's letters is much more similar to ancient authors such as Cicero, Pliny and Boniface.
The language used in the letter is relatively conversational, similar to Boniface (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/boniface-letters.html), in that they deal with everyday events. It is not politically based, in fact in one letter between Boniface and Nithard, he is writing to encourage him to continue with his studies. This is unlike many of Cicero's letters which have a political motivation. Alcuin's letters are not a laying down of events but include his feelings on events; although Cicero includes a lot of political details, he also includes his emotions, for instance, in a correspondence between himself and Atticus, ‘It would be intensely painful for me to tell you in writing of the causes - bitter, grave and strange as they are' (Cicero: Letter 76).
The letters by Alcuin are important in informing historians about events at the time and Alcuin is one of the most important sources we have for the Dark Ages. His are one of the only sources that have survived the ravages of time.