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Charlemagne Class with Bill St John

“The light at the end of the Dark Ages has a name - and it is Charlemagne,” so writes Hugh Johnson in his book, Vintage. More than anyone else, Charlemagne brought his continent out of its cultural stagnation, come the year 800, ushering in the intellectual and artistic peaks of the Middle Ages (itself the vestibule to the cathedral we know as The Renaissance). He united his diverse peoples and gave them the first notion that they were “nations,” an inter-dependent collective. As such, he was the man who began to form the Europe that we know today. I love the guy; he loved “common” things: he connected his once-fractured continent by a common language (Latin), a common currency, a common religion, and a common law. Charlemagne introduced trial by jury, the Carolingian minuscule (what we call the lower-case alphabet), and the continent’s first organized system of education. 

 

He shifted the power in what we now call Europe from the East to the West. He preserved ninety percent of what has been bequeathed to us as the texts of ancient Greece and early Rome. He “modernized” medieval winemaking (no foot trodding of grapes; no storage in animal skins; direct sales from winery to consumer). He traveled widely, especially as a warrior and conqueror and, on one trip home, after defeating the Lombards, came upon a local cheese named Brie, loved it, and disseminated it throughout his empire. Dinner: What Charlemagne well might have eaten for dinner.