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Ego Trouble: Authors and Their Identities in the Early Middle Ages, eds. R. Corradini, M. Gillis, R. McKitterick, I. van Renswoude, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 15 (Vienna, 2010), pp. 161-173.


In the late 820s, Ermold ‘Nigellus’, an exile from the court of King Pippin of Aquitaine, composed a series of poems in a bid to return to favour from his place of exile in Strasbourg. Ermold directed two short poetic Epistles to Pippin and one long panegyric poem, the Carmen in honorem Hludowici Caesaris, to Pippin’s father, Emperor Louis the Pious (r. 814–840).Ermold’s crime remains unknown. Like Ovid, whose Tristia and Epistolae ex Ponto influenced Ermold’s exilic poetry, the Carolingian panegyrist, though he fully confesses his culpability, pointedly neglects to say for what. The Carmen is explicitly about Louis: the first book describes his youthful achievements as the sub-king of Aquitaine, especially against the Muslims of Barcelona; the second book describes his accession to his father’s empire and the visit of Pope Stephen to assist in his consecration; the third book describes his victory against the rebellious Bretons under their king Murman; and the fourth book describes the baptism of King Harald of the Danes, presented by Ermold as the Christianisation and peaceful subjugation of the entire gens. As a source for the early reign of Louis the Pious, the Carmen was once demeaned for inferior style and dubious accuracy, but has recently received more respectful scholarly treatment. Ermold’s praise may be fulsome, but it was measured by the yardstick of Carolingian norms and consequently serves as a source for historians examining those norms. As such, it has fuelled studies onthe role of concepts like pietas, notions of royal authority and legitimacy, literary patronage, the practice of hunting, and the role of women in the Ludovician period, as well as studies focussing on events and personalities.

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