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Alcuin of Tours
(735 - 804) U.K. - France


Theologian and writer, advisor to Charlemagne


Alcuin, Deacon and Abbot of Tours, was a leading figure in the Carolingian renaissance of the late 7th and early 8th centuries. The poet, who was also a teacher and an educational administrator, knew his students by pet names such as "Cuckoo". It is sometimes asserted that Alcuin's writings reflect classical models, and were exercises rather than representations of his own thought. What must be noted is that there were many possible classical models to imitate - it is why a writer chooses some and not others that is interesting.

He was the master of the school of York and at Charlemagne's Palatine School; his achievements included regulation of the liturgy of the Frankish church, collating and re-editing the Latin Bible, reforming continental script, and presiding over the first phase of the Carolingian Revival.

A distinctly erotic element... is notable in the circle of friends presided over by Alcuin at the court of Charlemagne. This group included some of the most brilliant scholars of the day (Theodule of Orleans, Anglibert, Einhard, et alii), but the erotic element subsisted principally between Alcuin and his pupils. Intimates of this circle of masculine friendship were known to each other by pet names, most of them derived from classical allusions, many from Vergil's Eclogues...

A particularly famous poem is addressed to a pupil whom Alcuin calls "Daphnis" and laments the departure of another young student, "Dodo", who is referred to in the poem as their "cuckoo"... The prominence of love in Alcuin's writings, all of which are addressed to other males, is striking... One expects hyperbole in poetry, but even in Alcuin's prose correspondence there is an element which can scarcely be called anything but passionate. He often wrote letters of astonishing passion, like the following Epistle 10:

"I think of your love and friendship with such sweet memories, reverend bishop, that I long for that lovely time when I may be able to clutch the neck of your sweetness with the fingers of my desires. Alas, if only it were granted to me, as it was to Habakkuk [Dan. 14:32-38], to be transported to you, how I would sink into your embraces, ... how much would I cover, with tightly pressed lips, not only your eyes, ears and mouth, but also your every finger and toe, not once but many a time."

At the end of his life, Alcuin had a reputation for holiness, yet he is not included in the canon of saints and never advanced to holy orders beyond those of deacon.

Raban & Alcuin
Raban Maur (left), supported by Alcuin (middle), dedicates his work to Archbishop Otgar of Mainz (Right); Carolingian Manuscript


Source: John Bowswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, pp 189-90

If you want to read Alcuin's poem "Lament for a Cuckoo", please go at his page in our book Famous Homoerotic Poems.

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