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Article Teaser: Explores the interesting possibilities offered in certain recorded legends pertaining to the medieval ruler Charlemagne, mainly what interactions could take place between China and medieval Europe.

Keep reading below...

Charlemagne Meets a Chinese Princess

Copyright (c) 2007-2017

Charlemagne was a powerful Frankish monarch of the late 8th and early 9th centuries AD who united virtually all of Christian Europe into a single empire which he defended vigorously against hostile foreign forces. He was also known to be a great patron of higher learning, and also improved upon the laws of the empire and their administration. After his death people started weaving colorful legends of all kinds regarding him and his paladins, raising them to the status of mythical figures along the lines of King Arthur.

The legends were eventually to be collected into long written works, one of them being the epic poem "Orlando Furioso" or "The Madness of Roland" (Roland/Orlando being Charlemagne's favorite nephew and also one of his paladins), composed by the Italian poet Ariosto in the 15th century. The 19th century American scholar Thomas Bullfinch also undertook a retelling of many of the legends in his "Bullfinch's Mythology: The Legends of Charlemagne". The stories range all the way from the British Isles to the Middle East and to China, even right up to the moon (!), and contain all sorts of stuff like angels, fairies, terrible monsters, fantastic creatures, sorcerers and sorceresses, fabulous cities and palaces, magical items and weapons, and, of course, great warriors and battles.

Now according to the legends, one day while Charlemagne and his men were feasting in his court he was visited by a Cathayan princess of dazzling beauty by the name of Angelica! :D Almost every man in Charlemagne's court lost his mind over her, including the king himself (I'm sure the queen would be fuming with rage :)); his nephew Orlando, in particular, was to fall so hopelessly in love with her that, upon discovering later that she had gone off with another man, he eventually went totally insane, destroying animals, houses and people wherever he went - hence the title "Orlando Furioso", the Madness of Roland. To think that some Frankish dude from medieval times could fall for a Chinese lady to such a degree! Another paladin, Astolpho, had to travel all the way to the moon to retrieve Orlando's lost sanity!

Now why would any princess from China want to visit Europe in the 8th or 9th century? According to the legends, Angelica's father, Galafron (it's hilarious what sort of names early European writers came up with for the Chinese), harbored evil intentions against Christendom, his daughter being precisely one of his main chess pieces! Well, it's seriously doubtful any Chinese emperor during Charlemagne's time (there were four successive emperors in China whose period of rule overlapped with his; one of them reigned for only one year if not less) would have known much of him and the Holy Roman Empire at all, let alone seek its downfall. What had China to gain? :)

Perhaps a more likely reason (relatively speaking) for any Chinese of royal parentage to embark on a trip to Europe during those times could be to establish friendly trade relations and to propagate Buddhism - which at that time was at the height of its influence in China - though that would still have been a most unlikely historical event as Europe was just too far away from China (and had little to offer that interested the Chinese, besides :p). Even if a missionary journey to Europe did take place, the Franks with their Christian mindset would probably have misunderstood Buddhism as an evil, pagan doctrine and viewed the Chinese accordingly as a threat to Christendom, as in the legends! One wonders what interesting events might have transpired in consequence!

While there would have been equally little reason for any European during Charlemagne's time to travel to China, this did occur in the legends, where the traffic between Cathay and Christendom was not exclusively westward. Thus we read that at one point Galafron, the king of Cathay, was besieged in his city, Albracca, by the forces of a hostile neighboring kingdom. Presumably, Albracca would be another name for Ch'ang-an, the name of China's capital city during Charlemagne's time! Learning of the siege, Orlando, Astolpho and other knights under Charlemagne were to journey all the way from their home turf to offer the Cathayans assistance in defeating the aggressors. Quite evidently Charlemagne and his men were an incredibly generous lot in dispensing military aid, to be willing to go to the trouble of traveling all the way to a remote, alien land in the East to lend a hand in fighting her intruders - especially considering just what the ruler of this land actually sought to procure from our heroes! One wonders, though: what magical, super-fast means of travel did they have at their disposal, considering how little time they appeared to have spent in their journey to Cathay (and back)? Indeed by what similar means did news of Cathay's predicament reach them in the first place? :)

Incidentally, the legends also had it that Angelica was escorted by four giants while visiting Charlemagne. Now in Buddhist mythology there were indeed four Diamond Kings of Heaven - T'ien-wang in Chinese or Lokapala in Sanskrit - who were charged with the task of defending the Buddhist Law, each one of them corresponding to one of the four cardinal directions and reigning over a special race or species of supernatural creatures. They were enormously popular in China as well during Charlemagne's time. Could they be the four giants? Was this a coincidence or did the medieval European authors actually know something of Buddhist mythology? :) Certainly the four Diamond Kings professed a serious interest in the propagation of Buddhism, and had that been indeed the purpose of the princess' visit they would naturally have offered her whatever assistance they could!

The imagined (?) interaction of different cultures in history certainly can open up a whole wide world of fun and exciting possibilities. We have but touched on a few of these in the context of the Charlemagne cycle of legends. What other possibilities might there be, and what else besides the above did the creators of the Charlemagne cycle come up with? It is left to the reader to find out!


About The Author: Shop Amazon - Top Gift Ideas
K T Ong lives in Singapore and is currently pursuing a PhD at the National University of Singapore. He loves art, music, books, toys and PC games, and is also trying to develop a figure like that of Steve Reeves. :p You might like to visit his Mall of Cthulhu a great treasury of lovely infoproducts. http://www.mallofcthulhu.com

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Internal ID: #4312
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Word Count: 1027

Total Views: 3189

Article Rating: 1.73 of 5
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