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Song of Roland

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Jan Vincent Julian

on 17 April 2014

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Transcript of Song of Roland

Charlemagne's army is fighting the Muslims in Spain. The last city standing is Saragossa, held by the Muslim king Marsilla. Terrified of the might of Charlemagne's army of Franks, Marsilla sends out messengers to Charlemagne, promising treasure and Marsilla's conversion to Christianity if the Franks will go back to France. Charlemagne and his men are tired of fighting and decide to accept this peace offer. They need now to select a messenger to go back to Marsilla's court. The bold warrior Roland nominates his stepfather Ganelon. Ganelon is enraged; he fears that he'll die in the hands of the bloodthirsty pagans and suspects that this is just Roland's intent. He has long hated and envied his stepson, and, riding back to Saragossa with the Saracen messengers, he finds an opportunity for revenge. He tells the Saracens how they could ambush the rear guard of Charlemagne's army, which will surely be led by Roland as the Franks pick their way back to Spain through the mountain passes, and helps the Saracens plan their attack
The Franks discovered Ganelon's betrayal some time ago and keep him in chains until it is time for his trial. Ganelon argues that his action was legitimate revenge, openly proclaimed, not treason. While the council of barons, which Charlemagne gathered to decide the traitor's fate is initially swayed by this claim, one man, Thierry, argues that, because Roland was serving Charlemagne when Ganelon delivered his revenge on him, Ganelon's action constitutes a betrayal of the emperor. Ganelon's friend Pinabel challenges Thierry to trial by combat; the two will fight a duel to see who's right. By divine intervention, Thierry, the weaker man, wins, killing Pinabel. The Franks are convinced by this of Ganelon's villainy and sentence him to a most painful death. The traitor is torn limb from limb by galloping horses and thirty of his relatives are hung for good measure.

Just as the traitor Ganelon predicted, Roland gallantly volunteers to lead the rear guard. The wise and moderate Olivier and the fierce archbishop Turpin are among the men Roland picks to join him. Pagans ambush them at Roncesvals, according to plan; the Christians are overwhelmed by their sheer numbers. Seeing how badly outnumbered they are, Olivier asks Roland to blow on his oliphant, his horn made out of an elephant tusk, to call for help from the main body of the Frankish army. Roland proudly refuses to do so, claiming that they need no help, that the rear guard can easily take on the pagan hordes. While the Franks fight magnificently, there's no way they can continue to hold off against the Saracens, and the battle begins to turn clearly against them. Almost all his men are dead and Roland knows that it's now too late for Charlemagne and his troops to save them, but he blows his oliphant anyway, so that the emperor can see what happened to his men and avenge them. Roland blows so hard that his temples burst. He dies a glorious martyr's death, and saints take his soul straight to Paradise
Prepared by: Jan Vincent S. Julian
Song of Roland
By: Anonymous

When Charlemagne and his men reach the battlefield, they find only dead bodies. The pagans have fled, but the Franks pursue them, chasing them into the river Ebro, where they all drown. Meanwhile, the powerful emir of Babylon, Baligant, has arrived in Spain to help his vassal Marsilla fend off the Frankish threat. Baligant and his enormous Muslim army ride after Charlemagne and his Christian army, meeting them on the battlefield at Roncesvals, where the Christians are burying and mourning their dead. Both sides fight valiantly. But when Charlemagne kills Baligant, all the pagan army scatter and flee. Now Saragossa has no defenders left; the Franks take the city. With Marsilla's wife Bramimonde, Charlemagne and his men ride back to Aix, their capital in sweet France.

- A gallant warrior, one of the twelve peers of France, and Roland's best friend, Olivier is the protagonist's foil, setting off Roland's daring with his own prudence: "Roland is bold, Olivier is wise, and both of them are marvelously brave" (87.1093-1094). At Roncesvals,
- Historically, Charlemagne (742?-814), was king of the Franks and a committed, militant Christian.
- Roland is only mentioned in passing in the historical records, as the prefect of the Breton Marches, among those who fell at Roncesvals.
- The archbishop Turpin, who fights and dies alongside Roland at Roncesvals, represents Christendom's turn towards militant activity at the time of the Crusades.
- Ganelon is a well-respected Frankish baron and Roland's stepfather. He resents his stepson's boastfulness and great popularity among the Franks and success on the battlefield. When Roland nominates him as messenger to the Saracens, Ganelon is so deeply offended that he vows vengeance.
- Thierry is the single dissenting voice at the council of barons convened to judge Ganelon.
- Ganelon's closest companion and a mighty and eloquent Frankish baron, Pinabel defends Ganelon at his trial.
- The chronicles say nothing about Duke Naimes other than that he was a Gascon lord who paid homage to Charlemagne, but he became known as a wise advisor in medieval legends.
- The Danish count Oger is one of Charlemagne's fiercest and most reliable vassals.
- Count Gautier of Hum is among the twelve barons Roland picks for his rear guard.
Basan and Basil
- Some time earlier on in Charlemagne's Spanish campaign than the point at which The Song of Roland begins, Marsilla had sent an embassy of pagans carrying olive branches over to Charlemagne with a peace offer.
- Alde the Beautiful is Olivier's sister and Roland's betrothed. She dies of grief the moment she hears of Roland's death.
- At the beginning of Charlemagne's campaign in Spain, Marsilla sends for help from Baligant, the emir of Babylon and the noblest that Islam has to offer.
- Marsilla is the pagan king of Saragossa, the last Spanish city to hold out against the Frankish army.
- Marsilla's queen Bramimonde falls into a deep despair and feels utterly disgraced after her husband's defeat by the Franks.
- The shrewd pagan Blancandrin is one of Marsilla's most useful vassals.
- Aelroth is Marsilla's fiery nephew and leads the Saracen ambush squad along with a dozen Muslim lords, paralleling the leadership of the Frankish rear guard by Charlemagne's nephew Roland and the twelve peers.
- One of the twelve Saracen lords picked to battle the twelve Frankish peers at Roncesvals, Falsaron is Marsilla's brother.
- King Corsablis from Barbary is an evil magician and one of the twelve Saracen lords picked to battle the twelve Frankish ispeers at Roncesvals.
- Margariz of Seville is "loved by all the ladies, he's so handsome; / not one can look his way without a glow, / nor, looking at him, keep herself from giggling" (77.957-959).
- Marsilla's only son, Jurfaleu the Blond, is killed at Roncesvals; his head is chopped off by Roland.
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