Song of Roland Study Guide

La Chanson de Roland, or The Tune of Roland, is the oldest surviving French poem. It is also the oldest and biggest of the chansons de geste, medieval legendary poems composed in French. In old French, “geste” indicates a deed or action, frequently of heroic proportions. A hundred or so of these impressive poems make it through, dating from around the year 1100 to the late fourteenth century. In their time, they were exceedingly popular.

Although we know neither the identity of The Song of Roland’s author nor the date of its structure, most scholars estimate that the poem was composed in between 1098-1100. This dating puts the poem’s origin at the time of the First Crusade, and certainly the poem has actually been identified by some scholars as “propaganda” to encourage Christians to use up arms against Islam. “Propaganda” here is a loose term, including a broad series of creative developments that can intend to press listeners to action or merely paint certain policies or events from a particular viewpoint. What can be stated for particular is that The Song of Roland appears animated by the spirit of the Crusades, a time when the medieval Catholic Church, at the height of its power, looked for to expand Christendom into the Holy Land.

The poem explains events taking place numerous centuries earlier, during the reign of the magnificent Christian warrior-king Charlemagne. The historic context of the poem for that reason straddles a number of centuries, and to correctly understand the poem we should bear in mind its rich historical background.

The poem is a famous account with some basis in truth: in 778, the rearguard of Charlemagne’s army was butchered in the Roncesvalles (old French: Rencesvals) pass of the Pyrenees mountains. Accounts from this dark period of European history are always problematic, but the most trustworthy European account of the occasion comes from Einhard, Charlemagne’s own biographer:

At a moment when Charlemagne’s army was extended in a long column of march, as the nature of the local defiles required it to be, these Basques [Wascones], who had actually set their ambush on the really top of among the mountains, came hurrying down on the tail end of the luggage train and the soldiers who were marching in support of the rearguard and so securing the army which had actually gone on ahead. The Basques required them down into the valley underneath, signed up with battle with them and killed them to the last male. They then took up the luggage, and, protected as they were by the cover of darkness, which was simply starting to fall, scattered in all instructions without losing a minute. In this feat the Basques were assisted by the lightness of their arms and by the nature of the surface in which the battle was battled. On the other hand, the heavy nature of their own equipment and the disproportion of the ground entirely obstructed the Franks in their resistance to the Basques. In this fight died Eggihard, who supervised of the King’s table, Anshelm, the Count of the palace, and Roland, Lord of the Breton Marches, together with a great number of others. What is more, this assault might not be avenged there and then, for, once it was over, the enemy distributed in such a method that no one knew where or amongst which people they might be discovered. (Citizen, 9-10, equated from Einhard’s Vita Karoli Magni, or, The Life of Charlemagne)

Those acquainted with the occasions of the poem will observe several divergences in between the poem and history. For one thing, the adversaries of the poem are Saracens (called also in the poem “pagans”), not Basque natives. And while Einhard’s account points out Roland, the other primary characters of the poem are missing out on. According to Einhard, vengeance was not possible, however in the poem Charlemagne looks for an instant and gratifying revenge that also finishes his conquest of Spain.

The projects in Spain need to be seen within the greater context of Charlemagne’s life and times. Charlemagne lived throughout an era when the tide of Islam appeared unstoppable. Islam, a faith not yet three centuries old, had actually swept up the world of North Africa and the Middle East. These recently Moslem kingdoms were richer, stronger, and culturally and technologically well ahead of the kingdoms and tribes of Europe. Moslem Spain, to point out one example, was one of the most spectacular parts of Europe: Islam had actually brought the benefits of sophisticated culture, science, and organizations.

Europe itself was not yet fully Christianized. In many locations, especially in the north, pagan and barbarian people still kept fortress. The Catholic Church seemed threatened on all sides. The Roman Empire had actually fallen several centuries before, and life had ended up being less ordered, more hazardous, and much more difficult. Charlemagne was a devout Christian and a fierce warrior, who broadened his Frankish borders up until he ruled a Christian empire consisting of large locations of contemporary Germany and France, along with a grip in Spain. The pope crowned him emperor in 800, acknowledging him as a brand-new ruler of the old Western Roman Empire.

The defeat at Roncesvalles required Charlemagne to rethink his technique in Spain; he ended up being protective, focusing on catching and holding a few strategic locations to serve as a buffer in between his own empire and Moslem Spain. Eventually his vassals had the ability to conquer Barcelona in 803, which enabled him to keep an area under Frankish control called the Spanish March.

The Song of Roland more or less neglects this history, depicting rather a Charlemagne capable of dominating all of Spain. The account is legend. Roland, instead of being “Lord of the Breton March,” as detailed by Einhard, is a Frankish lord and Charlemagne’s own nephew. The “treachery” of the Christian Basques ends up being changed into the treachery of a single guy, Ganelon, and the Basques themselves are changed by Moslems, whom the poet calls Saracens or pagans. The battles are epic and grand, worthwhile of intervention by God himself, and historic ambiguities or beats are neglected.

The spirit is very much that of the Crusades, a period in which the Catholic Church had actually become strong and ambitious sufficient to mount a series of identified campaigns in the Holy Land. Centuries had actually passed given that the time of Charlemagne, and if anything history had amplified his personality. He was among the very first fantastic Christian kings, and his legacy was part of what later on made the Crusades possible. The poem describes what was impossible for Charlemagne however what would be possible during the Crusades: conquest of wonderfully rich Moslem lands. In 1095, Pope Urban II provided a famous speech at the council of Clermont, exhorting all Christians to fight for the regain of the land of Christ. Warriors who defended the Holy Land would get complete penance. Archbishop Turpin, the fierce warrior-priest of the poem, shows this brand-new mentality. He blesses and provides penance to the Franks wholesale before the battle, and assures all that paradise awaits them. The poem likewise uses Charlemagne and the nobility of his personality, his supposed personal relationship with God, and his reception of divine messages from angels. The poet has no qualms about changing truths to harmonize the spirit of the brand-new Holy Wars.

The Song of Roland consists of roughly 4000 lines of verse, divided into 298 poetic units called laisses. Laisses are irregular in length, from three or 4 lines to a couple of hundred, however in The Song of Roland they average under fourteen lines. The lines are mainly decasyllabic, and are connected by assonance (the last word contains a comparable vowel noise however not necessarily a perfect rhyme) or by rhyme.

One of the poem’s striking features is making use of parallel laisses, in which consecutive laisses echo slightly different variations of the same occasion. The term is not accurate; its essential characteristic is a slowing down of the rate of story and a formula of repeating. We can see this method at work in the scene where Oliver climbs up the hill. Laisses 80 and 81 both begin with Oliver at the top of a hill. In both laisses, he reports seeing a huge pagan host. Laisses 83-5 concentrate on Oliver’s request that Roland blow his horn. The request is duplicated and declined three times, in extremely similar terms. But the reader does not have the sense of 3 requests: rather, one feels that the poet is decreasing his speed and concentrating on a single minute, that of Oliver’s conversation with Roland, and providing 3 differing versions of it. The result is something like a stutter, or a movie sequence in slow movement, or, better yet, a film sequence cut so that the very same occasion is seen multiple times from different angles. The successive laisses overlap, appearing to duplicate partly, but not totally, the exact same description. The poet will use this method to great result throughout Roland’s death scene. Time becomes suspended, and we focus, as if in a dream, on a single, effective moment.

Another striking feature of the poem is its paratactic structure. Instead of connect sentences with conjunctions, the poet puts down lines one after the other with no connecting words. This sort of format is referred to as parataxis. Causality and connection in between expressions are almost always implicit; this type runs throughout the poem.

Like all legendaries that were orally recited, The Tune of Roland has lots of formulaic phrases. These phrases were ready on hand to complete a line, and were easy to bear in mind. They fulfill the requirements of the meter and provide a pleasing repeating to the poem. The formulaic expression can either inhabit the very first half, or hemistich, of a line, or the 2nd hemistich. The solutions are most present in the fight scenes, which are extremely ritualized. Examples are basic: “He stimulates on his horse”; “He breaks his shield.” The solutions do not inhabit the entire line, nevertheless, and so dullness is avoided.

The chansons de geste were composed to be carried out. AOI, duplicated in the margins throughout the poem, stays a mystery, but numerous hypothesize that it shows some instruction for the musical accompaniment or some move or cry by the jongleur, or performer. The AOI does appear to appear at crucial moments, or modifications in state of mind, but theories about the exact function of the letters can just be speculation.

The poem would not have actually necessarily been performed simultaneously; a knowledgeable jongleur, depending upon the occasion, may summarize preceding parts and than perform a little part of the poem. Readers must attempt to keep in mind that on the page, a crucial part of the poem’s art is missing out on. The Tune of Roland was implied to be seen and heard, accompanied by music and in the context of celebrations and event.