Themes in Song of Roland Rachel Clifford College

In Song of Rowland, the author informs the story of Charlemagne’s attempted takeover of Saragossa, a land controlled by the Muslim king, Marsilla. The poem covers the feud in between Rowland and his stepfather Ganelon, in addition to the devastating effects that originate from that feud, including the betrayal of their lord and kinsman, Charlemagne. Through characterization and plot, the author is able to convey the overall style of the work– that of commitment.

Throughout the poem, 3 characters are introduced to reveal differing degrees of commitment. Among those characters is Ganelon, a vassal to Emperor Charlemagne and stepfather to the title character, Roland. After being nominated by his stepson for a suicide mission as a messenger to Marsilla, Ganelon takes a trip to Saragossa and, acting disloyally to Charlemagne, betrays Roland to Marsilla. He informs the Muslim leader that Roland is the reason that they continue to battle, which they will not have peace while he still lives. Ganelon even provides Marsilla the location where Roland is most likely to be when they go back to France, saying “The king will reach the main pass at Sizer, while having actually left his guard deployed behind him. His nephew will be there, the rich Count Roland, and Olivier, whom he relies on so. They’ll have a force of twenty thousand Franks. Send out a hundred countless your pagans …” (Roland, 583-588).

Marsilla then prepares to ambush Roland and his guys as they return to France with the gifts of the Muslims. Although it is arguable whether or not this relocation is disloyal, as Ganelon had actually issued Defiance to Roland, there can be a strong case made that Ganelon was acting disloyally. Ganelon first acted disloyally to his household. Roland was his stepson, so attempting to damage or eliminate him would be seen as a disloyal act, as they are kin, if only since Ganelon was married to Roland’s mom. Nevertheless, Roland was performing Charlemagne’s orders, so not just did Ganelon betray Roland, but by default he likewise betrayed Charlemagne, an individual that Ganelon swore an oath of loyalty to. Ganelon’s very first responsibility was to his lord, not his feud with Roland. Also, Ganelon’s act of disloyalty impacted more than simply Roland, as he was not the only individual to be eliminated as a result of it. Ganelon’s disloyalty resulted in the damage of almost 20,000 males. Therefore, Ganelon is the most apparent character to act disloyally, as he betrayed both his family and his lord.

Nevertheless, Ganelon was not the only one to act disloyal to Charlemagne. In the beginning look, Roland appears to be the perfect example of a design vassal. In court, he speaks against sending out a messenger to work out a peace treaty, as the previous messengers have all been killed. He states “… some fifteen pagans he dispatched, each carrying an olive branch; they stated the very exact same words to you then … you sent two of your suspend to the pagans (Basan was one, the other one was Basil) who immediately took their heads near Haltilie.” (Roland 202-209) While he is being faithful to Charlemagne by having the best interest of the Franks at heart, Roland is unintentionally disloyal to his fellow vassals, as he speaks up of turn. As Roland was a younger vassal, he must have waited to speak till greater ranking vassals had done so. He also proves disloyal while under attack by the Muslim forces at the pass at Sizer. After seeing the size of the Muslim army, Olivier asks Roland to blow the horn and require aid, as they are surpassed significantly. However, Roland declines to call for support, stating “May God forbid … that it be said by any man alive I ever blew my horn due to the fact that of pagans! My family will never be reproved. When I am in the middle of this fantastic fight and strike a thousand blows, then seven hundred, you’ll see the blade of Durendal run blood.” (Roland 1073-1079)

Roland refuses to surrender his honor, even if it means the loss of his men and even his own life. This is plainly disloyal to Charlemagne, as a loyal vassal does not get 20,000 males eliminated, simply because he does not want to lose honor. Therefore, while Roland was loyal for the most part, he enabled personal honor to hinder that loyalty. Also, the commitment to his household is cast doubt on, as he nominated Ganelon to be the messenger back to Marsilla. As Ganelon was his stepfather, it was both disrespectful and disloyal to his household for Roland to suggest that Ganelon travel to Saragossa. Ganelon acknowledges this disloyalty, saying “They know rather well that I am your stepsire– yet you call me to go out to Marsilla. If God needs to deign that I come back again, then I will stimulate such a fight with you that it will last as long as you live.” (Roland 287-291) Roland, understanding that the messenger to Marsilla would probably be going to his death, nominates Ganelon, acting disloyal to his household, as the death of Ganelon would be damaging to the whole family, not simply Ganelon himself.

The most loyal character in the poem is Olivier, Roland’s best friend and a vassal to Charlemagne. He reveals his commitment to Charlemagne, using to opt for Blancandrin back to Saragossa, saying “However if it pleases the king, I ‘d like to go.” (Roland 258) Charlemagne, nevertheless, refuses, as Olivier is one of the twelve peers, and Charlemagne declines to allow any of the twelve peers to work as the messenger. Nevertheless, Olivier is not just a devoted vassal. He is a devoted good friend as well. At the battle at the pass at Sizer, he suggests that Roland sound the horn and call for assistance, as they are surpassed. Having seen the variety of pagan soldiers that they are up versus, Olivier encourages Roland, saying “There are lots of pagans, and, it appears to me, we Franks are few. Companion Roland, you ought to sound your horn so Charles will hear and bring the army back.” (Roland 1049-1052) He was loyal to both Charlemagne and Roland, as he provided Roland guidance in times of difficulty and recommended that Roland attempt to prevent the deaths of 20,000 males. He also waits Roland, rather than leaving, despite the fact that he understands it will ultimately cause his death. Roland, seeing that Olivier has passed away in the battle, acknowledges his commitment, stating “Olivier, reasonable associate, you were the son of wealthy Duke Renier, who ruled the frontier valley of Runners. To break a lance-shaft or to pierce a guard, to conquer and terrify the proud, to counsel and sustain the valorous, to overcome and horrify the gluttons, no country ever had a better knight.” (Roland 2207-2214) Olivier can be seen as the design example of a faithful vassal not only because of his loyalty to his lord, Charlemagne, but also because of his unfailing loyalty to his good friend, even until death.

Loyalty is not restricted to the Christian side, however. Blancandrin, the Muslim vassal of Marsilla, is described as “Amongst the wisest pagans … very heroic and dutiful and able in the service of his lord.” (Roland 24-26) Blancandrin recommends Marsilla to inform Charlemagne that he will accept the Christian faith, become a vassal of Charlemagne. He likewise encourages that they use lots of presents, including hostages, in exchange for the Franks leaving Spain. He reaches to use his own son as a hostage, stating “If he [Charlemagne] should request for hostages, then send them to acquire his self-confidence– some ten or twenty. We’ll send out the children of our own spouses to him; though it will imply his death, I’ll send my own. Much better that they ought to lose their heads up there than we should lose our honor and our lands and let ourselves be given beggary.” (Roland 40-46) Blancandrin knows that his boy will be killed, as he does not actually plan for Marsilla to transform to Christianity or end up being a vassal to Charlemagne, however merely guarantee to do so to get the Christian king out of Saragossa. That Blancandrin wants to use his own son as a sacrifice goes to reveal just how devoted he is to King Marsilla.

Commitment likewise enters into question throughout the trial of Ganelon for treason versus Charlemagne. Thirty of Ganelon’s kinsmen are present to show assistance for Ganelon. One of these kinsmen is Pinabel. Pinabel positions his loyalty to his kinsman, Ganelon, above his commitment to his lord, Charlemagne. In court, he encourages the barons who choose Ganelon’s fate to let him live. The barons then tell Charlemagne “Sire, we hope that you will call it gives up with Ganelon– he’ll serve you then in commitment and love– and let him live, for he’s a well-born man. (Count Roland’s dead; you’ll not see him again,) and death itself can not return that lord, nor will we ever get him back with wealth.” (Roland 3808-3813) However, Charlemagne states that they are all traitors. Thierry positions his loyalty to Charlemagne above any other loyalty. Out of loyalty to his lord, he argues that Ganelon must be penalized, stating “Your service must have ensured [Roland’s] safety. Betraying him made Ganelon a felon; he broke his oath to you and did you incorrect. For this I evaluate that he ought to hang and die which his corpse must be tossed [out to the canines] like that of any typical bad guy.” (Roland 3828-3833)

The list below battle that ensues not only determines the fate of Ganelon, however likewise which commitment must come first: loyalty to kinsman or loyalty to lord. During the fight, each attempts to convince the other to act disloyally. Pinabel asks Thierry to fix up the king to Ganelon, while Thierry tries to persuade Pinabel to abandon Ganelon and surrender without fighting. Nevertheless, both refuse. In the end Thierry beats Pinabel, leading to the death of Ganelon and all thirty relatives who had appeared to support him. The thinking behind this was “A traitor kills himself in addition to others.” (Roland 3959) The triumph of Thierry over Pinabel did more than decide the fate of Ganelon. It can likewise be viewed as a symbol that the task and commitment to the lord constantly outranks the task and commitment to the kin.

In the legendary poem Tune of Roland, the style of commitment is explored completely. Loyalty and the absence of loyalty can be seen through numerous characters, consisting of Ganelon, Roland, Olivier, and Blancandrin. The poem likewise uses the trial of Ganelon to reveal that loyalty to lord constantly exceeds commitment to kin. Characterization, plot, and symbol acted as means through which to reveal the style of commitment.

Functions Cited:

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