The Song of Roland
Overview
 

The Song of Roland is the oldest surviving major work of French literature
French literature
French literature is, generally speaking, literature written in the French language, particularly by citizens of France; it may also refer to literature written by people living in France who speak traditional languages of France other than French. Literature written in French language, by citizens...

. It exists in various manuscript versions which testify to its enormous and enduring popularity in the 12th to 14th centuries. The oldest of these is the Oxford
Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library , the main research library of the University of Oxford, is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and in Britain is second in size only to the British Library...

 manuscript which contains a text of some 4004 lines (the number varies slightly in different modern editions) and is usually dated to the middle of the twelfth century (between 1140 and 1170).
Encyclopedia

The Song of Roland is the oldest surviving major work of French literature
French literature
French literature is, generally speaking, literature written in the French language, particularly by citizens of France; it may also refer to literature written by people living in France who speak traditional languages of France other than French. Literature written in French language, by citizens...

. It exists in various manuscript versions which testify to its enormous and enduring popularity in the 12th to 14th centuries. The oldest of these is the Oxford
Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library , the main research library of the University of Oxford, is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and in Britain is second in size only to the British Library...

 manuscript which contains a text of some 4004 lines (the number varies slightly in different modern editions) and is usually dated to the middle of the twelfth century (between 1140 and 1170). The epic poem is the first and most outstanding example of the chanson de geste
Chanson de geste
The chansons de geste, Old French for "songs of heroic deeds", are the epic poems that appear at the dawn of French literature. The earliest known examples date from the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, nearly a hundred years before the emergence of the lyric poetry of the trouvères and...

, a literary form that flourished between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries and celebrated the legendary deeds of a hero.

Manuscripts

There are nine extant manuscripts of the Song of Roland in Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

. The oldest of these manuscripts is held at the Bodleian Library
Bodleian Library
The Bodleian Library , the main research library of the University of Oxford, is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and in Britain is second in size only to the British Library...

 at Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

. This copy dates between 1140 and 1170 and was written in Anglo-Norman
Anglo-Norman language
Anglo-Norman is the name traditionally given to the kind of Old Norman used in England and to some extent elsewhere in the British Isles during the Anglo-Norman period....

.

Scholars estimate that the poem was written between approximately 1040 and 1115, and most of the alterations were performed by about 1098. Some favor an earlier dating, because it allows one to say that the poem was inspired by the Castilian
Castile (historical region)
A former kingdom, Castile gradually merged with its neighbours to become the Crown of Castile and later the Kingdom of Spain when united with the Crown of Aragon and the Kingdom of Navarre...

 campaigns of the 1030s, and that the poem went on to be a major influence in the First Crusade
First Crusade
The First Crusade was a military expedition by Western Christianity to regain the Holy Lands taken in the Muslim conquest of the Levant, ultimately resulting in the recapture of Jerusalem...

. Those who prefer a later dating do so on grounds of the brief references made in the poem to events of the First Crusade
First Crusade
The First Crusade was a military expedition by Western Christianity to regain the Holy Lands taken in the Muslim conquest of the Levant, ultimately resulting in the recapture of Jerusalem...

. In one section, Palestine
Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

 is named Outremer
Outremer
Outremer, French for "overseas", was a general name given to the Crusader states established after the First Crusade: the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripoli and especially the Kingdom of Jerusalem...

, its Crusader name – but is presented as a Muslim land where there are no Christians.

Plot

For seven years, the valiant Christian king Charlemagne
Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

 has made war against the Saracen
Saracen
Saracen was a term used by the ancient Romans to refer to a people who lived in desert areas in and around the Roman province of Arabia, and who were distinguished from Arabs. In Europe during the Middle Ages the term was expanded to include Arabs, and then all who professed the religion of Islam...

s in Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

. Only one Muslim stronghold remains: the city of Saragossa, under the rule of King Marsile
King Marsile
Marsile is a character in The Song of Roland. He is the pagan king of the Saracens. He first appears in Stanza 1 as losing the war against Charlemagne, and asks his barons for counsel...

 and Queen Bramimonde
Bramimonde
Bramimonde is a character in The Song of Roland. Bramimonde is the Queen of Zaragoza, wife of King Marsile and mother of Jurfaleu the Blond....

. Marsile, certain that defeat is inevitable, hatches a plot
Conspiracy (crime)
In the criminal law, a conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to break the law at some time in the future, and, in some cases, with at least one overt act in furtherance of that agreement...

 to rid Spain of Charlemagne. He will promise to be Charlemagne's vassal
Vassal
A vassal or feudatory is a person who has entered into a mutual obligation to a lord or monarch in the context of the feudal system in medieval Europe. The obligations often included military support and mutual protection, in exchange for certain privileges, usually including the grant of land held...

 and a Christian convert in exchange for Charlemagne's departure. But once Charlemagne is back in France, Marsile will renege on his promises. Charlemagne and his vassals, weary of the long war, receive Marsile's messengers and try to choose an envoy to negotiate at Marsile's court on Charlemagne's behalf.

Roland, a courageous knight and Charlemagne's nephew, nominates his stepfather, Ganelon
Ganelon
In the Matter of France, Ganelon is the knight who betrayed Charlemagne's army to the Muslims, leading to the Battle of Roncevaux Pass. His name is said to derive from the Italian word inganno, meaning fraud or deception....

. Ganelon is enraged, thinking that Roland has nominated him for this dangerous mission in an attempt to be rid of him for good. Ganelon has long been jealous of Roland, and on his diplomatic mission he plots with the Saracens, telling them that they could ambush Charlemagne's rear guard
Rear guard
A rear guard or rearguard is that part of a military force that protects it from attack from the rear, either during an advance or withdrawal...

 as Charlemagne leaves Spain. Roland will undoubtedly lead the rearguard, and Ganelon promises that with Roland dead, Charlemagne will lose the will to fight.

After Ganelon returns with assurances of Marsile's good faith, Roland, as predicted, ends up leading the rearguard. The twelve peers, later known as the Paladin
Paladin
The paladins, sometimes known as the Twelve Peers, were the foremost warriors of Charlemagne's court, according to the literary cycle known as the Matter of France. They first appear in the early chansons de geste such as The Song of Roland, where they represent Christian martial valor against the...

s, Charlemagne's greatest and most beloved vassals, go with him. Among them is Oliver, a wise and prudent man and Roland's best friend. Also in the rearguard is the fiery Archbishop Turpin, a clergyman who also is a great warrior. At the pass of Roncevaux, the twenty thousand Christians of the rearguard are ambushed by a vastly superior force, numbering four hundred thousand. Oliver counsels Roland to blow his olifant
Olifant (instrument)
Olifant was the name applied in the Middle Ages to ivory hunting horns made from elephants' tusks. One of the most famous olifants belonged to the legendary Frankish knight Roland, protagonist of The Song of Roland.In The Song of Roland, Roland carries his olifant while serving on the rearguard of...

 horn, to call back Charlemagne's main force, but Roland refuses. The Franks fight valiantly, but in the end they are killed to the man. Roland gives three long mighty blasts on his oliphant so that Charlemagne will return and avenge them. His temples burst from the force required, and he presently expires. He positions himself so as to face toward the enemy's land before dying, and his soul is escorted to heaven by Saint Gabriel, Saint Michael and assorted cherubim.
Charlemagne arrives, and he and his men are overwhelmed with grief at the sight of the massacre. He pursues the pagan force, aided by a miracle of God; the sun is held in place in the sky so that the enemy will not have cover of night. The Franks
Franks
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

 push the Saracen
Saracen
Saracen was a term used by the ancient Romans to refer to a people who lived in desert areas in and around the Roman province of Arabia, and who were distinguished from Arabs. In Europe during the Middle Ages the term was expanded to include Arabs, and then all who professed the religion of Islam...

s into the river Ebro
Ebro
The Ebro or Ebre is one of the most important rivers in the Iberian Peninsula. It is the biggest river by discharge volume in Spain.The Ebro flows through the following cities:*Reinosa in Cantabria.*Miranda de Ebro in Castile and León....

, where those who are not chopped to pieces are drowned.

Marsile has escaped, though Roland succeeded in cutting off his right hand in battle. Wounded and demoralised, he returns to Saragossa, where the remaining Saracens are plunged into despair by their losses. But Baligant
Baligant
In The Song of Roland, Baligant is the Emir of Babylon , who tries to aid the defense of Zaragoza from Charlemagne. He is sometimes described as a man from ancient times. He is killed in the ensuing battle...

, the incredibly powerful emir
Emir
Emir , meaning "commander", "general", or "prince"; also transliterated as Amir, Aamir or Ameer) is a title of high office, used throughout the Muslim world...

 of Babylon
Babylon
Babylon was an Akkadian city-state of ancient Mesopotamia, the remains of which are found in present-day Al Hillah, Babil Province, Iraq, about 85 kilometers south of Baghdad...

, has arrived to help his vassal. The emir goes to Roncevaux where the Franks are mourning and burying their dead. There is a terrible battle which climaxes with a one-on-one clash between Baligant and Charlemagne. With a touch of divine aid, Charlemagne slays Baligant, and the Saracens retreat. The Franks take Saragossa, where they destroy all Jewish and Muslim
Muslim
A Muslim, also spelled Moslem, is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the Quran, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad. "Muslim" is the Arabic term for "submitter" .Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable...

 religious items and force the conversion
Forced conversion
A forced conversion is the religious conversion or acceptance of a philosophy against the will of the subject, often with the threatened consequence of earthly penalties or harm. These consequences range from job loss and social isolation to incarceration, torture or death...

 of everyone in the city with the exception of Queen Bramimonde
Bramimonde
Bramimonde is a character in The Song of Roland. Bramimonde is the Queen of Zaragoza, wife of King Marsile and mother of Jurfaleu the Blond....

. Charlemagne wants her to come to Christ through the agency of love. With her as a captive, the Franks return to their capital, Aachen
Aachen
Aachen has historically been a spa town in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Aachen was a favoured residence of Charlemagne, and the place of coronation of the Kings of Germany. Geographically, Aachen is the westernmost town of Germany, located along its borders with Belgium and the Netherlands, ...

 or Aix-la-Chapelle.

Ganelon is put on trial for treason. Pinabel
Pinabel
Pinabel, also known as Pinabello, is one of Charlemagne's vassals in The Song of Roland, Orlando furioso, and other works within the corpus of writings known as the Matter of France. Pinabel is the nephew and friend of the knight Ganelon. Different works give different accounts of Pinabel's...

, Ganelon's kinsman and a gifted speaker, nearly sways the judges to let Ganelon go. But Thierry, a brave but physically unimposing knight, says that Ganelon's revenge should not have been taken against a man in Charlemagne's service and constitutes treason. To decide the matter, Pinabel and Thierry fight. Though Pinabel is the stronger man, God intervenes and Thierry triumphs. The Franks give Ganelon a traitor's death: "Four chargers are brought out and tied to Ganelon's feet and hands...four sergeants drive them past the spectators towards a stream...Ganelon is lost, his ligaments will be stretched intolerably until all his limbs are torn apart." They also hang thirty of his kinsmen, not including Pinabel, who is already dead.

Charlemagne announces to all that Bramimonde has decided to become a Christian. Her baptism is celebrated, and all seems well. But that night the angel Gabriel
Gabriel
In Abrahamic religions, Gabriel is an Archangel who typically serves as a messenger to humans from God.He first appears in the Book of Daniel, delivering explanations of Daniel's visions. In the Gospel of Luke Gabriel foretells the births of both John the Baptist and of Jesus...

 comes to Charlemagne in a dream and tells him that he must depart for yet another war
War
War is a state of organized, armed, and often prolonged conflict carried on between states, nations, or other parties typified by extreme aggression, social disruption, and usually high mortality. War should be understood as an actual, intentional and widespread armed conflict between political...

 against the pagans. Weary and weeping, but resigned to the will of God, Charlemagne inwardly prepares himself for what is to come.

Form

The poem is written in stanza
Stanza
In poetry, a stanza is a unit within a larger poem. In modern poetry, the term is often equivalent with strophe; in popular vocal music, a stanza is typically referred to as a "verse"...

s of irregular length known as laisse
Laisse
A laisse is a type of stanza, of varying length, found in medieval French literature, specifically medieval French epic poetry , such as The Song of Roland. In early works, each laisse was made up of assonanced verses, although the appearance of rhymed laisses was increasingly common in later...

s. The lines are decasyllabic (containing ten syllables), and each is divided by a strong caesura
Caesura
thumb|100px|An example of a caesura in modern western music notation.In meter, a caesura is a complete pause in a line of poetry or in a musical composition. The plural form of caesura is caesuras or caesurae...

 which generally falls after the fourth syllable
Syllable
A syllable is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. For example, the word water is composed of two syllables: wa and ter. A syllable is typically made up of a syllable nucleus with optional initial and final margins .Syllables are often considered the phonological "building...

. The last stressed syllable of each line in a laisse has the same vowel
Vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

 sound as every other end-syllable in that laisse. The laisse is therefore an assonal
Assonance
Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds to create internal rhyming within phrases or sentences, and together with alliteration and consonance serves as one of the building blocks of verse. For example, in the phrase "Do you like blue?", the is repeated within the sentence and is...

, not a rhyming stanza.

On a narrative level, the Song of Roland features extensive use of repetition, parallelism, and thesis-antithesis
Dialectic
Dialectic is a method of argument for resolving disagreement that has been central to Indic and European philosophy since antiquity. The word dialectic originated in Ancient Greece, and was made popular by Plato in the Socratic dialogues...

 pairs. Unlike later Renaissance
Renaissance literature
Renaissance Literature refers to the period in European literature that began in Italy during the 14th century and spread around Europe through the 17th century...

 and Romantic literature
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

, the poem focuses on action rather than introspection.

The author gives few explanations for characters' behavior. The warriors are stereotypes defined by a few salient traits; for example, Roland is loyal and trusting while Ganelon, though brave, is traitorous and vindictive.

The story moves at a fast pace, occasionally slowing down and recounting the same scene up to three times but focusing on different details or taking a different perspective each time. The effect is similar to a film sequence shot at different angles so that new and more important details come to light with each shot.

Principal characters

  • Baligant
    Baligant
    In The Song of Roland, Baligant is the Emir of Babylon , who tries to aid the defense of Zaragoza from Charlemagne. He is sometimes described as a man from ancient times. He is killed in the ensuing battle...

    , emir of Babylon; Marsile enlists his help against Charlemagne.
  • Blancandrin
    Blancandrin
    In The Song of Roland, Blancandrin is the instigator of the pagan plot against Roland and Charlemagne. He first appears in the final line of the second stanza of the poem as the only pagan who speaks to give King Marsile counsel, and is then described as the wisest of the pagans and a good and...

    , wise pagan; suggests bribing Charlemagne out of Spain with hostages and gifts, and then suggests dishonouring a promise to allow Marsile's baptism
  • Bramimonde
    Bramimonde
    Bramimonde is a character in The Song of Roland. Bramimonde is the Queen of Zaragoza, wife of King Marsile and mother of Jurfaleu the Blond....

    , Queen of Saragossa; captured and converted by Charlemagne after the city falls
  • Charlemagne
    Charlemagne
    Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

    , Holy Roman Emperor
    Holy Roman Emperor
    The Holy Roman Emperor is a term used by historians to denote a medieval ruler who, as German King, had also received the title of "Emperor of the Romans" from the Pope...

    ; his forces fight the Saracens in Spain.
  • Ganelon
    Ganelon
    In the Matter of France, Ganelon is the knight who betrayed Charlemagne's army to the Muslims, leading to the Battle of Roncevaux Pass. His name is said to derive from the Italian word inganno, meaning fraud or deception....

    , treacherous lord and Roland's stepfather who encourages Marsile to attack the French
  • King Marsile
    King Marsile
    Marsile is a character in The Song of Roland. He is the pagan king of the Saracens. He first appears in Stanza 1 as losing the war against Charlemagne, and asks his barons for counsel...

    , Saracen king of Spain; Roland wounds him and he dies of his wound later.
  • Olivier, Roland's friend; mortally wounded by Margarice. He represents wisdom.
  • Roland
    Roland
    Roland was a Frankish military leader under Charlemagne who became one of the principal figures in the literary cycle known as the Matter of France. Historically, Roland was military governor of the Breton March, with responsibility for defending the frontier of Francia against the Bretons...

    , the hero of the Song; nephew of Charlemagne; leads the rear guard of the French forces; bursts his temples by blowing his oliphant-horn, wounds from which he eventually dies facing the enemy's land.
  • Turpin
    Turpin (archbishop)
    Roland]].He is probably identical with , an 8th-century archbishop of Reims alluded to by Hincmar, his third successor in the Holy See. According to Flodoard, Charles Martel drove Rigobert, archbishop of Reims, from his office and replaced Rigobert with a warrior clerk named Milo, afterwards bishop...

    , Archbishop of Rheims, represents the force of the Church.

Secondary characters

  • Aude
    Aude (character)
    Aude, or Alda, Alde, was the sister of Oliver and betrothed of Roland in The Song of Roland and other chansons de gestes. The story of her engagement to Roland is told in Girart de Vienne....

    , the fiancée of Roland and Olivier's sister
  • Basan
    Basan
    Basan , alternatively referred to as Basabasa or Inuhōō , is a fowl-like bird illustrated in the Ehon Hyaku Monogatari that lives in the mountains of Iyo Province . According to the description on the illustration, it resembles a large chicken and breathes ghost-fire from its mouth...

    , French baron, murdered while serving as Ambassador of Marsile.
  • Bérengier, one of the twelve paladins killed by Marsile’s troops; kills Estramarin; killed by Grandoyne.
  • Besgun, chief cook of Charlemagne's army; guards Ganelon after Ganelon's treachery is discovered.
  • Geboin, guards the French dead; becomes leader of Charlemagne's 2nd column.
  • Godefroy, standard bearer of Charlemagne; brother of Thierry, Charlemagne’s defender against Pinabel.
  • Grandoyne, fighter on Marsile’s side; son of the Cappadocia
    Cappadocia
    Cappadocia is a historical region in Central Anatolia, largely in Nevşehir Province.In the time of Herodotus, the Cappadocians were reported as occupying the whole region from Mount Taurus to the vicinity of the Euxine...

    n King Capuel; kills Gerin, Gerier, Berenger, Guy St. Antoine, and Duke Astorge; killed by Roland.
  • Hamon, joint Commander of Charlemagne's Eighth Division.
  • Lorant, French commander of one of the of first divisions against Baligant; killed by Baligant.
  • Milon, guards the French dead while Charlemagne pursues the Saracen forces.
  • Ogier
    Ogier the Dane
    Ogier the Dane is a legendary character who first appears in an Old French chanson de geste, in the cycle of poems Geste de Doon de Mayence....

    , a Dane who leads the third column in Charlemagne's army against Baligant's forces.
  • Othon, guards the French dead while Charlemagne pursues the Saracen forces.
  • Pinabel
    Pinabel
    Pinabel, also known as Pinabello, is one of Charlemagne's vassals in The Song of Roland, Orlando furioso, and other works within the corpus of writings known as the Matter of France. Pinabel is the nephew and friend of the knight Ganelon. Different works give different accounts of Pinabel's...

    , fights for Ganelon in the judicial combat.
  • Thierry, fights for Charlemagne in the judicial combat.

Adaptations

A Latin poem, Carmen de Prodicione Guenonis
Carmen de Prodicione Guenonis
Carmen de Prodicione Guenonis is an anonymous poem in medieval Latin, written in the first half of the 12th century. Composed in elegiac couplets by an unskilled versifier, it is a version of the legendary history of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass...

, was composed around 1120, and a Latin prose version, Historia Caroli Magni
Historia Caroli Magni
Historia Caroli Magni or Historia Karoli Magni et Rotholandi , sometimes known as the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, is a 12th century Latin forged chronicle of legendary material about Charlemagne's alleged conquest of Spain...

(often known as "The Pseudo-Turpin") even earlier. Around 1170, a version of the French poem was translated into the Middle High German
Middle High German
Middle High German , abbreviated MHG , is the term used for the period in the history of the German language between 1050 and 1350. It is preceded by Old High German and followed by Early New High German...

 Rolandslied by Konrad der Pfaffe
Konrad der Pfaffe
Konrad der Pfaffe, 'Conrad the Priest', was a German Roman Catholic epic poet of the twelfth century, author of the "Rolandslied", a German version of the famous "Chanson de Roland".We know almost nothing concerning his life...

 (possible author also of the Kaiserchronik
Kaiserchronik
The Kaiserchronik is a 12th century chronicle of emperors, written 17,283 lines of Middle High German verse. It runs from Julius Caesar to Conrad III, and seeks to give a complete account of the history of Roman and German emperors and kings, based on a historiographical view of the continuity of...

). In his translation Konrad replaces French topics with generically Christian ones. The work was translated into Middle Dutch
Middle Dutch
Middle Dutch is a collective name for a number of closely related West Germanic dialects which were spoken and written between 1150 and 1500...

 in the 13th century. It was also rendered into Occitan verse in the 14th or 15th century poem of Ronsasvals, which incorporates the later, southern aesthetic into the story. An Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

 version of the Song of Roland exists as Karlamagnús saga
Karlamagnús saga
The Karlamagnús saga, Karlamagnussaga or Karlamagnus-saga was a late 13th century Norse prose compilation and adaptation, made for Haakon V of Norway, of the Old French chansons de geste of the Matter of France dealing with Charlemagne and his paladins...

, and a translation into the artificial literary language of Franco-Venetian
Venetian language
Venetian or Venetan is a Romance language spoken as a native language by over two million people, mostly in the Veneto region of Italy, where of five million inhabitants almost all can understand it. It is sometimes spoken and often well understood outside Veneto, in Trentino, Friuli, Venezia...

 is also known; such translations contributed to the awareness of the story in Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. In 1516 Ludovico Ariosto
Ludovico Ariosto
Ludovico Ariosto was an Italian poet. He is best known as the author of the romance epic Orlando Furioso . The poem, a continuation of Matteo Maria Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato, describes the adventures of Charlemagne, Orlando, and the Franks as they battle against the Saracens with diversions...

 published his epic Orlando Furioso
Orlando Furioso
Orlando Furioso is an Italian epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto which has exerted a wide influence on later culture. The earliest version appeared in 1516, although the poem was not published in its complete form until 1532...

, which deals largely with characters first described in the Song of Roland.

There is also Faroese
Faroese language
Faroese , is an Insular Nordic language spoken by 48,000 people in the Faroe Islands and about 25,000 Faroese people in Denmark and elsewhere...

 adoption of this ballad named "Runtsivalstríðið"(Battle of Roncevaux). The ballad is one of many sung during the Faroese
Faroese people
The Faroese or Faroe Islanders are a Germanic ethnic group native to the Faeroe Islands. The Faroese are of mixed Norse and Gaelic origins.About 21,000 Faroese live in neighbouring countries, particularly in Denmark, Iceland and Norway....

 folkdance tradition of chain dancing.

Modern adaptations

The English
English people
The English are a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English. The English identity is of early mediaeval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Anglecynn. England is now a country of the United Kingdom, and the majority of English people in England are British Citizens...

 progressive rock
Progressive rock
Progressive rock is a subgenre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s as part of a "mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility." John Covach, in Contemporary Music Review, says that many thought it would not just "succeed the pop of...

 band Van der Graaf Generator
Van der Graaf Generator
Van der Graaf Generator are an English progressive rock band, formed in 1967 in Manchester. They were the first act signed to Charisma Records. The band achieved considerable success in Italy during the 1970s...

 recorded a song, "Roncevaux", that tells the famous story. Norwegian Folk metal
Folk metal
Folk metal is a sub-genre of heavy metal music that developed in Europe during the 1990s. As the name suggests, the genre is a fusion of heavy metal with traditional folk music...

 band Glittertind
Glittertind (band)
Glittertind is a Norwegian folk metal and viking metal project which started in 2001.The band consist of Torbjørn Sandvik, Geirmund Simonsen and various guest musicians....

 and Norwegian polyphonic vocal group Trio Mediæval
Trio Mediæval
Trio Mediæval is a vocal trio established in Oslo in 1997, recording albums for the ECM label, and touring frequently in Europe and the US.The trio was put together mainly to sing medieval polyphonic works, but has since early in their career expanded their repertoire to also include contemporary...

 both recorded versions of "Rolandskvadet," based on part of "The Song of Roland." The Norwegian singer Erik Bye has also made a musical interpretation called "Rolandskvadet". The French
French people
The French are a nation that share a common French culture and speak the French language as a mother tongue. Historically, the French population are descended from peoples of Celtic, Latin and Germanic origin, and are today a mixture of several ethnic groups...

 black metal
Black metal
Black metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music. Common traits include fast tempos, shrieked vocals, highly distorted guitars played with tremolo picking, blast beat drumming, raw recording, and unconventional song structure....

 band Peste Noire
Peste Noire
Peste Noire is a Black metal band from Avignon, France. It was founded by La sale Famine de Valfunde in 2000. La sale Famine has been the main member and creative force behind Peste Noire since its inception, and, to date, all songs were written by La sale Famine Peste Noire is a Black metal band...

 used a fragment of the Song of Roland as lyrics for their song 'La Fin del Secle'. The Warren Zevon song "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" includes parallels with "The Song of Roland." In Zevon's song, the eponymous Roland has his head blown off by one of his fellow mercanaries, named Van Owen (a name resembling the trisyllable pronunciation of Ganelon). In addition, both Van Owen and Ganelon meet bloody reprisals for their deeds. Van Owen's body is blown from "here to Johannesburg" by a decapitated Roland while Ganelon is torn in pieces for being a traitor to Charlemagne's army.

Fantasy
Fantasy
Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic is common...

 author Judith Tarr
Judith Tarr
Judith Tarr is an American author, best known for her fantasy books. She received her B.A. in Latin and English from Mount Holyoke College in 1976, and has an M.A. in Classics from Cambridge University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval Studies from Yale University...

 has written a novel, Kingdom of the Grail, where she links the story of Roland with the context of Arthurian legend
Matter of Britain
The Matter of Britain is a name given collectively to the body of literature and legendary material associated with Great Britain and its legendary kings, particularly King Arthur...

. In particular, Tarr's version of Roland establishes him as a descendant of the wizard Merlin
Merlin
Merlin is a legendary figure best known as the wizard featured in the Arthurian legend. The standard depiction of the character first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, written c. 1136, and is based on an amalgamation of previous historical and legendary figures...

.

The Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola
Luigi Dallapiccola
Luigi Dallapiccola was an Italian composer known for his lyrical twelve-tone compositions.-Biography:Dallapiccola was born at Pisino d'Istria , to Italian parents....

 set "Rencesvals: Trois Fragments de la Chanson de Roland" for mezzo-soprano and piano in 1946. It was dedicated "à mes amis Pierre Bernac et Francis Poulenc," the leading performers of French art song at the time, and is typical of Dallapiccola's usage of the 12-tone style of composition.

The Chanson de Roland has an important place in the background of Graham Greene
Graham Greene
Henry Graham Greene, OM, CH was an English author, playwright and literary critic. His works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world...

's The Confidential Agent
The Confidential Agent
The Confidential Agent is a thriller novel by British author Graham Greene. Fueled by Benzedrine, Greene wrote it in six weeks. To avoid distraction while working, he rented a room in Bloomsbury from a landlady who lived in an apartment below him. He used that apartment in the novel and had an...

. The book's protagonist had been a Medieval scholar specialising in this work, until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

 forced him to become a soldier and secret agent. Throughout the book, he repeatedly compares himself and other characters with the characters of "Roland". Particularly, the book includes a full two pages of specific commentary, which is relevant to its 20th Century plotline: "Oliver, when he saw the Saracens coming, urged Roland to blow his horn and fetch back Charlemagne - but Roland wouldn't blow. A big brave fool. In war one always chooses the wrong hero. Oliver should have been the hero of that song, instead of being given second place with the blood-thirsty Bishop Turpin.(...) In the Oxford version Oliver is reconciled in the end, he gives Roland his death-blow by accident, his eyes blinded by wounds. [But] the story had been tidied up. In truth, Oliver strikes his friend down in full knowledge - because of what he has done to his men, all the wasted lives. Oliver dies hating the man he loves - the big boasting courageous fool who was more concerned with his own glory than with the victory of his faith. This makes the story tragedy, not just heroics".

Fantasy
Fantasy
Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic is common...

 author Jacqueline Carey
Jacqueline Carey
Jacqueline Carey is an author and novelist, primarily of fantasy fiction.-Life:She attended Lake Forest College, receiving B.A.'s in psychology and English literature. During college, she spent 6 months working in a bookstore in London as part of a work exchange program. While there, she decided...

 gives a nod to the poem in the Kushiel's Legacy
Kushiel's Legacy
Kushiel's Legacy is a series of fantasy novels by Jacqueline Carey, comprising the Phèdre Trilogy and the Imriel Trilogy...

 novels. King Ganelon has a son named Rolande who dies valliantly in battle defending France in a time period that is similar to the 12th and 13th centuries. Rolande is daring and heroic, often wishing to be the first in battle despite his importance as the heir to France. Very few other parallels exist and his story - along with the protagonist who is his lover and best friend - is given in the short story You and You Alone, published in 2011.

External links

(English translation of Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff)
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