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Song of Roland

Anonymous

Laisses 264-269

Laisses 237-263

Laisses 270-289

Summary

The Frenchmen chase the pagans all the way back to Saragossa. Queen Bramimonde, watching from a tower, sees this and wails at the shameful defeat of the emir. Marsilla, hearing this, dies of grief and his soul is taken to hell by "lively devils" (264.3647.)

All the Saracen warriors either are dead or have run away, and so Charlemagne and his men take Saragossa without the slightest bit of difficulty. The Franks go through the city, smashing the pagan idols, and then give the people of Saragossa the choice of conversion or death. Thousands are baptized Christian. The Franks take Bramimonde captive; they wish to take her back to France, for "[t]he king desires that she recant through love" (266.3674).

Then the Franks set out for France, triumphant. Charlemagne leaves Roland's oliphant on the altar of the church of Saint Seurin in Bordeaux. The bodies of Roland, Olivier, and Turpin are buried at the church of Saint Romain in Blaive. Soon all the Frankish forces arrive back at Charlemagne's capitol, Aix.

Back at Aix, a beautiful girl named Alde, who was Olivier's sister and engaged to Roland, asks Charlemagne where her love is. When he tells her that Roland is dead, she dies of grief.

Commentary

In this section, the poet must again shift into summary to cover all that happens. Time moves again at a rapid clip. Laisse 266, describing what Charlemagne's men do to christianize Saragossa, is a good account of the ultimate goal of the Franks, of what they fight for. Their pious intentions in campaigns of conquest are demonstrated by the promptness and enthusiasm with which they force conversions. Because the "king believes in God, he wants to serve Him" (266.3666), so he orders the pagans rounded up and baptized and, "[i]f any one of them opposed Charles,/he'll have the man cut down or hanged or burned" (266.3669-3670). The absolute quality of the values held by the Franks, and shared by the poet, allow this to be narrated without the slightest hint of queasiness; such is the confidence of men certain that they are the favorites of God, his best vassals.

In laisse 267, there is a reference especially interesting to historians trying to understand how The Song of Roland came into existence. One theory is that the story of the massacre at Roncesvals was preserved over the centuries by legends told along the pilgrimage route to the shrine of Saint James at Compostella. The road runs through the pass of Roncesvals; perhaps the legend of Roland was kept alive by pilgrims and monks until it passed into the songs of jongleurs and was finally remolded and written down by some anonymous poet, thus crossing over from folklore to literature and resulting in The Song of Roland as we know it. The competition between pilgrimage sites was intense, as a town or monastery with a famous shrine or miracle-working relic could become rich off the flocking pilgrims. Canny monks certainly manipulated, and sometimes even invented, holy legends to attract pilgrims. When we are told that "[o]n the altar of the noble Saint Seurin/he [Charlemagne] sets the horn, brimful of gold mangons:/the pilgrims going there can see it still" (267.3685- 3687) lends support to the theory that The Song of Roland's origin can be found on a pilgrimage route, but such a theory remains conjecture.

The Song of Roland, in depicting ideal knightly behavior, concentrates on the warriors relation to his fellow warriors—to his vassals, his liege lord, his companions. While in later medieval models of the perfect chevalier focused attention on his relation to women and the cult of courtly love (leading eventually to our more frequent use of the term chivalrous to apply to a man who holds doors open for women than to a fierce warrior), the twelfth century found all that needed to be known about a man in his behavior towards other men. The brief appearance of Alde the Beautiful, who dies of grief when she hears of Roland's death, is no real exception; the character that the poet is interested in is Roland's, and we never hear anything about Alde from him.

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