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Song of Roland

Anonymous

Laisses 290-291

Laisses 270-289

Overall Analysis and Themes

Summary

Bramimonde, meanwhile, having heard many sermons from her captors, is now ready to become a true Christian. She is baptized and renamed Juliana.

After such a very busy day, the emperor is ready for a good night's sleep. But then Saint Gabriel comes to him with a new assignment; the Christian city of Imphe is besieged by pagans and the good people there need the help of Charles and his army. Old Charlemagne has no desire to go. "God, how tiring is my life!" he cries out (291.4000).

Commentary

The emphasis placed in laisse 290 on the "true conviction" of Bramimonde when she converts to Christianity contradicts the idea that Christendom of the early Middle Ages was so caught up in the letter of Christianity that it forgot the spirit, considering the outward forms of devotion without regard for motivation. There are certainly parts of The Song of Roland that do support the image of medieval Christianity's literalism—for instance, that the conversions at Saragossa, forced on a citizenry offered baptism or grisly death, seem not to raise questions among the Franks or from the poet as to their validity—but the poet's insistence here on the sincerity of Bramimonde's embrace of Christianity indicates a concern for the inward state, which sits uneasily beside forced conversion.

Saint Gabriel's assignment for Charles shows again a conception of the Frankish forces as the executive arm of God. Our last peek at the emperor—when he responds to this angelic command by tugging at his beard and complaining, "God, how tiring is my life!" (291.4000)—leaves us with an impression of Charlemagne as sympathetically human, an old man who knows suffering and is saddled with enormous responsibilities. We do not doubt, after getting to know him over the course of the poem, that he will go to help the Christians at Imphe.

The last line is the most controversial single line of the entire chanson. The literal meaning of it in the Old French—"Ci falt la geste que Turoldus declinet" (291.4002) is unclear, offering up several contradictory readings. "Declinet" may mean "compose," "transcribe," or "weaken", and thus Turoldus could be the name of a poet who composed what we have read, a jongleur who sang it, or a scribe who copied it down from an earlier manuscript or from a performance. No one can offer anything but conjecture as to the precise meaning of this line. What is clear is that it brings us outside of the world of the story and into the world of the telling of the story; it frames the story, sealing it off at one end.

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