Roland

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Hero of the Old French chanson de geste, the Chanson de Roland, dating from the first half of the 12th century, an epic account of the battle between the rearguard of Charlemagne's army, led by his nephew Roland, and the large Saracen forces who ambush the rearguard in the valley of Roncevaux. The ambush is arranged with the treacherous connivance of Roland's stepfather, Ganelon. Roland takes up the challenge to fight against the odds and refuses to summon help from Charlemagne, as his companion, Oliver, advises. When many of the French side have been slaughtered, Roland finally summons Charlemagne's aid. The French king returns to find his rearguard massacred but goes on to rout the pagan army and avenge his nephew's death. The narrative is structured around a series of binary oppositions, the most obvious being that between the forces of the west and east, between righteous Christians and sinful pagans. Yet within that clear-cut antagonism, the heroic ethos of the narrative is made more complex, not only by Ganelon's perfidy, but by the juxtaposition of Roland and Oliver's response to the prospect of fighting against the odds: the necessary rashness which constitutes heroism is contrasted with a more pragmatic response to the prospect of a hopeless, if glorious, battle. The earliest extant copy of the text was copied in England (1125-50). Roland is the hero of Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato and Ariosto's Orlando Furioso.

Bibliography

Sayers, D. (trans.), The Song of Roland; Whitehead, F. (ed.), La Chanson de Roland.
 
 

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