The Song of Roland

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The Song of Roland (French: La Chanson de Roland) is an epic poem based on the Battle of Roncevaux in 778 during the reign of Charlemagne. It is the oldest surviving major piece of French literature. It exists in different manuscript versions which shows its great popularity in from the 12th to 14th centuries.

The date of poem is somewhere between 1040 and 1115. An early version began around 1040. Additions and changes were made up until about 1115. The final text has about 4,000 lines of poetry. These are further divided into 298 poetic units called laisses.[1] It was written to be performed, possibly to music. The author of the poem is unknown.[1]

The epic poem is the oldest example of the chanson de geste. This was a literary form popular between the 11th and 15th centuries. It was all about legendary deeds and heroes.[2]

Historical event[change | change source]

The poem is about an actual historical event that happened centuries earlier. In 778 Charlemagne invaded Spain.[3] On his way through the Pyrenees he looted and plundered Basque lands.[4] He found little resistance in Spain until he reached the city of Zaragoza. Charlemagne demanded they surrender.[4] The city governor, Hussain Ibn al-Ansari, refused. Charlemagne then laid siege to the city but with little success. Finally the governor paid Charlemagne a large amount of gold in return for Charlemagne's army leaving the area.[4] Charlemagne had a pending Saxon revolt at home so he needed little persuasion to leave.[4]

As Charlemagne marched north back to France he again passed through Basque territory.[4] His large army was deep in the Pyrenees in a long column on August 15, 778. His rearguard was commanded by Roland, one of Charlemagne's most trusted leaders. The rearguard was attacked starting the Battle of Roncevaux Pass.[4] The Basques using their knowledge of the terrain were able to overcome the Frankish rearguard.[5] But their job was to protect the main army so they fought to the last man. The Basques plundered the baggage trains and captured the gold Charlemagne was paid at Zaragoza.[5] Before the Frankish army could turn to fight the Basques, they had gone. Roland and his men died as heroes.

Main characters in the poem[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

Other websites[change | change source]