The Song Of Roland Some Things You

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The Song Of Roland- Some Things You Should Know Essay, Research Paper THE SONG OF ROLAND: SOME THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW Charles the Great invaded Spain in the year 778. He had been invited in by the governor of the strategic city of Zaragoza, who had promised to turn the city over to him. He entered through a pass in the western Pyrenees Mountains and marched through the lands of the Basques, a people who had managed to maintain their freedom from Muslim domination and who were not too pleased with the Franks entering their land without even asking permission. Charles took care of their objections by seizing hostages and allowing his men to loot and plunder the countryside as the headed east to Zaragoza. When he reached his objective, however, he found that the Muslim governor

had changed his mind, and that the gates of the city were closed to him. After lingering a while to no purpose, he and his army began to retrace their steps. The Basques were still angry with his earlier treatment of them and, as his army went through the pass of Roncevalles, attacked his rearguard. As Einhard noted in his Life of Charlemagne, a few nobles were killed, including “Hrudoland, lord of the Marches of Brittany.” By the 900’s, the shrine of Saint James of Compostela, located in the northeastern corner of Spain, had become one of the most popular pilgrimage sites of western Europe, and the main route from France to Saint James lay through the pass of Roncevalles. Over time, Roland became one of the heroes whose battlefield passing pilgrims were eager to see, and,

eventually, he became the protagonist of an epic poem. Although historians have argued about when the written version that has survived was composed, most now agree that it dates from sometime about 1100, and was written somewhere in northern France. It is the most famous of a number of similar tales, more or less based upon the events of the era of the Carolingian monarchs and called chansons de geste. This means “songs of deeds,” and these songs were the preferred “literature” of the nobility of the twelfth century. They were sung to their audience, much as Beowulf was composed to be sung to an audience the members of which were most illiterate. The idea that Roland and the other chansons were songs of deeds lead many readers to miss the complexity of these poems. If

one views them simply as heroic tales in which one warrior chops up a bunch of other warriors, they can seem rather primitive and quickly become boring. The fact of the matter is that many of the chansons are actually concerned with legal points, and more than a few, like The Song of Roland, have an actual trial as their central episode. You will see this again when you read The Song of the Cid. They are much more like television programs such as Law and Order or Perry Mason than All-Star Wrestling or reruns of Rocky. This is not to say that the smash and stab parts of these poems are not important. The audience probably loved them, but they realized that they were incidental to the main action, much as the chase scenes in which all sorts of cars smash into each other and blow

up, scattering debris over half the city, provide excitement but are not really essential to the plot. Perhaps this is overstating the case. One tends to find out a good deal about the characters of the actors in the drama during these episodes. But it is best to concentrate your attention on the events leading up to the battle-scenes than on the blood and glory sections themselves. Another thing to remember is that medieval authors were not “primitive” or “unsophisticated.” They did expect their audience to pay close attention to what they were relating and to think about what they were hearing and reading. They also expected them to be familiar with the situations being pictured for them. It was the duty of every feudal vassal, for instance, to “pay court” to his