The Song of Roland is the oldest epic poem in French, written by an anonymous poet, composed in between late eleven century to twelfth century. This epic poetry holds an important place in the history of France and invention of Christendom. The Song of Roland is a cultural artifact that takes us to the journey of Medieval Europe, when religion becomes an important element for the formation of proto-Europe. Religion plays a crucial role in The Song of Roland and becomes the reason of criticism. Some readers might take this poem as a religious text, whereas, for some reader it is a fictional literary work and contain ideological perspective. The Song of Roland cannot be consider as a religious text, however, the poet uses religion for formation of national identity, military propaganda and for promoting feudalism in proto-Europe. Cultural artifacts such as The Song of Roland and medieval architecture help to create “Christendom”.
The Song of Roland is a historical text that also involves fiction. It recalls the event of Battle of Roncesvals that take place in 778 century among Christian Franks and Muslim Saracens. The non-fictional outline of The Song of Roland can be found in Einhard’s Vita Karoli Magni “Biography of Charlemagne” written in 817-30 and from Damaso Alonso’s Nota Emilianense. Both historical accounts give little detail of the battle in which Charlemagne’s (Holy Roman Emperor) army face a minor setback while returning back to France and in this event some important warriors were killed, among them was Roland, the most courageous. “At this point”, Robert Harrison state in introduction to The Song of Roland, “history leaves off and speculation begins”. (Harrison 11). The revenge of Roland’s death taken by Charlemagne, character of Ganelon and his diplomacy and many other characters are the fabrication from the poet.
These fabrications entail deeper meanings. The time, when The Song of Roland was composed, is the era of creating national identity for diverse kingdoms to unite and form a harmonious cultural area. To recognize the “self” it becomes important to separates the “other” in terms of race, religion and culture. For The Song of Roland, religion is selected to separate “others”. The misrepresentation of Muslims as pagans can be found throughout the poem, which helps Christians to recognize themselves righteous and superior to Muslims. Davies Norman quotes T.S. Eliot in Europe: A History, “The dominant feature in creating a common culture…is religion… I am talking about the common tradition of Christianity which has made Europe.” (Norman qtd. Eliot 9). Eliot emphasizes the importance of Christianity for Europe. Christianity become a symbol for medieval Europe and gives a label of “Christendom” to the nation.
The self-recognition by separating others continues. In thirteen and fourteenth century, Christians gain prejudice by persecuting and demonizing Jews. George M. Frederickson quotes Joshua Trachtenberg in Religion and...