Prejudice in The Song of Roland
Unfortunately, the role of ignorance and jealousy combining to breed fear and hatred is a recurring theme in history ultimately exhibiting itself in the form of prejudice. As demonstrated through the altering of historical events in The Song of Roland, the conflict between the Christian and Islamic religions takes precedence over the more narrow scope of any specific battle and is shaped, at least in part by the blind perception of a prejudice born of the ignorance and envy Christian Europe had for representatives of the non-Christian world. To fully see this prejudice and its effect on the participants, it is necessary to recognize the circumstances of the "real" battle along with the altering characters and settings attributed to its later writing, understand the character and beliefs of the participants, and carefully examine the text itself to see how prejudice comes into play.
The historical battle described in The Song of Roland, took place on 15 August 778 and involved the ambush and slaughter of Charlemagne's rearguard by Basques (Burgess 9). Victims of treachery, those killed included Roland of Breton (Burgess 10). This battle was a part of the fighting to create the Spanish March which served as a buffer zone between Spain and the Franks of Charlemagne (Koeller). While this particular ambush was relatively insignificant, the incident was transformed into a rallying cry for the Christian armies of Europe when taken and reworked by a later poet.
External evidence indicates the epic poem was written no earlier than 1060 and no later than the second half of the twelfth century with the generally accepted time begin 1098-1100 which coincides with the time of the First Crusade (Burgess8). "The society which the poet took as his model was that of his own day" (Southern 230). Evidence that Roland was written much later than the time of the events recounted lies in the presence of people who were not born until long after the historical event (Southern 230), the shifting of Roland from being a Breton to being a Frankish knight (Burgess 10), the inclusion of conquests attributed to Charlemagne for places he had never been (Roland 270-3), and the shifting of the antagonists from the Basques to the Muslims since this struggle with Islam can be given a later date (Burgess 8). Until the time of the crusades, Christians and Muslims had interacted at least on a surface level through trade activities. Christian Europe had been exposed to the wealth and knowledge of the Arabic world; however, with the movement to the crusades the attitude towards the Muslims shifted to one of religious intolerance. Recognizing that Roland deals with issues that are germane to the Europe of the crusades helps to establish the connection between the religious intolerance that had begun to surface in Europe and the events of the poem.
Before examining the text for details, the two major forces need to be examined more...