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The Song Of Roland Essay

1564 words - 7 pages

The French epic, The Song of Roland, relates the conflicts between Christians and Muslims in 778 A.D. In it, Charlemagne and his men, weary in their seventh year of battle against pagan forces in Spain, have captured every heathen stronghold but the kingdom of Saragossa, held by the Muslim king Marsile. Terrified of the might of Charlemagne’s army, Marsile promises treasures, hostages and his conversion to Christianity if the Franks will go back to France. However, Marsile has no intention of surrendering and wants only for Charlemagne to end his siege of the city and get out of Spain. Charlemagne does not trust Marsile but nevertheless accepts the proposal despite his nephew, Roland’s, objections. Roland nominates his stepfather, Ganelon, as a messenger to go back to Marsile’s court. Ganelon initially protests but is forced to accept the dangerous commission. He fears that he'll die in the hands of the bloodthirsty pagans and publicly vows that, “As long as I live, I shall have no love for [Roland]” (Song 39). Ganelon has long been jealous of Roland, and on his diplomatic mission he finds an opportunity for revenge. Ganelon advises Marsile that the only way to make Charlemagne leave Spain forever is to bring about Roland's death. Roland is Charlemagne's right hand in warfare; without Roland, the Frankish king would despair and could not hope to conquer Spain. In collusion with Marsile, Ganelon plots his revenge: he will see to it that Roland is given command of the rear guard as Charlemagne is leaving Spain, which the Saracens will ambush and destroy with a much larger force (Song 47). After Ganelon returns to Charlemagne with assurances of Marsile's good faith, Roland, as he predicted, ends up leading the rearguard. The twelve peers, Charlemagne's greatest and most beloved vassals, go with him. Among them is Oliver, a wise man and Roland's best friend. Also in the rearguard is the Archbishop Turin, a clergyman who also is a great warrior. The scheme proceeds as planned: as Charlemagne's army travels homeward, through the Rencesvals pass in the Pyrenees, Roland and the rear guard, which includes the finest knights of France, are ambushed by Marsile's army numbering in the hundreds of thousands (Song 59). Seeing how badly outnumbered they are, Olivier asks Roland to blow his great horn, oliphant, to call for help from the main body of the Frankish army but Roland refuses due to his honour. Therefore, the Franks fight valiantly, but in the end they are outnumbered and the tide turns against them. Although, Roland knows it is too late for any help to come, he blows his horn so that Charlemagne will know what happened to them. He dies soon afterward facing the enemy’s land and his soul is escorted to heaven by angels. Charlemagne hears the sound of the horn and turns his forces around but when they reach the battlefield, they find only dead bodies. He pursues the pagan force, aided by a miracle of God: the sun is held in place in the sky, so that...

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