The Song of Roland as an Epic Poem

The Song of Roland is considered one of the great epic memorials of medieval French literature. An insignificant historical fact served as basis for this heroic poem, and later on having enriched itself by several later events it had integrated the story of Roland into many literatures throughout the world. The Song of Roland clearly expresses the ideology of the feudal society, where it was an untouchable law for vassal to serve his sovereign, and breaking this law was considered treason and betrayal. However the traits of courageous firmness, military valor, self-denying friendship, and thoughtful attitude towards occurrences had not received feudal confinedness.

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Contrariwise, these certain qualities of brave defenders of the homeland were interpreted as typical and nation-wide. Furthermore, the thoughts of protecting their home and shame of possible defeat coming from the masses had induced even a higher degree of recognition and sympathy.

Epical according to its form, this poem could be viewed as a historical song where the altered events of the past are told mainly through recitation of military accounts braced by scanty facts from the fates of separate characters. Clear usage of portraying means, laconism and precision of the language and style are leaning against exceptional harmony of composition. The parallelism of occurring events is organically combined with parallelism of character selection. The twelve peers of France correspond to the twelve Saracenic ones; Roland and Aelroth are two equally brave leaders, both nephews of the rulers.

It seems that other characters are included to better reveal the peculiarities of the quarrelling sides. Surely, more attention is paid to those ones who have higher influence on the story line. In connection to this only a few characters of the Song of Roland and individualized, as most possess solely positive or solely negative qualities. The figure of Roland is in the first place in this poem. He holds that valor and confidence that assisted him in becoming the finest commander of Carl’s army. However this character has some down-to-earth weaknesses: vehemence, irresponsibility, and some boasting. There is nothing about his childhood, but the cyclic poems reveal his relations to Carl, and the reason of Ganelon’s hostility. In the poem itself the folklore theme of step son’s/step daughter’s hard luck did not get any development due to other ideological issues. The episodes that involve Roland differ from the rest due to their lyrical manner. The mockery and direct ultimatum directed at Ganelon are shifted towards stubbornness and one-sided conception of chivalry in the conversation with his best friend Olivier when they start talking about Carl’s summons for assistance.

Roland perceives Oliver’s proposition to blow the horn as a sign of weakness, not worthy of a brave knight, and prefers an unequal battle that they are probably going to loose. When Roland realizes the true despair of the circumstances and decides to blow the horn, he is stopped by his friend Oliver, who had evaluated the situation and decided that it is too late to call for help anyway, and this action will be not worthy of a knight. Only the involvement of archbishop Turpin settled down the conflict, although the rectitude remained on the side of Olivier both times.

The harsh personality of Roland is allotted with attractive traits of permanence in unlimited friendship, as well as loyalty to France and its monarch. If the theme of friendship is clearly expressed through Roland, the theme of love does not have any significance in the poem, as Olivier’s objection to Roland marrying Alda does not create any visible conflict.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'The Song of Roland as an Epic Poem'. 13 August.

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