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Just as Beowulf is the oldest surviving poem written in English, so also The Song of Roland (Chanson de Roland) is the oldest surviving poem written in French. Also like Beowulf, The Song of Roland is the tale of hero who performs great acts of courage.
The Song of Roland is the national epic of France not simply because it is written in French, however. Unlike Beowulf, which although written in English does not have an English hero, Roland is a thoroughly French hero. He is the nephew of Charlemagne, leader of the Franks and future Holy Roman Emperor.
The story is set during a battle between the Franks and the Saracens (Arabs). Roland has the fatal flaw of hubris, or excessive pride. When the troops he commands are attacked from the rear, he refuses to blow the horn to call Charlemagne to come to their rescue because it would bring dishonor to him as a knight. After nearly all his men are killed, Roland is finally persuaded to blow the alarm, and he blows the horn so hard that blood vessels in his head burst, causing his death. Charlemagne does come to the rescue and defeats the Saracens, but too late to save his nephew.
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