armed with sword and shield and his horn at his side, Roland attacks another soldier

The Song of Roland

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The boy Roland grows up far from his home country and lives with his penniless mother in a cave formerly occupied by a lonely monk. Nevertheless, his mother teaches him that someday he should be a brave hero like his father, Milon, and serve with the great army of Charlemagne. When he asks his mother to tell him the story of his birth, he learns that through his father he is descended from great heroes of old, Trojan Hector on one side and Wotan, king of the Norse gods, on the other. When his father, Milon, incurs the wrath of Charlemagne for taking the king’s sister, the Princess Bertha, as his wife, he goes to Italy and dies there fighting pagans in single-handed combat.

One summer, when Roland is still only a lad, he meets his friend Oliver, the son of a local prince, and the two watch the coming of the great Charlemagne into Italy, where the king is to receive the blessing of the pope at Rome. Roland is impressed with the royal pageant but not overawed. That night, he walks into Charlemagne’s banquet hall and demands his own and his mother’s rights. Amused by the boy’s daring, Charlemagne orders that Bertha be brought to him. When the emperor recognizes his long-lost sister, he rejoices and gives her and her son a place of honor in his court.

Roland’s boyhood years pass quickly and with increasing honors. At first he is merely a page in the court—attending the ladies, carrying messages, and learning court etiquette. He is permitted to accompany the king’s knights during war with the Saxons, and he is present when the swan knight, of the race of Lohengrin, appears at the court of Charlemagne.

When Roland is fourteen years old, he becomes a squire and makes the acquaintance of Ogier the Dane, the son of Duke Godfrey and a hostage prince at Charlemagne’s court. The two boys become great friends. When, urged on by a new queen, Ogier’s father plans a revolt against Charlemagne, the emperor in retaliation threatens to kill Ogier. Roland intervenes and saves his friend’s life.

When barbarians attack Rome, Charlemagne, in an effort to save the pope, ignores the rebellion of the Danes and sets off to the south, taking Ogier with him as a prisoner. The great army is assisted on its passage across the Alps by a magnificent white stag that appears and leads the army through the mountain passes.

In the battles that follow, Charlemagne’s army is divided. One force, led by the cowardly son of Charlemagne and the false knight Alory, attempts to retreat, thus placing the emperor’s life in jeopardy. Roland and Ogier, aided by other squires, don the garments of the cowards and save the day. Charlemagne knights them on the battlefield.

One of the pagan knights proposes a personal combat. In this encounter, Ogier and a son of Charlemagne named Charlot meet two barbarians, Prince Sadone and Karaheut. The pagans trap Ogier and threaten to put him to death, but Charlot escapes. Karaheut, who was to have fought Ogier, rebels against the unchivalrous action of his pagan prince and surrenders to Charlemagne, to be treated exactly as Ogier would be treated. Reinforcements come to the pagans, among them the giant king of Maiolgre. In a dispute over the marriage of Glorianda, a Danish prisoner, Ogier fights for Glorianda and puts his enemy to rout. Charlemagne attacks at the same time, and as a result Ogier and Roland are reunited, and the pope is restored to his throne.

Roland is invested with royal arms. His...

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sword is the famous Durandal; his battle horn is the horn of his grandfather, Charles the Hammer. None but Roland can blow that horn. His armor is the best in the kingdom.

A new war begins when Count Gerard refuses homage to the emperor. Oliver, grandson of the count, is among the knights opposed to Charlemagne. After the French besiege the fortress of Viana for seven months, it is decided to settle the war by encounter between a champion from each army. Roland is chosen to fight for Charlemagne. Unknown to him, his adversary is to be Oliver, his boyhood friend. When the two discover each other’s identity, they embrace.

A few weeks later on a boar hunt near Viana, Charlemagne is captured by Count Gerard. The two leaders declare a truce, and Count Gerard agrees to be a faithful liege man of the emperor thereafter. Roland meets Oliver’s sister, Alda, and becomes betrothed to her.

At Christmastime, the princess of Cathay arrives with her brothers at Charlemagne’s court. She proposes a contest between a Christian knight and her brother Argalia. If one of Charlemagne’s knights is the victor, he will have her hand in marriage. If the knight is defeated, he will become a hostage. Malagis, the wizard, discovers that the princess and her brothers really seek by sorcery to destroy Charlemagne. He visits the apartment of the foreigners but is discovered by them. They complain and Charlemagne, not understanding the wizard’s desire to help him, sentences Malagis to be imprisoned in a hollow rock beneath the sea forever.

The jousts begin. After Argalia defeats the first knight, the fierce Moor Ferrau begins combat. Unhorsed, he fights Argalia on foot and overpowers him. Then the princess becomes invisible, and Argalia rides away, with Ferrau in pursuit. In the forest of Ardennes he discovers Argalia sleeping, kills him without honor, and seizes his wonderful helmet. Roland, having followed them, discovers the murder of Argalia and seeks Ferrau to punish him for his unknightly deed.

Reinold of Montalban finds the princess of Cathay in the forest after he drank from the waters of the fountain of Merlin, and the effect of this water is to make him see the princess as an ugly crone. She thinks him handsome, but he feels disgust and hurries away. Roland discovers Ferrau and challenges him to combat, but the Moor suddenly remembers that his liege lord in Spain is in need of his help and he does not remain to fight with Roland. When the princess of Cathay sees Ferrau wearing her brother’s helmet, she knows a tragedy occurred, and she transports herself by magic to her father’s kingdom.

Roland goes on a quest to the Far East in search of the complete armor of Trojan Hector. Whether by chance or by evil design, he comes to a fountain and there drinks the water of forgetfulness. He is rescued by the princess of Cathay and fights many battles for her sake, even though she is a pagan princess.

At last he comes to the castle of the fairy queen, Morgan le Fay, where the armor of Trojan Hector is said to be hidden. Overcome for the first time, he fails to gain the armor and is ordered to return to the court of Charlemagne. He arrives home in time to help the Danes resist an invasion of their country. When Ogier’s father, Duke Godfrey, summons help, Ogier and Roland set out for Denmark. The invaders flee. Ogier’s father dies, but Ogier, on the advice of Morgan the Fay, renounces his rights to his father’s holdings in favor of his younger brother.

On his way back to France, Roland hears of a fierce orc said to be the property of Proteus. The orc is devouring one beautiful maiden every day until Roland overcomes it and is rewarded by Oberto, the king of Ireland, whose daughter he saves.

In the meantime Charlemagne’s forces are being attacked by Saracens, and Roland sets out to help Charlemagne’s knights. On the way he is trapped in a wizard’s castle. He is released from his captivity by Bradamant, a warrior maiden. She wins a magic ring from the princess of Cathay and is able to overcome the wizard and release all the knights and ladies he is holding prisoner in his castle.

Ferrau, losing the helmet he stole from Argalia, vows he will never again wear a helmet until he acquires Roland’s, which he succeeds in doing by trickery. Roland is set upon by Mandricardo, the fierce knight to whom fortune awarded the armor of Trojan Hector. They fight for the possession of Durandal, Roland’s sword, the only part of Trojan Hector’s equipment that Mandricardo does not possess. At last Mandricardo is forced to flee for his life.

Roland visits the forest where the princess of Cathay and Medoro, a Moorish prince, fell in love. Some declare it jealousy for the princess, but others declare it sheer exhaustion that causes Roland to lose his mind. He casts his armor away from him and wanders helplessly through the forest. Mandricardo seizes Durandal and makes Roland his prisoner.

Astolpho and Oliver set out from the court of Charlemagne to save Roland. Astolpho journeys on the back of a flying horse to the fabulous land of Prester John. Freeing Prester John from a flock of harpies, Astolpho journeys to the rim of the moon and there sees stored up all the things lost on earth. There he finds Roland’s common sense, which he brings back with him and returns to Roland so that the knight becomes his former self.

In a battle against the Saracens the wicked Ganelon betrays the knights of Charlemagne. Greatly outnumbered, they fall one by one to their enemies. Roland, unwilling to call for help, refuses to use his famous horn to summon aid, and he dies last of all. Charlemagne, discovering the dead hero, declares a great day of mourning. Alda, the betrothed of Roland, falls dead and is buried with many honors. Then Charlemagne dies and is buried with great pomp. Only Ogier the Dane remains, and it is said that Morgan le Fay carried him to Avalon where he lives in company with Arthur of the Round Table. It is also said that Charlemagne dwells inside a vast mountain cave with all of his heroes gathered around him. There they wait for the day when they shall march out to avenge the wrongs of the world.