Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1083
Emperor Charlemagne (shahr-leh-MAHN-yeh), also called King Charles and Carlon, represented as being two hundred years old, with a flowing white beard, regal bearing, and undiminished vigor. He presides democratically over his court in an orchard near Cordova and accepts the majority view in favor of what proves to be a false peace pact with the Saracens. His militant zeal for Christianizing pagans is offset by his humble submission to fate when his beloved nephew Roland and twenty thousand of his troops are killed by Moorish forces in the Pass of Roncevaux. He laments the deaths of his men before taking terrible vengeance on their conquerors, but he is completely unmoved by the pleas of Ganelon, the traitor knight.
Roland, the duke of the Marches of Brittany and nephew of Charlemagne. The favorite of his uncle, he glories in his post as leader of the emperor’s rear guard, the exposed flank of the French army, on its homeward march from Spain. Roland is the most outspoken of the Twelve Peers, a hater of all pagans, and the enemy of Ganelon, his stepfather. His suggestion that Ganelon be sent to negotiate the truce proposed by the Saracens seems designed as a test of that knight’s loyalty and honor. Brave in battle, Roland is also rash to the point of folly and lacking in foresight. He is the owner of the famous sword Durendal and the horn called Oliphant, both possessing supernatural powers. When Saracens attack the French force in the Pass of Roncevaux, he refuses to blow his horn and summon the main army until it is too late. Relying on his own Durendal and Christian supremacy over pagan knights, he dies by his simple chivalric code after facing the enemy and performing prodigious feats of valor.
Oliver, Roland’s friend and fellow Peer. His prudence balances Roland’s impetuosity, but his warnings are unable to save the day when the Saracen army attacks the French forces at Roncevaux. After estimating the enemy’s strength, he urges Roland to blow his horn, Oliphant, to summon Charlemagne and the chivalry of France riding ahead. Dismounted, he dies with honor, a ring of dead enemies piled about him.
Ganelon (gah-neh-LOH[N]), also called Guènes (gehn), the traitor knight who nurses so deep a grudge against his stepson Roland that he conspires with Marsilion, the Saracen king of Saragossa, to betray the rear guard of the French army to the enemy. When Charlemagne hears the blast of Roland’s horn, blown to summon aid of the emperor, Ganelon derides his ruler. Later, he is arrested and charged with treason. After his champion has been defeated in an ordeal by combat, he is tied to four stallions, who tear his body apart as they pursue a galloping mare.
Archbishop Turpin (tewr-PA[N]), the militant churchman of Rheims, killed at Roncevaux. He absolves Charlemagne’s host of sin before the battle and urges all to die like Christian soldiers. It is he who finally persuades Roland to blow his horn, Oliphant, a blast that bursts Roland’s temples and helps to cause his death. It also is he who survives long enough to arrange the bodies of the Twelve Peers so that Charlemagne will find them, avenge them, and give them Christian burial. Charlemagne orders his heart, like those of Roland and Oliver, preserved in an urn.
Gérard of Roussillon
Gérard of Roussillon (zhay-RAHR, rew-see-YOH[N]), and
Engelier of Bordeaux
Engelier of Bordeaux (ehn-gehl-YAY, bohr-DOH), Charlemagne’s Peers, also slain with Roland and Oliver.
Pinabel of Sorence
Pinabel of Sorence (pa-nah-BEHL, soh-REHNS), the knight who defends Ganelon, accused of treason, in an ordeal by battle.
Thierry (tyeh-REE), the younger brother of Duke Geoffrey of Anjou. He fights with and defeats Pinabel of Sorence in the ordeal by battle that decides Ganelon’s guilt.
Duke Naimon (nay-MOH[N]),
Geoffrey, the duke of Anjou,
Ogier the Dane
Ogier the Dane (oh-ZHYAY),
Count Jozeran of Provence
Count Jozeran of Provence (zhoh-zay-RAH[N], proh-VEHNS), and
Antelme of Mayence
Antelme of Mayence (ahn-TEHLM, may-YEHNS), Charlemagne’s loyal vassals and trusted advisers.
Walter de Hum
Walter de Hum, a valorous French knight killed at Roncevaux.
Marsilion (mahr-see-YOH[N]), also called Marsile, the Saracen king of Saragossa. Acting on the advice of one of his nobles, he sends envoys to Charlemagne with promises that he will sign a treaty of peace and receive Christian baptism if the emperor will withdraw his army from Spain. He leads the Saracen host against the French rear guard at Roncevaux. After Roland severs his sword hand as they struggle in hand-to-hand combat, Marsilion leaves the battle. Later, he dies in his castle at Saragossa.
Blancandrin (blahn-kah[n]-DRA[N]), the crafty Saracen knight who suggests the treacherous proposal that King Marsilion makes to Charlemagne. Ganelon plots with Blancandrin the destruction of the Twelve Peers and the French host at Roncevaux.
Adelroth (ah-dehl-ROHT), the nephew of King Marsilion,
Duke Falsaron (fahl-sah-ROH[N]),
King Corsablis (kohr-sah-BLEE),
Malprimis of Brigale
Malprimis of Brigale (mahl-pree-MEE, bree-GAHL),
the emir of Balaguet
the emir of Balaguet (bah-lah-GAY),
the lord of Moriana
the lord of Moriana ,
Turgis of Tortelosa
Turgis of Tortelosa (tewr-ZHEE, tohr-teh-LOH-sah),
Escremiz of Valterne
Escremiz of Valterne (ehs-kreh-MEEZ, vahl-TEHRN),
Margaris of Seville
Margaris of Seville (mahr-gah-REE, seh-VEEL), and
Chernubles of Munigre
Chernubles of Munigre (shehr-NEWBL, mew-NEEGR), King Marsilion’s Twelve Champions killed by the Twelve Peers at Roncevaux.
Baligant (bah-lee-GAH[N]), the emir of Babylon and the ally of King Marsilion. He brings a mighty army to attack the French under Emperor Charlemagne. After a fierce battle that lasts from early morning until dusk, the emir and Charlemagne engage in single combat. Charlemagne, wounded, is heartened by Saint Gabriel. His strength renewed, he strikes with his sword the helmet of his enemy and cleaves him to his beard. The Saracens, seeing their leader dead, flee.
Aude (ohd), the damozel betrothed to Roland. Hearing that her lover is dead, she falls at Charlemagne’s feet and dies.
Bramimond (brah-mee-MOH[N]), the widow of King Marsilion. Charlemagne takes her with him when he returns to France. She is baptized and given a Christian name, Juliana.