The Song of Roland

Of all the abundance of tales, poems, and songs glorying chivalry, The Song of Roland is definitely one of the most remarkable. In this excellent piece of medieval literature, the audience may trace back a number of interesting themes including the theme of knighthood along with its multiple aspects such as the relationships between knights. In the following paper, the above-mentioned theme will be addressed in detail. Overall, after the evaluation of the contents of this piece of literature, a conclusion can be made that the knights described in it had a twofold system of relations between them and with their kings as on one hand, they respected, honored, and supported each other and their king, but on the hand, there were hypocrites among them who pursued only their own interests and were looking for opportunities to betray their fellowmen to gain some material benefits or out of jealousy.

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The events described in The Song of Roland took place in A.D. 778 when European knights went to the Holy land of Jerusalem to fight against the Saracens. This war had religious motives as Christian knights wanted to regain the Holy places that belonged to Muslims those days. This powerful poem tells of the fabled battle of Roncevaux and the death of Roland who was (according to legend) the nephew of Charlemagne, the king. In this battle, the whole scope of relationships between knights, and their relationships with their king could be well seen.

As it is very common in normal life, there exists faithfulness and loyalty, and betrayal and treachery in the chivalry relationships chanted in The Song of Roland. At first, the audience may well see how knights support each other, how they treat each other with due respect and honor. It is also possible to see the way knights esteem their king, and obey all his commands even when they are not willing to do so. However, further readings show a different picture. When we read the account about Roland’s’ and Ganelon’s relations, it is evident that they are not exemplary for knights, and are very far away from the ideas of chivalry, valour, virtue, and heroism. There are many situations in which Ganelon shows his terrible nature. For example, when Roland suggests that Ganelon should be sent to battle against the Saracens on the avant-garde positions in Roncevaux, this disloyal knight becomes furious and denounces Roland. When the situation becomes extremely heated, the king interferes in it, and says: You will go as I have commanded” (Sayers 15). Only under the conditions of the king’s participation, Ganelon obeys. However, he becomes very angry with his fellowman Roland, and promises to bring him to death or betray him to the Saracens. The example of Ganelon is not the only. Unfortunately, along with such mighty, courageous and high-minded knights as Roland, there are ignoble and disgusting individuals such as Ganelon. Although he obeys king, and makes an image of ostentatious loyalty, he hates the king and seeks for ways to betray him as well.

In the situations with such knights as Ganelon, the king fulfils his important role of the judge. Whenever any of the king’s knights shows disobedience, he is ready to put the rebel in his place. The king also encourages and inspires the faithful knights as we see in the following quotation: “Go now, my lords, to him, Olive-branches in your right hands bearing” (Sayers 17). At times, the king’s role is also a regulatory one as it is evident from these words by him:

Answers the King: “Be silent both on bench;
Your feet nor his, I say, shall that way wend.
Nay, by this beard, that you have seen grow blench,
The dozen peers by that would stand condemned.
Franks hold their peace; you’d seen them all silent (Sayers 20).

In conclusion, the theme of relationships between knights themselves, and their relationships with their king in The Song of Roland is a deep one. Through the whole song, we see different approaches to their chivalry obligations between the knights. At first, we see their nobleness and virtue as they are ready to support and protect each other, and they are even ready to risk their lives to save their fellow knights. The same attitude they have to their king as they obey all his commands, follow him wherever he leads them, and are even ready to risk their very lives just to gain the kings’ approval and fulfil his will. However, later we meet such unappealing personages as Ganelon, and here the situation changes. Ganelon shows that knights can be very far away from the exalted ideas of chivalry, courtliness, gallantry, nobleness and virtue. Instead, at times, such knights as Ganelon may find ways to show their real nature with all of their badness including hypocrisy, betrayal, jealousy, fury, and treachery. We also see that the king sees that not all knights are exemplary ones; thus, he fulfils his controlling role. Whenever knights have any type of a pique, the king is there to regulate the situation on the basis of his exalted standards of justice.

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Works Cited

Sayers, Dorothy (Transl.). The Song of Roland. The United Kingdom: Penguin Classics, 1957. Print.

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