“The Song of Roland” – Sample Paper

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“Roland as an Embodiment of Knightly Honor Duty and Loyalty to the King”

The epic tale “The Song of Roland” created by the French people is one of the most outstanding masterpieces of medieval literature. It should be noted that it was minor historical facts that have formed the basis of this heroic epic, and over time, a number of later events enriched the tales of Roland. Thus, the image of an ideal warrior, defender of the homeland and loyal vassal was formed. It can be argued that Roland, as a national hero, is endowed with the best qualities which are inherent in an ideal knight.It should be noted that in “The Song of Roland” the ideology of the feudal society is clearly expressed. Thus, in such society a vassal’s faithful service to his overlord was unbreakable law, and the violation of this law was considered a treachery and betrayal (Haidu 29). Still, it is possible to assert that the features of manly fortitude, valor, disinterested friendship and thoughtful consideration of what is happening are not attributed to the caste and feudal affinity only (Cook 49). The given characteristics of such valiant defenders of the homeland as Roland – warlords, and their vassals – were regarded as typical, nationwide ones (Cook 53). The idea of defending the fatherland, the shame of possible disgrace and danger of defeat permeates through the entire poem. Thus, Roland, being the example of an ideal defender and fearless warrior, does his best to protect his Fatherland from dishonor and infamy.

Naturally, the image of Roland is central in the song. He is endowed with the valor and determination that helped him become the best commander of Karl’s army. However, such human weaknesses as passion, negligence, and even bragging are also inherent in Roland. The main hero of the song is straightforward and honest. The cunning and agility which are inherent in any court are so alien to this young man. Even Roland’s friend Olivier says that Roland cannot be an ambassador, since his notorious sharp temper may prevent Roland from resolving the conflict. Nevertheless, Roland’s character is not also devoid of such attractive features as, loyalty and dedication to the Emperor of France; this last feature is of special importance, since Roland is characterized as a perfect knight, loyal vassal of his lord and protector of the only “true” faith – Christianity (Haidu 63)

Indeed, neither Roland’s courage nor his allegiance to the king is called into question. Even Ganelon, Roland’s stepfather who hates his stepson so much, tell the king that “Fear is alien to him [Roland]” (12: 67)

Indeed, Roland’s devotion to his principles and confirmations, his steadfastness are admirable for any knight. Roland’s pride, arrogance and steadfastness clearly manifest themselves during the latest fatal battle. The main motive of Roland’s actions is his dignity. Thus, the young hero refuses to blow the horn at the request of his friend Oliver, since to return the army of Karl means, according to Roland, to cause damage to his credit. Three times prudent Olivier asks his friend to call the army, realizing that their force is not enough to defeat a huge army of the Moors. Unfortunately, being so valorous and self-assured, Roland does not accept any reasonable arguments – “Roland’s pride is of such a height” (32: 251). He proudly rejects the possibility of escape from imminent death. Roland bitterly mourns his fallen comrades, but his duty to the king and his own dignity is fulfilled.

It is also expedient to mention the poetic and notable episode portraying Roland’s farewell to his sword Durandal. It is a well-known fact that armament of a warrior and his battle steed was considered daily companions of a knight. A cross shaped sword was not only a symbol of strength and power, but also a religious symbol that embodied the superstitious idea of the miraculous power of the cross and the relics that were usually placed in the handle: “”Oh, fair and holy, my peerless sword, / What relics lie in thy pommel stored!” (46: 678-679) Roland’s parting words to his sword resemble mourning, lyric lament. Roland recalls the main events of the past associated with success and glory of French arms. Thus, it is evident that the fate of the sword is not the least concern of the true warrior: Roland avoids the thought that the Saracens will get his sword. He finds the strength to fight the enemy warrior trying to seize his sword. Overcoming his pain, Roland keeps on fighting till his last breath. Even the last words of the dying knight testify to his courage and valor: “What regions won I with thee of yore,/ The empire now of Karl the hoar! / Rich and mighty is he therefore.” (46: 87-89)

The image of Roland, created by the author (or authors) of the song, is the ideal knight, who is faithful to his duty and sovereign. His spends his life in countless campaigns, and he conquers new lands, significantly extending the boundaries of landholdings. Suzerain and vassal relationship occupied a significant place in the chivalric code: and Roland serves as an example of a faithful vassal, who primarily thinks about his promise to serve the King. Indeed, the honor of the knight lies in fidelity to his word and valor. Thus, Roland puts all his life on the altar of serving his suzerain.


Works Cited

Anonymous. The Song of Roland. Trans. Charles Scott Moncrief Web. 23 March 2012

Haidu, Peter. The Subject of Violence: The Song of Roland and the Birth of the State. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993. Print.

Cook, Robert. The Sense of the Song of Roland. New York: Cornell UP, 1987. Web. 23 March 2012

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