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Roland

Roland (rō´lənd), the great French hero of the medieval Charlemagne cycle of chansons de geste, immortalized in the Chanson de Roland (11th or 12th cent.). Existence of an early Roland poem is indicated by the historian Wace's statement that Taillefer sang of Roland's deeds to inflame the men before the Battle of Hastings (1066). Historically Roland was Charlemagne's commander on the Breton border; he was killed in a pass in the Pyrenees when Basques cut off the rear guard of the Frankish army returning from its invasion of Spain in 778. Legend makes Roland one of Charlemagne's 12 peers and his nephew, changes the Basques into Saracens, and locates the pass at Roncesvalles. The poem is marked by its unified conception, its vivid and direct narrative, and its predominantly warlike spirit. Through the treason of Roland's stepfather, Ganelon, count of Mayence and a vassal of Charlemagne, Roland is left in command of Charlemagne's retreating rear guard, with his friend Oliver and with Bishop Turpin. Instigated by Ganelon, the Saracens attack, but Roland is too proud to blow his horn to summon aid. In the ensuing battle the valiant Franks are greatly outnumbered and, though Roland finally blows his horn, all are killed. The last to die, Roland attempts to break his sword, Durandal; before he dies he hears too late that Charlemagne is returning. Charlemagne disperses the pagans and defeats the reinforcing hosts of the emir Baligant, and Ganelon is tried and put to death. The poem is cast in the heroic mold. The contrast of character in the two heroic friends is famous—Oliver was prudent, Roland rash. The Roland epopee was long a favorite with French, Spanish, and Italian poets, and Roland was eventually transformed beyond recognition into the Orlando of the Italian Renaissance epics of Boiardo and Ariosto. Translations of the Song of Roland include those by Merriam Sherwood (1938) and Dorothy L. Sayers (1957).

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Roland

Roland

Roland was the bravest and most loyal of the 12 legendary paladins, or knights, who served Charlemagne, king of the Franks*. Although Charlemagne was a historical figure, many fanciful tales about the king and his knights appeared during the Middle Ages. It was said that Roland stood 8 feet tall and carried a magical sword called Durindana (or Durendal) that had once belonged to the Trojan hero Hector.

According to medieval stories, Roland (or Orlando) was the son of Charlemagne's sister. Living as a poor peasant in Italy, he was welcomed to the court of the king after his true identity was revealed. Although a powerful warrior, Roland's concern with winning honor and fame eventually cost him his life.

medieval relating to the Middle Ages in Europe, a period from about a.d. 500 to 1500

epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style

The story of Roland's death is told in the famous epic the Song of Roland. The poem concerns Charlemagne's defeat by the Muslims in Spain in 778. Charlemagne had sent a paladin named

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

Ganelon to negotiate with the Muslim leader. Instead, jealous of Roland, Ganelon plotted with the enemy and revealed the route Roland's army planned to take. The Muslims waited for Roland and ambushed him at Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees Mountains.

The paladins had told Roland to blow his ivory horn to summon reinforcements from Charlemagne, but Roland refused to call for help until the battle was almost lost. By then it was too late. When Charlemagne's troops arrived, Roland and many of the bravest paladins were dead. At the end of the story, Charlemagne had Ganelon killed for his treachery

See also Charlemagne; Heroes; Paladins.

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Roland

Roland the most famous of Charlemagne's paladins, hero of the Chanson de Roland (12th century) and other medieval romances. He is said to have become a friend of Oliver, another paladin, after engaging him in single combat in which neither won. Roland was killed in a rearguard action at the Battle of Roncesvalles, refusing until too late to blow the horn Olivant to summon Charlemagne to his aid.
Roland for an Oliver an effective or adequate retort or response, taking Roland and his comrade Oliver as the type of a match in skill and courage; the phrase is recorded from the early 17th century.

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Roland

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