Thursday, September 19, 2013

Roland and Charlemagne

Today I read Glynn Burgess' translation of the 12th century tale "The Song of Roland". It's a Medieval battle, with treachery among even those on the same side. Like a lot of these Penguin Classics, the intro and notes are almost as good as the story itself, giving you a rich historical context. Here's a memorable scene of Roland, a knight of Charlemagne, blasting his horn for help, and Ganelon, a treacherous knight of Charlemagne, trying to convince the emperor to ignore the call for help so that Roland will be helpless and overrun by the enemy. These lines would have been sung by a jongeleur, a singing orator, with mimes and gestures and some simple special effects:

"Count Roland, with pain and distress
Sounds his oliphant [horn] in great agony
The clear blood gushes from his mouth
And in his skull the temple bursts...
Charlemagne hears it...the Franks listen to it.
The king says "I can hear Roland's horn!
He would never blow it if he were not in a fight!"
Ganelon replies,
"There is no battle,
you are old, hoary and white-haired,
You are well aware of Roland's great pride...
For a mere hare he would blow the horn all day...
just boasting before his peers...
Keep riding, why do you delay? France is very far ahead."

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