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The Harvard Classics, Volume 49, Epic and Saga With Introductions And Notes   By: (1834-1926)

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THE HARVARD CLASSICS

EDITED BY CHARLES W. ELIOT LLD.

EPIC AND SAGA

THE SONG OF ROLAND

THE DESTRUCTION OF DÁ DERGA'S HOSTEL

WITH INTRODUCTIONS AND NOTES

VOLUME 49

1910

THE SONG OF ROLAND

TRANSLATED BY

JOHN O'HAGAN

INTRODUCTORY NOTE

In the year 778 A.D., Charles the Great, King of the Franks, returned from a military expedition into Spain, whither he had been led by opportunities offered through dissensions among the Saracens who then dominated that country. On the 15th of August, while his army was marching through the passes of the Pyrenees, his rear guard was attacked and annihilated by the Basque inhabitants of the mountains, in the valley of Roncesvaux About this disaster many popular songs, it is supposed, soon sprang up; and the chief hero whom they celebrated was Hrodland, Count of the Marches of Brittany.

There are indications that the earliest of these songs arose among the Breton followers of Hrodland or Roland; but they spread to Maine, to Anjou, to Normandy, until the theme became national. By the latter part of the eleventh century, when the form of the "Song of Roland" which we possess was probably composed, the historical germ of the story had almost disappeared under the mass of legendary accretion. Charlemagne, who was a man of thirty six at the time of the actual Roncesvaux incident, has become in the poem an old man with a flowing white beard, credited with endless conquests; the Basques have disappeared, and the Saracens have taken their place; the defeat is accounted for by the invention of the treachery of Ganelon; the expedition of 777 778 has become a campaign of seven years; Roland is made the nephew of Charlemagne, leader of the twelve peers, and is provided with a faithful friend Oliver, and a betrothed, Alda.

The poem is the first of the great French heroic poems known as "chansons de geste." It is written in stanzas of various length, bound together by the vowel rhyme known as assonance. It is not possible to reproduce effectively this device in English, and the author of the present translation has adopted what is perhaps the nearest equivalent the romantic measure of Coleridge and Scott.

Simple almost to bareness in style, without subtlety or high imagination, the Song of Roland is yet not without grandeur; and its patriotic ardor gives it a place as the earliest of the truly national poems of the modern world.

THE SONG OF ROLAND

PART I

THE TREASON OF GANELON

SARAGOSSA. THE COUNCIL OF KING MARSIL

I

The king our Emperor Carlemaine, Hath been for seven full years in Spain. From highland to sea hath he won the land; City was none might his arm withstand; Keep and castle alike went down Save Saragossa, the mountain town. The King Marsilius holds the place, Who loveth not God, nor seeks His grace: He prays to Apollin, and serves Mahound; But he saved him not from the fate he found.

II

In Saragossa King Marsil made His council seat in the orchard shade, On a stair of marble of azure hue. There his courtiers round him drew; While there stood, the king before, Twenty thousand men and more. Thus to his dukes and his counts he said, "Hear ye, my lords, we are sore bested. The Emperor Karl of gentle France Hither hath come for our dire mischance. Nor host to meet him in battle line, Nor power to shatter his power, is mine. Speak, my sages; your counsel lend: My doom of shame and death forefend." But of all the heathens none spake word Save Blancandrin, Val Fonde's lord.

III

Blancandrin was a heathen wise, Knightly and valiant of enterprise, Sage in counsel his lord to aid; And he said to the king, "Be not dismayed: Proffer to Karl, the haughty and high, Lowly friendship and fealty; Ample largess lay at his feet, Bear and lion and greyhound fleet. Seven hundred camels his tribute be, A thousand hawks that have moulted free... Continue reading book >>




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