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La Chanson de Roland : Translated from the Seventh Edition of Léon Gautier   By: (1814-1886)

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Translated from the Seventh Edition of Leon Gautier, Professor at the Ecole des Chartes, Paris.



Licencié en droit, Paris University, French Lecturer at Johns Hopkins University.

New York Henry Holt and Company 1885

Copyright, 1885 by Henry Holt & Co. W. L. Mershon & Co., Printers and Electrotypers, Rahway, N. J.



President of Johns Hopkins University ,




Several years ago, the maker of this version translated into French one of the early works of H. W. Longfellow. This circumstance was not forgotten by the American poet who kindly consented to listen to this new attempt at rendering into English the "CHANSON DE ROLAND."

To his encouragement is due the present publication. The writer will ever proudly treasure up the remembrance of his friendly welcome and counsel....

The translator has followed, as literally as possible, the text of the Oxford MS., as revised by Léon Gautier. The parts inclosed in parentheses are interpolations of the learned Professor. This revised text should be kept in hand by the English reader for comparison with the original, which is nine centuries old. The translator may thus be more likely to obtain the indulgence of the reader for the quaint representation, in a modern language, of the coloring of this most ancient poem.

The orthography of all the names, as well as their prosodic accent, has been preserved in their ancient form; and accordingly, an index has been appended to the work.

The seventh edition of Léon Gautier's "CHANSON DE ROLAND," contains a vast amount of explanatory notes, grammatical and historical, to which the reader is referred.


On the 15th of August, 778, in a little Pyrenean Valley, still known in our days by the name of Ronceval, a terrible event took place. Charlemagne, returning from his expedition to Spain, crossed that valley and the Pyrenees, leaving his rear guard in command of Roland, Prefect of the Marches of Brittany. His main army had passed unmolested; but at the moment when the rear guard advanced into the defiles of the mountain, thousands of Gascons rushed from their ambush, fell upon the French army and slaughtered the whole guard to the last man. So perished Roland.

Eginhard, the historian of Charlemagne, terminates his narrative with these words: "The House intendant, (Regiæ mensæ præpositus), Eggihard, Anselm, Count of the Palace, Roland, Prefect of the Marches of Brittany (Hruolandus britannici limitis præfectus), with many more, perished in the fight. It was not possible to take revenge on the spot. The treacherous attempt once perpetrated, the enemy dispersed and left no trace." (Eginhard's Life of Charlemagne, Vol. I., p. 31; edition of the Société de l'histoire de France.)

From the moment of the defeat of Ronceval, legend commenced its labor upon this truly epic event which, in its origin, is absolutely French, but has found its echoes throughout Europe, from Iceland to Eastern regions.

The commentators generally agree in dating the composition of the Poem before the first crusade in the year 1096. The author, it is ascertained, was Norman, the dialect used by him being Norman throughout. Whether this author was really Turoldus, named in the last line of the Poem, is a point which Léon Gautier refuses to affirm. We refer the reader to the very interesting preface of Genin , and to the learned introductions of Léon Gautier, for more complete information.

The word " Aoi ," which is placed at the end of every stanza, and found in no other ancient French poems, is interpreted differently by the commentators. M. Francisque Michel assimilated it at first to the termination of an ecclesiastical chant Preface, xxvii... Continue reading book >>

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