Song of Roland


French title: La Chanson de Roland

Genre: chanson de geste (French for "song of great deeds," the chanson de geste is a form of epic poetry)

Manuscripts: The extant (surviving) manuscripts are written in Old French and Anglo-Norman and date back to the 12th century.

The Song of Roland relates the events leading up to and directly following the Battle of Roncesvalles (French, Roncesvaux, a mountain pass in the Spanish Pyrenees) in 778 C.E. Historically, the French rear-guard, lead by Count Roland, was ambushed at Roncesvalles by the Basques (Spanish natives of the region). In the legend, the Basques are replaced by the Saracens (Muslims of Arabic descent).




The Franks:

Charlemagne: Charles the Great, King of the Franks, 1st Holy Roman Emperor

Roland: Charlemagne's nephew and right-hand man and leader of the Twelve Peers (Paladins) of Charlemagne; dies with all of his men at Roncesvaux.
Oliver: Roland's best friend and brother-in-law; one of the Twelve Peers; dies at Roncesvaux
Archbishop Turin: clergyman and warrior; one of the Twelve Peers; dies at Roncesvaux
Ganelon: Roland's stepfather; traitor; drawn and quartered after his guilt is proven in a trial by combat
Pinabel: Ganelon's kinsman and defender; loses to Thierry in trial by combat

Thierry: Roland's friend; defeats Pinabel in trial by combat


The Saracens:

King Marsile (AKA Marsilius, Marsil): Saracen King of Spain; right hand cut off by Roland; he eventually dies from the wound Roland inflicted

Baligant: Emir of Babylon; Charlemagne's counterpart
Queen Bramimonde: Saracen Queen of Spain; converts to Christianity after her capture by Charlemagne


The Supernatural Beings

Saint Gabriel: archangel who escorts Roland's soul to Heaven; Heaven's messenger to Charlemagne; helps Charlemagne in battle

Saint Michael: archangel who escorts Roland's soul to Heaven

Cherubim: unnamed angels present at Roland's death