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LA CHANSON DE ROLAND TRANSLATED FROM THE SEVENTH EDITION OF LEON GAUTIER BY LÉONCE RABILLON EDITED, ANNO TA TED, A N D COMP IL ED BY R HOND A L. KE LL EY FIGURE 1 THE DEATH OF ROLAND AT THE BATTLE OF RONCEVAL, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT, 1455. CHARLEMAGNE IN SPAIN I. Carle our most noble Emperor and King, 1 Hath tarried now full seven years in Spain, 2 Conqu'ring the highland regions to the sea; No fortress stands before him unsubdued, Nor wall, nor city left, to be destroyed, Save Sarraguce, 3 high on a mountain set. There rules the King Marsile who loves not God, Apollo 4 worships and Mohammed serves; Nor can he from his evil doom escape. 5 GANELON S TREASON (SUMMARY) At the end of his seven-year campaign against Spain, Charlemagne finds he cannot penetrate the walls of King Marsile s Saragossa. Fearful of a siege, Marsile promises through a messenger that if Charlemagne will leave Spain, then Marsile will present himself with a ransom at Charlemagne s court to be converted to Christianity. Charlemagne accepts the offer and sends an ambassador to convey same. 1 Charlemagne (aka Charles the Great, Charles I), King of the Franks and Lombards, Emperor of Europe ( ). 2 Charlemagne was on a mission to Christianize Muslim Spain. 3 Saragossa. 4 Apollyon (aka Abaddon, an angel of destruction); medieval Christians believed that Muslims worshipped the unholy trinity of Muhammad, Abaddon, and Termagant. As Termagant is a fiction created by medieval Christians, it is, of course, untrue. 5 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. and later to the Saxon Abeg, or the English Away, as a sort of refrain which the jongleur repeated at the end of the couplets. M. Génin explains it by ad viam, a vei, avoie, away! it is done, let us go on! M. Gautier, with his skeptical honesty, declares the word unexplained. See Note 9, p. 4, of his seventh edition. (Léonce Rabillon, trans. La Chanson de Roland. Leon Gautier, 7 th ed. New York: Holt and Company [1885]: x.) FIGURE 2 CHARLEMAGNE INFLICTING BAPTISM UPON THE SAXONS, A. DE NEUVILLE. 6 THIS SUBMISSION TO CHARLEMAGNE AND HIS GOD IS WHAT KING MARSILE MUST CONSIDER. On the advice of Roland, Charlemagne s nephew and leader of his rear-guard, the Franks send Ganelon, Roland s stepfather, to deliver the message. Because all of the previous ambassadors to Marsile had died horrible deaths, Ganelon assumes that Roland is setting him up for a similar fate. In retaliation to the perceived insult, Ganelon betrays Roland and Charlemagne to King Marsile. Knowing that Roland would lead several other Paladins and the rear-guard, Ganelon tells Marsile how to ambush the rear-guard at the narrow mountain pass of Ronceval. 6 Illustration from Francois Pierre Guillaume Guizot. A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times Volume I. Boston: Estes and Lauriat (1869): 215. LXXXI. Olivier 8 from the summit of a hill 9 On his right hand looks o'er a grassy vale, And views the Pagans' 10 onward marching hordes; Then straight he called his faithful friend Rollánd: From Spain a distant rumbling noise I hear, So many hauberks white and flashing helms I see! This will inflame our French men's hearts. The treason is the work of Ganelon Who named us for this post before the King. Hush! Olivier! the Count Rollánd replies, 'Tis my step-father, speak no other word. LXXXII. Count Olivier is posted on a hill From whence Spain's Kingdom he descries, 11 and all The swarming host of Saracens; their helms So bright bedecked with gold, and their great shields, Their 'broidered hauberks, and their waving flags, He cannot count the squadrons; in such crowds They come, his sight reached not unto their end. Then all bewildered he descends the hill, Rejoins the French, and all to them relates. LXXXIII. Said Olivier: I have seen Pagans more Than eyes e'er saw upon the earth; at least One hundred thousand warriors armed with shields, In their white hauberks clad, with helmets laced, Lances in rest, and burnished brazen spears. Battle ye will have, such as ne'er was before. French Lords, may God inspire you with his strength! Stand firm your ground, that we may not succumb. The French say: Cursed be those who fly the field! Ready to die, not one shall fail you here. PRELUDE TO THE GREAT BATTLE. 7 7 The Battle of Ronceval Pass. 8 Roland s best friend and fellow-paladin. Roland is engaged to Olivier s sister, Aude. 9 At Ronceval Pass, the rear-guard is about to be cut off from the rest of the army. 10 The Saracens or Muslim army. 11 Sees. ROLAND'S PRIDE. LXXXIV. Olivier said: So strong the Pagan host; Our French, methinks, in number are too few; Companion Rollánd, sound your horn, 12 that Carle 13 May hear and send his army back to help. Rollánd replies: Great folly would be mine, And all my glory in sweet France be lost. No, I shall strike great blows with Durendal; 14 To the golden hilt the blade shall reek with blood. In evil hour the felon 15 Pagans came Unto the Pass, for all are doomed to die! LXXXV. Rollànd, companion, sound your olifant, 16 That Carle may hear and soon bring back the host. With all his Baronage 17 the king will give Us help! Replied Rollánd: May God fore-fend That for my cause my kindred e'er 18 be blamed, Or that dishonor fall upon sweet France. Nay, I will deal hard blows with Durendal, This my good sword now girt unto my side Whose blade you'll see all reeking with red blood. Those felon Pagans have for their ill fate Together met yea, death awaits them all. LXXXVI. Companion Rollánd, sound your olifant! If Carle who passes through the mounts shall hear, To you I pledge my word, the French return. Answered Rollánd: May God forbid! Ne'er be It said by living man that Pagans could Cause me to blow my horn, to bring disgrace Upon my kin! When on the battle field, I'll strike one thousand seven hundred blows, And Durendal all bleeding shall you see. [The French are brave and bravely will they strike.] Those Spanish Moors are doomed to certain death. LXXXVII. 12 An ivory battle horn. 13 Charlemagne. 14 Roland s sword. 15 Criminal, unlawful. 16 The battle horn is made of ivory and called an olifant for the animal whence it came (elephant). 17 That is the Barons or French nobility. 18 Ever. Olivier said: To me there seems no shame; I have beheld the Moors 19 of Spain; they swarm O'er mountains, vales and lands, hide all the plains; Great is this stranger host; our number small. Rollánd replies: The more my ardor grows. God and his [blessed] angels grant that France Lose naught of her renown through my default. Better to die than in dishonor [live.] The more we strike the more Carle's love we gain! LXXXVIII. Rollánd is brave and Olivier is wise; Both knights of wond'rous courage and in arms And mounted on their steeds, they both will die Ere 20 they will shun the fight. Good are the Counts 21 And proud their words. The Pagan felons ride In fury on! Rollánd, said Olivier, One moment, look! Our foes so close, and Carle Afar from us you have not deigned to blow Your horn! If came the king, no hurt were ours. Cast your eyes toward the great defiles 22 of Aspre; 23 There see this most unhappy rear-guard. [Those Who here fight, ne'er shall fight on other fields. ] Rollànd retorts: Speak not such shameful words. Woe unto him who bears a coward's heart Within his breast. There firm shall we remain; The combat and the blows from us shall come. LXXXIX. Now when Rollánd the battle sees at hand, More than a leopard's or a lion's pride He shows. He calls the French and Olivier: Companion, friend, pray, speak of this no more. The Emperor who left his French in trust To us, has chos'n those twenty thousand men. Right well he knows none has a coward's soul. A man should suffer hurt for his good lord, Endure great cold or scorching heat, and give Even to his flesh and blood Strike with your lance, And I with Durendal, my trusty sword, Carle's gift. If here I die, may he who wins It, say: 'Twas once the sword of a brave knight. XC. 19 Muslims; also dark-skinned men. 20 Before. 21 The French noblemen. 22 A passage so narrow men must march single-file. 23 Aspre is another defile in the Pyrenees. Turpin the Archbishop from another side, Spurring his courser, mounts a hill and calls The French around. This sermon to them speaks: Seigneurs Barons, Carle left us here: for him, Our King, our duty is to die, to aid In saving Christendom, the Faith of Christ Uphold. There, battle will ye have, for there Before your eyes behold the Saracens. Confess your sins, and for God's mercy pray! For your soul's cure I absolution give... If you should die, as holy martyrs ye Will fall, and places find in Paradise! The French alight and fall upon their knees; The Godly Archbishop grants them benison, Giving for penance his command to strike. XCI. The French arise. They stand assoiled and quit Of all sins, blessed by Turpin in God's name. On swift destriers 24 they mount, armed cap-a-pie 25 Calls Olivier: Companion, sire, full well You know, it is Count Ganelon who has Betrayed us all, and guerdon 26 rich received In gold and silver; well the Emp'ror should Avenge us! King Marsile a bargain made Of us, but swords will make the reck'ning good. XCII. Through the defiles of Spain hath passed Rollánd Mounted on Veillantif, 27 his charger swift And strong, bearing his bright and glitt'ring arms. On goes the brave Rollánd, his lance borne up Skyward, beneath its point a pennon bound, Snow-white, whose fringes flap his hand. Fair is his form, his visage bright with smiles. Behind him follows Olivier his friend; The French with joy, him as their champion, hail. He on the Heathens throws a haughty glance, But casts a sweet and humble look upon His French, and to them speaks with courteous tone: Seigneurs Barons, march steadily and close. These Pagans hither came to find a grave; We here shall conquer such great spoil to-day As never yet was gained by Kings of France. Even as he spoke the word, the armies met. 24 War-horses. 25 Head to toe. 26 Reward. 27 Roland s war-horse. XCIII. Said Olivier: No care have I to speak, Since you deigned not to blow your olifant, All hope of help from Carle for you is lost. He knows no word of this; the fault lies not In him, nor are yon Knights to blame ride on And gallop to the charge as best you can. Seigneurs Barons, recoil not from the foe, In God's name! bearing ever this in mind, Hard blows to deal and hard blows to endure Forget we not the war-cry of King Carle! At this word all the French together shout. Who then had heard the cry, Montjoie! 28 had known What courage is. Then all together rush Right onward; God! with what an onset fierce! Deeply they spur their steeds for greater speed; They burn to fight. What else can they desire? The Saracens stand firm and nothing fear... Behold the Franks and Pagans hand to hand... THE MELEE. XCIV. The nephew of Marsile his name Aëlroth, 29 Forward the first of all spurs on his horse Against our French, hurling forth insulting words: To-day, French villains, ye will joust with us; Who was to guard you, has betrayed you; mad Must be the King who left you in the pass. So now the honor of sweet France is lost, And Carle the great shall lose his right arm here. Rollànd heard. God! what pain to him! He drives His golden spurs into his courser's flanks, And rushes at full speed against Aëlroth; His shield he breaks, dismails the hauberk linked; Cleaving his breast, he severs all the bones, And from the spine the ribs disjoint. The lance Forth from his body thrusts the Pagan's soul; The Heathen's corse 30 reels from his horse, falls down Upon the earth, the neck cloven in two halves. Rollánd still taunts him: Go thou, wretch, and know Carle was not mad. Ne'er did he treason love, And he did well to leave us in the pass. To-day sweet France will not her honor lose! Strike, Frenchmen, strike; the first sword-stroke is ours; 28 The afore-mentioned war-cry of Charlemagne. 29 The negative analog to Roland. 30 Corpse. We have the right, these gluttons have the wrong! XCV. Then comes a Duke whose name is Falsarun; He is the brother of the King Marsile. The lands of Dathan and of Abirun He holds: no viler wretch lives under Heaven. Vast is his forehead, and the space between His deeply sunken eyes is half a foot. Seeing his nephew dead, in grief he bounds Forth from the serried ranks, and shouts aloud The Pagan war-cry, furious 'gainst the French. To-day, he cries, at last sweet France shall lose Her fame! When Olivier heard this, in wrath He pricks with golden spurs his charger's flanks, And, like true baron, lifts his arm to strike, Shivers the Pagan's shield, his hauberk tears Apart. The pennon's folds pass through his breast As with the shaft he hurls him from the selle, 31 A mangled corpse; here lies he on the ground. Unto the prostrate body Olivier Says proudly: Wretch, to me thy threats are vain! Strike boldly, Franks! The victory shall be ours! Montjoie! he shouts, the battle-cry of Carle. XCVI. A king, named Corsablis, from Barbarie, 32 A distant land, is there. The Pagan host He calls; The field is ours with ease: the French So few in numbers we may well disdain, Nor Carle shall rescue one; all perish here. To-day, they all are doomed to death! Turpin The Archbishop heard him; lived no man on earth He hated more than Corsablis; he pricks His horse with both his spurs of purest gold, And 'gainst him rushes with tremendous force. The shield and hauberk split; and with a stroke Of the long lance into his body driven, Corsablis lifeless drops across the path; Him, though a corpse, Turpin addresses thus: Thou, coward Pagan, thou hast lied! Great Carl My lord, was ever and will ever be Our help; and Frenchmen know not how to fly. As for thy fellows, we can keep them here; I tell you, each this day shall die. Strike, Franks, Yourselves forget not. This first blow, thank God, Is ours! Montjoie! cries he, to hold the field. 31 Saddle. 32 Arabia. XCVII. Gérin 33 attacks Malprimis de Brigal Whose good shield now was not a denier 34 worth: The crystal boss all broken, and one half Fall'n on the ground. Down to the flesh Gérin His hauberk cleaves, and passes through his heart The brazen point of a stout lance. Then falls The Pagan chief and dies by that good blow; And Sathanas 35 bears off the wretched soul. XCVIII. Gérier, 36 his comrade, strikes the Amurafle, 37 Breaks his good shield, his hauberk white unmails, Plants in his heart a spear's steel point with such Good aim, one blow has pierced the body through; And his strong lance-thrust hurls him dead to earth. Said Olivier: A noble combat ours! XCIX. Duke Sansun 38 rushes on the Almazour; 39 He splits the shield with painted flowers and gold Embossed. The strong-mailed hauberk shelters not, As he is pierced through liver, heart and lungs. For him may mourn who will death-struck he falls: That is a Baron's stroke! the Archbishop cries. C. Anseïs 40 gives his steed the rein, and charges Fierce on Turgis de Turteluse; beneath The golden boss asunder breaks the shield, Rips up the hauberk double-linked; so true The thrust, that all the steel passed through his breast. With this one blow the shaft has struck him dead. Rollánd exclaimed: The stroke is of a Knight! CI. Then Engelier, 41 the Gascuin 42 of Burdele, Spurs deep his horse, and casting loose the rein, 33 A Paladin, one of the 12 Peers of Charlemagne. 34 French coin. 35 Satan. 36 Another Paladin. 37 Admiral. 38 Also, Samson; another Paladin. 39 Arabic military title. 40 Paladin. 41 Paladin. 42 Gascon from Gascony, a region in France. Rushes upon Escremiz de Valterne; Breaks down the buckler fastened to his throat And rends his gorget-mail; full in the breast The lance strikes deep and passes in between The collar bones; dead from the saddle struck He falls. And Turpin says: Ye all are lost! CII. Othon 43 assails a Pagan, Estorgant, His thrust hits hard the leather of the shield, Effacing its bright colors red and white, Breaks in his hauberk's sides, and plunges deep Within his heart a strong and trenchant spear, From off the flying steed striking him dead. This done, he says: No hope for you remains! CIII. And Bérengier 44 smites now Estramaris, Splits down his shield, shivers his coat of mail In shreds and through his bosom drives a lance. Dead 'midst one thousand Saracens he drops. Of their twelve Peers 45 now ten have breathed their last: Chernuble Margariz, the Count, survive. CIV. Most valiant Knight is Margariz. 'Mid all Beauteous, strong, slender, quick of hand. He spurs His horse and charges Olivier; beneath The boss of purest gold his shield breaks down, Then at his side a pointed lance he aims; But God protects him, for the blow ne'er reached The flesh. The point grazed only, wounding not. Then Margariz unhindered rides away And sounds his horn to rally his own men. CV. The battle rages fierce. All men engage. Rollánd, the dauntless, combats with his lance As long as holds the shaft. Fifteen good blows It dealt, then broke and fell; now his good sword, Loved Durendal, he draws, spurs on his steed 'Gainst Chernubles, splits his bright helm adorned With gems; one blow cleaves through mail-cap and skull, Cutting both eyes and visage in two parts, And the white hauberk with its close-linked mail; 43 Also Otton or Otto; a Paladin. 44 Paladin. 45 That is, the twelve Muslim Peers, negative analogs of the French Peers. Down to the body's fork, the saddle all Of beaten gold, still deeper goes the sword, Cuts through the courser's chine, nor seeks the joint. Upon the verdant grass fall dead both knight And steed. And then he cries: Wretch! ill inspired To venture here! Mohammed helped thee not... Wretches like you this battle shall not win. CVI. The Count Rollànd rides through the battle-field And makes, with Durendal's keen blade in hand, A mighty carnage of the Saracens. Ah! had you then beheld the valiant Knight Heap corse on corse; blood drenching all the ground; His own arms, hauberk, all besmeared with gore, And his good steed from neck to shoulder bleed! Still Olivier halts not in his career. Of the twelve Peers not one deserves reproach, And all the French strike well and massacre The foe. The Pagans dead or dying fall. Cries the Archbishop: Well done, Knights of France! Montjoie! Montjoie! It is Carle's battle cry! CVII. Olivier grasps the truncheon 46 of his lance, Spurs through the storm and fury of the fight, And rushes on the Pagan Malsarun, Breaks down his shield with flowers and gold embossed, Thrusts from their orbs his eyes; his brains dashed out Are crushed and trampled 'neath the victor's feet; With seven hundred men of theirs he fell. The Count next slew Turgis and Estorgus; But now the shaft breaks short off by his hand. Then said Rollánd: What mean you, Compagnon? 47 In such a fight as this 'tis not a staff We need, but steel and iron, as I deem. Where now that sword called Halteclere, with hilt Of gold and crystal pommel? I lack time To draw it, valiant Olivier replies, So busy is my hand in dealing blows! CVIII. Lord Olivier then his good sword unsheathed, For which Rollánd entreated him so much, And showed it to his friend with knightly pride; Strikes down a Pagan, Justin de Val-Ferrée, Whose head is severed by the blow; cuts through 46 Handle. 47 Companion. Th' embroider'd hauberk, through the body, through The saddle all with studs and gold embossed, And through the back-bone of the steed. Both man And steed fall on the grass before him, dead. Rollánd exclaims: Henceforth, you are indeed My brother! These, the strokes loved by King Carle! And echoes round the cry: Montjoie! Montjoie! CIX. The Count Gérin sits on his horse, Sorel, And his co
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