Roland

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Roland

(rō`lənd), the great French hero of the medieval Charlemagne cycle of chansons de geste, immortalized in the Chanson de Roland (11th or 12th cent.). Existence of an early Roland poem is indicated by the historian Wace's statement that TailleferTaillefer
, fl. 1066, Norman warrior and trouvère. According to medieval chronicles and evidence in the Bayeux Tapestry, he led the Norman army at Hastings into battle, singing of Roland at Roncesvalles; he was killed in the conflict.
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 sang of Roland's deeds to inflame the men before the Battle of Hastings (1066). Historically Roland was Charlemagne's commander on the Breton border; he was killed in a pass in the Pyrenees when Basques cut off the rear guard of the Frankish army returning from its invasion of Spain in 778. Legend makes Roland one of Charlemagne's 12 peers and his nephew, changes the Basques into Saracens, and locates the pass at Roncesvalles. The poem is marked by its unified conception, its vivid and direct narrative, and its predominantly warlike spirit. Through the treason of Roland's stepfather, Ganelon, count of Mayence and a vassal of Charlemagne, Roland is left in command of Charlemagne's retreating rear guard, with his friend Oliver and with Bishop Turpin. Instigated by Ganelon, the Saracens attack, but Roland is too proud to blow his horn to summon aid. In the ensuing battle the valiant Franks are greatly outnumbered and, though Roland finally blows his horn, all are killed. The last to die, Roland attempts to break his sword, Durandal; before he dies he hears too late that Charlemagne is returning. Charlemagne disperses the pagans and defeats the reinforcing hosts of the emir Baligant, and Ganelon is tried and put to death. The poem is cast in the heroic mold. The contrast of character in the two heroic friends is famous—Oliver was prudent, Roland rash. The Roland epopee was long a favorite with French, Spanish, and Italian poets, and Roland was eventually transformed beyond recognition into the Orlando of the Italian Renaissance epics of BoiardoBoiardo or Bojardo, Matteo Maria
, 1441?–1494, Italian poet, count of Scandiano. A favorite at the Este court in Ferrara, he served on diplomatic missions and became ducal captain of Modena and later of Reggio.
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 and AriostoAriosto, Ludovico
, 1474–1533, Italian epic and lyric poet. As a youth he was a favorite at the court of Ferrara; later he was in the service of Ippolito I, Cardinal d'Este, and from 1517 until his death served Alfonso, duke of Ferrara.
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. Translations of the Song of Roland include those by Merriam Sherwood (1938) and Dorothy L. Sayers (1957).

Roland

 

Date of birth unknown; died 778. Margrave of the march of Brittany who in 778 commanded a detachment of Bretons in Charlemagne’s Spanish campaign. Roland distinguished himself in battle against the Saracens at the pass of Roncevaux and died while covering the withdrawal of the French through the Pyrenees. He became the hero of the epic poem the Chanson de Roland and later of Italian narrative poems of the late 15th and early 16th centuries, including M. Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato and L. Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso.

Roland

brave French hero of medieval chansons de geste. [Fr. Lit.: NCE, 2344]
See: Bravery

Roland

paragon of chivalry; unyielding warrior in Charlemagne legends. [Fr. Lit.: Song of Roland]

Roland

chief paladin of Charlemagne; renowned for his prowess. [Fr. Lit.: NCE, 2344]
See: Heroism

Roland

the greatest of the legendary 12 peers (paladins, of whom Oliver was another) in attendance on Charlemagne; he died in battle at Roncesvalles (778 ad)