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chansons de geste(shäNsôN` də zhĕst) [Fr.,=songs of deeds], a group of epic poems of medieval France written from the 11th through the 13th cent. Varying in length from 1,000 to 20,000 lines, assonanced or (in the 13th cent.) rhymed, the poems were composed by trouvères and were grouped in cycles about some great central figure such as Charlemagne. The origin of the form is disputed, but probably the first chansons were composed after the year 1000 by the joint efforts of wandering clerks and jongleurs (itinerant minstrels) to attract pilgrims to shrines where heroes of the chansons were supposedly buried. Sung by jongleurs to the accompaniment of a primitive viol, they spread to England, Germany, Italy, and Iceland. The earlier chansons—epic, aristocratic, and militantly Christian—passed as real history to their medieval listeners, though much of the material was legendary. Some later chansons utilize fantastic adventure or reflect bourgeois elements. The oldest extant chanson, and also the best and most famous, is the Chanson de Roland, composed c.1098–1100 (see RolandRoland
, 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 Taillefer sang of Roland's deeds
..... Click the link for more information. ); others are Raoul de Cambrai, Huon de Bordeaux, Aliscans, and Renaud de Montauban.
See W. C. Calin, The Epic Quest (1966), J. Crosland, The Old French Epic (1971), and N. A. Daniel, Heroes and Saracens: A Reinterpretation of the Chansons de Geste (1983).
Chansons de Geste
French heroic epic poems, cycles of poems dealing with historical themes (approximately 90 are extant). The poems, based on ninth- and tenth-century oral folk tradition and on literary works composed and performed by wandering musician-jongleurs, were written at the beginning of the 12th century. The cycles of poems are unified by a central figure (for example, Charlemagne as a spokesman for national unity). Among the chansons de geste is the Chanson de Roland. Some chansons de geste express the point of view of the people in the depictions of the king’s interest in his own power and the evil deeds of feudal lords, such as Raoul de Cambrai.
Most chansons de geste contain 1,000 to 20,000 lines of verse. They are divided into stanzas consisting of five to 40 decasyllabics united by assonance. In later versions from the 12th and 13th centuries the ten-syllable line and assonance were replaced by the 12-syllable line and rhyme. The genres of chansons de geste range from heroic epics to comic narrative poems about everyday life.
REFERENCEShtoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946. Pages 30–53.
Lot, F. Etudes sur les légendes épiques françaises. Paris, 1958.
V. S. LOZOVETSKII