chansons de geste

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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
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); 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).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.


htoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946. Pages 30–53.
Lot, F. Etudes sur les légendes épiques françaises. Paris, 1958.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
This is followed by The Song of Floovant, still being read out to appreciative Icelandic audiences in the nineteenth century, which deals with the earliest characters to be mentioned in the chansons de geste: Clovis, first Christian king of the Franks, and his eldest son, Floovant.
Warring is sanctioned, nay, demanded in the chansons de geste by a social system constructed around the exclusion of the outsider:
By the end of the twelfth century these chansons de geste had been committed to writing, potentially as propaganda for the Third Crusade, and it is from this period that the oldest surviving chanson about the First Crusade survives--the Chanson d'Antioche.
Role dans la Motivation de Quelques Chansons de Geste' C.C.M., 3
9 Nor does Samson appear to figure elsewhere in the 'credo epiques': Labande's study of eighty-three prayers in forty-one 'chansons de geste' records no such example.
Thomas de Chobham had seen the function of jongleurs who sang chansons de geste and of the lives of saints as giving consolation in sickness and in time of trouble.(85) But the fact that chansons de geste were also sung in the streets, after banquets and even to a paying audience, implies that their function was more often one of pure entertainment.(86)
The third is the "Matter of France," focusing on stories of Charlemagne and his circle as well as stories of William of Orange, drawn from the chansons de geste, or songs of great deeds.
The first chapter thus opens by presenting the patterns that are to be found in twelfth-century verse pertaining to cloth, noting the transition from chansons de geste in which clothing bears little meaning to more courtly literature in which cloth can be seen as a sign.
Works reviewed here are from the initial five volumes in the series which include Matiere de Bretagne, Chansons de Geste, heroic epics, romances of antiquity, miscellaneous and oriental romances, macre and novellas.
11548) in Arthur's fatal blow against the giant, reminiscent of skull-splitting, brain-spilling deeds from chansons de geste. The 'requirement' of iambic tetrameter at times precipitates unnecessary additions: 'His [the giant's] eyes were all filled up with blood: | He could not tell white things from black' (ll.
Des sources juridiques et hagiographiques aux gestae (chansons de geste), grandes chroniques et annales, des ecrits de moralistes, didacticiens, sermonnaires, apologistes, theologiens, philosophes, et pamphletaires aux oeuvres de fiction (poemes, chansons de gestes, fabliaux, contes et legendes), le professeur de Yale ne laisse rien ou tres peu au hasard pour distiller minutieusement le discours de l'elite clericale et laique sur les rustiques dont les contradictions inherentes -- promotion de mutualite du schema tripartite d'une part et mepris seculaire de l'autre -- s'averent en fin d'analyse parfaitement compatibles.