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These characters possess freewill, such as Ganelon and his plotting against the Franks. But the God in the epic does intervene to make sure that good really comes out victorious in the end, such as when he makes Thierry win over Pinable in a duel.
The unknown author of the epic presents the Muslims as unquestionably and inherently evil and base, the reverse of the Christians (Bouneuf 2005). Although the Muslims are more monotheistic than Christians and that Christians of the early Middle Ages took Islam merely as another form of paganism, they assumed that Muslims worshipped Apollo. In making this presentation, the poem employs a technique of opposite images, such as 12 Saracen peers matching 12 Frankish peers in battle, opposing armies organizing themselves in the same form, but with Christians outperforming the Muslims and fighting more nobly.
Awesome medieval Christian heroism centers on the idea of vassalage (Bouneuf 2005) and this is the other main theme in the Song of Roland, as exemplified by Roland's fidelity towards Charlemagne and Charlemagne towards God in exchange for protection and reward. This vassalage is recognized and rewarded in proportion to the passion that accompanies it in Roland's pride and martyrdom.
The major characters of the epic are the emperor Charlemagne, Roland, his bosom friends Olivier and Turpin, his stepfather Ganelon, Thierry, Baligant, Marsilla.and Alde. Charlemagne is the leader of the Frankish army, a committed ally of the pope and the crowned emperor of the Roman Empire in Western Europe. He is also the uncle and avenger of Roland. History makes only brief reference to him as the prefect of the Breton Marches. In this epic, he is one of the 12 peers of France, Charlemagne's favorite and a well-honed and very bold warrior. He fully understands the Frankish offensive in Spain as a crusade and is unwilling to enter into a compromise with the Saracens. His popularity produces resentment and envy in his stepfather Ganelon. His friend Olivier is also a brave warrior and one of the 12 peers, but wiser than Roland. Archbishop Turpin fights and dies with them at Roncesvals. He symbolizes Christendom's turn towards militant activity at the time of the Crusades. His style of battle is patterned after the famous speech of Pope Urban II, who directly inspired the First Crusade. Ganelon is a well-respected Frankish baron who takes revenge against Roland by plotting with the Saracens to ambush the rear guard of the Frankish army. Thierry of the council of barons makes the dissenting vote that ultimately condemns Ganelon. He is challenged into a duel by Ganelon's friend Pinabel and wins it, although he is weaker than Pinabel. Marsilla is the pagan kind of Saragossa, which is the last city to resist the Franks. Baligant is the noble emir of Babylon who combines forces with Marsilla against Charlemagne's might. Although Baligant's huge army matches Charlemagne's in size, strength and skill, the epic relates that Charlemagne manages to kill Baligant and avenge Roland's death and, likewise, conquer Spain in one stroke. Alde is Olivier's beautiful sister and Roland's sweetheart who dies of grief when she learns of Roland's death.
The Song of Roland as a Propaganda Text
Neither the author of the epic nor the exact date of its creation, most scholars assume that it was written between 1098 and 1100 during the time of the First Crusade and intended as a propaganda material to inflame Christians against Islam (Borey 2001). Propaganda covers a wide range of artistic creations that intend to listeners and readers to assume a particular viewpoint or course of action, create certain policies or move events according to that viewpoint. The Song of Roland is clearly moved by the spirit of the Crusades at a time when the medieval Catholic Church was at the height of its power and desirous of expanding its hold into the Holy Land. It has only a limited historical basis in narrating the massacre of Charlemagne's army in Roncesvals pass of the Pyrenees mountains. Accurate records of events during this dark period of European history are scarce and the most reliable is that of Einhard, Charlemagne's own biographer. Charlemagne, king of the Franks and a committed Christian and ally of the pope, would use these records to achieve his political purpose. During Charlemagne's time, the rise of Islam was enormous and unstoppable. Although then not yet three centuries old, it had taken North Africa and the Middle East. These new Muslim kingdoms were richer, stronger and culturally and technologically ahead of European kingdoms and tribes. Moslem Spain was an example of a resplendent and sophisticated blend of culture, science and institutions.
In contrast, the Catholic Church was then threatened everywhere and treaded on perilous grounds and difficult times (Borey 2001). Charlemagne wanted to expand his Christian empire, which included large territories of what are Germany and France today and part of Spain. Historical records show that he was unable to overturn the Saracens in Roncesvalles, and that he instead had to change strategies in Spain. He focused on capturing and holding a few areas as a buffer against the Muslims in Spain. His vassals managed to conquer Barcelona in 803 and he was able to maintain control of an area called Spanish March.
The author of the epic seems not to have qualms faking historical facts in suiting it to the spirit of the Crusades (Borey 2001), because it ignores these historical facts. Charlemagne lost the Roncesvalles, yet the epic narrates that he is capable of conquering all of Spain. Roland is historically the Lord of Breton March, yet Charlemagne's biographer Einhard describes him as a Frankish lord and favorite nephew of Charlemagne. The treachery committed by Christian Basques is translated as that only of Ganelon and the Basques are also mis-represented as Muslims, whom the author refers to as Saracens or pagans. In the centuries that transpired from the occurrence of narrated events to the writing of the epic, Charlemagne's person has been magnified to coincide with the offensives of the Crusades, specifically in the conquest of the hugely rich Muslim lands. In 1095, Pope Urban II delivered a famous speech at the Council of Clermont, urging all Christians to raise arms to recapture the land of Christ and they would receive full penance. The epic character Archbishop Turpin recreates and fulfills this line of thought when he grants full spiritual amnesty to the Franks before the Roncesvalles battle and promises salvation and paradise to them. The epic likewise dwells on Charlemagne's personal nobility and personal relationship with God and his receiving divine messages from angels (Borey).
Critics believe that the Song of Roland was written to encourage Medieval Christians to join the Crusades against the Muslims (Lafoley 2005). As such it is a blatant propaganda text in motivation and historically inaccurate and racist in its structure and bent. It presents not only Roland as the heroic martyr but that the terrible revenge of Charlemagne for his death is God's righteous wish. Realizing or not realizing that it was propaganda, the epic accomplished its purpose in acquiring thousands of volunteers to rise in arms against the Muslims. Its language is grand and irresistible and its religious message is emotional and compelling. It inclines audiences to believe that it is them with God on one side and the Muslim enemies on the other. This is the impact, for example, of the image of blood on the young girl and the image of blood on the green grace, centuries apart. The words "liberty" and "freedom" are used as the equivalent of Christianity in and by the epic, interpretations that have gone down through generations to the present in American history (Lafoley).
Charlemagne's revenge of Roland's death at Roncesvalles became deeply and firmly impressed into the minds of the French people (Dominik 2005). It does not appear to be a coincidence that the first extent version of this great chanson was written around 1095 during the launching of the First Crusade. From a political maneuver, it turns into a call for a holy war against the Muslims of Spain on account of their attack on Charlemagnes rear guard at Roncesvalles. The epic delineates and clearly and firmly sets down the meanings of good and evil throughout. It does so distinctively in the battlefield scenes where super-mortal forces clash for the control of the earth, using mortal bodies of Christians and pagans in a way of cosmological significance. While based on historical facts, the Song of Roland went through editing in the three centuries between the massacre and the writing of this epic. It is historically factual that the rear guard of Charlemagne's army was slaughtered at Roncesvalles, but it was the Basques and the Muslims that crushed Charlemagne's forces. Neither were the Franks waging a holy war against Spain. It is known that, a year before the massacre, Sulayman ibn a llcArabi sought the help of Charles or Charlemagne for help against the Emir, cAbdar-Rahman. Charlemagne granted…[continue]
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