The earliest known French epic poem, a literary form properly known as chanson de geste. The date of its origins is assumed to be somewhere between 1040 and 1115. The Song of Roland chronicles the story of a Frankish military leader in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, a real event that occurred in 778.
Infamous Carolingian king Charlemagne has taken his army to fight the Saracens in Spain. There they have fought for the last seven years with only Sargossa left to contend with. Upon arrival to the city Charlemagne is offered a peace agreement by king Marsilion. The weary army accepts and starts to head home. All is soured when fear drives a Frankish messenger to betray his countrymen. The bloody fallout comes down on the rear guard, lead by the king’s nephew, Roland.
My copy is several decades older than me. A Penguin Classic paperback printed in Great Britain in 1957. I once underlined my favorite lines in it, which I somewhat regret now. But on one dark and boring day I decided to feed my old favorites into an A.I. art generator, shown below.
Marsilion holds it, the king who hates God’s name, Mahound he serves, and to Apollyon prays; He’ll not escape the ruin that awaits.
With lifted hands to God the Emperor sues; Then bows his head and so begins to brood.
Quoth Blancandin: Roland’s a villain fell, Presuming thus all folk on earth to quell, And every land under his yoke compel!
Black wind and storm and tempest on them fell; They were all drowned; they’ll ne’er be seen again.
High are the hills, the valleys dark and deep, Grisly the rocks, and wondrous grim the steeps.
Barbarian born, the magic art he knows. Like a brave man thus valiantly he spoke: No coward I, no, not for all God’s gold!
The Paynim falls flat down with all his weight. Then Satan comes and hales his soul away.
Then Roland said: Here are we doomed to die; Full well I know we cannot long survive. Fail not, for shame, right dear to sell your lives. Lift up, my lords, your burnished blades and fight!
He’s had their bodies opened before his eyes, Had their hearts wrapped in silken tissue fine, And placed within an urn of marble white.
“God!” says the King, “how weary is my life!” He weeps, he plucks his flowing beard and white.
All images were created at Nightcafe.
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