Illustrations of Realities of Knighthood in The Song of Roland

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Song of Roland portrays model knightly behavior. Roland, Oliver and the Franks were the ideal toward which twelfth-nobles strived. The qualities that were most desired in a knight were bravery, generous, and loyalty. The Song of Roland is a historical document that is very important to the 12th century literature because it gives us insights of what kind of stories people liked to read and write about. It was the most popular piece of “literature” in its day during the Middle Age, that alone is important because we can assume that they love action and get an idea of what they enjoyed.

This poem is a fictional account of a real event where Charlemagne’s campaign in Spain in 778. The song was written after Charlemagne. It talks about the battle which occurred under Charlemagne. All of the details are fictional but the story and the event itself is true. It is a poem created somewhere in the 12th century. Before the song of Roland, the poem itself has been recited many times in the castles of Europe due to the fact that nobles love this poem. It portrays the nobles’ concerns and how they live their life. It presents an ideal world, life as the nobles dreamed about. It tells us the interests and dislikes of nobles and knights. It also demonstrates what people are striving for and what kind of goals and mindset they hold. The song of Roland is basically the Star Wars at its time. It is a black versus white, vision of the world, good versus evil, but it all changes towards the end of the story.

The protagonist is basically Charlemagne and the Christian community. Charlemagne is basically a perfect lord. The antagonists are non-Christians and Saracens. Saracens are Muslim pirates. They attack to take over and control some land. The knights are fighting for the Lord, God and themselves. The key elements are loyalty along with the military valor which holds the supreme value. Loyalty is emphasizing the twelfth century and enforcing the system and these contracts. Without loyalty, there will be no enforcers or political system. “Your valor was for naught, my lord companion! We’ve been together through the days and years, and never have you wronged me, nor I you; since you are dead, it saddens me to live. ” (118) This quote is an excellent source of one of the major themes loyalty and valor. In this quote, Roland is saying his goodbye to Oliver. He is thanking Oliver for staying true and loyal for no matter what all throughout the journey that they have been on. Priests, who are perfect Christians, are fighters which is acceptable due to the fact that they are fighting for what they believe in, which is their religion. Christianity is the backdrop of this story. The way Roland lives in this story is not how all knights live their life. Oliver and Roland are not real knights, they are fictional characters in this story. An ideal knight has to be brave and generous. An ideal knight cannot fear death or enemies such as Saracens.

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An ideal knight must a warrior on a horse. An ideal knight needs to provide himself a horse and armor. These are not handed out to knights. A knight must go out and get a horse he can maneuver with. “The Franks fought at a disadvantage in every respect, because of the weight of their armor and the unevenness of the ground” (EINHARD). It is important for Knights to pick the equipment that suits him and that he can work with. A knight must pick his horse and armor cautiously. This quote explains how it is a disadvantage if you do not pick your items attentively. A knight is not necessarily smart or rich or a good husband or family. Knights are also not wealthy at the beginning of their journey due to the fact that they do not have inheritances. Knights love their lineage more than his immediate family. There were a few qualities that were most desired in a knight which I have listed above. The qualities were that a Knight needs to show brave, be generous and needed his own horse and armor. A knight also needs to be loyal. If you have multiple lords, you have to choose and pledge loyalty to one. In the real world, a vassal has to choose and think of the consequences, and decide which loyalty to break. This can be a difficult dilemma. “Since my lady of Champagne wishes me to undertake to write a romance, (1) I shall very gladly do so, being so devoted to her service as to do anything in the world for her, without any intention of flattery. ” (Lancelot) This is one difference between Lancelot and Roland. Chretien states that his lady of Champagne does work without the need of wanting to be recognized. In the Song of Roland, everybody wants to be recognized by having a song. Lancelot goes on and completes his quest by being motivated from the Queen's love.

Lancelot goes to rescue the Queen meanwhile Roland goes out to control the land from the Saracens. Roland is ruthless and attacks his enemies. On the other hand, Lancelot gives his opponents a second chance. Roland is fighting Muslims, while Lancelot fights people of his own community. “He jumped into the bottom of the ditch and climbed, I assure you, sword in hand up the other side, and kept his footing until he reached the ladder on which the knight was held by those who sought to kill him. ” (From History of William Marshall Volume II) This quote demonstrates and provides an example of an ideal knight. It shows how brave William the Marshall is by accepting the fate of his death.

'That would be the act of a fool! I would forfeit the fame I have in Sweet France. ' (34 Google ebook) “ This shows that Roland is very conceited and prideful. This demonstrates how brave Roland is, he is not afraid to die or surrender the war. “May God forbid, ”...” (p87) Oliver is suggesting that Roland sounds his oliphant so King Charles can help by bringing backup to the war. A bad example of a knight is Ganelon. Ganelon was talking to the Saracens. Ganelon is discussing of how the Saracens can ambush and kill Roland and Oliver. Ganelon disobeys his lord and by being allies with the Saracens. The results of his actions has Ganelon serving the death penalty as the outcome. Ganelon is also dishonest when he is disobeying his lord. “Says Ganelon: “There isn’t any battle!...” (110) This quote provides us evidence of how Ganelon breaks his loyalty by being dishonest. He is explaining to the lord that there is no battle and that Roland is not facing any difficulties.

When comparing William the Marshall with Roland, you see there is a lot of similarities. The first one is that like all knights, they have to make their own way by finding their equipment and the necessary items to become a knight. William the Marshall’s career is also marked by uncertainty just like when Roland also had to surrender the war and accept his death. In the Feudal System, is basically a social structure that is being enforced by loyalty. Without loyalty, life would not exist. Everything would be chaotic and out-of-order which then would prevent us from to progress.

A vassal may have many lords and a lord can also have many vassals. A good noble can collect as many vassals as possible and thereby eliminated enemies. If you are a lord, you want the best vassals in your circle to beat out rivals or the opposing side and have a strong army. Lords want the best guys on their team to beat their opponents. A lord can reward vassals a great marriage or chunk of land to help allure the best guys. By means of these “contracts” binding alliances are created that form the basis for a state. In the Feudal system, a vassal or a knight would pledge fealty or loyalty to a “lord”, which means he will basically fight for him and then avenge him. The lord promises in return to protect and avenge his Vassal. “Our fight is getting rough: I’ll sound my horn…” (109). In this scene, Roland, a great knight who has most of the good qualities of a knight faces shame and humiliation. He blows the horn and surrenders when Oliver has told him not to do so. When Roland blows the horn, he disappoints the king and his country. His pride that is being demonstrated in this quote definitely plays against him and is the main reason for his downfall.

In this story, Charlemagne and his men fight against Saracens and anyone who is a non-Christian. They try to protect their land and people. Charlemagne is overcoming and taking complete control of most of Europe. Charlemagne is battling against the Saracens in Spain. The last city remaining is Saragossa. The Saracen civilizations are terrified and offers Charlemagne treasures and that Marsilla will convert its religion back to Christianity. The Song of Roland talks about how a knight should behave in the twelfth century and what the consequences are if the expectations are not met. It portrays the good and the bad. It illustrates how brutal Europe during the twelfth century. It gives great insight, it enables us to have somewhat of an idea of what people admired during the times of the Middle Ages. Even if this story has fictional characters, this was a real life situation.

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