The Song of Roland

by Anonymous

Other authorsDorothy L. Sayers (Translator)
Paperback, 1965



Call number






Penguin Classics (1965), Edition: reprint, Paperback, 208 pages


Library of Liberal Arts title.

User reviews

LibraryThing member bespen
The Song of Roland is a classic of Western literature, part of the mythology surrounding Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire. Probably composed in this form sometime in the 11th century, the Song of Roland was hugely popular for a very long time, and it informed what it meant to be a Christian knight during the High Middle Ages.

While the Song of Roland contains the fanciful embellishments common to all epic poetry [the superhero movie of medieval Europeans], the core of the story seems to have been transmitted substantially intact: the rearguard of Charlemagne's army, led by Hruodland, captain of the Breton Marches, was ambushed and killed to a man in Roncesvalles Pass in 778. The only things resembling a historical record of this come from a brief passage in a revised edition of the Life of Charles the Great, and a coin bearing the names "Carlus" and "Rodlan".

However, something noteworthy seems to have happened in that mountain pass, given that the story appears to have been already popular by the time it was written down. With the evidence thin on the ground, barring the discovery of any heretofore unknown manuscripts, a heroic folk memory is likely to be all we have.

My own interest in the Song of Roland has been developing slowly for fifteen years. I had heard of the book before then, but it was the game Halo that really sparked my interest. There is a tradition in science fiction and videogames of drawing upon the deep wells of classical literature and mythology. Probably because both are popular art forms that speak to our souls, and anything old enough to truly be classical usually has to also be popular, or to have been popular for a long enough time to survive accidents of history.

Roland and the other paladins of Charlemagne carried named swords, weapons of unusual power granted as boons to worthy warriors. These swords, among them Durendal, Joyeuse, and Curtana, all featured in the epics that grew up around the character of Roland. Real swords that still exist are known by these names, usually used as part of the mythology of legitimacy that surrounds kings of ancient lineage. It is at least possible that some of these objects might actually date to the periods in question, although many of them lack the supernatural qualities the epics describe.

The statue that appears in the sidebar of my own website, Ogier the Dane, or Holger Danske, came out this same milieu. It is conceivable that Ogier actually lived in the eighth century, and that he was a servant or vassal of Charlemagne, although it is also possible that he is simply a figment of our collective imagination. In the epics, Ogier carried Curtana, a sword with the tip broken off, to symbolize mercy. Since it is the tip of a European style sword that is truly dangerous, this random bit of chivalric legend has appealed to me for a long time.

The more I learn about the myths and legends like the Song of Roland, the better I like them. Random bits of history, technology, and theology I learn tend to accrete to them in ways that make them more plausible as bits and pieces of real events passed down over many generations. Stories are never just stories.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Hamburgerclan
In need of something to read over lunch, I pulled this on off the shelf. The Song of Roland is an old French tale, recounting a highly romanticized version of Charlemagne's battle against the Moors at the pass of Roncesvals. It's an epic tale of bravery, betrayal and medieval justice. While there are many parts that are awkward to a 21st Century reader, I found the book to be overall entertaining.
… (more)
LibraryThing member krisiti
The Song of Roland (Penguin Classics) by Anonymous (1990)
LibraryThing member MarcusH
The Song of Roland is a medieval poem created in the 11th or 12th century that details three interconnected events. The first is a battle between Spanish pagans and Charlemange's rear guard, the second details Charlemange and his Frankish troops exacting revenge for the previous attack, and the third details the trial of Roland's stepfather, Ganelon, who committed treason when he provided the pagans with an opportunity to attack Charlemange's rear guard in an effort to exact revenge on Roland.

The poem is definitely influence. One can see multiple courses of influence throughout literature (Shakespeare to name one). The poem (depending on the translation) can become repetitive and dry at times, but overall should always be read as a foundation block to modern creations in literature.

It's also very easy to see how influential oral tradition was and is. As the introduction explains, this was passed down through generations by jongleurs/minstrels. There is definitely a play like quality to the progression of this poem.

This should be read for it pure historical value, if not for any other reason.
… (more)
LibraryThing member lindawwilson
A childhhood favorite, assuming this is the correct book and not some poem; the real story of Roland was a favorite of my father's and also my son, Jim.
LibraryThing member hbergander
Concerning the battle of Roncevaux, I misunderstood the Song of Roland, when I was a boy. Not Moors killed the hero, but the indigenous Basques.
LibraryThing member veevoxvoom
The Song of Roland is a medieval epic poem detailing the feats of Charlemagne. It is, according to Wikipedia, the oldest surviving example of French literature. In The Song, Charlemagne’s Franks go to battle against the Spanish Saracens, a battle precipitated by a traitor in Charlemagne’s midst.

Really, this is an epic about Christians vs. Muslims. It was written around the time of the Crusades and serves as an excellent piece of propaganda about the glory of Christianity and defeating “the pagans.” Like every battle epic out there, the protagonists are pure and manly and valiant, their testosterone flying off the page. The Saracens, of course, are ignorant villains. This is medieval literature, remember, so one can’t expect too much in the way of cultural understanding. For example, the Muslims here worship three gods: Muhammad, Apollo, and Tervagant. Um, wrong.

But with all that said, The Song of Roland is a pretty enjoyable read. The translation I have by Glyn Burgess is accessible and plain, which makes it a welcome sight knowing the headache it usually takes for me to read really old works. The language is simple but effective, and if you’re looking for dramatic, chivalric values on the battlefield, you can’t go wrong.

Questionable politics. Decent battle epic.
… (more)
LibraryThing member BenjaminHahn
Once one gets past the clear religious bias of the poem, it really is a fun read simply for what the poem can tell us about the people of medieval Europe. From a history of war stand point, the code of chivalry depicted here is very interesting. The honor system in this poem gives the reader a glimpse back into the past. Well, not really a glimpse into historical accuracy, but perhaps into what medieval French Christians valued at the time. It also allows one to imagine how armies, leadership, and diplomacy were conducted. Roland timed his horn signal, not so that he could be reinforced and win, but so that the King would witness his death, and thus be enraged to reenter the entire Frankish army with the pagans. Sacrifice for honor. So many of the heroes in The Song of Roland, do not want to be insulted after they die. Above all, they want to die with honor. That is what was valued. This of course all requires a very strong belief in an afterlife which rewards self sacrifice. A very useful tool for leaders who need their soldiers to stand their ground.
I really enjoyed this translation by Charles Kenneth Scott-Moncrieff. It's almost as fun reading aloud as Fagles' Illiad. There is also a very good introduction and great illustrations in this newly published Folio Society edition.
… (more)
LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
The Original Western European Romance. Probably penned around 1099 or so. The Hero is valiant, and the historical accuracy is very poor. But as an artefact, it shows the beginning of popular entertainment in the Crusading West. I prefer Sayers' translation to the more recent Penguin by Glyn Burgess when I'm reading for the fun of it.… (more)
LibraryThing member ottilieweber
read for school..blah quiz
LibraryThing member MrsLee
No scholarly review here, I'm just a gal who likes to read epic poetry now and then. The version I read was translated by Leonard Bacon. It was perfectly readable, although repetitive. Probably had to be so, so that the reciter could go around to different groups during the meal and they wouldn't miss bits of the tale. That's how I imagine it anyway. Very descriptive and interesting, a battle told from the perspective of the losers trying to keep their pride, since the real battle apparently was very different.… (more)
LibraryThing member karl.steel
Looked over a few of the other reviews. Look, folks, it's not a romance, and it has nothing to do with 'courtly love.' It's the chanson de geste. Not a romance. Nothing erotic going on here.

Given that the earliest ms is in Anglo-Norman, kept track this time round of Charlemagne's involvement in England.

I do wish, however, that I had assigned Burgess's trans. Curious to have a go with it. The use of 'race' in this one seems a bit off.
… (more)
LibraryThing member alexanme
Illustrative of the mechanism of blame, responsibility, tragedy, and agency of the divine in the Carolingian Empire.


Original language


Original publication date

1919 (English: C K Scott Moncrieff)
1970 (English: Robert Harrison)
1952 (English: Frederick Bliss Luquiens)
ca. 1129 - 1165 (manuscript)
ca. 1040 - 1115 (poem)

Physical description

208 p.; 7.77 inches


0140440755 / 9780140440751

Similar in this library

Page: 0.3183 seconds