A really remarkable very early piece of European literature that has topics which resonate particularly in this post-Millennium era of extremist followers of 'militant Faith' aggressively intruding and disrupting various modern, enlightened civilisations across the globe. It can be read as a straight tale of a super-hero, chivalric Knight of the period: Or, added to as a commentary on what constitutes the human spirit in its highest form with a backdrop of considerable violence that also has come through the 1,000 years without much real change of characteristics in spite of the advance of weapons. NB: For AMAZON Editors: I do question the content of the AMAZON 'blurb' at the web-site's introduction to the book: We surely have moved on from the pejorative terminology used by the AMAZON writer concerning ISLAM; e.g. "..Christianity... PAGANISM..."!!!!??? The "Saracens" were a highly respected and advanced peoples within the Islamic Faith-Culture and as such deserve a good deal better than 'PAGANISM' to describe their differences from that of 'Christianity'!
This review is from: The Song of Roland (Penguin Classics) (Paperback) Absolutely no flies on the translators, the writing flows smoothly and is very readable, but one can't help feeling pretty quickly that the story itself is a genre of literature that one can still find expressed in the most gaudily coloured books on the shelf in the airport book shop, often with pictures of guns and voluptuous scantily clad women. Simple characters perpetuate dreadful deeds, thoughtless of all save their own prowess and reputation. Cities are sacked, the people put to the sword, but for no expressed purpose other than 'for the sake of it'. Frankly one feels that Roland in particular should be given an ASBO.
He comes across as violent, stupid and thoughtless with little more in his head than the kind of mindless aggression that gives some football fans a bad name, but the consequences are a little worse. And his juvenile pride is such that he refuses to call for help, when finally trapped in the eponymous ravine, even though this entails the entire destruction of the other 20,000 troops with him - because to call for help would dishonour his name! Any concern for his soldiers does not appear to enter his head. He finally relents when only he and a handful of knights are left standing, and is dully chastised for this but, unlike more thoughtful literature, this does not lead to a moment of catharsis on his part. There is just pride and anger! In other words a silly tale about a rampagingly egotistic knight with no self reflection and little understanding of honour beyond victory and defeat. Mixed in is a laughably absurd and racist caricature of the Saracen enemy that demonises and belittles in such a way as to justify their destruction by all well muscled Christans! This is the nastiness of this tract, it is a rallying call to every young thug with a sword and little between his ears to get up from his hovel and embark on a killing frenzy. At one point we are even invited to join Charlemagne in praying God to grant him vengeance over these 'pagans' for audaciously his invading their country, slaughtering the populace and then having suffered the indignity of them fighting back! Regrettably history is littered with writers such as this who seek popularity by fanning the flames of hatred - very much up to the present day. I can imagine you may feel that this is to overlay more modern values unfairly on a different era, but in defence, this mindless drivel is not necessarily good just because it was written long ago - there were idiots then as much as now. To put this book on any kind of a pedestal is to a serious disservice to the genuinely interesting works from the period such as Sir Gawain, The Parcival etc. And in comparison to the classic writers of a millennium before, it sadly illustrates how far society had fallen. On the plus side it at least marks the bottom. This is not to discourage anyone from reading 'The Ronceval' just to stimulate some thoughtful criticism.
I came across the first lines of this translation in Norman Davies's 'Vanished KIngdoms' (2011), p.162. To my amazement there were three serious errors of translation in the first stanza alone. I'm familiar with Old French from my studies at UCL and have checked out the errors against a dual-language French/Old French version published by the great French medievalist Joseph Bedier. I am shocked that Penguin have let this through.
I am studying the famous French King Charlemagne, and was directed to this poem which I enjoyed a great deal. It requires quite a lot of concentration, but once you are into it it is quite absorbing and has enough gory battle scenes, political wranglings and double-crossings to keep you quite happy throughout. The only downside is that the real event which inspired this poem did not happen at all like the book tells us it did. Still, that doesn't really matter - it's still an enjoyable glimpse at those famous knights in shining armour.