The Song of Roland

by

Anonymous

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Roland, a mighty baron of France, is Charlemayn’s nephew and Ganelon’s stepson. He is the bravest of knights, but also reckless and rash. At the beginning of the poem, he favors ongoing war, and his nomination of Ganelon as an envoy to the Spanish pagans sets off a treacherous chain of events which results in his own death. He is also prideful on the battlefield and overconfident in his own strength, refusing to call for help when his best friend, Oliver, prudently advises it. When Roland belatedly calls for help as part of Charlemayn’s army’s rear-guard, he and Oliver are briefly estranged over Roland’s foolishness, but they reconcile before Oliver dies. Roland fatally maims King Marsilion, among countless other Saracens, in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and he remains upright in the battle until the very end. In fact, he is killed by the brain-damaging blast with which he finally blows his horn for help, not by another warrior’s sword. After the Saracens retreat, he faithfully gathers the bodies of his fallen comrades. Roland dies facing Spain, his beloved sword, Durendal, tucked protectively beneath him—the embodiment of a conquering Christian knight. Charlemayn grieves deeply over Roland and fights to avenge him.

Count Roland Quotes in The Song of Roland

The The Song of Roland quotes below are all either spoken by Count Roland or refer to Count Roland. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The Song of Roland published in 1957.
Laisses 16–31 Quotes

“There’s none,” quoth Guènes, “who merits such ill words,
Save only Roland, for whom ’twill be the worse.
But now, the Emperor in the cool shade conversed;
Up came his nephew all in his byrny girt,
Fresh with his booty from Carcassone returned.
Roland in hand a golden apple nursed
And showed his uncle, saying, ‘Take it, fair sir;
The crowns I give you of all the kings on earth.’
One day his pride will undo him for sure,
Danger of death day by day he incurs,
If one should slay him some peace might be preserved.”

Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:
Laisses 32–52 Quotes

The Paynim said: “I marvel in my mind
At Charlemayn whose head is old and white.
Two hundred years, I know, have passed him by.
In lands so many he’s conquered far and wide,
Lance-thrusts so many he’s taken in the strife,
Rich kings so many brought to a beggar’s plight—
When will he weary of going forth to fight?”
“Never”, said Guènes, “while Roland sees the light;
’Twixt east and west his valour has no like,
Oliver too, his friend, is a brave knight;
And the twelve Peers, in whom the King delights,
With twenty thousand Frenchmen to vanward ride:
Charles is secure, he fears no man alive.”

Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:
Laisses 53–78 Quotes

High are the hills, the valleys dark and deep,
Grisly the rocks, and wondrous grim the steeps.
The French pass through that day with pain and grief;
The bruit of them was heard full fifteen leagues.
But when at length their fathers’ land they see,
Their own lord’s land, the land of Gascony,
Then they remember their honours and their fiefs,
Sweethearts and wives whom they are fain to greet,
Not one there is for pity doth not weep.
Charles most of all a boding sorrow feels,
His nephew’s left the Spanish gates to keep;
For very ruth he cannot choose but weep.

Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:
Laisses 79–103 Quotes

“Companion Roland, your Olifant now blow;
Charles in the passes will hear it as he goes,
Trust me, the French will all return right so.”
“Now God forbid”, Roland makes answer wroth,
“That living man should say he saw me go
Blowing of horns for any Paynim foe!
Ne’er shall my kindred be put to such reproach.
When I shall stand in this great clash of hosts
I’ll strike a thousand and then sev’n hundred strokes,
Blood-red the steel of Durendal shall flow.
Stout are the French, they will do battle bold,
These men of Spain shall die and have no hope.”

Related Characters: Count Roland (speaker), Oliver (speaker), Emperor Charlemayn / Carlon / Charles
Related Symbols: Swords
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

Roland is fierce and Oliver is wise
And both for valour may bear away the prize.
Once horsed and armed the quarrel to decide,
For dread of death the field they’ll never fly.
The counts are brave, their words are stern and high.
Now the false Paynims with wondrous fury ride.
Quoth Oliver: “Look, Roland, they’re in sight.
Charles is far off, and these are very nigh;
You would not sound your Olifant for pride;
Had we the Emperor we should have been all right.
To Gate of Spain turn now and lift your eyes,
See for yourself the rear-guard’s woeful plight.
Who fights this day will never more see fight.”
Roland replies: “Speak no such foul despite!
Curst be the breast whose heart knows cowardise!
Here in our place we’ll stand and here abide:
Buffets and blows be ours to take and strike!”

Related Characters: Count Roland (speaker), Oliver (speaker), Emperor Charlemayn / Carlon / Charles
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:
Laisses 128–137 Quotes

Quoth Roland: “Why so angry with me, friend?”
And he: “Companion, you got us in this mess.
There is wise valour, and there is recklessness:
Prudence is worth more than foolhardiness.
Through your o’erweening you have destroyed the French;
Ne’er shall we do service to Charles again. […]
Your prowess, Roland, is a curse on our heads.
No more from us will Charlemayn have help,
Whose like till Doomsday shall not be seen of men.
Now you will die, and fair France will be shent;
Our loyal friendship is here brought to an end;
A bitter parting we’ll have ere this sun set.”

Related Characters: Count Roland (speaker), Oliver (speaker), Emperor Charlemayn / Carlon / Charles
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

Quoth Charles: “I hear the horn of Roland cry!
He’d never sound it but in the thick of fight.”
“There is no battle”, Count Ganelon replies;
“You’re growing old, your hair is sere and white,
When you speak thus, you’re talking like a child.
Full well you know Roland’s o’erweening pride […]
Now to the Peers he’s showing-off in style. […]
Ride on, ride on! Why loiter here the while?”

Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:
Laisses 138–167 Quotes

Then Roland, stricken, lifts his eyes to his face,
Asking him low and mildly as he may:
“Sir, my companion, did you mean it that way?
Look, I am Roland, that loved you all my days;
You never sent me challenge or battle-gage.”
Quoth Oliver: “I cannot see you plain;
I know your voice; may God see you and save.
And I have struck you; pardon it me, I pray.”
Roland replies: “I have taken no scathe;
I pardon you, myself and in God’s name.”
Then each to other bows courteous in his place.
With such great love thus is their parting made.”

Related Characters: Count Roland (speaker), Oliver (speaker)
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Beyond his comrades, upon the grass-green plain,
There he beholds the noble baron laid,
The great Archbishop, vice-gerent of God’s name.
He beats his breast with eyes devoutly raised,
With folded hands lifted to Heaven he prays
That God will give him in Paradise a place.
Turpin is dead that fought for Charlemayn;
In mighty battles, and in preaching right brave,
Still against Paynims a champion of the Faith;
Blest mote he be, the Lord God give him grace!

Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:
Laisses 168–186 Quotes

“Ah, Durendal, fair, hallowed, and devote,
What store of relics lie in thy hilt of gold!
St Peter’s tooth, St Basil’s blood, it holds,
Hair of my lord St Denis, there enclosed,
Likewise a piece of Blessed Mary’s robe;
To Paynim hands ’twere sin to let you go;
You should be served by Christian men alone,
Ne’er may you fall to any coward soul!
Many wide lands I conquered by your strokes
For Charles to keep whose beard is white as snow
Whereby right rich and mighty is his throne.”

Related Characters: Count Roland (speaker), Emperor Charlemayn / Carlon / Charles
Related Symbols: Swords
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:
Laisses 203–226 Quotes

Carlon the King out of his swoon revives.
Four barons hold him between their hands upright.
He looks to earth and sees his nephew lie. […]
“Roland, my friend, God have thy soul on high
With the bright Hallows in flowers of Paradise!
They wretched lord sent thee to Spain to die!
Never shall day bring comfort to my eyes.
How fast must dwindle my joy now and my might!
None shall I have to keep my honour bright!” […]
He tears his hair with both hands for despite.
By hundred thousand the French for sorrow sigh;
There’s none of them but utters grievous cries.

Related Characters: Emperor Charlemayn / Carlon / Charles (speaker), Count Roland
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:
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Count Roland Character Timeline in The Song of Roland

The timeline below shows where the character Count Roland appears in The Song of Roland. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Laisses 1–15
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
...pagans have been killed or converted to Christianity. He sits in an orchard surrounded by Roland, Oliver, and 15,000 of his men, who play chess or engage in sport while Charlemayn... (full context)
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
Charlemayn, Roland, Oliver, and Ganelon, “that wrought the treachery,” are among those gathered beneath a pine tree.... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Roland tells Charlemayn he should never trust Marsilion. He reminds Charlemayn of a past treacherous deed:... (full context)
Laisses 16–31
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
At the council meeting, Naimon speaks up and agrees with Ganelon’s rejection of Roland’s view. Marsilion has been effectively vanquished, and it’s time to end the war. The gathered... (full context)
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
Ganelon fumes that Roland has spitefully singled him out, but that he will obey Charlemayn’s orders. Charlemayn duly bestows... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
...and the rest of his things. Many knights weep as they bid him farewell, blaming Roland for unfairly naming him for this task. Ganelon just tells them to greet his wife,... (full context)
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
Ganelon and Blancandrin chat about Charlemayn and Roland. Ganelon tells a story about Roland, claiming that his stepson returned from battle with a... (full context)
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
Blancandrin agrees that Roland sounds like a villain who presumes to conquer and control others. Ganelon says that Roland... (full context)
Laisses 32–52
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
...listen. Ganelon tells Marsilion that, under Charlemayn, he will share the rule of Spain with Roland, a worthy partner. He hands Marsilion a letter from Charlemayn which lays out these terms,... (full context)
The Ideal King Theme Icon
...200 years old—will tire of war. Ganelon explains that this will never happen; supported by Roland, Oliver, and his beloved Twelve Peers, Charlemayn is fearless, and his courage and appetite for... (full context)
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
...treasure and 20 hostages to persuade Charlemayn to turn back to France; Charlemayn will leave Roland and Oliver in his rear-guard. If these knights are killed, Ganelon explains, Charlemayn will have... (full context)
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
...Pyrenees, near the border between France and Spain. The losses will be heavy, but once Roland is killed, Charlemayn will have lost his right-hand man, and his power will dwindle. Marsilion... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
...Of Termagant’s and of Mahomet’s law” be brought, and on this he swears to fight Roland. Then several pagans approach Ganelon with gifts—a sword and helm—in exchange for his help against... (full context)
Laisses 53–78
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Emperor Charlemayn waits for Ganelon’s return. After attending Mass, he stands with Roland, Oliver, and many dukes, while Ganelon addresses him “with cunning false pretence.” Ganelon hands him... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
...who should compose the rearguard which will hold the mountain passes. Ganelon speaks up, nominating Roland for this task, which angers Charlemayn. But before Charlemayn can appoint someone else, Roland speaks... (full context)
The Ideal King Theme Icon
...grim heights and deep valleys, grieving. Charlemayn especially feels foreboding and weeps over his nephew, Roland, left behind at the pass. When Naimon asks why his lord weeps, Charlemayn explains his... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
...the Franks. Marsilion’s nephew, Adelroth, asks for the privilege of striking the first blow at Roland, and Marsilion grants this, giving his glove as a pledge. He also gathers twelve Champions... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...more than St. Peter the Roman.” Each of these men, and others, vow to kill Roland and leave Charlemayn bereft and powerless—France, they swear, will soon be theirs. (full context)
Laisses 79–103
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
In the French rear-guard, Roland and Oliver hear the Saracen trumpets blaring. Roland urges his men to be courageous, reminding... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Oliver presses Roland to sound his Olifant, but Roland swears again that he won’t bring shame on France... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Roland and Oliver are both brave, but “Roland is fierce and Oliver is wise.” Oliver tells... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
As the French prepare for battle, Roland admits that Oliver was right—Ganelon has betrayed them and must be avenged by Charlemayn. Roland... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...that Charlemayn lacked the wisdom to protect them and that his power will be broken. Roland, enraged, thrusts his lance through Adelroth, who immediately falls dead from his horse. Roland celebrates... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Roland likewise kills Marsilion’s brother, Falsaron, and Turpin slays Corsablis, a king from Barbary. They deliver... (full context)
Laisses 104–127
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Roland strikes so aggressively with his lance that it soon shatters. He then takes up his... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...the end of the world, not knowing that, in fact, these signs are caused by Roland’s impending death. (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...strike with his men. The whole country fills with the mighty sound of their trumpets. Roland tells Oliver that Ganelon’s treason is plain, and it will be repaid by Charlemayn, but... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Some of the French urge Roland, Oliver, and the Peers to flee for their lives, but Archbishop Turpin tells them to... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...and murdered a patriarch. He strikes down France’s Duke Samson, grieving the Franks and spurring Roland to kill both Valdabron and his horse with Durendal. The French suffer further setbacks with... (full context)
Laisses 128–137
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
At this point, only 60 French knights remain alive. Seeing this, Roland grieves and wonders why Charlemayn hasn’t come to help them. He decides to sound his... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
When Roland asks why Oliver is angry, Oliver says that the current predicament is all Roland’s fault—he’s... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
...sounding the horn won’t save them now, it’s still better to call for help. So Roland blasts the Olifant, its sound echoing through the mountains. He blows so hard, in fact,... (full context)
Laisses 138–167
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Back at the battle, Roland sorrowfully surveys the fallen Franks and grieves the deaths of so many faithful knights, as... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...all the more fiercely. Marsile himself rides into the fray and slays several French knights. Roland, irate, warns Marsile that he will soon become acquainted with his sword. Accordingly, he slices... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...that he’s about to die, Oliver promptly chops off Marganice’s head and then calls to Roland for help. Oliver keeps calling “Mountjoy!” and killing Saracens. When Roland sees his gray-faced, bleeding... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
When Roland recovers, he sees that all the French, except for Archbishop Turpin and Walter Hum, have... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Roland fights on, but he’s fading quickly. With his remaining strength he blows the Olifant again.... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
The pagans make a last assault on Roland, whose armor is shredded and whose horse Veillantif is killed, yet whose body remains unharmed.... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
After Roland finds Oliver’s body, he weeps tenderly and swoons once more. Turpin picks up Roland’s olifant... (full context)
Laisses 168–186
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Roland’s brains are running out of his ears, and he knows he’ll be dead soon. Taking... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Roland’s sight is beginning to dim. With his remaining strength, he gets up and begins striking... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Again and again Roland strikes Durendal against a stone, but to no avail. At last he mourns over the... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Feeling death’s approach, Roland lies face-down under a pine, with Durendal and the Olifant underneath him. He turns his... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
As Roland’s soul goes to heaven, Charlemayn reaches Roncevaux, making his way through heaps of French and... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...pierced Christ on the cross. Charlemayn weeps until he falls asleep, thinking of the fallen Roland, Oliver, and Twelve Peers. (full context)
Laisses 203–226
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...to Roncevaux to see the aftermath of yesterday’s battle. Tearfully, Charlemayn requests time alone with Roland’s remains. He recalls Roland saying recently that he would end up dying in foreign lands,... (full context)
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...When he revives, four barons hold him upright. He continues to grieve for having sent Roland to Spain to die, and mourns that no friend or kinsman could “keep [his] honor... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Charlemayn continues his lament. He predicts that without Roland, many hostile peoples will rise up against him. France is now desolate, and Charlemayn wishes... (full context)
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...their shining mail and holding splendid weapons, he says that such men will worthily avenge Roland. He appoints two knights named Rabel and Guinemant in place of Roland and Oliver. (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
...whale and spared Daniel from the lions’ den. He prays that if it’s God’s will, Roland will be avenged by the end of this day. Then he leaps back into the... (full context)
Laisses 227–240
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...and sage.” His son, Malpramis, is also a praiseworthy knight. Baligant assures Malpramis that without Roland, Charlemayn’s army lacks the strength to beat back the pagan onslaught. Nevertheless, the French are... (full context)
Laisses 265–291
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
...leave the Olifant on a saint’s altar, as a relic for pilgrims. The bodies of Roland, Oliver, and Archbishop Turpin are laid to rest in St. Romayne’s at Blaye. Charlemayn continues... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...hall, he is greeted by the fair Aude. She asks Charlemayn what has become of Roland, who promised to marry her. Charlemayn weeps as he informs Aude that Roland is dead.... (full context)
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
...St. Sylvester. Charlemayn explains Ganelon’s betrayal to the assembled men. Ganelon defends himself, claiming that Roland “had wronged me in wealth and in estate,” and that he’s therefore not guilty of... (full context)
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
...strangely noble. He continues to insist that he has served the Emperor faithfully and that Roland plotted his death. Ganelon may have taken vengeance, but it was not treasonous, he claims.... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
...Ganelon go free, as long as he serves Charlemayn faithfully from now on. After all, Roland can never be brought back. And who wants to fight Pinabel? Everyone agrees except for... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
As Charlemayn broods over the judges’ cowardice, Thierry speaks up. He argues that even if Roland did treat Ganelon badly, betraying Roland was still an act of treachery, and Ganelon acted... (full context)