The Song of Roland

by

Anonymous

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Emperor Charlemayn / Carlon / Charles Character Analysis

Charlemagne, spelled “Charlemayn” in Sayers’s text, is also frequently called “Carlon” or “Charles” throughout the poem. He is the emperor of the Franks, or French, whose capital is at Aix. Charlemayn is described as having white hair, a silver beard, and an unmistakably noble, austere appearance. Even his pagan enemies fear his tireless valor on the battlefield. Charlemayn is brooding and deliberative, reluctant to act without the advice of his trusted French advisors. He is also portrayed as a semi-divine figure; he is over 200 years old, has prophetic dreams, and is frequently advised by the angel Gabriel. At the same time, he expresses his emotions without restraint, weeping freely over fallen men. As a warrior, a pious Christian, and an emotional figure, Charlemayn is presented as the ideal French king. At the beginning of the poem, Charlemayn has occupied Spain for seven years. When he is approached by envoys from King Marsilion in the pagan city of Saragossa, he sends his brother-in-law, Ganelon, as a messenger accepting terms of peace. Despite forebodings of treachery, Charlemayn leaves a rear-guard, including his beloved nephew, Roland, to guard the Roncevaux Pass while the rest of the Franks retreat homeward. After the rear-guard is slaughtered in an ambush plotted by Marsilion and Ganelon, Charlemayn turns back and pursues the Paynims (pagans) back to Saragossa. Before he can return to France, he faces Baligant in combat and slays him. After this victory, Charlemayn finally takes over Saragossa and converts the region to Christianity. Charlemayn grants Ganelon a trial for his treason, but finally oversees his death sentence. Charlemayn remains untiring in his ongoing call to fight pagans, but the strife of battle is a great source of grief for him.

Emperor Charlemayn / Carlon / Charles Quotes in The Song of Roland

The The Song of Roland quotes below are all either spoken by Emperor Charlemayn / Carlon / Charles or refer to Emperor Charlemayn / Carlon / Charles. 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 1–15 Quotes

Fair was the ev’ning and clearly the sun shone;
The ten white mules Charles sends to stall anon;
In the great orchard he bids men spread aloft
For the ten envoys a tent where they may lodge,
With sergeants twelve to wait on all their wants.
They pass the night there till the bright day draws on.
Early from bed the Emperor now is got;
At mass and matins he makes his orison.
Beneath a pine straightway the King is gone,
And calls his barons to council thereupon;
By French advice whate’er he does is done.

Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
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:

Then to their side comes the Archbishop Turpin,
Riding his horse and up the hillside spurring.
He calls the French and preaches them a sermon:
“Barons, my lords, Charles picked us for this purpose;
We must be ready to die in our King’s service.
Christendom needs you, so help us to preserve it.
Battle you’ll have, of that you may be certain,
Here comes the Paynims—your own eyes have observed them.
Now beat your breasts and ask God for His mercy:
I will absolve you and set your souls in surety.
If you should die, blest martyrdom’s your guerdon;
You’ll sit on high in Paradise eternal.”
The French alight and all kneel down in worship;
God’s shrift and blessing the Archbishop conferreth,
And for their penance he bids them all strike firmly.

Page Number: 95
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

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:
Laisses 265–291 Quotes

Some thousand French search the whole town, to spy
Synagogues out and mosques and heathen shrines.
With heavy hammers and with mallets of iron
They smash the idols, the images they smite,
Make a clean sweep of mummeries and lies,
For Charles fears God and still to serve him strives.
The Bishops next the water sanctify;
Then to the font the Paynim folk they drive.
Should Carlon’s orders by any be defied
The man is hanged or slain or burned with fire.

Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

“Lodged captive here I have a noble dame.
Sermon and story on her heart have prevailed
God to believe and Christendom to take;
Therefore baptize her that her soul may be saved.” […]
Great the assembly about the Baths at Aix;
There they baptize Bramimond, Queen of Spain,
And Juliana they’ve chosen for her name;
Christian is she, informed in the True Way.

Page Number: 202
Explanation and Analysis:
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Emperor Charlemayn / Carlon / Charles Character Timeline in The Song of Roland

The timeline below shows where the character Emperor Charlemayn / Carlon / Charles 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
For seven years, Emperor Charlemayn has been in Spain. He has conquered the whole country, except for the mountain city... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
...surround him. Marsilion tells his vassals that none of his forces are capable of defeating Charlemayn, the Emperor of France, and asks for their advice. Only wise Blancandrin speaks up. He... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
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...King Marsile ends the discussion and sends Blancandrin, along with several other barons, to approach Charlemayn at Cordova, where he is currently laying siege. They should arrive with olive branches in... (full context)
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The Ideal King Theme Icon
At Cordova, Emperor Charlemayn is happy: he has overtaken the city, and all the pagans have been killed or... (full context)
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Because Charlemayn is “not hasty in reply” and prefers to wait for advice, he doesn’t speak for... (full context)
The Ideal King Theme Icon
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Charlemayn, Roland, Oliver, and Ganelon, “that wrought the treachery,” are among those gathered beneath a pine... (full context)
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Roland tells Charlemayn he should never trust Marsilion. He reminds Charlemayn of a past treacherous deed: Marsile sent... (full context)
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Charlemayn strokes his beard in silence. Then Guènes interjects, “full of pride.” He warns Charlemayn not... (full context)
Laisses 16–31
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...the war. The gathered barons concur. Naimon offers to go to Saragossa as envoy, but Charlemayn refuses to spare his wisest vassal. He also declines to send Roland, Oliver, or any... (full context)
The Ideal King Theme Icon
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Ganelon fumes that Roland has spitefully singled him out, but that he will obey Charlemayn’s orders. Charlemayn duly bestows “the glove and wand” upon Ganelon, chiding his anger. But before... (full context)
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Ganelon and Blancandrin chat about Charlemayn and Roland. Ganelon tells a story about Roland, claiming that his stepson returned from battle... (full context)
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...power because he gives gifts of silver, gold, and lands to the Franks and to Charlemayn, assuring their love for him. As Ganelon and Blancandrin journey, they mutually pledge to find... (full context)
Laisses 32–52
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...Marsilion “with great cunning,” telling the king that he must convert to Christianity and become Charlemayn’s vassal, or else face doom in Charlemayn’s court at Aix. At this, Marsilion is so... (full context)
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...wiser Paynims” persuade their king to sit down and listen. Ganelon tells Marsilion that, under Charlemayn, he will share the rule of Spain with Roland, a worthy partner. He hands Marsilion... (full context)
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Marsilion and Ganelon discuss Charlemayn. Marsile wonders when the ancient king—who’s more than 200 years old—will tire of war. Ganelon... (full context)
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Marsilion proposes going into battle against Charlemayn. Ganelon replies that the losses would be too great—he has a better idea. He suggests... (full context)
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Ganelon explains that Marsilion must send 100,000 of his army to engage Charlemayn’s rear-guard at the Roncevaux Pass through the Pyrenees, near the border between France and Spain.... (full context)
Laisses 53–78
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Meanwhile, Emperor Charlemayn waits for Ganelon’s return. After attending Mass, he stands with Roland, Oliver, and many dukes,... (full context)
The Ideal King Theme Icon
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Charlemayn’s army proceeds to the border of France, high in the Pyrenees mountains. As they halt... (full context)
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The next morning, Charlemayn inquires who should compose the rearguard which will hold the mountain passes. Ganelon speaks up,... (full context)
The Ideal King Theme Icon
The rest of the French army passes through grim heights and deep valleys, grieving. Charlemayn especially feels foreboding and weeps over his nephew, Roland, left behind at the pass. When... (full context)
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...his glove as a pledge. He also gathers twelve Champions to join him in opposing Charlemayn’s Twelve Peers. (full context)
Laisses 79–103
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
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...“Paynim hordes” vastly outnumber them, and  he advises Roland to sound his horn so that Charlemayn will hear and help. Roland, however, refuses. (full context)
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...is fierce and Oliver is wise.” Oliver tells Roland that if only he had summoned Charlemayn for help against the onrushing pagans, things would have been all right, but they’re going... (full context)
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...battle, Roland admits that Oliver was right—Ganelon has betrayed them and must be avenged by Charlemayn. Roland rides through the Roncevaux Pass on Veillantif, his swift horse, laughing as he goes... (full context)
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...the forefront of the pagan army, just as he hoped. He taunts the French that Charlemayn lacked the wisdom to protect them and that his power will be broken. Roland, enraged,... (full context)
Laisses 104–127
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...his sword, Hauteclaire. He finally does, though, and Roland praises Oliver with the encouragement that Charlemayn loves such strokes. The Franks continue to shout, “Mountjoy!” (full context)
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...a grievous number of the French lie dead, also. The poet remarks that Ganelon served Charlemayn poorly by betraying him, but that, later, he justly lost his own life, along with... (full context)
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Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...trumpets. Roland tells Oliver that Ganelon’s treason is plain, and it will be repaid by Charlemayn, but for now, they must bravely wield Durendal and Hauteclaire. A notoriously vicious Saracen rides... (full context)
Laisses 128–137
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...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 Olifant, summoning Charlemayn and his... (full context)
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...in the process. If Roland had blown the Olifant when Oliver first suggested it, then Charlemayn would have ridden to their aid, and all would have been well. He says that... (full context)
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...that he bursts the veins in his temples, and blood spurts out of his mouth. Charlemayn, hearing the horn, is immediately concerned. But Ganelon quickly tries to dissuade the emperor, saying... (full context)
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As the Olifant continues to sound, Naimon observes its urgency and warns Charlemayn that there must indeed be a battle—Ganelon’s diversion is traitorous. Charlemayn agrees, and the French... (full context)
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As evening draws on, Charlemayn is wrathful: he orders his cooks to arrest and guard the traitor, Ganelon. The master-cook... (full context)
Laisses 138–167
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...Knowing death is near, Roland shouts encouragement to the remaining French, telling them that when Charlemayn arrives, he should see that the French have fought honorably. (full context)
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...to each other. Oliver gets off his horse, makes his confession, and prays for France, Charlemayn, and Roland. Then he collapses and dies. Roland bids his friend goodbye and again swoons... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...on, but he’s fading quickly. With his remaining strength he blows the Olifant again. When Charlemayn hears the feeble sound, he knows Roland must be dying. His men blow their trumpets... (full context)
Laisses 168–186
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...Durendal against a nearby stone. To his distress, the sword remains intact. He reflects that Charlemayn once owned Durendal, and then had been commanded by an angel to bestow the sword... (full context)
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...him. He turns his heard in the direction of Spain, “for the French and for Charles,” wanting them to say that he “died a conqueror at the last.” He begs for... (full context)
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As Roland’s soul goes to heaven, Charlemayn reaches Roncevaux, making his way through heaps of French and Saracen corpses and calling the... (full context)
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...them back toward Saragossa. Many, weighted down by heavy armor, drown in the River Ebro. Charlemayn gives thanks to God for this victory, and since the sun is now going down,... (full context)
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While Charlemayn sleeps, the archangel Gabriel guards him and grants him a dream—a vision of a battle... (full context)
Laisses 187–202
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...and befoul.” After Marsile is carried to his chamber, Queen Bramimond continues to lament that Charlemayn is so courageous, and that there’s no one left who will face him. (full context)
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When Charlemayn first occupied Spain seven years ago, Marsile sent letters to Baligant of Babylon, an ancient... (full context)
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...someone would slay her. Clarien assures her that Baligant has come to find and conquer Charlemayn, but the queen is skeptical that anyone can make the fearless emperor yield. (full context)
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...give Spain to Baligant—as he has no living heir—and advise him on how to conquer Charlemayn. He gives the envoys the keys to Saragossa and tells them where Charlemayn is camped.... (full context)
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...the glove and leaves the palace, weeping. He shouts to his men to hurry before Charlemayn and his camp have a chance to return to France. (full context)
Laisses 203–226
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At dawn, Charlemayn wakes up and is blessed by the angel Gabriel. Then he and his men ride... (full context)
The Ideal King Theme Icon
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When Naimon and others raise Charlemayn from his swoon, he softly laments, saying that “my glory is sinking to its end,”... (full context)
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Charlemayn continues his lament. He predicts that without Roland, many hostile peoples will rise up against... (full context)
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Just before Charlemayn can set off for home, the pagan vanguard approaches. The envoys ride ahead to give... (full context)
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...Flemings and Frisians; men of Lorraine and Burgundians; and lords of France, with whom rides Charlemayn. There are 10 columns in total. (full context)
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Emperor Charlemayn gets off his horse and prays. He asks God to defend his cause today, just... (full context)
Laisses 227–240
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All the French ride along with their beards flowing freely, in imitation of Charlemayn. They ride through the mountain passes and into the Spanish frontier. Meanwhile, scouts return to... (full context)
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...in armor adorned with costly gems, and he carries his sword, Précieuse—named in imitation of Charlemayn’s Joyeuse—and his spear, Maltet. He mounts his horse, looking fresh and formidable (“Were he but... (full context)
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...others. Baligant takes an oath on the bones of Mahound, swearing that “the great dolt” Charlemayn will lose his crown today. Columns of soldiers from Canaan, Turkey, Persia, Bulgaria, and many... (full context)
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...pray before their gods, the French taunt them that they’ll soon die, and they commit Charlemayn to God’s protection. Baligant, “a prudent man […] and wise,” keeps three reserves of men... (full context)
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Seeing the approaching pagans, Charlemayn speaks encouragingly to his men, saying that the Paynims are “a craven folk and mean”... (full context)
Laisses 241–264
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...fells a Lycian king. Meanwhile, Malpramis piles up corpses as he searches the field for Charlemayn. Seeing this, Baligant urges the first of the Paynims to his aid, and “grievous grows... (full context)
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Emperor Charlemayn speaks to his own men, saying that he loves and trusts them—they’ve conquered so many... (full context)
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...victory. Just then he gets the news that Malpramis and Canabeus are dead, and that Charlemayn is responsible. (full context)
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Charlemayn, in response, fights bravely, along with Naimon, Geoffrey d’Anjou, and Ogier the Dane. The latter... (full context)
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Charlemayn and Baligant, equally brave, brandish their swords, sparks flying off their shields and helmets as... (full context)
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Then, Baligant strikes such a blow that Charlemayn’s helmet splits, and a hand-sized piece of flesh is shorn off; the bone is visible... (full context)
Laisses 265–291
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Charlemayn’s war is over: all the Paynims are dead or have fled. He levels the gates... (full context)
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The next day, Charlemayn places 1,000 knights to guard Saragossa, and his army joyfully heads homeward, taking Bramimond with... (full context)
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When the Emperor enters his 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... (full context)
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Before the palace in Aix, Ganelon is tied to a stake and beaten. Meanwhile, all Charlemayn’s vassals gather for the solemn feast of St. Sylvester. Charlemayn explains Ganelon’s betrayal to the... (full context)
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Standing before Charlemayn, Ganelon looks strangely noble. He continues to insist that he has served the Emperor faithfully... (full context)
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...They decide that it’s best to let Ganelon go free, as long as he serves Charlemayn faithfully from now on. After all, Roland can never be brought back. And who wants... (full context)
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As Charlemayn broods over the judges’ cowardice, Thierry speaks up. He argues that even if Roland did... (full context)
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...prepare for combat, Pinabel and Thierry make confession and attend mass. Then they return to Charlemayn, don their armor, and arm themselves. Knights weep as they watch. On a vast plain... (full context)
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Charlemayn embraces Thierry and wipes the blood from his face. They return to Aix with joy,... (full context)
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Now Charlemayn summons his bishops. He tells them that Bramimond has now been persuaded of the truth... (full context)
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...to his chamber, but no sooner is he in bed than Gabriel comes with a message—Charlemayn is needed to help King Vivien of Elbira, whose city has been besieged by Paynim... (full context)