The Song of Roland

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Anonymous

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King Marsilion Character Analysis

Marsilion, the king of pagan/“Paynim” (Saracen) Spain, is also called “Marsile” throughout the poem. He reigns at Saragossa with his wife, Queen Bramimond. He is a rash, hot-tempered king. Instead of submitting to Frankish Christian rule, he is persuaded by Ganelon and his trusted advisor, Blancandrin, to ambush the rear-guard of Charlemayn’s retreating army. Roland chops off Marsilion’s arm at Roncevaux Pass, taking him out of the fight. Marsilion then grants Baligant all of Spain in exchange for the emir’s revenge on Charlemayn. After Marsilion learns of Baligant’s death, he dies of grief.

King Marsilion Quotes in The Song of Roland

The The Song of Roland quotes below are all either spoken by King Marsilion or refer to King Marsilion. 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:
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King Marsilion Character Timeline in The Song of Roland

The timeline below shows where the character King Marsilion 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
...conquered the whole country, except for the mountain city of Saragossa, which is held by Marsilion, who serves “Mahound” and prays to “Apollyon.” Marsilion will not escape the coming ruin. (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
In Saragossa, Marsilion lies on a marble dais in a shady orchard; 20,000 vassals surround him. Marsilion tells... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
At this, King Marsile ends the discussion and sends Blancandrin, along with several other barons, to approach Charlemayn at... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
...who play chess or engage in sport while Charlemayn looks on from his throne. When Marsilion’s messengers arrive, they instantly recognize Charlemayn because of his white hair and noble, austere presence.... (full context)
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...for advice, he doesn’t speak for a long time. Finally, he tells the messengers that Marsilion is still his enemy. Blancandrin promises hostages, including his own son, and adds that Marsilion... (full context)
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
...a pine tree. Charlemayn explains the envoys’ offer and adds that he isn’t sure of Marsile’s true purpose. The French agree that it’s best to stay on their guard—everyone except for... (full context)
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Roland tells Charlemayn he should never trust Marsilion. He reminds Charlemayn of a past treacherous deed: Marsile sent 15 men to sue for... (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 barons concur.... (full context)
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
...to find a way to kill Roland. When they arrive in Saragossa, they find King Marsilion sitting on a throne under a pine, with 20,000 Saracens surrounding him, waiting for news. (full context)
Laisses 32–52
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
Blancandrin leads Ganelon before King Marsilion and greets the king in the name of “Mahound” and “Apollyon.” He reports the outcome... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
Ganelon, seeing Marsilion’s anger, grasps his sword, but “the wiser Paynims” persuade their king to sit down and... (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... (full context)
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
Marsilion proposes going into battle against Charlemayn. Ganelon replies that the losses would be too great—he... (full context)
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
Ganelon explains that Marsilion must send 100,000 of his army to engage Charlemayn’s rear-guard at the Roncevaux Pass through... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
Marsilion commands that a “volume […] / Of Termagant’s and of Mahomet’s law” be brought, and... (full context)
Laisses 53–78
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
...hands him the keys to Saragossa and presents the treasure and hostages. He claims that Marsile’s uncle, the caliph, refused to accept Christianity and abandoned Marsile, then was drowned in a... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Meanwhile, in Saragossa, King Marsilion has gathered his barons—400,000 of them. “Mahound, their idol” is raised on a tower, and... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...knightly he’d appear.” Another, Turgis, holds “a right ill will to Christian men” and tells Marsile, “Mahound’s worth more than St. Peter the Roman.” Each of these men, and others, vow... (full context)
Laisses 79–103
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Adelroth, Marsile’s nephew, is at the forefront of the pagan army, just as he hoped. He taunts... (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 mocking insults over... (full context)
Laisses 104–127
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
As the weeping French search the field for their dead, Marsile rides through the gorge, preparing to strike with his men. The whole country fills with... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
A pagan named Valdabron, Marsilion’s godfather, had captured Jerusalem, sacked Solomon’s Temple, and murdered a patriarch. He strikes down France’s... (full context)
Laisses 138–167
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
...that no prisoners will be taken, and the battle is waged all the more fiercely. Marsile himself rides into the fray and slays several French knights. Roland, irate, warns Marsile that... (full context)
Laisses 187–202
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
In Saragossa, the maimed Marsilion gets off his horse and swoons. His wife, Queen Bramimond, laments his state. Marsilion’s followers... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
When Charlemayn first occupied Spain seven years ago, Marsile sent letters to Baligant of Babylon, an ancient emir, requesting his aid against the French,... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Clarifant and Clarien ride into Saragossa. Outside Marsilion’s palace they find people mourning the loss of their gods and the impending death of... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Marsile speaks up and says that he will give Spain to Baligant—as he has no living... (full context)
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
When Baligant enters, Marsile has two aides help him sit upright, and he offers his glove to Baligant to... (full context)
Laisses 241–264
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
...sees the armies approaching and cries to Mahound for help, knowing the Emir has fallen. Marsilion immediately dies from grief. (full context)