The Song of Roland

by

Anonymous

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The Song of Roland: Laisses 128–137 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
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 Olifant, summoning Charlemayn and his troops to turn around. Oliver, however, discourages him, saying it would be cowardly to do this now, especially after Roland initially refused out of pride. In fact, if Roland blows the horn, Oliver warns, he will never marry Oliver’s sister, Aude.
Even Roland recognizes that there’s little hope left for the Franks. Oliver’s reasoning for opposing Roland’s sounding of the Olifant isn’t clear, but he apparently regards it an unchivalrous disgrace to call for help at this point, when the battle is nearly lost.
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When Roland asks why Oliver is angry, Oliver says that the current predicament is all Roland’s fault—he’s been reckless and foolhardy instead of wise and prudent, destroying French forces 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 their friendship, too, is at an end.
Though he is wiser than his friend, Oliver, too, can hold a grudge. He blames Roland for doing the most unchivalrous thing of all—endangering his own men through pride and foolishness.
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Related Quotes
Overhearing their quarrel, Archbishop Turpin intervenes, urging the men to set their differences aside—while it’s true that 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, 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 that Charlemayn is growing old, and anyway, he knows that Roland is prideful and probably just showing off for the other knights.
Always focused on the bigger picture, Turpin intervenes with a pragmatic suggestion. Roland’s fervency in blowing the Olifant effectively hinders him for the rest of the battle, perhaps a note of poetic justice. At the same time, Ganelon’s true character comes through as he lies to and insults Charlemayn.
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Related Quotes
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 gird themselves and gallop back through the mountain passes to help. But, the poet notes, “What use is that? They have delayed too long.”
The wise Naimon advises Charlemayn aptly, and they finally turn back—but the poet tells his audience that it’s no use. Again, his technique is not focused on events being a surprise (since his audience probably knows the historical outcome, anyway), but on playing up the drama in the events unfolding.
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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 does so, and 100 “kitchen knaves” beat Ganelon and chain him on a pack-horse’s back until it’s time for Charlemayn to deal with him.
The fact that Ganelon is left to the cooks’ supervision could perhaps suggest that nobody else is left to deal with him, but it might also be a way of implying how useless the traitor is, since people with relatively low social status and power are left in charge of him.
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