The Song of Roland

by

Anonymous

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The Song of Roland: Laisses 203–226 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At dawn, Charlemayn wakes up and is blessed by the angel Gabriel. Then he and his men ride 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, with his face turned toward the enemy. When he approaches the mound with the trees and marble stones, he sees Roland lying there in that very position and runs to embrace him, swooning with grief.
The angel’s blessing reaffirms Charlemayn’s holiness as a king. Charlemayn’s determination to grieve Roland demonstrates his fatherly affection and his own faithfulness to the chivalrous bond between lord and vassal.
Themes
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
When Naimon and others raise Charlemayn from his swoon, he softly laments, saying that “my glory is sinking to its end,” and helplessly swoons once more. 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 bright” the way Roland did. As he tears his hair out, a hundred thousand French sigh with sorrow.
Even Charlemayn—that greatest of kings—feels that his glory is tarnished by the loss of Roland. His lament illustrates both Roland’s greatness as a knight and Charlemayn’s own capacity for passionate grief. He leads the French people in grieving Roland, showing that such emotion befits a king and is noble in its own right.
Themes
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Charlemayn continues his lament. He predicts that without Roland, many hostile peoples will rise up against him. France is now desolate, and Charlemayn wishes that he, too, had perished in the battle. As Charlemayn tears at his beard, all the French swoon as one. Finally, Geoffrey d'Anjou speaks up, suggesting that all the fallen Franks be buried. Once this is done, all the bishops, monks, and priests among the crowd conduct a funeral service. Only Roland, Turpin, and Oliver are not buried here; Charlemayn oversees the washing and wrapping of their bodies to be carried home to France.
As the Paynims predicted early in the story, Charlemayn is devastated by this loss, seemingly having lost the appetite for further war. What they seem not to have bargained upon was the power of the chivalrous bond—Charlemayn’s loyal men are there to support him in his incapacity. The Christian burial of the slain also begins the process of strengthening him anew.
Themes
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Just before Charlemayn can set off for home, the pagan vanguard approaches. The envoys ride ahead to give Charlemayn the Emir Baligant’s challenge. Charlemayn thinks only momentarily of his grief before loudly calling the French to arms. He is the first to get into his armor, grasp Joyeuse, and jump on his horse, Tencendur. He calls upon God and St. Peter for aid. When he sees the French arrayed in 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.
The Paynims also underestimated Charlemayn’s resilience. He doesn’t hesitate a moment to answer Baligant’s challenge and is even the first to prepare for fresh combat, showing that he’s indeed the most untiring of kings. To a certain extent, even Roland and Oliver are replaceable—like them, any good knight can and should aspire to fight faithfully beside his brothers.
Themes
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
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Duke Naimon and Count Jozeran marshal the remaining French. The columns of warriors are not just Franks: there are “stout Bavarian men,” led by Ogier the Dane; Germans, Normans, men of Brittany; lord of Auvergne and Poitou; Flemings and Frisians; men of Lorraine and Burgundians; and lords of France, with whom rides Charlemayn. There are 10 columns in total.
The detailed list of nationalities marshaled under Charlemayn is intentional—besides showing the wide range of support which the emperor commands, it sets up the coming battle as a clash of civilizations.
Themes
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Emperor Charlemayn gets off his horse and prays. He asks God to defend his cause today, just as He saved Jonah from the 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 saddle, looking noble and confident. As the French prepare to ride forth, the Olifant can be heard among the trumpets; this brings the French to tears.
Charlemayn’s prayer implicitly categorizes him among the biblical figures he names, showing his special relationship to God (and, in turn, France’s favored status before God).
Themes
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon