The Song of Roland

by

Anonymous

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The Song of Roland: Laisses 227–240 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
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 Baligant and report Charlemayn’s stubbornness and his men’s determination to fight. Baligant admits that the Emperor is brave, and he readies his own men to fight.
The French army’s imitation makes them appear like an army of Charlemayns riding forth to confront the pagans. Charlemayn commands even the pagan emir’s respect.
Themes
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Baligant, too, dresses himself 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 Christian, God! what a warrior!”). He rides off, vaulting a dyke, and drawing applause from the admiring Paynims—they’re sure Charlemayn will regret choosing to fight.
Baligant’s dress, special sword, and nimble horsemanship make him, in effect, a Paynim version of Charlemayn, further heightening the tension of the coming showdown. Again, the poet remarks that if only the man were Christian, he’d be a warrior—but without this belief system, he lacks an essential ingredient of chivalry.
Themes
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
The Emir Baligant has a white beard, and besides his bravery in battle, he is “in council a man discreet 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 valiant knights. Malpramis asks for the honor of striking the first blow in battle, and Baligant grants this, along with the gift of portions of his own lands, should he be successful on the field.
Baligant’s parallels to Charlemayn persist—he has a comparable beard and a similar restraint in council, making him different from the less formidable, more reckless Marsilion. Like Marsilion’s nephew Adelroth earlier, Malpramis asks for the favor of proving his valor by facing the enemy first.
Themes
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Baligant’s men make up a formidable army—30 columns made up of men from wide-ranging lands, including Nubia, Armenia, Jericho, and many 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 other lands are also mustered. Some of the columns contain “repulsive scamps,” “giants,” and peoples “who have no love of God.”
Like the list of peoples represented under Charlemayn, this list of pagan lands shows the extent of Baligant’s domain and also anticipates the sense of a clash of civilizations. In contrast to the list of Charlemayn’s peoples, these lands are characterized by exotic and even subhuman figures, portraying the Paynims as strange and unholy in comparison to the French.
Themes
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
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Before them all, Baligant rides with a dragon-standard and “the flag of Termagant and of Mahound.” As the Paynims 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 for himself and sends the rest of his lords ahead.
Baligant’s Paynim identity as well as the Christians’ hostility to it, is reinforced just before the battle. Baligant’s prudence again suggests that he’ll be a more formidable foe that his more reckless predecessor, Marsile.
Themes
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The French and Paynim armies now face one another in open country, with nowhere to hide. Baligant orders his men forward, and they all call upon Précieuse. In response, the French cry, “Mountjoy!” and the Olifant sounds. On the plain, the armor and jewels of both armies glitter brightly. Baligant predicts a battle of unprecedented ferocity, but as he rides out before his men, his only speech is, “Paynims, come on! I’m off to fight the foe.”
The clash between Christian and pagan is imminent. Both armies have their valiant leader and their war cry—even though they’re opposing civilizations, they’re also portrayed as similar bodies, expressing familiar loyalties to each other. A degree of chivalry is recognizable among both sides.
Themes
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Seeing the approaching pagans, Charlemayn speaks encouragingly to his men, saying that the Paynims are “a craven folk and mean” whose “false gods” won’t help them. The French shouldn’t be discouraged by their vast numbers, Charlemayn goes on. His horse, Tencendur, gives four leaps, delighting and spurring on the men. The French charge.
Charlemayn ultimately sees the Paynims as beatable because they are Paynims. Given that Charlemayn is portrayed as wise and noble throughout the poem, his attitude toward Paynims seems to reflect the poet’s own view that non-Christians are inherently inferior, regardless of how equal the two groups are on other fronts.
Themes
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon