The Song of Roland

by

Anonymous

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The Song of Roland: Laisses 241–264 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Count Rabel kills a Persian king, prompting the French to say that God is on their side; Guinemanz likewise 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 the strife,” like no war seen before. Soon both sides’ columns are all engaged in the fight, and the field is strewn with shattered armor and sprinkled with blood. To spur his men to fight all the harder against the Christians, Baligant promises them beautiful women and lands.
The battle quickly grows fierce and costly. It’s notable that Baligant seeks to reinforce his men’s loyalty by promising special rewards; the poet suggests that the French don’t need to resort to such tactics, because their loyalty to Charlemayn is from the heart.
Themes
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Emperor Charlemayn speaks to his own men, saying that he loves and trusts them—they’ve conquered so many lands, and he is in their debt. The 20,000 men surrounding Charlemayn readily pledge their faith to him, whatever the cost. When Duke Naimon sees Malpramis wreaking havoc, he makes his way to Baligant’s son and cleaves him through the chest, killing him. Baligant’s brother, Canabeus, sees this and charges over, stunning the Duke with a blow; but Naimon manages to hang onto his horse’s neck, giving Charlemayn time to ride to his rescue and kill the pagan. He grieves to see Naimon gravely injured and gently urges the bleeding man to ride at his side.
Again, Charlemayn displays the humility to voice appreciation and love for his men, showing that the ideal king isn’t arrogant and doesn’t need to distribute gifts in order to command loyalty. Charlemayn’s tenderness is also evident, as he takes the time to comfort and support his wounded friend in the midst of the fray.
Themes
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
The two armies continue to battle fiercely, neither side giving way, and the French sustaining great losses. In the midst of the grim fight, Baligant calls upon his gods—Mahound, Apollyon, and Termagant—and promises to make images of them in gold if they’ll grant him victory. Just then he gets the news that Malpramis and Canabeus are dead, and that Charlemayn is responsible.
The poet’s strange mingling of Islamic, Greek, and fictitious elements again shows his disregard for accuracy about the Paynim religion. In any case, his point seems to be that the enemy’s gods are failing them.
Themes
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The grief-stricken emir asks Jangleu of Outremer for advice—can the Pagans win? Jangleu tells him he’s as good as dead—his gods can’t save him today. But he should fight on, and his men will back him. At this, Baligant lets his beard flow forth freely so that his identity can’t be mistaken. He blows his trumpet, and he and his men charge the French with fresh fervor.
The poet shows Baligant displaying a degree of chivalry himself—even though he’s lost hope that victory is possible, it’s still worth fighting to the bitter end. The Paynim army is a worthy opponent in this sense, and therefore not a total caricature.
Themes
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
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Charlemayn, in response, fights bravely, along with Naimon, Geoffrey d’Anjou, and Ogier the Dane. The latter spurs his horse and sends Baligant crashing to the ground, causing the Emir to feel frightened for the first time. The pagans falter momentarily, then both armies renew the fight. As twilight falls, shouts of “Précieuse!” and “Mountjoy!” are heard everywhere. At last, Charlemayn and Baligant meet in the field and unhorse each other at the same time. However, both are unharmed, and they jump to their feet for the final showdown.
The conflict narrows, with the two main combatants finally encountering each other face to face. So far, they appear to be fairly evenly matched despite the poet’s overwhelmingly unsympathetic portrayal of the Paynims.
Themes
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
Charlemayn and Baligant, equally brave, brandish their swords, sparks flying off their shields and helmets as they fight. “Nothing at all,” the poet remarks, “can ever end their strife / Till one confess he’s wrong, the other right.” Baligant tries to reason with Charlemayn, saying that if only Charlemayn will repent of seizing pagan lands, he can become the Emir’s liege. Charlemayn replies that making peace with a Paynim would be treachery. Rather, Baligant must confess the Christian faith, and then they can be friends. Baligant retorts, “Thy sermon’s but ill preached.”
The poet puts things simply: the battle is a clash between Christian and pagan, and the outcome rests on whomever is “right” from a religious standpoint. There can be no compromise between their respective viewpoints, and neither is willing to yield. This is not an accurate reflection of historical realities, as even Charlemayn allied with neighboring Saracens sometimes—but, dramatically, it works.
Themes
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
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 beneath. Charlemayn reels. At this, however, the angel Gabriel hurries down and asks, “What […] art thou about, great King?” Charlemayn’s strength and confidence are instantly renewed. He drives his blade into Baligant and splits his skull, shouting, “Mountjoy!” Naimon brings Charlemayn’s horse, and the remaining Paynims flee at once; “the French have gained the day.”
The audience would likely have gasped at Baligant striking the first blow and actually injuring Charlemayn. It shows that Charlemayn is human after all—yet the important thing is that he has divine backing, as the angel’s appearance shows. The remaining Paynims don’t stick around to keep fighting; once their lord is lost, they are released from their bonds to him.
Themes
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
As Paynims flee, the French pursue them, avenging their woes and chasing them all the way to Saragossa. From her tower, Queen Bramimonda, surrounded by her Paynim clerics, sees the armies approaching and cries to Mahound for help, knowing the Emir has fallen. Marsilion immediately dies from grief.
The French have won, once and for all. The Paynim gods have been shown to be ineffectual, and their civilization, consequently, stands no chance. This outcome emphasizes the poet’s conviction that other belief systems, and the civilizations that follow them, don’t stand a chance against Christianity.
Themes
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon