The Song of Roland



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Themes and Colors
Christianity vs. Paganism Theme Icon
The Ideal King Theme Icon
Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry Theme Icon
Treachery vs. Chivalry Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Song of Roland, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Christianity vs. Paganism

The Song of Roland is a heavily fictionalized poetic account of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, a conflict between French and Spanish forces at Roncevaux, France in 778. As such, one of the poem’s most noticeable characteristics is the stark distinction between Christian and “pagan” (archaically, “paynim” in Sayers’s translation). To grasp the anonymous poet’s outlook, it is vital to understand that, at the time The Song of Roland was written (in the late 1000s…

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The Ideal King

Although Charlemayn’s nephew Count Roland is the hero of the epic poem, Charlemayn (King of the Franks and later Roman Emperor) is by far its overshadowing figure. The Emperor Charlemayn alone can finally win the Battle of Roncevaux Pass against Spain, and after Roland’s heroic fighting and eventual death, Charlemayn moves into the center of the action as a grief-stricken, yet unfailingly composed, holy, and finally triumphant king, bringing the poem’s action to a…

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Loyalty, Honor, and Chivalry

Though Charlemayn’s nephew Roland is the unambiguous hero of The Song of Roland, Roland is not a one-dimensional character—unlike Charlemayn, he is flawed. For example, Roland is characterized as hotheaded from the beginning. When, early in the poem, Charlemayn and the French are cautious about the intentions of King Marsile (who has recently killed some Frenchmen and now makes peaceful overtures to Charlemayn), Roland “fiercely disagrees” and jumps to his feet, declaring that…

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Treachery vs. Chivalry

The Song of Roland opens with treachery, as Spain’s King Marsile debates with his barons about entrapping Charlemayn by pretending to convert to Christianity and outwardly submitting to the Emperor’s rule (“They’ll trap [Charlemayn] somehow, for it is fated so”). But Marsile and his Muslim subjects are regarded as treacherous by virtue of their pagan status as non-Christians; their plot is not the key betrayal of the story. Of greater interest to the poet is…

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