|The Story of Roland|
|by James Baldwin|
|Here are related the daring feats and great exploits of Roland, worthiest of the barons of France in the time of Charlemagne, and those of Oliver and Reinold and Ogier the Dane, all heroes who were his companions in arms and who rivalled him in the number and greatness of their exploits. The story is culled from the works of song-writers and poets of five centuries and in as many languages. Ages 11-14 |
NOTE 1. Page 8.
 "THEN they saw Karl himself, the Iron King, crested with an
iron helmet, his arms protected with iron bracelets, an iron
hauberk sheltering his iron chest and his huge shoulders,
in his left
hand a lance of iron lifted upright, for his right hand was always
stretched toward his unconquered sword. His knees even, which
are generally left bare of mail, were covered with plates of iron.
What shall I say of his leggings, which, with the whole army, were
wont to be of iron? In his shield there was naught but iron; and
even his horse, in color and spirit, was of iron. All those who
went before him, all who marched by his side, all who followed
him, imitated his costume as far as possible. Iron filled the fields
and the streets; the sun's rays fell upon naught but iron: so that
the people of Pavia, more glacé by terror
than by the iron itself,
fell down before the glacé iron.
'O iron! Alas, iron!' such was
the confused clamor which filled the city.
Otker saw all these
wonders at a glance, and said to Desier, 'Behold that which thou
hast so much wished to see!' And he fell
down almost lifeless."—From Des Gestes de Charlemagne,
written by a monk of St. Gall,
about the end of the ninth century. Quoted by J. J. Ampère, in
his Historie Littéraire de la France avant le xiiime
NOTE 2. Page 30.
THE legend of Milon and the Princess Bertha and of the boyhood
of Roland is probably of Italian origin. It is related in a
 very old collection of romances, entitled
Reali di Francia, and in a
little poem of the sixteenth century, called
Innamoramento di Milone d Anglante.
It is the subject, also, of two Spanish romances
of the sixteenth century. Another story of Roland's parentage
and boyhood, very different in all its essentials, is given in an
old French metrical romance of Charlemagne, written by Girard
d'Amiens. The scene between Roland and Charlemagne at the
banquet table, as related in this chapter, is adapted from a poem
by Uhland, In Karl Simrock's Kerlingisches Heldenbuch.
NOTE 3. Page 32.
THE story of Charlemagne's entry into Rome is probably
authentic. It is given here nearly as related by Eginhard, in his
Vita Caroli Magni.—See
GUIZOT'S History of France, i. 222, and
JAMES'S History of Charlemagne, 150.
NOTE 4. Page 41.
CHARLEMAGNE'S wars with the Saxons are subjects of history
rather than of legend. I have given this brief account of one of
his campaigns across the Rhine, in order to acquaint you with one
of the most romantic episodes in the real history of the great
emperor. "We cannot be surprised." says Ludlow, "that French
legend should have fastened upon the personage of Charlemagne.
It is difficult to read without wonder the bare enumeration of his
achievements,—how by him or by his lieutenants, the Frankish
sway was carried to the Weser, the Elbe, and the Oder, the Danube.
the Adige, the Po, and the Ebro; how the Irminsul was throws
down in German forests; how the Pope crowned him, and the Emirs
of Spain became his vassals, and the distant Khalifs assured him
of their friendship."
The idol Irminsul was probably a statue, raised, originally in
honor of Arminius, near the spot where he defeated the Roman
legions under Germanicus, in A.D. 15. It was long regarded by
 the Germans with religious veneration. "The Temple of Irminsul
was spacious, elaborate, and magnificent. The image was raised
upon a marble column. . . .
Its right hand held a banner, in which
a red rose was conspicuous: its left presented a balance. The
crest of its helmet was a cock. On its breast
was engraven a bear;
and the shield depending from its shoulders exhibited a lion in a
field full of flowers."—SHARON TURNER'S History of the Anglo-Saxons, i. 224.
NOTE 5. Page 46.
THE story of the Knight of the Swan was a very popular legend,
and was related with many variations of incident, time, and place.
Its hero is designated variously as Lohengrin, Elias Grail, Gerard
Swan, Helias, and Salvius Brabo. Of all these versions, that of
Lohengrin is by far the most beautiful.—See
Curious Myths of the Middle Ages.
NOTE 6. Page 57.
IT is worthy of note, that the children of Charlemagne mentioned
in the legends are quite different in name and character
from those known in history. In the legends we read of Charlot,
Louis, Lothaire, Gobart, Belissent, and Emma: in history we have
recorded the names of Pepin, Charles, Rotruda, Adelais, Bertha
Carloman, Louis, Gisla, Hildegarde, Theoderada, Hiltruda, and
Rothaida. Only one, Louis, belongs to both legend and history.
The names of the twelve peers vary constantly in the different
romances. In the Chanson de Roland, they are Roland, Oliver,
Gerin, Gerer, Josse, Berenger, Jastor, Anseis, Gerard, Gaifer, and
Turpin. In Fierabras, they are Roland, Oliver, Thierry, Geoffrey
or Godfrey, Namon, Ogier, Richard, Berard, Gillimer, Aubri, Basin,
and Guy of Bourgogne.
NOTE 7. Page 80.
OGIER the Dane was probably a real historical personage, yet
we know almost nothing of the true story of his life and exploits.
 He is mentioned by the Monk of St. Gall under the name of Otker;
and the author of the so called Chronicle of Turpin,
after alluding to his heroism in the wars of Charlemagne, says,
"Even unto this day, men sing of the warrior who accomplished so
There are but few of the French romances in which the name of
Ogier does not occur. His earlier life is the subject of a very old
poem, entitled Les Enfances d'Ogier, the date of whose
composition is unknown. The story of his exploits in Italy,
and of his later
difficulties with Charlemagne, as related in the present volume,
has been derived mainly from a long poem written by one Raimbert,
a minstrel of the twelfth century.—See
Histoire Poétique de Charlemagne, p. 307.
The later poets, in dealing with
romances of Ogier, have added many fanciful and extravagant
details not found in the earlier versions.
NOTE 8. Page 103.
I HAVE introduced this episode in order to acquaint you with
another French epic, The Song of the Lorrainers (Le Roman des
Loherains). The story of Bego, a part of which is given here,
forms the third and Brest division of the great poem, and was
written by Jehan de Flagy, a minstrel of the twelfth century.
"Les Loherains is in spirit rather a Teutonic than a French epic
It was written, doubtless, by Germans who had adopted the French
nationality, and who could not forget that their ancestors had
conquered the country which was their home. . . .
It is an epic of
feudal society, and as such deserves particular attention, as
illustrating in a remarkable manner the institutions and
customs of feudalism."—HENRI VAN LAUN,
History of French Literature, i. 149.
NOTE 9. Page 132.
THIS story is mainly derived from a poem, entitled Girart de
Viane, written by Bertrand de Bar-sur-Aube in the thirteenth
century. In the original version, the reconciliation of Roland and
 Oliver is effected by a cloud settling down between them, and an
angel bidding them cease their fighting. Victor Hugo has given a
modern and most beautiful version of this story in his
Légende des Siècles.
NOTE 10. Page 146.
THE tradition relating the flight of the four brothers on the back
of Bayard is the origin of "the famous signboard, which may be
met with half over Europe, but is especially common in France, of
the four sons of Aymon astride on a long-backed
charger."—LUDLOW, Popular Epics of the Middle Ages.
NOTE 11. Page 174.
NEXT to the romantic legends of Roland and Ogier the Dane,
none are more popular, or more widely known, than those of
Reinold. In France there have been several versions of these legends;
the best being contained in a long poem, entitled Les Quatre Fils
d'Aymon, a modern edition of which was published at Reims, in
1861. In Germany the story of Reinold and his brothers is related
in a manuscript romance of the thirteenth century, and appears in
a modernized form in Die Haimonskinder, a poem published at
Leipzig in 1830. In Spain these legends were embodied, in the
sixteenth century, in a romance called Espejo de Caballerias (The
Mirror of Chivalry). From this last-named version, Lope de Vega
derived the materials for his play of Pobreza de Reynaldos. In
Don Quixote there is a humorous reference to our
hero as "Reinaldos de Montalvan." "There is
every reason to believe," says
Ludlow, "that to this world-renowned legend we owe the scenery
of one of Shakspeare's most charming masterpieces; and that
Jaques nor Touchstone would ever have moralized in Arden, had
not the story of the Sons of Aymon trade of its forest another
'Broceliande' of legendary lore."
NOTE 12. Page 191.
 FOR the story of Roland's adventures in connection with the
Princess of Cathay, and of his exploits in the Far East and in
Fairyland, we are indebted chiefly to the works of the Italian poets
of the fifteenth century, and more especially to the
Orlando Innamorato of Boiardo. In order to harmonize the different parts
of my story, and to adapt it to my audience, I have found it
necessary, in this chapter and those which follow, to deviate frequently
from the original versions, while endeavoring to preserve the
essential parts of the narrative unchanged.
NOTE 13. Page 235.
THE name "Fata Morgana" is applied to an optical illusion, or
mirage, frequently seen in the Strait of Messina. "Objects on the
Sicilian shore are refracted and reflected upon the water in
mid-channel, presenting enlarged and duplicated images. Gigantic
figures of men and horses move over the picture, as similar images
in miniature are seen flitting across the white sheet of the
camera-obscura. The wonderful exhibition is of short duration."
The most prominent figures in ancient and modern Italian
the Fate, fairy beings ruled by Demogorgon, and whose home is
in the Himalaya Mountains. One of these, called Fata Morgana,
is the personification of Fortune. In the romances of King Arthur
she is called Morgan le Fay.
NOTE 14. Page 254.
THE narrative of Roland's adventure with the orc is given in
Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. It is, of course,
an imitation of the
old story of Perseus and Andromeda; and it illustrates the manner
in which the great Italian poets mingled classical and Gothic
fictions, and formed from them "a magnificent and fanciful
arabesque," in which the natural and the beautiful are found side by
side with the grotesque and the extravagant.
NOTE 15. Page 318.
THE adventures of Roland with Sir Ferumbras, Sir Otuel, and
the Giant Ferragus, are related in certain English poems of the
fourteenth century, an analysis of which is given in Ellis's Early
English Metrical Romances. These romances were doubtless all
derived originally from older French versions. They are not very
interesting reading; and I have not thought it necessary to do more
than merely mention the exploits which they relate.
NOTE 16. Page 348.
THE description of the land of Prester John is found in a curious
letter claiming to have been written by Prester John himself to
Manuel Commenus, Emperor of Constantinople about the year
1165. Similar letters were sent to other European monarchs, and
were turned into rhyme and sung all over Europe by minstrels
BARING-GOULD'S Curious Myths of the Middle Ages.
NOTE 17. Page 363.
IN this chapter I have ventured to give a somewhat literal
rendering of one of Uhland's beautiful and characteristic poems. See
Simrock's Kerlingisches Heldenbuch. "This poem,"
Paris, "is admirable for its naïveté
of expression, and for its vivid
rendering of the ancient poetical ideas concerning Charlemagne."
NOTE 18. Page 376.
"THE origin of this tale seems to lie in a legend of the siege
of Aquileia by Attila, quoted by M. Amédée
Thierry, in his Histoire d Attila,
according to which the inhabitants of that town covered
their escape to the lagoons by leaving their walls manned with
statues in full armor in guise of sentinels."—See
LUDLOW'S Popular Epics of the Middle Ages.
NOTE 19. Page 394.
 THE Karlamagnus Saga relates, that, upon the occasion of the
birth of his son Louis, Charlemagne made a vow to visit the holy
sepulchre at Jerusalem. He afterward performed the pilgrimage
and returned by way of Constantinople, where he assisted the king
of the Greeks is defending his country against the Saracens. The
Greek monarch, in the excess of his gratitude, offered to become
the vassal of Charlemagne; but the great king would accept only
of a few relics by way of recompense for his services. Among
these relics was the point of the spear which had pierced the side
of the Saviour; and this he had made into a sword-blade, which
he called Joyeuse. Hence, from that day, the battle cry of those
who followed his standard was, "Monjoie! Monjoie!"
NOTE 20. Page 400.
THE description of the battle of Roncevaux, which composes a
part of the Chanson de Roland, is,
without doubt, the finest of all
the legends which cluster around the name of Charlemagme. The
original poem—doubtless the song which
Taillefer sang at the
battle of Hastings—is said to have been written, probably in
the tenth century, by a minstrel named Turold. The story of this
battle is also related, with many changes of incident, in the
so-called Chronicle of Turpin. Eginhard, the only historian of that
period whose account can be considered authentic, says, that, in
the year 778, the rearguard of the French army was attacked by
the Basques while in the upper passes of the Pyrenees. "There
took place a fight, in which the French were killed to a
man. . . .
And Roland, prefect of the marches of Brittany, fell in this
engagement." Says M. Guizot, "The disaster of Roncevaux,
heroism of the warriors who perished there, became,
in France, the
object of popular sympathy, and
the favorite topic for the exercise
of the popular fancy. The Song of Roland,
a real Homeric poem
in its great beauty, and yet rude and simple as became its national
 character, bears witness to the prolonged
importance attained in
Europe by this incident in the history of Charlemagne."
NOTE 21. Page 402.
Translation, by Sir EDMUND HEAD, of
a poem in the Libro di Romances, a collection of Spanish
ballads first published in 1550.
"In Paris, Lady Alda sits, Sir Roland's destined bride,
With her three hundred maidens to tend her at her side:
Alike their robes and sandals all, and the braid that binds their hair;
And alike the meal in their lady's hall the whole three hundred share.
Around her, in her chair of state, they all their places hold:
A hundred weave the web of silk, and a hundred spin the gold;
And a hundred touch their gentle lutes to soothe that lady's pain:
And she thinks on him that's far away, with the host of Charlemagne.
Lulled by the sound, she sleeps; but soon she wakens with a scream;
And, as her maidens gather round, she thus recounts her dream:
'I sat upon a desert shore, and from the mountains nigh,
Right toward me, I seemed to see a gentle falcon fly;
But close behind an eagle swooped, and struck that falcon down,
And with talons and beak he rent the bird as he cowered beneath my gown.
The chief of her maidens smiled, and said, 'To me it doth not seem
That the lady Alda reads aright the boding of her dream.
Thou art the falcon, and thy knight is the eagle in his pride
As he comes in triumph from the war, and claims thee as his bride.'
The maidens smiled; but Alda sighed, and gravely shook her head.
'Full rich,' quoth she, 'shall thy guerdon be, if thou the truth hast said.
'Tis morn! her letters, stained with blood, the truth too plainly tell—
How, in the chase of Roncevaux, Sir Roland fought and fell."
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