This week in class, I read Song of Roland, which is an epic poem that was written during the early 11th century. The poem is a dramatized version of the Christian Crusade against the Muslims. In the story, there are two army generals named Oliver and Roland. They are written to be opposites of each other. Roland is described as valiant while Oliver is wise. In this essay, I am going to compare both of the men’s military goals.
In the poem, Charlemagne agrees to go into negotiations with the Muslim king. But sends a man named Ganelon to the meeting on his behalf. However, Ganelon betrays the Franks and makes a deal with the Muslims. He agrees to help the Muslim king, Marsilie, kill Roland and decides that it would be easier to assassinate him if he is placed at the very end of Charlemagne’s army.
When Ganelon returns from the meeting, he requests that Roland be placed at the end of the procession, and he agrees. Roland travels at the end of the army with Oliver and twelve knights.
While they are marching, Oliver sees the Muslim army, which is made up of 400,000 men. They are very obviously outnumbered with only the 20,000 men in the rearguard and the rest of Charlemagne’s army too far ahead of them.
Oliver alerts Roland and urges him to blow the horn, signaling to the armies ahead that they need help. Roland, however, refuses to call for help. In his mind, asking for assistance would be shameful and cowardly.
This mistake, as you can guess, leads to the death of all 20,000 men in the rearguard. Including Oliver.
As you can see, Roland and Oliver have very different views of what to do during a battle. Oliver wants to get everyone out alive, no matter what. Roland is the exact opposite. I have no doubt that Roland did not intentionally doom his fellow men, but he did not think of getting everyone out alive. His thoughts are on his reputation and his pride.
Thanks for reading!