For the past couple of weeks, I have been reading Song of Roland. It is an epic poem about the battles between Charlemagne, the Frankish king, and the Islamic troops in the Battle of Tours (732 AD). Throughout the story, there are several discrepancies that make events in the story seem so fantastical that I am completely convinced it is not even a little bit close to the actual event. As a reader in the 21st century, and a student of Gary North’s English class, these inconsistencies seem to be disturbingly obvious. But would they be obvious to readers of the typical listener from 11th century?
There are several mistakes throughout the poem that, as an author, irks me.
For example, in the beginning of the story, it is said that Charlemagne’s army outnumbers the Muslims. So much so, that the Muslims were described as being on the ‘brink of defeat.’ However, in a later part of the poem, the story of Roland and Oliver is told. What puzzles me in this instance, is if why the Muslims chose to wait so long to reveal their 400,000 men. Where did this number come from? Did they always exist, or is it only a detail to make the poem more ‘epic’?
Another example, also during the story of Roland and Oliver, is towards the end of the battle, only two men remain: Roland and Archbishop Turpin. It is said that the archbishop was shot in the heart four times, but still managed to kill 400 Muslims before dying. I may not be a doctor, but I have enough common sense to know that that is not humanly possible.
I only listed two examples, but there are many more in the poem where people who were described as dead suddenly came back alive (with no explanation) and exaggerated numbers describing the armies with no hint of where all these men came from.
To answer the question I asked above: judging by how popular this poem was, I would say that people either ignored the mistakes or simply did not notice them. I can see the appeal and wonder of the story for those who lived during the 11th century, but as a viewer from the 21st century who is an avid reader of books with consistency, this was not an easy read.
Thanks for reading!