Chanson de Geste

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The Chanson de Geste (Song of Deeds) is an form of epic poem, written in Old French, concerning the deeds of Charlemagne and his knights. There were approximately 80 Chansons de Geste written from the 12th to 15th centuries. Most early Chansons were recited from memory, and have many characteristics of this - repeating phrases, sterotypical phrases between poems, superfluous reminders of what has happened and what happens next, and rhyming structures which make remembering the next line easier. This form began to be written down in the 12th Century, but had been recited orally for several centuries prior to this. By the late 12th Century, Chanson de geste become more influenced by the written down state and by the popular romance genre, and add more plot between the long descriptions of battlefield heroics. Chansons de Geste generally go to great trouble to link themselves with other poems of this style, listing the relatives and liege lords of the hero so as to bring the names of heros of other poems into this poem. In Chansons de Geste, the relationship between nephew and uncle is generally stronger than father and son in the poems, which may reflect the early medieval practise of fostering boys with their mother's family. The Chansons bear some relationship to factual history, but are mostly fiction. The early Chansons also do a very good job of villifying the non-christian (variously described as pagan, moslem and saracen interchangably) and whipping up crusading fervor. Somehow the enemy always seem to get their comeuppance in the end because the hero had the one true god on his side, whereas the descriptions give the moslems god as ineffectual and people as a race of liars, traitors and cowards. Similar behaviour from the christian heros is seen as tactial resonableness, although often the heros do embark on suicide fights and survive, leaving an impression of bloodthirsty thugs with no foresight to the modern reader.

Heros of the Chanson de Geste

  • Charles (Charlemange) - liege lord, king of France, mighty warrior
  • Aimeri - great warrior
  • William Shortnose, William of Orange, son of Aimeri, lost the tip of his nose to a saracen, but killen many in retrbution

Examples