Chanson de Roland

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Chanson de Roland is a French Chanson de Geste, that was written in 1130-1170. The author is unknown(?).


Loosely based on real events in 778. French King Charlemagne is fighting in Spain when a fake peace offer is recieved. Knight Roland volunteers his stepfather, Ganelon, to the almost certainly fatal job of responding to the offer. Ganelon betrays his King to the Muslims (and assorted demonised non-Christians) in order to get his revenge on Roland. Charlemagne takes the offered gold to return to France, but Ganelon engineers an attack on Roland, who he entraps to lead the rearguard of the army. Roland, too proud to call for Charlemagne's help until too late, is slaughtered along with the 12 finest Lords of France, including his brave companion Oliver. Charlemagne avenges their death and Ganelon is brought to justice by trial.

Poetic style:

decasyllabic assonanced couplets in Old French


Very widely translated, one of the most famous chansons.

  • "The Song of Roland" trans Glyn Burgess (Penguin Books, London, 1990) ISBN: 0-14-044532-3
    • translation style: English, translated line-by-line, some editing of word order for easier reading. Part of the old French Text presented in an appendix.