The Song of Roland takes place during Charlemagne’s reign. Roland is Charles’ most trusted officer and the perfect embodiment of chivalry—pure in heart, doer of mighty deeds. In the story there’s a lot of diplomacy, intrigue, and military battles between Charles’ Franks and the wily Saracens in Spain (remember Spain and other big chunks of Europe were under Muslim control throughout the Middle Ages). Charles relies too heavily on his negotiator, the treacherous Ganelon. After a decisive battle a truce is reached and Charles agrees to withdraw his army with Roland commanding the rearguard. However, Ganelon has betrayed them and set a trap. Roland and his army must squeeze through a pass in the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France. It’s there that the Saracens cut off the Frankish rearguard with their army that’s 20 times bigger. The Franks gallantly fight against hopeless odds. Roland has an elephant-tusk trumpet to summon help but he’s too proud to sound the alarm until the battle’s already lost. When he finally does, Roland bursts a blood vessel blowing that horn and dies. Charlemagne hears the call, rides to the rescue with more troops but when he arrives everybody is dead. Roland’s ghost is whisked up to Heaven by a bevy of angels.
The battle in the narrow mountain pass where Roland met his doom is ‘…loosely based on the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in 778. However, the combatants in that skirmish were the Franks and the Christian Basques of Spain…’ If history teaches us anything, it’s this: never put all your Basques in one exit.
In Sicily, Roland’s story morphed into Orlando Furioso (Mad Roland) and is performed with rod puppets. They used to do this show in New York City’s Little Italy, too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwtwFK9dHfs
Santé vache! There’s a Roland movie with young Klaus Kinski in the lead—https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077317/
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