The Song of Roland Themes

What is the theme of The Song of Roland? Find the answer in this article prepared by experts. We have created a short guide that explains the key moments vital for understanding the poem. The main themes in The Song of Roland are: religion, code of chivalry, loyalty, and friendship. Find all of them discussed below.

🗝️ Themes in The Song of Roland

The key themes of the poem are: code of chivalry, Christianity, loyalty, and friendship.

The picture lists the key themes of The Song of Roland.

📿 Religion in The Song of Roland

The theme of religion in The Song of Roland is one of the major ones since all the battles described happen in different gods’ names. The French firmly believe that the only way to win people’s hearts is through the fight. Therefore, they take their swords out and kill to spread Christianity over the lands. However, their enemies are also convinced that their gods give them power and strength. When the army of Saracens loses in the battle, it is almost the same as their religion failing them. People start believing that their gods have abandoned them. Therefore, there is only Charlemayn with his Christianity left for them.

This epic poem might as well be seen as the propaganda of the Crusades. The story strongly relies on the concept of Christians representing all the good. You might have noticed that all the main antiheroes believe in their own gods. Even Ganelon, who seems to admire Charlemayn so much, is not obsessed with Christianity. Moreover, he becomes the antagonist when he decides to work with the Saracens and betray Roland. Therefore, this vision of non-Christians being evil promotes even more wars in the name of God.

Quotes on Religion in The Song of Roland

My Lord hath said, thither will he follow
Ev’n to your baths, that God for you hath wrought;
There is he fain the Christian faith to know.

The Song of Roland, laisse X

Pagans are wrong: Christians are right indeed.
Evil example will never come of me.

The Song of Roland, laisse LXXIX

Mea Culpa! God, by Thy Virtues clean
Me from my sins, the mortal and the mean,
Which from the hour that I was born have been
Until this day, when life is ended here!

The Song of Roland, laisse CLXXV

🙇 Loyalty in The Song of Roland

In The Song of Roland, loyalty and betrayal are also related to the moral values commonly spread among the knights. Besides, this theme appears to be crucial for the whole plot development. At the very moment when Roland suggests his stepfather joins the envoy, this issue arises. Ganelon wants revenge on Roland and does not let this idea go until it comes true. Things get serious when he teams up with the Saracens and plots to kill his stepson.

It might seem that everything happens in the poem out of revenge, but the only real traitor is Ganelon. He has no practical reason to betray Roland, Charlemayn, his religion, and his country other than jealousy and pride. The rest of the characters have more understandable grounds, such as revenging their best friend or fighting for their country and religion.

Another aspect of loyalty is reflected in the relationships between fellow warriors. One of the best examples is the mutual trust between Roland and Oliver, just like between Charlemayn and Roland. Neither of them would leave another behind on the battlefield. Even if sometimes their points of view might differ, they always have each other’s backs. It is something that Ganelon would never understand since he betrays people who trust him whenever he gets a chance.

The Song of Roland Quotes on Loyalty

Traitor in all his ways was Marsilies;
Of his pagans he sent you then fifteen,
Bearing in hand their olive-branches green:
Who, ev’n as now, these very words did speak.

The Song of Roland, laisse XIV

What sound is this, come out of Spain, we hear,
What hauberks bright, what helmets these that gleam?
They’ll smite our Franks with fury past belief,
He knew it, Guenes, the traitor and the thief,
Who chose us out before the King our chief.

The Song of Roland, laisse LXXX

To do this thing, my comrade, did you mean?
This is Rollanz, who ever held you dear;
And no mistrust was ever us between.

The Song of Roland, laisse CXLIX

🤝 Friendship in The Song of Roland

The theme of friendship is also tightly related to the issue of trust and betrayal in the poem. Oliver and Roland’s friendship is the focus of the whole story. It is pretty deep and trusting, but they have some complications due to their social positions’ nature. Oliver stands below Roland in both social and military aspects. However, he always expresses his opinion and gives advice when his friend needs it.

On the other hand, Roland does not put friendship so high and prefers to attend to other issues like religious and patriotic duties. At the same time, there is a moment that makes him change his heart on the battlefield. When Roland sees Oliver and his other loyal and brave fellow warriors dying, he is suddenly filled with grief for them.

Even though there are other examples of friendship theme in The Song of Roland, such a genuine connection can only exist outside authority. Therefore, Charlemayn and Roland have some other kind of relationship which depends on their family ties and political order. Meanwhile, Ganelon and Blancandrin also seem to form some sort of friendly relationship, but it is based on the wrong motifs. Even Oliver goes against Roland when he decides to give in on the horn.

The Song of Roland Quotes on Friendship

So many Franks lose their young lustihead,
Who’ll see no more their mothers nor their friends,
Nor hosts of France, that in the pass attend.

The Song of Roland, laisse CIX

My companion, come hither to my side.
With bitter grief we must us now divide.

The Song of Roland, laisse CXLVII

They mourn their sons, their brothers, their nephews,
And their liege lords, and trusty friends and true;
Upon the ground a many of them swoon.

The Song of Roland, laisse CLXXVIII

🏰 Code of Chivalry in The Song of Roland

Code of Chivalry in The Song of Roland can be considered a mix of all the previous themes discussed here. The knights of that time were supposed to be devoted to Christianity and be loyal friends and warriors. Roland may be an excellent example and the embodiment of all the values chivalry promotes. His loyalty is worth highlighting. Roland fights for his ideals, religion, and the emperor till the very end. His endless bravery also fits into the values encouraged at times. And even though he shows some flaws, he remains a role model for the rest of the French army.

Roland appears to be a somewhat reckless knight. Instead of giving something a few minutes to think, he follows the sense of duty and dignity. The most critical moment of reflection comes when Oliver suggests blowing the horn to call for help. However, Roland is too stubborn to admit that someone so courageous and prideful cannot need it. Therefore, his flaws and foolishness lead to an unfavorable situation and their eventual loss.

At the same time, the author highlights how faithful Roland is to his friends as a knight. After the battle, the count tries to bury and honor every fallen soldier, even though his strengths are leaving his body. Moreover, he dies with his sword in his hands. Roland treats his weapon with high respect and mourns over it as well. He wants to avoid leaving such a treasure in the hands of the enemies. All that shows his character as the ideal Christian knight. It is even indicated by the reaction of the noblest person in the poem to his death. Charlemayn’s grief is deep, and his speech over the dead body highlights all the good in Roland, especially his chivalry. It might even place the knight over the emperor.

The Song of Roland Quotes on Code of Chivalry
“Never,” says Guenes, “so long as lives his nephew;
No such vassal goes neath the dome of heaven;
And proof also is Oliver his henchman;
The dozen peers, whom Charl’es holds so precious,
These are his guards, with other thousands twenty.
Charles is secure, he holds no man in terror.

The Song of Roland, laisse XLI

Great shame would come of that
And a reproach on every one, your clan,
That shall endure while each lives in the land,
When I implored, you would not do this act.

The Song of Roland, laisse CXXIX

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