What Is The Song of Roland about?

The Song of Roland is one of the most famous epic poems of all time. It describes the events surrounding the Battle of Roncevaux Pass that happened in the eighth century. Charlemayn aims to conquer the whole of Europe and baptize the rest of the non-Christians. His loyal knight, Roland, helps him in that.

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The poem is based on a real historical event. Yet, except for some figures and the battle’s outcome, a significant part of The Song of Roland’s plot is made up. The epic fight between the Saracens and the Franks is the poem’s focus, but there are many details regarding what lead to it and what happens after. It starts with Charlemayn’s desire to build an empire and spread Christianity. However, not everyone agrees with it. Saragossa’s ruler, Marsilion, resists the pressure but does not have enough force to fight back. Roland, one of Charlemayn’s advisors and loyal knights, suggests sending his stepfather to Saragossa as a messenger. Ganelon promises to revenge on his stepson for that and plots to kill him. 

The emperor begins his journey back home and takes the mountain pass. Together with Marsilion, Ganelon plans to attack Roland’s army there. The French appear to be outnumbered in the battle, but it is already too late to call the backup. Roland and his fellows fight bravely but fall dead on the battlefield. Charlemayn is devastated to know that his best knights died and follows the Saracens to make them pay. With God’s help, the emperor manages to do it and returns to France to trial Ganelon, the traitor.

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