« PreviousContinue »
evidently derived from that of the Huns under Attila. So here, in this 'Chanson de Roland,' the Gascons are supplanted entirely by Saracens; and the traitor Ganelon is introduced, who is believed to have lived in the times of Charles the Bald. Indeed, after two or three centuries the facts and personages of various epochs become so confused and melted together that it is for the most part mere guess-work to attempt to discriminate fact from fiction, or to attempt to separate one age from another. Roland, Hrodlandus, Rodland or Rutland, however, undoubtedly existed, and was a favourite general in the days of the great Karl himself and fell at Roncesvaux. Ogier de Danemarche,* who commanded the vanguard on that occasion, according to the Chanson de Roland,' and who is himself the subject of a chanson, was undoubtedly a real character; his tomb even existed till the middle of the last century at the monastery of St. Faur, at Meaux, where he spent the last years of his life after falling into disgrace with Karl, and an interesting description of his monument is to be found in Mabillon. The names of both Roland and Ogier are still popular in distant parts of Europe. Roland has his brèche still in the Pyrenees and his corner in the Rhine at Rolandseck ; his sword has been seen by travellers even at the gate of a mosque at Broussa, and his name has been heard sounded among the heroes of song of the wild mountaineers in the Morea. Ogier, likewise, lance in hand, still heads a procession of knights and giants at Ath and Huy in Flanders: so tenacious has popular memory been of some of the heroes of the Chanson de Roland,' of which we now proceed to give account.
Karl had been seven years in Spain warring against the Moors, and had conquered all the country with the exception of Saragossa. He had just taken Cordova, and beaten down its walls, razed its towers with his siege-engines, divided immense spoil of gold and silver among his knights, and not left a paynim in the city alive who had not become a Christian. He was reposing after the siege, and he sat on his golden chair of state beneath a pine, by the side of a hedge of roses. His peers were sitting around him,-Roland, his nephew, and Oliver, and Sansun the duke, and Ansèis the proud, and Godfrey of Anjou, his gonfanonier, and Gerin and Gerers, and fifteen thousand Frank knights were scattered behind them, some sitting on benches,
* Ogier de Danemarche was so called, not from any connexion with Denmark, but because he was Governor of the Arden Marche, the immense forest district of the Ardennes.
some playing draughts, some-and those the oldest and sagestplaying at chess, and some-the most youthful of the bandjoining in mock combat, when there approached him an ambassador from the Saracen King of Saragossa. The ambassador addresses him, and says, the King of Saragossa is willing to do homage if he may keep his kingdom. He sends him presents of all he has. He sends him bears and lions, and good hounds for the chase; six hundred camels, and a thousand good falcons, four hundred mules laden with gold and silver, and fifty chariots full of precious stuffs: only on condition that Karl leaves the country and goes to his palace at Aix, whither the Sultan of Saragossa will follow to do homage to him and become a Christian. Such offer made the Sultan of Saragossa, not in good faith but to get Karl away from Spain and to have time for preparing for his defence.
When the Emperor heard this he bent his head. He was never overhasty in speech; his habit was to bring forth his words leisurely :
'Li empereres en tint sun chef enclin,
Then he raised up his head with a stern look, and asked what surety he might have of the Paynim's good faith? Hostages,' said the ambassador; and the Emperor put off further deliberation till the morrow. On the morrow-morn he rose, heard mass and matins, and took his seat again under the pine and called his barons to council, Ogier, the Archbishop Turpin, Richard
A very few rules are sufficient to make the French of the Chansons de geste' much more easily intelligible :
1. In the verbs the third person of the present is ordinarily terminated with a t in both singular and plural; but the t is not pronounced except before a vowel. This explains the fera-t-il, voudra-t-il of the present day. This rule is applicable only to the older French of the Chanson de Roland.'
2. The preposition & and the third person of the verb avoir, insert d before a following vowel:
'Al siege ad Ais en serez amenet.'
We may here say that ert stands for both était and sera, erat and erit both being contracted into ert, ot is avait.
3. The copulative 'et' is always 'e' in the Chanson de Roland.'
4. oi is generally ei: thus, François becomes Françeis; avoit, aveit; feroit, fereit; and laisseroit becomes larroie, lerreie.
5. Feminine nouns have no declension: but in masculine nouns, in the singular, a final s marks the nominative case; the absence of a final s marks an oblique
6. In the plural the opposite is the case.
7. Some nouns have particular forms: thus, Dex, nom., has Dieu accusative. So vier, nom., vieux, accus. Apprentif, nom., apprenti, accus. The article is in nominative singular and plural li; the accus. singular is le, the accus. plural les.
the Aged and his nephew Henri, the brave Count Acelin of Gascony, Tedbald of Reims, and Melun his cousin, Gerers and Gérin, Roland and Oliver the brave and the gentle, and a full thousand of the Franks of France, with Ganelon the traitor.
The Emperor explained the terms offered by the Moorish ambassador, and asked for the advice of his council. Then the Count Roland raised him on his feet, and said to the King-Ill will it be for you to trust the Moor. It is seven years since we came into Spain, and many cities have I taken for you: think of what we have done, and think also how treacherously the Paynim behaved to your last embassy, to Basan, and Basilies, whose heads he struck off. Finish the war as you have begun it; lead your host against Saragossa, and avenge those whom the felon caused to be put to death.' AOL.*
The Emperor looked solemn: he stroked his beard and smoothed his moustache, and replied to his nephew neither good nor evil. The Franks remained silent, with the exception of Ganelon, who rose to his feet, walked in front of Karl, and made a haughty speech. 'Ill will it be for you to hearken to a scatterbrains. Listen neither to me nor anybody, but only to what is for your own advantage, now that the King of Saragossa offers to become your liegeman with hands closed in yours, and that he will hold all Spain in fief from you, and will also adopt the faith we observe. He who persuades you to reject this counsel, what cares he about the death we die? Counsel of pride never reaps advantage. Let us leave fools to their folly; we side with the wise.'
Et dist al rei, "Ja mar oierez bricun,
The Duke Naimes gives similar advice, and all the Franks reply, Well has spoken the Duke'- Ben ad parlet li dux.' The question then is, who shall be sent as ambassador-a perilous mission in those days, when the ambassador's head was often sent back to his own sovereign by way of reply. The
* This AOI, which occurs at the end of every emphatic passage, has the meaning of 'en voie,' 'forwards.' Duke
Duke Naimes offers to take the embassy. Karl says, 'He is a sage counsellor; he cannot allow him to go so far away:' and ends, 'Go and sit down, for no one names you.' Then Roland offers to go-Je puis aler mult ben.' Oliver objects: says Roland is too haughty and headlong; he is sure to come to blows on his mission-and offers to go himself. Karl refuses both. Turpin, the archbishop, comes forward. Him, too, Karl rejects-tells him to go and sit down, and not speak till he is told-
'N'en parlez mais, se jo ne l'vos comant.'
'Whom shall we send, Frank chevaliers?' cries Karl. Roland maliciously suggests Ganelon, his step-father, knowing that Ganelon, as a family man, has a great objection to such peril, and also because apparently, as may be surmised from Ganelon's first speech, there existed a not uncommon antipathy between son and step-father. Roland says then, 'My step-father is the man to go Co ert Guenes mis parrastre.' The Franks all cry out he will do the mission well- Car il le poet ben faire.' Then said Karl, Ganelon, come forward and receive the staff and glove' (the emblems of an ambassador). You have heard the Franks have named you.' 'Sire,' says Ganelon, 'this is Roland's doing. Never shall I bear him good-will, nor to Oliver his comrade, nor the twelve peers, since they love so well him whom I hate. I will go, nevertheless. Yet I have a son, fairer never was— -Baldwin his name; if he lives he will be a valiant man. I leave him my honours and my fief. Protect him, I pray. Never shall I see him with the eyes again.' Karl says, 'You are too tender-hearted.' Ganelon throws back his mantle, and looks at Roland haughtily from his grey eyes. No one who saw him as he stood erect, with his fine waist and broad chest, could help admiring him. And he spoke threateningly to Roland. Roland replied-' Orgoill oi e folage.' 'I hear the words of an upstart and a fool. All the world knows I care for no threats. But since we ought to have a man of sense as an ambassador, I am ready, with the King's leave, to take your place.' This insulting offer Ganelon refused, but asked for a slight delay before starting, to repose from his anger, upon which Roland laughed in scorn in his face. When Ganelon saw that Roland laughed, he nearly went out of his mind with rage
'A ben petit que il ne pert le sens.'
Nevertheless he announced his willingness to depart at once on his embassy. The Emperor held the glove towards Ganelon for him to take; but Ganelon, in his ill-will, would not step forward quick enough, and the glove fell to the ground. Then said the
Franks, Deus! what will happen? This embassy will bring us great loss.' 'Seignurs,' says Ganelon, 'you shall have news
of it.' Then Ganelon likewise took the staff and the letter of Karl, and departed on his way amid the lamentations of his friends.
He soon overtook the Moorish ambassador, who had departed before, and the two journeyed together to the court of Saragossa. Ganelon could not conceal his vexation and anger, and burst out into complaints, of which the Moor soon took advantage to wind himself into his confidence; and the conversation between them is extremely well managed by the poet. The Moor leads the angered man on to speak of Roland, of his intractable and reckless, haughty spirit. The Moor says, 'A violent man indeed is Roland, who wants the whole world to submit to him, and throws down the gauntlet to all mankind; but what people has he to support him?' Ganelon replies, "The whole Frank nation, who love him so well that they will never fail him. And he wins for them gold and silver, and mules and battle-steeds, and rich spoil of all kinds. The Emperor, too, follows his will in everything he will overcome the whole earth from here to farthest East.' Thus devising, the pair went riding along till they both came to the conclusion that there was nothing they both desired so eagerly as the death of Roland.
The Count Ganelon is brought by the Moor to the presence of the Sultan, who was sitting, as seems to have been usual in those days, in his chair of state, under a pine, clothed in silken robes of Alexandria, and surrounded by his court; but the ambassador of Karl, notwithstanding that he has treason in his heart, acquits himself of his embassy in a grand manner; and we must admire the art of the poet who on this occasion seizes the opportunity to make even his traitor magnificent, and no cringing fellow even in the face of those with whom he is about to be leagued in treachery. After introduction to the Sultan, he began his message like one who knew his business'-Come celui ki ben faire le set. Conversion to Christianity and homage to Karl, or a death of shame and ignominy-such,' he tells the Sultan, 'is the ultimatum of Karl.' The Saracen was so wroth at this rough announcement that he seized his javelin spiked with gold and would have struck the Frank to the heart, but he was prevented. When Ganelon saw this, he put hand to his sword, and drew it two finger-breadths from the sheath. The Paynim chiefs come around, appease both parties, and the Sultan seats himself again. Sire,' says Ganelon, 'I must do my duty. I would not for all the gold God ever made-for all the wealth of this country-leave unsaid the message which Karlemaine,