Please note: this article was written in 2001 and is part of my Master's thesis. It is here for archival purposes only. See the bottom of this page for licensing information.
-Vika Zafrin (email me with any questions)
The death of our hero is undoubtedly the most climactic point in the storyline dealing with the battle at Roncesvalles, and the one richest in narrative possibilities. It is not surprising that the scenes surrounding this event have been utilized by authors to make their initial reasons for writing down the story the most explicit.
Priest Konrad, for example, whose work portrays Roland as a religious zealot and martyr, may as well have published this bit separately, with the title "The Martyrdom of Roland." His only emphasis in this relatively short description of Roland's actual passing is a solely religious discourse, without mention of anything Roland may have felt, for example, toward Alde, or regarding the foolishness of his arrogant refusal to sound the horn.
On the other hand, the author of the French Song of Roland, not having an agenda this specific in his portrayal, uses this last opportunity to make Roland speak as a place of synthesis, a repository of everything the reader needs to know about Roland that has not fit in anywhere else. Here, for example, we find a list of all the lands Roland has conquered for Charlemagne (including Brittany [Bretaigne], which seems to be historically inaccurate, since the real Hruodlandus was apparently the lord of that region and would not have needed to specifically conquer it). Also included is a catalogue of the holy relics contained in his sword Durendal which give it its magical power. And, of course, the author cannot keep himself from allowing Roland another manifestation of his legendary strength, when a Saracen presumes him dead and wishes to take Durendal from him, and the dying, weak Frankish hero butchers him with one blow.
Cân Rolant and the Karlamagnus Saga, not being concerned directly with Roland's death, do not describe it.
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