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)
These are plot summaries of the texts directly quoted in this project. N.B.: any allusions to information about historical characters made here and elsewhere do not purport to be allusions to accurate historical information. It is assumed throughout the project that, while certain events in these works may have coincided with actual historical events, the texts treated here are works of fiction, partly based in history - as in the case of the French Song of Roland - and partly completely invented, as in (for example) the Orlando Innamorato.
Song of Roland (France)
Written up here.
Priest Konrad's Song of Roland (the Rolandslied)
This German work, written in the twelfth century, duplicates the plotline of the French epic almost exactly–almost. While the French Roland is dedicated to assisting king Charlemagne in disseminating the Christian faith, the German hero takes that dedication to a level of religious fanaticism. The authorial voice in the work continually reminds the reader of Roland's status as martyr. There is not a page in Priest Konrad's writing which is not laden with affirmations and continual sermon-like reminders of God's word. For instance, in the chapter describing Guenelun's betrayal of Roland and the rearguard to Marsli at the Spanish court, Konrad writes two full paragraphs which are extraneous to the flow of the story but bring up a biblical example of treachery (King David's condemnation of a traitor) and call upon God to consign Guenelun to the devil on Judgment Day.
Another re-telling of the French Song of Roland, this time from the medieval Wales. Ten manuscripts exist of it, ranging from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century (Rejhon 1-20). It is part of a larger work named the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, which is an account of Charlemagne's campaigns against the pagans supposedly written as a first-hand account by the Archbishop Turpin, who figures as a character in Cân Rolant itself and elsewhere in the Roland canon.
The focus in this version of the story is on combat, and though there is a significant amount of well-written dialogue, speech tends to be oriented towards a formal interaction, either political in nature or speech directly concerning battle. Emphasis is placed on the glory of being a warrior -- and it is perhaps for that reason that Cân Rolant ends with the Franks' victory, not their subsequent defeat (which, presumably, is treated later in the Pseudo-Turpin).
As the title of this thirteenth-century (Hieatt I:23) Norse work suggests, this is an account of the life of King Charlemagne of France. Two parts of it are of interest to this project. Part I, an overview of the life and deeds of Charlemagne (the other nine parts deal with individuals associated with him), includes information on Roland's origin, birth and youth, which is found in few other works and is thus invaluable here. Part VIII, which deals with the battle at Roncesvalles, is "often remarkably close to the Oxford text," says translator Constance B. Hieatt (18); since there are already several versions of that story in the project, this part of the Karlamagnus Saga has been omitted from it, which allowed for more emphasis on the storylines unique to it.
In Matteo Maria Boiardo's epic deviation from the battle of Roncesvalles storyline, Roland (Orlando in Italian) is but one of the many knights at King Carlo Magno's court bewitched by a pagan princess from the Orient, whose aim is to capture them all and eventually help her father defeat Carlo Magno. Made to fall in love with Angelica by virtue of a spell, Orlando takes off in pursuit of the girl and is subjected to numerous "magnificent adventures and marvelous trials" along the way. Centuries after Boiardo wrote the tale he never finished (he worked on it until his death in 1494), Gianni Celati re-told it in prose; the bits of Orlando Innamorato quoted here are from Celati's modern reworking of it. Translation is my own.
Shortly after the publication of the Innamorato in Italy, Ludovico Ariosto took advantage of the fact that Boiardo had left his work unfinished and continued it. Still in pursuit of Angelica, the love spell working its magic more and more intensely on him, Orlando eventually goes mad. We follow the hero's adventures both before and after the onset of his madness.
Dante Alighieri's fourteenth-century masterpiece, the Divine Comedy hardly needs an introduction. An exploration of religious meaning and humanity, full of scathing political commentary and revolutionary in its use of vernacular Italian in a long poem. The story: Dante (the character) falls asleep, is visited by Virgil and is taken through Hell and Purgatory by him. He also takes a guided tour of Paradise, guided this time by his beloved Beatrice, who died some time earlier. The relevance to the current project is in the references Dante makes to the Roland legend (probably the oral tradition, widely known at that time) in Inferno XXXI and XXXII. Excerpts from these canti (chapters) serve as auxiliary texts here.
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