La Chanson de Roland : Translated from the Seventh Edition of Léon Gautier

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There can be no doubt that their object was to stimulate the warlike and patriotic feeling of the lords and barons of France who listened to them with such unfeigned satisfaction. It is thus easy to infer, by comparison of dates, that they must have come into existence at about the time of the first Crusade in , and that they were imported into the East during the great Crusade led by Godfrey de Bouillon, Duke of Lorraine, and his brothers, Baudoin, Count of Flanders, and Eustace, Count of Boulogne; by Hugh the Great, Count of Vermandois, son of King Henry I.

The heroic songs of the jugglers were well calculated to lessen the dreariness of the long and perilous voyage undertaken by the chevaliers, who remained absent for five or six years, and did not consider their task accomplished until after they had captured Jerusalem It was then that Godfrey de Bouillon, proclaimed King by his companions in arms, converted Palestine into a Christian kingdom, introducing into it the laws, the language, and the customs of France.

It may be said that from this period the chansons de geste and national romances obtained a foothold in this new France of the East, the residents in which were ever gazing westward. The romances, originating in France, returned thither with the crusaders, and spread at the same time throughout Europe, where their popularity increased from year to year. They became the fashion, and romances, trouveurs, and jugglers made their appearance in all countries.

The twelfth century was the great epoch of romance and of jugglery. There were several changes, however, in the style and fashion of the ancient romances, in proportion as the vulgar tongue underwent its successive modifications, and it would be difficult to recognise in the present day the ancient text when comparing it with the new. It would be not less difficult to assign a fixed date to the beginning of each cycle, all of which started from the primitive cycle of Charlemagne. There was an incessant competition between the jugglers, whose audiences were always clamouring for some new thing; and it was to satisfy this demand that the trouveurs of the Oil language put into rhyme and prose the old Breton lays, and increased the already large domain of French romance.

Paulin Paris, whose opinions on these matters may generally be relied upon, holds that the chevaliers of Flanders and the Franche—Comte had previously to this gathered from the conversation of Breton jugglers, or from Latin books written upon the authority of ancient narratives, the traditions of the Celts and of the fabled kings of Armorican Brittany. For some time already the sham combats in which the young nobles learnt the rude art of war were called tournaments tournoys , because the champions turned about in a sort of circular arena, while endeavouring to hit a certain mark, a movable figure, or a quintain, with their lance or their sword.

The authors of the Breton romances represented King Arthur as the founder of chivalry and the creator of tournaments, and said that this valorous king assembled at his Eound Table the twenty-four bravest chevaliers of his kingdom, who thus formed his Supreme Court of Chivalry.

These old Breton romances, in which the fair sex was assigned a more dignified and attractive part than in the Carlo-vingian romances, were, so to speak, the school in which were formed the rammers of chivalry, and which favoured the development of refined politeness. The sort of worship paid to women at this distant epoch, and the delicate attentions lavished upon them by the opposite sex, contrasted very strongly with the roughness and brutality of a state of society in which all misunderstandings between people of noble birth were washed out in blood.

Tristan at the Chase. In the National Library, Paris. Mark, King of Cornwall, is a good prince and a man of great worth, the beautiful Ysolt being his wife, and the valiant and poetic Tristan Fig. A draught which the two latter have taken without meaning any harm deprives them of the power of obeying the voice of honour and of reason; they fall violently in love, and the irresistible force of the enchantment which is upon them serves to excuse their fault.

King Mark passes his whole time in watching them, in detecting them, and in forgiving them. He strikes him from behind with a poisoned dart Fig. Tristan, though wounded, displays great courage in bidding good-bye to Ysolt, mounts his horse, and takes refuge with his friend Dinas, who receives him in a dying state. The poison has made rapid progress, and Tristan, notwithstanding the care with which he is tended, has become almost a corpse.

His friends shed tears over his sad state day and night. The only signs of life in his motionless body are the piercing cries which he utters. The good King Mark has repented him of his cowardly act of vengeance, and regrets having surprised his nephew and wounded him. Moreover, the unhappy Ysolt does not attempt to conceal her sorrow; and when she learns that her dear Tristan is dying, she openly declares that she will not survive him. King Mark stabbing Tristan in the presence of Ysolt.

Tristan feels that his last hour is at hand. He sends for his uncle, to say that he should like to see him, and that he bears him no ill-will for causing his death. Woe to me for having stabbed my nephew, the best chevalier in the whole world! Tristan must die. Look at my arms; they are no longer those of Tristan, but of a corpse. The next day Tristan half opens his eyes, and, like a good chevalier, has his sword drawn from its sheath that he may see it for the last time.

I now take leave of chivalry, which I have honoured and loved; but I have no longer anything in common with it. Alas, my friends! Will you not die with me? Assuredly, if ever woman could die of anguish or sorrow, I should have died several times since I have been by your side. Her eyelids are brighter than emeralds, shining in her forehead like two stars.

Her face has the beauty of morning, for it is both white and vermilion, each colour having its due proportion. Her lips are a trifle thick, and ardent with bright colour; her teeth, whiter than pearls, are regular and of good size. No spices can be compared to the sweet breath of her mouth. The chin is smoother than marble.

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From her stately shoulders sweep two thin arms, and long hands, the flesh of which is tender and soft. The fingers are long and straight, and her nails are beautiful. Her waist is so narrow that it can be spanned with the two hands. Paulin Paris points out that there is a mixture in these two romances of the souvenirs of ancient Greek and of Celtic traditions. There is something very singular in this invasion of the ancient Greek fables into the books of the Round Table.

La chanson de Roland

In the Museum of Antiquities at the Louvre. The book, which none the less preserves the purest traditions of the Gallo—Breton legends, opens, like the Hook of. Job, with a council-meeting held in the internal regions by the spirits of darkness. S;it an declares that he cannot hope to counterbalance upon earth the influence of Christ, unless he can cause to be born of an immaculate virgin a man-demon.

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  4. This man-demon is Merlin, who takes under his protection King Arthur, and who, after having rendered him great services, is buried alive in Fig. Death of Joseph of Arimathea. According to a pretended gospel, attributed to St. The author of this curious romance, composed in the beginning of the thirteenth century, was the trouveur, Robert de Borron, who, in the opinion of several critics, was assisted by Gautier Map, chaplain to King Henry II.

    It was written by several authors, whose one object was to bring into it all the knights of the Round Table Perceval, Lionel, Hector, Palamede, Gauvain, Bliomberis, Mordrain, and others, and to represent them as engaged in unceasing battle with wild beasts, giants, and enchanters. The fourteenth century ushered in the decadence of the romances of chivalry. At the end of the previous century an effort hud been made to revive the popularity of these romances, which had been more than once revised and altered from their original composition, the cycle of Charlemagne and even that of the Round Table being no longer in vogue.

    Still less success attended the provincial cycles, as the Gestes relating thereto were only of interest to the inhabitants of the province in which the events described took place. This bad reputation was in a great measure due to the misconduct of their confreres, the singers and the story-tellers, and though most of the jugglers themselves led respectable lives, their contact with the latter, who were nearly all thieves and drunkards, told very much against them. This, beyond all doubt, was one of the causes which brought about the decadence of romance as a branch of literature.

    The last features of importance in this branch of literature were the cycle of the Crusades and a few romances which appealed more especially to the pride of certain noble families which had been made famous by the wars Fig. Fac-similo of a Miniature from Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century.


    The result was that the romances, being no longer sung to the accompaniment of the harp or the violin, but recited in a monotonous tone, became submerged in a mass of marvellous and improbable stories, and were drawn out to a wearisome length. Not only were new compositions with thirty or forty thousand Alexandrine lines brought out, but the ancient romances written in ten-syllable verse were recast, and the lines lengthened.

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