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Au carrefour des routes d’Europe : la chanson de geste. Tome II

The definition of wisdom in the chanson de Roland : roman and non-roman elements

Robert L. Kindrick

Texte intégral

  • 1 The standard text for this study is T.A. Jenkins, ed., La Chanson de Roland (Boston, 1924), pp. 89 (...)

Rodlanz est proz ed Oliviers est sages :
Ambedui ont merveillos vasselage.
Puis qued il sont as chevals ed as armes,
Ja por morir n'eschiueront bataille :
Bon sont li conte e lor paroles haltes.
Felon paien par grant iror chevalchent.
Dist Oliviers : 'Rodlanz, vedez en alques,
Cist nos sont pres, mais trop nos est loinz Charles.
Vostre olifant soner vos ne'l deignastes :
Fust i li reis, n'i oüssom damage.
Guardez amont par devers les porz d'Aspre,
Vedeir podez dolente riedreguarde :
Ki ceste fait ja mais n'en ferat altre'.
Respont Rodlanz : 'Ne dites tel oltrage !
Mal seit de'l coer ki e'l piz se codardet !
Nos remandrom en estai en la place,
Par nos i iert e li cols e li chaples'. Aoi
(II.1093.1109)1

  • 2 See especially Gaston Paris, Histoire poétique de Charlemagne (Paris, 1865), and Leon Gautier, Les (...)
  • 3 See, for example, P. Le Gentil, La Chanson de Roland (Paris, 1967), pp. 123-148 for a through disc (...)

1These lines and many others in the Chanson de Roland show an interesting emphasis on wisdom that is parallel to that in Roman and Germanic heroic poetry. This special emphasis is summarized in the Roland by the line, "Rodlanz est proz ed Oliviers est sages". This kind of contrast is taken as a typical point of departure in evaluation of the characterization in the Chanson de Roland. Roland's bravery and valor are typically contrasted with Olivier's sagacity and wisdom, as illustrated by the traditional perspectives of Gaston Paris and Leon Gautier2. Yet, as recent evaluations have clearly shown, such easy bifurcation cannot completely explain the nature of wisdom in the Chanson de Roland3.

  • 4 See P. Le Gentil, pp. 6-64, for a summary of the salient issues.

2Wisdom in the poem is indeed a complex phenomenon, in good part because of the problems of origin and textual transmission4. At certain points it may appear to resuit solely in treachery, as in the lines :

Blancandrins fut des plus savies paiens,
De vasselage fut asez chevaliers :
Prodome i out por son seignor aidier,
E dist a'l rei : 'Or ne vos esmaiez.
Mandez Charlon, a'1 orgoillos, a'1 fier,
Fedeilz servisies e molt granz amistiez.
Vos li donrez ors e leons e chiens,
Set cenz chameilz e mil hostors mudiers,
D'or e d'argent .IIII. C. muls chargiez,
Cinquante charre qu'en ferat chareier :
Bien en podrat loër ses soldeiers.
En ceste tere at asez osteiét,
En France ad Ais s'en deit bien repaidrier.
Vos lo siurez a feste saint Michiel (II.24-37).

  • 5 See Tony Hunt, "Roland's ‘Vermeille Pume'" Olifant, 7 (1980), 203-211.

3Under these circumstances, Blancandrin's advice may appear to be little more than a simple means of outwitting the enemy. The devious quality of this advice might appear to have nothing to do with the fact that Blancandrin is designated as one of the "plus savies" of Marsilion's men5. The kinds of inferences to be drawn from this situation suggest that wisdom, while a highly prized quality, is not one necessarily associated with the "best" men. In addition, other examples may be pointed out with regard to the council of Ganelon. For instance, at one point he clearly shows that he believes his treachery to be related to wisdom :

'Bel sire Guenles, ' dist Marsilies li reis,
'Jo ai tel gent plus bele ne vedreiz,
Quatre cenz milie chevaliers puis aveir :
Puis m'en combatre a Charle ed a Franceis ?'
Guenles respont : 'Ne vos, a ceste feiz.
De voz païens molt grant perte i avreiz.
Laissiez folie, tenez vos a'1 saveir :
L'emperedor tant li donez aveir
Franceis n'i ait ki toz ne s'en merveilt ;
Par .XX. hostages que li enveiereiz
En dolce France s'en repairrat li reis,
Sa riedreguarde lerrat deriedre sei,
Iert i sis niés, li quens Rodlanz, ço creit,
Ed Oliviers li proz e li corteis :
Mort sont li conte, sed est ki mei en creit,
Charles vedrat son grant orgueill chadeir,
N'avrat talent que ja mais vos guerreit'. Aoi.
(II.563-579)

  • 6 Hunt, 203-204.

4This kind of approach to the nature of wisdom clearly leaves doubts in the mind of the reader, and it is found throughout the early sections of the poem6.

5Yet, Olivier is also designated as "sage". His council to Roland is often cited, as noted above, as the apotheosis of the basic elements of wisdom of the poem. It bears repeating :

Dist Oliviers : 'Paien ont grant esforz ;
De noz Franceis mei semblet aveir poi :
Compaign Rodlanz, kar sonez vostre corn,
Si'l odrat Charles, si retornerat l'ost.
Respont Rodlanz : 'Jo fereie que fols,
En dolce France en perdreie mon los.
Sempres ferrai de Durendal granz cols,
Sanglenz en iert li branz entresqu'a'l or.
Felon paien mar i vindrent as porz :
Jo'l vos plevis, tuit sont jugiét a mort'. Aoi.
(II.1049-1058)

  • 7 George Fenwick Jones, The Ethos of the Song of Roland (Baltimore, 1963), pp. 96-97.

6Clearly this is the broadest view taken of the approach to national interest based on bravery and valor. From Roland's point of view, the only honorable thing to do is to fight the pagans without calling in reinforcements from his uncle. As Jones has suggested, he may have been more interested in public opinion than the public welfare7. Olivier on the other hand appears to be taking the broader view. Certainly the French forces are outnumbered by the Pagans, and the best thing to do in the interests of France is to call in the appropriate reinforcements. Such a point of view as indicated in the poem is clearly echoed by Roland's second thoughts :

Ço dist Rodlanz : 'Forz est nostre bataille,
Jo cornerai si'l odrat li reis Charles'.
Dist Oliviers : 'Ne sereit vasselages.
Quant jo'l vos dis, compaign, vos ne deignastes.
S'i fust li reis, n'i oüssom damage.
Cil ki la sont nen deivent aveir blasme'.
Dist Oliviers : 'Par ceste meie barbe,
Se puis vedeir ma gente soror Alde,
Vos ne jerreiz ja mais entre sa brace'. Aoi
(II.1713-1721)

  • 8 For a summary of these issues, see Gerard J. Brault, "Sapientia dans la Chanson de Roland," Sociét (...)
  • 9 See Misrahi and Hendrickson, pp. 226-230.

7Yet to many scholars of the poem, Olivier's response seems surprising8. It might appear that he has been caught up in the ethos of battle and would now find such an act cowardly, despite its important politicai implications for the emperor. In retrospect, all readers of the poem are reminded that it is ultimately the Olifant which does permit Charlemagne's revenge, unfortunately after he has lost the flower of France and compromised national security9. Clearly, however, the qualities associated with wisdom are here ascribed to a character completely honorific in the poem-Olivier. Can the same qualities be attributed to both a scoundrel such as Blancandrin and a hero such as Olivier ?

  • 10 R. Menendez-Pidal, La Chanson de Roland et la tradition epique des Francs (Paris, 1960), pp. 167 f (...)

8Perhaps the best embodiment of this ambivalent point of view towards wisdom is to be found in Charlemagne's initial council, "li conseilz que mal prist" (1.179). Indeed, the purpose of a council meeting is to provide the best advice available to the king, to provide the wisdom which will ultimately resuit in action. That such advice is available to him is clearly indicated by the early review of his court. We are told that, among his men, "as eschés (jbent) li plus savie e liviell" (1.112). R. Menendez-Pidal has explored the implications of this unfortunate council and its role in determining approaches to characterization10. Particularly in the advice offered by individuai participants, this council seems to embody the complexities of the poem in its definition of wisdom.

  • 11 See, Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1969), pp. 41-43, and especially pp. 53-5 (...)
  • 12 See Quintilian, The Institutio oratoria of Quintilian (Cambridge, Mass., 1921), see sections I-IV.

9To understand the nature of wisdom in the poem, one must begin with essential historical portrayals. Einhard probably provides some of the most reliable historical perspectives on Charlemagne, notwithstanding questions about Einhard's objectivity and later emendations and interlopa-tions in his works. Einhard's description of the Emperor incorporates most of the essential elements of the Roman noble in emphasizing an appropriate emphasis on wisdom. Charles is depicted as munificent, prudent and beneficient. He exercices sound sense in the cause of the common welfare. He is wise and capable in his pronouncements11. The particular emphasis in these passages, magnanimitas and prudentia, reflects the inheritance of Rome. Other parallels are also shown in the writings of Quintilian, who expounds on the importance of innate ethical values and wisdom in the orator. He argues that rhetoricians must be of the finest character. Their goals must be ethical and they must expound the most logicai ideals beneficiai to others. In summary, he argues that the excellent orator must be a person of sound sense and general benevolence12. Despite the loss of Quintilian to much of the Medieval world, the elements of "sound sense" and "general benevolence" may suggest the best short definition of wisdom in the Roman world. Quintilian also couples them with eloquence. He asserts that they are prerequisites to rhetorical accomplishment, which he believes to be essential for the truly accomplished person.

  • 13 See Donovan J. Ochs, "Cicero's Rhetorical Theory," and Prentice A. Meador, Jr., "Quintilian and th (...)
  • 14 James J. Murphy, Rhetoric in the Middle Ages (Berkeley, 1974), p. 89-132.
  • 15 Honorius Augusto du nensis, De animae exsilie et patria : alias, de artibus, PL, 172. For commenta (...)

10Other similar passages from the Roman world might be adduced13. By the time of the composition of the Oxford Digby Manuscript (ca. 1100), the heritage of Ancient Rome had had a powerful hold on concepts of wisdom for hundreds of years14. There is also a strong body of evidence to prove the continuing vitality of this tradition. For instance, Honorius of Autun describes wisdom and its important association with rhetoric in terms similar to Quintilian's. In both his prologue and chapter one he asserts the importance of sound (theological) sense and general benevolence in rhetorical training15. There is no doubt that this definition of wisdom had a widespread grasp on the Medieval imagination.

  • 16 Consult Joseph J. Duggan, A. Concordance of the Chanson de Roland (Columbus, Ohio, 1969).

11Much of the ambiguous language regarding the terms "wise" and "wisdom" in the Chanson de Roland must be attribu-ted to both the artistry of the poem and cross-cultural influences. The terms "sage", "saive", and "savei" occur a total of 12 times in the poem. In addition, "savier" (or variants) occurs 10 times, "savez" 4 times, and "savie" once16. Even with consideration of known variations, there is no consistent semantic field. As noted earlier, such terms may appear honorific, pejorative, or simply neutral. Particularly given the length and total vocabulary of the poem, the relatively infrequent use of these terms and their ambiguity create one of the most interesting examples of semantic variation in the Chanson de Roland. A naive student of the poem might perceive wisdom to be a personal attribute that is highly desirable, innate, or highly undesirable, depending upon which particular passages one examines.

  • 17 Menendez-Pidal, pp. 167-168.
  • 18 See especially II. 544-549, 573-579.

12Yet there is impressive evidence that the Roman heritage maintains its hold. During the council "mal prist", despite the arguments that Roland's advice about using Ganelon as an emissary is well-founded, there is sufficient ambiguity in this scene to leave the auditor in doubt. Whatever Roland's role in this scene, Charlemagne's general expectations are clear. Despite his insistence that Ganelon act as his messenger (which has struck some critics as unrea-sonable)17, he demands common sense and general benevolence. Perhaps his disappointment that Ganelon refuses such an assignment of paramount importance and his subsequent insistence on sending the traitor are, in fact, borne out of his insistence on protection of the general welfare. It is con-ceivable that his major flaw here is, indeed, as described by his enemies, an over-reliance on Roland18.

13Some of the same Roman elements of wisdom appear in another, somewhat more surprising, example of characteriza-tion in the poem. The description of Baligant incorporates all of the major aspects of nobility of the Roman noble :

Par tote l'ost font lor tabors soner,
E cez buisines e cez graisles molt cler,
Païen descendent por lor cors adober.
Li amirailz ne se voelt demorer,
Vest une brónie dont li pan sont saffrét,
Lacet son elme ki ad or est gemmez ?
Puis ceint s'espede a'l senestre costét ;
Par son orgoeill li at un nom trovét ;
Por la Charlon, dont il odit parler,
La soe fait Preciose clamer,
Ço ert s'enseigne en bataille champel.
Ses chevaliers en at fait escrider,
Pent a son col un soen grant escut let,
D'or est la bocle e de cristal listét,
La guige en est d'un bon palie rodét,
Tient son espiét si'l apelet Maltét,
La hanste grosse si comë uns tinels,
De sol lo fer fust uns muiez trossez.
En son destrier Baliganz est montez,
L'estreu li tint Marcules d'oltre mer ;
La forchedure at asez grant li ber,
Graisles les flans e larges les costez,
Gros at lo piz, belement est modlez,
Ledes espadles e lo vis at molt cler,
Fier lo visage, lo chief recercelét ;
Tant par ert blans come flor en estét,
De vasselage est sovent esprovez ;
Deus ! quel baron, s'oüst crestiëntét.
Lo cheval brochet, li sans en ist toz clers,
Fait son eslais si tressait un fossét,
Cinquante piez i poet hom mesurer.
Paien escrident : 'Cist deit marches tenser.
Franceis n'i at s'a lui vient a joster
Voeillet o non n'i perdet son edét.
'Charles est fols que ne s'en est alez'. Aoi.
(II.3137-3171)

14In addition to his physical qualities and his abilities in battle, Baligant is described as "savies hom". In fact, the poet states that the man would have been great had he only been Christian.

  • 19 See Paris and Gautier ; for a more recent example, see, for instance John F. Benton, "Nostre Franc (...)
  • 20 P. Le Gentil, pp. 92-122.
  • 21 See Ernst R. Curtius, Europäische Literatur und lateinishes Mittelalter (Bern, 1954), pp. 565-566.

15Yet, the association between the wisdom of Baligant and his religion is a fulcrum in understanding the nature of wisdom in Roland. Just as Baligant is described as wise in terms of the laws of his religion, so Charlemagne's wisdom is also defined in religious terms19. For the poet and many of his generation, Roman wisdom was modified by an insistence that the key element involved an attempt to understand and implement the will of the Christian God. Thus the savagery of Roland and, at times, Charlemagne can be explained by a commitment to spreading the word of God and making conversions, even at the expense of their own lives or the enemies. ' This strong Christian influence has long been recognized but has seldom been associated with Roman elements of wisdom20. In the characterization of both Charlemagne and Baligant, wisdom through religion is seen to correspond to a notion of "general benevolence". Despite the very different premises drawn by the Romans and the poet, this identification is one of the major methods of incorporating Eleventh Century Christianity into the Roman definition of wisdom21.

  • 22 For some additional reasons, see John 0. Ward, "Some Principles of Rhetorical Historiography in th (...)
  • 23 That the debate about the relationship between rhetoric and ethics continued throughout the Middle (...)

16The third element in the Roman definition, eloquence, is somewhat more complicated. Unlike some other early Medieval poems (notably Beowulf), rhetoric in the Chanson de Roland seems to be associated far more with treacherous council or valor, than with traditional approaches to wisdom22. The classical tradition, from Aristotle through Quintillian and beyond, closely associated one's abilities at argument with the ethical substance of the arguments. The breakdown of this tradition in the Chanson de Roland is clear. Some of the most effective examples of oratory in the poem come from Ganelon, hardly an ethical character23. He and Blancadrin address each other "par grant saveir, " for instance. Yet, there are other passages in which rhetoric is clearly associated with the ethical structure of this society. Most notably, calls to battle, boasts, and exhortations to renewed effort on the field are regarded as "molt dites bien". Two examples may help to show how this approach to rhetoric and speaking well appears in the poem. The first is from the Christian camp, when Turpin settles the quarrel between Oliver and Roland about sounding the Olifant. His admonition to the two is an exhortation both to continue the combat and to summon Charlemagne for vengeance :

Li arcevesques les ot contrariier,
Lo cheval brochet des esporons d'ormier,
Vint tresqu'ad els si's prist a chastiier :
'Sire Rodlanz, e vos sire Oliviers,
Por Deus vos pri, ne vos contraliiez.
Ja li corners ne nos avreit mestier,
Mais neporquant si est il asez mielz :
Veignet li reis si nos podrat vengier.
Ja cil d'Espaigne n'en deivent torner liét.
Nostre Franceis i descendront a piét,
Troveront nos e morz e detrenchiez,
Leveront nos en bieres sor somiers,
Si nos plorront de doel e de pitiét,
Enfodiront en aitres de mostiers,
N'en mangeront ne lou ne porc ne chien'.
Respont Rodlanz : "Sire, molt dites bien'. Aoi
(II.1738-1752).

  • 24 For interesting perspectives (although unscholarly), see Emile Mireaux, La Chanson de Roland et l' (...)

17Turpin's admonitions in these lines may be the best exemplars in the poem of Roman wisdom and the best use of rhetoric24. He first provides "sound sense" by advocating a position which satisfies both Roland's thirst for conquest and Oliver's overriding concern about national security. He also advocates general benevolence : since all on the field are doomed men, his response must be viewed in terms of national security (even if that includes vengeance). Roland speaks truly when he says "molt dites bien".

18The other example, which shows how such praise of advice more directly relates to the battle ethos, is taken from a speech by Baligant, when he charges Clarifan and Clarien to meet with Marsilion :

Puis qu'il l'at dit, molt s'en est afichiez
Que ne lairat por tot l'or desoz ciel
Que n'ait ad Ais o Charles soelt plaidier :
Si home'l lodent si li ont conseilliét.
Puis apelat dous de ses chevaliers,
L'un Clarifan a l'altre Clariien :
'Vos estes filz a'l rei Maltraïien
Ki mes messages solt faire volentiers :
Jo vos comant qu'en Sarragoce algiez,
Marsilion de meie part nonciez
Contre Franceis li sui venuz aidier,
Se jo truis o, molt grant bataille i iert :
Si l'en donez cest guant ad or pleiét,
E'l destre poign si li faites chalcier ;
Si li portez cest bastoncel d'ormier,
Ed a mei vienget reconoistre son fieut.
En France irai por Charle guerreier :
S'en ma mercit ne se colzt a mes piez
E ne guerpisset la lei de chrestiiens ?
Jo li toldrai la corone de'l chief'.
Paien respondent : 'Sire, molt dites bien'.
(II.2665-2685)

  • 25 See J. H. Bonner, "Toward a Unified Criticai Approach to Old English Poetic Composition," Modern P (...)
  • 26 See Larry S. Crist, "Halt Sunt Li Pui : Remarques sur les Structures Lyriques di la Chanson de Rol (...)

19This example reflects attitudes found especially on the pagan side. Even when the reader knows statements are tragic or malicious in their implications, the response, however, may stili be "molt dites bien". All (except the pagans) know that Baligant will never accomplish his goal because he has not accepted Christianity. Yet, he receives the same praise for his speaking that Turpin does. Leaving apart for a moment arguments that the poet may be making a comment on the gullibility of human beings, I believe that this pasage more likely shows the central relationship between rhetoric and battle25. Indeed, even the formalized structure of the lament over dead companions reinforces the importance of rhetoric on the field26.

  • 27 Jones, pp. 96-158.
  • 28 Robert L. Kindrick, "Germanic Sapientia and the Heroic Ethos of Beowulf," Medievalia et Humanistic (...)
  • 29 Cornell Taciti, De origine et situ Gemanorum, ed. J.G.C. Anderson (Oxford, 1938).
  • 30 Kindrick, pp. 9-10. See also P. Le Gentil, p. 127.

20One of the major modifications in the Roman definition of wisdom is best explained by reference to the Germanic tradition27. Jones has described the influence of this tradition on the poem in detail. While the Germanic definition of wisdom was built on Roman models, it differs in significant respects, as I have described elsewhere with specifie reference to Beowulf28. One of the most important différences relates to the rele of strategy and tactics in the definition of wisdom. While tactical abilities on the battlefield were highly valued in the Roman tradition, there was sufficient social self-awareness to suggest that such knowledge could be dangerous. On the other hand, a clear understanding of strategy and tactics became an important social force in Germanie society and, therefore, an important element of wisdom in the Germanie tradition. Tacitus takes special note of this movement among the Germanie tribes. He particularly comments on the activities of the Chatti and their sense of discipline and the cunning strategies of the Harii who attack in disguise at night (Chapters 30 and 43)29. He further expounds at some length on the qualities required in society to maintain a modicum of social restraint and cohesion, while also pointing out that generals were selected for their prowess but that kings were selected for their nobility. Nonetheless, perhaps because of the nature of Germanie society, knowledge of strategy and tactics clearly emerged as a general social priority and therefore an element in the definition of wisdom. This aspect of the definition of wisdom is basically politicai in its implications30.

  • 31 See Robert Francis Cook, "Roncevaux symbole de la nécessité," Olifant, 8 (1981), 359-60 ; Jones, p (...)

21Politicai elements are yet another fulcrum in evaluating wisdom in the Chanson de Roland. Charlemagne's intention in assembling his initial council is to assess the ethical and politicai implications of the offer that Marsilion has made. Despite their religious differences, both sides have a similar goal : the maintenance and extension of their spheres of politicai influence which will resuit (from each perspective) in a higher good - the extension of their religious influence over the lives of more individuals. Politicai mistakes, then, resuit in the abrogation of a commitment to their respective faiths, heritages, and gods31. This clos tie between religion, politics, and strategy and tactics explains why the poet says of Baligant : "Deus ! quel baron, s'oüst crestiëntét". (1. 3164). Even though Baligant is "wise" in his religion and, in all other respects the ideal warrior and ruler, he is "wise" in the wrong religion which completely skews his politicai sense and his ideas regarding strategy and tactics, despite his use of strategical skills in the battle with Charlemagne (11. 3237-3264).

  • 32 Jones, pp. 128-129 ; Genette Ashby, "Une Analyse Structurale du Motif de Combat dans la Chanson de (...)

22Because of the merger of politics and religion, this Germanic element of wisdom assumes a position of premier importance in the poem, as illustrated by the conflict of Roland and Olivier. The contrast between these two characters suggests an emerging social ideal which had already reached fruition in Germanic and other French literature some time before the composition of the Digby manuscript. In many ways, no matter what arguments may be advanced about his wisdom, Roland is a "reactionary" or "old-fashioned" type of hero, at least by the date of composition. He emphasizes a code of personal (not necessarily social) ethics in which individuai bravery, valor, and honor are the central elements. His is the type of philosophy that many historians associate with Plutarch, and there is no doubt that at one point such an approach was vital for the survival of states and individuai tribal units32.

  • 33 See Norbert Elias, Power and Civility (New York, 1982), pp. 91-104, and 161-201.

23Olivier, on the other hand, represents a very different social ethos. In de-emphasizing individuai bravery and accomplishment, he places the emphasis in his life primarily on social welfare33. Thus, in his request to Roland to sound the Olifant, he is concerned more with the good of the state than with social perceptions of his personal reputation. Roland's refusai to sound the Olifant is perfectly consistent with his individualistic, heroic philosophy. From his point of view a valiant (but doomed) stand against the enemy is more important than either revenge or general social welfare. Yet Olivier's perspective is reinforced by Charlemagne's, as, for instance, in lines 191-192, 259-262, and especially 19-20. Who could doubt that the death of Roland is a loss to the French people and to God as well as a personal tragedy ? Yet Roland seems, at least initially, either to err in his assessment of the enemy or to be more concerned about personal glory than national security. Olivier emerges in all senses as a man of wisdom, just as the poet tells us. He possesses sound sense and general benevolence. His rhetorical skills are not sufficient to persuade Roland to blow the Olifant, but the clash of ideas is such that no such skills would be likely to do so, at least initially. He clearly has the best sense of strategy, tactics, and politicai obligation as suggested by the Germanic substratum of wisdom in the poem.

  • 34 Larry D. Benson, "The Originality of Beowulf", Interpretations of Narrative, ed. Morton W. Bloomfi (...)
  • 35 See Matthias Gelzer, The Roman Nobility, trans. Robin Seager (Oxford, 1969), especially pp. 3-53.
  • 36 For a brief synopsis, see Elias, pp. 104-131.

24Yet he concedes - he and Turpin (another wise character) clearly seem to have been caught up by the battle ethic and the emphasis on individuai valor when they later admonish Roland not to blow the Olifant. The reasons for this turna-bout are complex. Larry D. Benson, Theodore M. Andersson and others have chronicled the displacement of the individualistic hero in the Germanic tradition34. While such displacement also took place in the Roman social ethos, some of the literary documentation has been lost35. In general, it has been suggested that the older individualistic hero was essential to the welfare of the Germanic tribal system. Through his acts of valor and bravery, he won glory and renown for himself and secured the welfare of his social group. As the tribal system was gradually displaced, the nature of heroism underwent a change. With the development of the emerging nation states, two priorities evolved : one was an emphasis on defense from external foes (as in the past), and the second was social cohesion. A certain kind of tension develo-ped between these two social priorities because the temperament that functions best on the battlefield does not always function well in the hall. This tension is well documented36.

  • 37 Jones, pp. 140-146.
  • 38 For comment on these figures and the developement of such perspectives, see R. Howard Bloch, Medie (...)

25Yet, the first priority also changed, in good part because of the size of the forces mustered and the social unit to be protected. This emphasis on numbers and social responsibility clearly comes through in Roland37. Charlemagne not only has responsibility for all France but, in one sense, for all Christendom. In fact, his lament about his life at the end of the poem is best explained by the over-whelming nature of such responsibility. In addition, the exaggeration of the size of the armies in the poem clearly shows the poet understood that battles among nation-states were being fought on what was, to him, a massive scale : 20,000 French withstood 400,000 pagans in the first battle and 100,000 overcame 1.500,000 foes the second38. All of these figures further suggest the poet's understanding of his society in terms also shared by Germanic contemporaries.

26I should therefore like to suggest that the contrast of views between Roland and Olivier represents two different approaches to the same issue : national security. Roland represents the more conservative view, the earlier social perspective emphasizing individuai bravery and valor. Olivier represents the newer perspective, emphasizing strategy, tactics, and general social welfare instead of individual accomplishment. Both are correct in their stands, but Olivier the "savies" man is, if at all possible, more correct.

  • 39 See Jones, 131-134 ; Cook, "Roncevaux," 364-65 ; Jean Charles Payen, "Une poétique du génocide joy (...)

27I believe that the author's attitude towards the nature of wisdom, most specifically the element of strategy and tactics, explains why Olivier and Turpin later quarrel with Roland about blowing the Olifant to call reinforcements. As noted earlier, one may be designated as "sage" when he commits treason or gives tactical advice on how to thwart God's purposes. In the ethos of this poem, Roman elements are generally well-accepted in the definition of wisdom, but this Germanic element remains questionable. Because "wise" counsel so often meant counsel questionable in ethical or theological terms, the warriors of the Chanson de Roland must be prepared to operate with both sets of social ethics. Thus, both Olivier and Turpin are able (as amply illustrated in the poem) to perform acts of valor that rank with the best. Their discouraging Roland's blowing of the Olifant is certainly in part predicated on their understanding of the older social ethos. It is also reasonable to believe that it is predicated upon a sense of strategy and tactics. Given their own willingness to die for France, the nature of Marsilion's attack, Charlemagne's weariness of war, and Marsilion's treachery, a valiant stand on the part of the French may be absolutely necessary to re-instill the valiant spirit which won Charlemagne's empire39. In view of the evolving social ethos in the poem, they are right for both reasons.

  • 40 Misrahi and Hendrickson, 229-230 ; and Kindrick, p. 14.

28The nature of wisdom in the poem is vital to understanding the Chanson de Roland. It is strongly emphasized throughout the poem, yet at least eight of the total number of references might be considered pejorative. It is, nonetheless, a key point of contrast between the two major heroes. The key, I wish to suggest, is attempting to understand the evolutionary nature of the poem. Contemporary developments suggest that this poem shares the painful tension between valiant individualism and wise strategy found in Germanic literature40. The ambiguity regarding the element of strategy and tactics and its role in the definition of wisdom is vital in comprehending La Chanson de Roland.

Notes

1 The standard text for this study is T.A. Jenkins, ed., La Chanson de Roland (Boston, 1924), pp. 89-90, 11.1093-1109. Hereafter only line numbers will be pro-vided.

2 See especially Gaston Paris, Histoire poétique de Charlemagne (Paris, 1865), and Leon Gautier, Les épopées Françaises (Paris, 1865-1868) for the traditional interpretation that Roland's pride and valor cause the tragedy of the poem and that this contrast is pejorative for him.

3 See, for example, P. Le Gentil, La Chanson de Roland (Paris, 1967), pp. 123-148 for a through discussion of the problems. For other interesting evaluations, see Patricia Harris Stablein, "The Structure of the Hero in the Chanson de Roland : Heroic Being and Becoming, " Olifant, 5 (1977), 105-119 ; Jean Misrahi and William Hendrickson "L'ideal du hero epique : prouesse et sagesse", VIII Congreso de la Société Rencesvals (Barcelona, 1981), pp. 223-231 ; and Karl D. Uitti, Old French Narrative Poetry (Princeton, 1973), pp. 109-111.

4 See P. Le Gentil, pp. 6-64, for a summary of the salient issues.

5 See Tony Hunt, "Roland's ‘Vermeille Pume'" Olifant, 7 (1980), 203-211.

6 Hunt, 203-204.

7 George Fenwick Jones, The Ethos of the Song of Roland (Baltimore, 1963), pp. 96-97.

8 For a summary of these issues, see Gerard J. Brault, "Sapientia dans la Chanson de Roland," Société Renceavals : Proceedings of the Fifth Conference (Safford, 1977), pp. 85-104.

9 See Misrahi and Hendrickson, pp. 226-230.

10 R. Menendez-Pidal, La Chanson de Roland et la tradition epique des Francs (Paris, 1960), pp. 167 ff.

11 See, Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1969), pp. 41-43, and especially pp. 53-55.

12 See Quintilian, The Institutio oratoria of Quintilian (Cambridge, Mass., 1921), see sections I-IV.

13 See Donovan J. Ochs, "Cicero's Rhetorical Theory," and Prentice A. Meador, Jr., "Quintilian and the Institutio oratoria," A Synoptic History of Classical Rhetoric, ed. James J. Murphy (Davis, Cal, 1983), pp. 136-37, 151-76.

14 James J. Murphy, Rhetoric in the Middle Ages (Berkeley, 1974), p. 89-132.

15 Honorius Augusto du nensis, De animae exsilie et patria : alias, de artibus, PL, 172. For commentary, see Readings in Medieval Rhetoric, ed. Joseph H. Miller, Michael H. Prosser, Thomas W. Benson. (Bloomington, 1973), p. 198. Yet also see Jones, pp. 124-126 for a rather different evaluation of the survival of the ideals of ancient Rome. Miller, Prosser, and Benson comment on this same issue on p. XIII.

16 Consult Joseph J. Duggan, A. Concordance of the Chanson de Roland (Columbus, Ohio, 1969).

17 Menendez-Pidal, pp. 167-168.

18 See especially II. 544-549, 573-579.

19 See Paris and Gautier ; for a more recent example, see, for instance John F. Benton, "Nostre Franceis n'unt talent de fuïr ; The Song of Roland and the Enculturation of a Warrior Class," Olifant, 6 (1979), 240-243.

20 P. Le Gentil, pp. 92-122.

21 See Ernst R. Curtius, Europäische Literatur und lateinishes Mittelalter (Bern, 1954), pp. 565-566.

22 For some additional reasons, see John 0. Ward, "Some Principles of Rhetorical Historiography in the Twelfth Century", Classical Rhetoric and Medieval Historiography, ed. Ernst Breisach (Kalamazoo, Mich., 1985), especially p. 105.

23 That the debate about the relationship between rhetoric and ethics continued throughout the Middle Ages is illustrated by John of Salisbury's Metalogicon, trans. Daniel McGarry (Berkeley, 1955) and Gerrardo Bruni, "The De Differentia rhetoricae, ethicae et politicae of Acgidius Romanus", New Scholasticism (1932), 1-18. See also Murphy, Rhetoric, pp. 43-88, 357-363.

24 For interesting perspectives (although unscholarly), see Emile Mireaux, La Chanson de Roland et l'histoire de France (Paris, 1943), pp. 49-63 ; see also Edmond Farai, "A propos de la Chanson de Roland : genèse et signification du personnage de Turpin," La Technique Littéraire des chansons de geste (Paris, 1959), pp. 271-280 ; and Jones, p. 188.

25 See J. H. Bonner, "Toward a Unified Criticai Approach to Old English Poetic Composition," Modern Philology, 73 (1976), 219-228.

26 See Larry S. Crist, "Halt Sunt Li Pui : Remarques sur les Structures Lyriques di la Chanson de Roland," VIII Congreso, pp. 93-100 ; and Stephen G. Nichols, Jr., Formulaic Diction and Theaatic Composition in the Chanson de Roland (Chapel Hill, 1961).

27 Jones, pp. 96-158.

28 Robert L. Kindrick, "Germanic Sapientia and the Heroic Ethos of Beowulf," Medievalia et Humanistica 10 (Totowa, N.J., 1981), pp. 1-17.

29 Cornell Taciti, De origine et situ Gemanorum, ed. J.G.C. Anderson (Oxford, 1938).

30 Kindrick, pp. 9-10. See also P. Le Gentil, p. 127.

31 See Robert Francis Cook, "Roncevaux symbole de la nécessité," Olifant, 8 (1981), 359-60 ; Jones, pp. 128-129.

32 Jones, pp. 128-129 ; Genette Ashby, "Une Analyse Structurale du Motif de Combat dans la Chanson de Roland", VIII Congreso, pp. 25-35. See also George Baer Fundenburg, Feudal France in the French Epic (Princeton, 1918), pp. 34-47.

33 See Norbert Elias, Power and Civility (New York, 1982), pp. 91-104, and 161-201.

34 Larry D. Benson, "The Originality of Beowulf", Interpretations of Narrative, ed. Morton W. Bloomfield (Cambridge, Mass., 1970), pp. 1-43 ; Theodore M. Andersson, "The Displacement of The Heroic Ideal in the Family Sagas", Speculum, 45 (1970), 588-92. See also Cook, 364 and Jones, pp. 128-129.

35 See Matthias Gelzer, The Roman Nobility, trans. Robin Seager (Oxford, 1969), especially pp. 3-53.

36 For a brief synopsis, see Elias, pp. 104-131.

37 Jones, pp. 140-146.

38 For comment on these figures and the developement of such perspectives, see R. Howard Bloch, Medieval French Literature and the Law (Berkeley, 1977), pp. 79-80.

39 See Jones, 131-134 ; Cook, "Roncevaux," 364-65 ; Jean Charles Payen, "Une poétique du génocide joyeux : devoir de violence et plaisir de tuer dans la Chanson de Roland", Olifant, 6 (1979), 226-236.

40 Misrahi and Hendrickson, 229-230 ; and Kindrick, p. 14.

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Emporia State University

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