Song of Roland

Song of Roland Summary and Analysis of Section 6, Laisses 187-214 or Lines 2570-2973


Marsile returns to Saragossa, badly wounded. He has lost his right hand. The Moslems weep because of their losses; the desecrate the statues of Apollo, Tervagant, and Muhammad. They are sure they will lose the war.

But years ago, Marsile wrote to the emir of Babylon, Baligant, begging for aid. Now Baligant has finally arrived, with a vast pagan host. The force lands, and then Baligant sends his knights Clarifan and Clarien to tell Marsile that the emir will make war against Charlemagne. Bramimonde, Marsile's wife, receives them coldly. When they great her in the name of their gods, she says that their gods have abandoned them. When the messengers say the emir will hunt Charles down, she informs them that Charles is no more than seven leagues away, and that he fears no one. Because Marsile is wounded, Baligant comes to meet him. Marsile surrenders all his lands to him.

Meanwhile, the Franks are tending to their dead. Charles seeks out the body of Roland, remembering that Roland once promised that if killed on foreign soil, he would advance beyond all the men and die facing the enemy. Charlemagne finds Roland, and mourns bitterly for his nephew. He fears he will not be able to carry on without the help of his best knight. Wise Duke Naimes is by the king's side, offering comfort and advice. The bodies are buried. But Roland, the Archbishop, and Oliver receive special treatment. Their sacred hearts are removed and wrapped in silk, and the bodies are prepared specially, wrapped in silk, and put in carts so that they can be brought home.


Marsile's wound continues the development of symmetry between Frank and Saracen. The Franks have their revenge against the Saracens of Spain: just as Charlemagne has metaphorically lost his right hand in Roland's death, Marsile has literally lost his right hand. But the symmetry diverges here. While Charlemagne, in part through God's support, is able to turn his grief into action, Marsile is a broken man. He hands over his control of Saragossa to Baligant, and leaves the fighting to the emir. His people have apparently lost faith in their gods, as well. Their despair is total.

Bramimonde's fiery moments here foreshadow her later conversion to Christianity. When she speaks, it becomes clear that she no longer follows the Saracens' gods: "These gods of ours have abandoned the fight; / At Rencesvals their powers deserted them" (ll. 2715-6). She has lost faith in the pagan trinity, and she speaks so highly of Charles that Marsile orders her to be silent (l. 2741). Interestingly enough, she cites Rencesvals, sight of Roland's death, as the place where the pagans' gods served them no longer. Though the rearguard was annihilated (and the event is based on what was historically a serious setback for Charlemagne), the poet manages to turn Rencesvals into a victory. Because the rearguard killed so many heathens, and because that battle has led to Charlemagne taking great action against Marsile, Bramimonde sees correctly that the Christians have won the day. The setback of Rencesvals becomes part of God's divine plan, instrument of Charlemagne's eventual victory and of Roland's glorious ascent into heaven.

Charlemagne continues to be an immensely likable and powerful figure. He weeps and faints for his lost love ones, and the poet uses the laisses similaires here. Laisses 209-211 all begin with the address, "Beloved Roland," as the king calls out to his dead nephew. The king mourns his nephew Roland three times in similar, but not identical, ways.

Baligant's arrival seems somewhat sudden, but it is foreshadowed in Charlemagne's dream of his army being attacked by beasts. In this dream, Charlemagne himself squared off against the most terrible of the beasts. The emir is as powerful a figure in the Moslem world as Charles is in Christendom. Like Charlemagne, he commands countless contingents from distant lands. Like Charles, he is as ancient as a Biblical patriarch: "He is the old emir, a man of great age, / Who has outlived both Virgil and Homer" (ll. 2615-7). Baligant is brave and determined, even honorable. His arrival, though sudden, makes sense given the symmetry that is elsewhere in the poem. Charlemagne needs to avenge Roland; it is nothing less than a good liege lord's obligation. And to keep the poem interesting, Charlemagne needs a worthy adversary. He gets no less than the leader of Islam.