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54 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The slaughter and glory of battle
The Song of Roland is the most famous of the "chansons de geste" (songs of deeds) of the Middle Ages. It provides a fascinating view into the spirit of warriors of that time and their motivation. The Song of Roland gives an idealized picture, of course, and if we can believe the historians, the medieval knights never lived up to their chivalric ideal.
The...
Published on April 17, 2004 by Boris Bangemann

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Kindle version lacks hyperlinks for notes and glossary
I decided to use Kindle Matchbook to replace my physical copy with a digital version. It's a good thing I still have a physical copy lying around, because the Kindle version contains no links in the translation to the notes for each section. So, if you actually want to use the notes, you have to go back to the table of contents, navigate to the notes, read those for the...
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer


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54 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The slaughter and glory of battle, April 17, 2004
This review is from: The Song of Roland (Paperback)
The Song of Roland is the most famous of the "chansons de geste" (songs of deeds) of the Middle Ages. It provides a fascinating view into the spirit of warriors of that time and their motivation. The Song of Roland gives an idealized picture, of course, and if we can believe the historians, the medieval knights never lived up to their chivalric ideal.
The Song of Roland is not commonly included in the canon of must-read classics. Except in France, maybe. I assume the reason is that people in our time do not trace back their roots to the feudalism of the Middle Ages, and that they consider the chapter of chivalry closed after Cervantes's satirical portrait of knighthood in "Don Quixote". In one respect, however, this gory tale of slaughter, martyrdom and revenge is very contemporary. It illustrates the mindset of crusaders who see the world in terms of Good and Evil, and the language they use to incite contempt of the other party.
Apart from its historical value, the Song of Roland is also worth reading as literature - as an outstanding example for the heroic epic and as a piece of art whose "simple yet elevated style and tone of high moral purpose" (R. Harrison) is reminiscent of the Old Testament.
The three most easily available translations of the Song of Roland in the market are:
W.S. Merwin's 1963 prose translation with introduction, re-published in paperback by Random House's "Modern Library" in 2001 (ISBN 0375757112). His nine-page introduction is a succinct but sufficient overview of the historical events of AD 778 that became the basis of the Song of Roland. The translation stands out for its readability, and Merwin's choice of modern English makes the descriptions of violence even more direct and graphic: "And Oliver rides through the battle, with his spear shattered to a stump, charges against Malun, a pagan, breaks his gilded shield with the flowers painted on it, knocks the eyes out of his head and brings his brains tumbling down to his feet." (page 43).
Robert Harrison's 1970 translation for Penguin Book's budget line "Mentor Books" (ISBN 0451528573) captures the throbbing, urgent rhythm of the verse form best: "Olivier now gallops through the fray - / his lance has snapped, he only has a stump - / and goes to strike a pagan, Malsaron. / He breaks his gilt, fleuron-emblazoned shield, / bursting both his eyeball from his head - / his brain comes tumbling downward to his feet - " (page 93). "Fleuron-emblazoned" is quite enigmatic compared to Merwin's clear "with the flowers painted on it", but Harrison redeems himself by choosing "bursting" to emphasize the violence of the attack. The big plus of Harrison's book is his 42-page introduction. He explains the logic of medieval chivalry, why cruelty coexisted with sensitivity, and butchery with prayer. One interesting concept is the medieval "ethos of success," or in other words the idea that the outcome justifies the means: When a knight killed another knight it was the will of God that this had happened, no matter by what means. Make the opponent trip and chop off his head - see, God is on your side. Harrison goes to quite some length to introduce the instruments of war, the armor and weapons, which is very helpful since the main body of the Song of Roland is about the glory and slaughter of battle.
Glyn Burgess's 1990 translation for Penguin Classics (ISBN 0140445323) is the most recent translation of the three. He stays closest to the form of the original, which gives his translation a certain wooden inflexibility but also a not entirely unbecoming pathos. His translation of Olivier's attack on Malun is quite telling: "Oliver rides through the thick of the fray; / His lance shaft is broken, only a stump remains. / He goes to strike a pagan, Malun; / He breaks his shield, wrought with gold and flowers, / and smites both his eyes out of his head. / His brains come spilling out over his feet;" (page 72) While the use of "wrought" and "smite" sounds a bit old-fashioned, "spilling" is an excellent choice. Burgess added a 19-page introduction to his translation. It focuses mostly on the literary qualities of the Song of Roland; for the first-time reader of the Song of Roland, Harrison's introduction is more helpful. The additional value of the Penguin Classics edition lies in an Appendix with about one third of the original version of the "Chanson de Roland" - the key passages of the work in Old French.
While all three translations have their pros and cons, I tend to recommend Harrison's book over the two others. It strikes a good balance between the clarity of Merwin's prose translation and the wooden feel of Burgess's more literal verse translation. In addition, it impresses with its useful introduction and its unbeatable value for money.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book & this version is eminently readable, June 6, 2011
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DDC (Connecticut) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Song of Roland (Paperback)
There is already one comprehensive review up and if you have no interest in classical literature, then I doubt I can influence you much in a review. But, it is worth nothing that this is an incredibly accessible rendering. A lot of people are scared off from reading the classics because of the difficulty in just getting through them. That is not the case here; this book flows over you like water and is a lot of fun to read. You also might want to check this out if you are a fan of C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien - while I don't know that this influenced them, I can't imagine that they hadn't read it. In any event, I felt I could see the faint influence.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Kindle version lacks hyperlinks for notes and glossary, November 2, 2014
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I decided to use Kindle Matchbook to replace my physical copy with a digital version. It's a good thing I still have a physical copy lying around, because the Kindle version contains no links in the translation to the notes for each section. So, if you actually want to use the notes, you have to go back to the table of contents, navigate to the notes, read those for the next few sections, and then navigate back, the long way, to wherever you were in the text. Or you can use a chain of progressive bookmarks.

Is there simply no motivation for publishers to get their act together, when it comes to digital editions of books?

If I had just scanned my physical copy, the pdf would have been bulky, but at least I could have copied the notes section to a separate file and kept it open, while reading the main text. Would publishers prefer that we just scan their books ourselves?
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beware the oliphant, July 26, 2008
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This review is from: The Song of Roland (Paperback)
I agree with the previous (and, at this point, only other) review of this product in that the Song of Roland is (sadly) an often overlooked piece of medieval literature. I have taken several classes on the topic and I had never even heard of the poem until it was reccommended to me by my brother. After reading it, I too urge anyone interested in this style of literature to pick it up. It's a quick and easy read, yet for all that it embodies all the ideals and heroic qualities of France (and much of Christian western Europe) during the 8th and 9th centuries (and probably beyond as well). The Song of Roland exists as one of the dominant and most influential pieces of the period, and should not be neglected by any student of the era. Plus, you have to love a hero that is such a beast in battle that his death is not a result of any fighting wounds, but rather just a mighty blast of his own.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Art of Cleaving, October 8, 2012
By 
R. Shaffer (Minneapolis, MN USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Song of Roland (Paperback)
The Song of Roland was written around 1090 and is based on events that happened about 300 years earlier. The forward is filled with all the theories, what we know or more precisely what we don't know. In my opinion, any story that is this old (nearly 1,000 years) and has to be translated is bound to lose something be it through the translation or just the fact that things have changed so much over such a long period of time. The version I read had a forward by W. S. Merwin.

I was drawn to this book because of Don Quixote, The Song of Roland would have been one of the books read by Quixote that drove him mad with chivalrous ideas. The Song of Roland shows many of the ways of the knights during medieval times, faithfulness to your lord, honor, to fight and die for your cause. To make a reputation, one that after your death, wouldn't shame your family and one of honor, bravery, and loyalty was what was most important to knights.

I was not disappointed, this book was what I expected, violent, epic battles against overwhelming enemies, pride, loyalty, and bravery that defines the word quixotic. Good Christian knights against evildoer pagans (non-Christians), and the idea that God will make sure that good triumphs over evil. No matter how many evildoers one must cleave in two (and there is plenty of cleaving).

This was a fast and easy read that I would recommend to those who are interested in the subject of knights and chivalry.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Romantic Battle Adventure, January 27, 2013
By 
Brian D. Moore (Mariposa, California USA) - See all my reviews
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The Song of Roland, an intricate poem, shows heroes in the heat of battle and their commitment to: friends, leaders and values.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Last Stand at Roncesvals, October 18, 2012
This review is from: The Song of Roland (Paperback)
The Song of Roland

This historical battle occurred on August 15, 778. Nobody knows who wrote this poem. Charlemagne attacked Spain. Upon his return, the rearguard was attacked and killed to the last man. Saracen Spain was a constant threat to Christian France. So too the separatist Christian Dukes of France. This poem must have been written before the 12th century. Some say the episodes in this poem were copied from real events in the First Crusade and other literary works. Carolingian society was based on a primitive form of feudalism. The Oxford University version of the "Song of Roland" is the oldest known version, 3998 lines of verse divided into 291 paragraphs. It is written in Anglo-Norman French of the early twelfth century. There are other versions of the poem. [Interest in Roland seems to have waned in modern times.]

King Charles of France had conquered most of Spain except for the mountain city of Saragossa where King Marsilla ruled. Marsilla's advisor Blancandrin suggested giving wealth to Charles so he would leave Spain. It is better to lose hostages than a kingdom. Count Roland says Marsilla can't be trusted and Charles should continue the war, but the others disagreed. Charles wants to send an envoy to Marsilla. Roland suggests his stepsire Ganelon. Ganelon is angered by this perilous task. Ganelon and Blancandrin speak together. Ganelon tells Marsilla of Charles' wishes, the latter is angered. But Blancandrin tells Marsilla what Ganelon told him. Ganelon says the conflict would cease after Roland died. Ganelon advises paying tribute so Charles will return to France. Then Marsilla can attack Roland in the outnumbered rear guard.

The treaty will mean peace in their time. Charlemagne accepts the tribute and Marsilla's promise, then leaves for France. Roland will command the rear guard in the narrow pass with just the soldiers given to him. The Saracens plan a great victory to discourage Charlemagne. Olivier sees the mighty army of the enemy and asks Roland to sound his horn so Charles will return with his army. Roland refuses to call for help. There are individual attacks at first, the Franks win. Then the enemy forces close in for sword fights. At this time there is a raging storm in France, a sign of turmoil. Now the Saracens win, continuous battle whittles down the French forces. Did Roland make a mistake in not calling for help earlier? King Charles orders his army to return. Olivier is wounded unto death yet fights on. Soon only Roland is left, but he is also wounded, and dies. When King Charles arrives in Roncesvals he finds the ground covered with the dead. The Saracens retreat to Spain, then with reinforcements, they attack Charlemagne's army. But Charles kills their leader and the Saracens flee. The French attack and conquer Saragossa. After this victory Ganelon is tried for treason. He says his quarrel with Roland was personal, based on a grudge. Trial by combat settles the question. Ganelon is a traitor and is torn apart by four horses. Next Charles has to invade a new country. He is growing weary of his life.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tribute to the knights, April 10, 2009
This review is from: The Song of Roland (Paperback)
This song, translated into prose by Merwin, is a testament to love and respect given to knights. For some reason, this song's composer felt that Roland must be immortalized in poetry. Influenced by the Andalusian "qasida", the anonymous poet crafted a tribute to Catholic hero Roland and his companions. The story is very gory, filled with a STRONG Christian bias. (Not only do the Muslims get slammed, so do the Hungarians, Bulgarians, Romans, etc.) The Muslims are "pagans".

This story deals with a knight's honor, chilvarly, loyalty to the Catholic church, and one's relationship with GOD. I loved the references to obscure saints and Catholic practices. The introduction and afterword were also helpful in understanding this beautiful song.

This is intelligent Christian literature! Read it along with a study guide or notes and you won't be disappointed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, February 11, 2015
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This review is from: The Song of Roland (Paperback)
Great book. Just as advertised. Thanks!
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The Song of Roland
The Song of Roland by W.S. Merwin (Paperback - February 13, 2001)
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