My favourite 12th century epic (you know you all have one…)

I think if there is any medium for expressing my like for, and interest in, historical epics the web is probably the place.  They’re a little obscure, you may have had to do a degree like mine to have even heard of similar things (either that or you belong to a medieval recreation group), and the web is where obscure interests flourish.  And I’m not talking about the damsel in distress/heaving bosoms/unkempt (yet tameable) wildman type historical epics.  I mean epics that were written during historical periods.

rolandI have a particular fondness for The Song of Roland.  It is a form of epic known as a Chanson de Geste, or Song of Deeds.  These stories told tales of heroes and the very manly and heroic deeds that made them great.  Which curiously enough in earlier years included a few male bonding sessions where they all get together and have a good cry over the unfairness of it all.  This particular Song of Deeds describes a vast battle in northern Spain in the valley of Roncevalles (Roncevaux in French).  Roland and his men valiantly fight for Charlemagne against the Saracen/Muslim/generally un-Christian rulers of Spain.  Although the battle is worthy (or so the verse written at the time indicates), Roland’s rearguard is overwhelmed by the sheer force of the enemy. 

This story has drama, brotherhood, pain, sacrifice, honour, treachery and bloody battle.  I was sold on the descriptions of people being run through with lances or swords and having their spines pushed out the back of their bodies (who says TV is the most violent entertainment medium).  If you can get into the rhythm of the verse and put aside modern ideas of cultural tolerance (and the fact it’s possibly not quite truthful) it’s a good read.