The Song of Roland is the oldest surviving major work of French Literature. According to Wikipedia, “The Song of Roland is an 11th-century chanson de geste based on the Frankish military leader Roland at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in 778, during the reign of Charlemagne.” According to Cornell College, “Olivier: Roland’s best friend, comrade, and the brother of Aude. He is also referred to as Oliver.” This poem has been twisted from the real historical event of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in 778 into a poem that was romanticized to fit what can be bluntly described as Christian propaganda. The real Battle of Roncevaux Pass was an invasion of Spain by the ruler Charlemagne to help one set of Muslims defeat another set of Muslims. In this battle he attacked a Basque Christian city. In this battle he retreated and his rearguard was ambushed and defeated by the Basques. Europeans liked listening to this poem, despite the fact that there were several changes and was not historically accurate.
The poem shows the story of Charlemagne attaining gifts from the Muslim King. This, of course, was intended as a trap. Roland sends Ganelon, his stepdad, to negotiate with the Muslims. Ganelon is outraged at this and swears to get revenge at Roland. So, instead of negotiating with the Muslims, Ganelon sides with them and betrays the French. After Ganelon returns to Charlemagne and fools him, roland volunteers to lead Charlemagne’s men into battle. One of these men lead into battle is Oliver, Roland’s best friend. When Oliver sees the Muslim army coming towards them, he tries to convince Roland that Ganelon betrayed them. Roland refuses to believe it, but by the end of the first battle, Roland agrees with Oliver that Ganelon is a traitor. Oliver begs Roland to blow his trumpet for reinforcements from Charlemagne. Three times Roland refuses. Oliver believes that it is dishonorable to be outnumbered and die when there is still a time to call for help. Roland does not believe that. In fact, he believes exactly the opposite. Oliver told him that victory should be their priority, not honor. When the second wave of Muslims came, Roland finally agrees to blow the trumpet. In the end, the two switch sides. Roland dies a martyr, and Oliver dies at the hand hand of a Muslim soldier. Charlemagne hears the trumpet’s call for help and drives away the enemy Muslims.
Describe the differences between Oliver’s view of military goals vs. Roland’s. Oliver was considered the wise one because of his suggestion to call for aid, and Roland was considered valiant because of his courage and determination to end the enemy without backup. However, both of them show marvelous courage. Roland wanted to stay and fight and probably die with honor, however, Oliver wanted to call for backup, telling Roland that their priority should be victory, not honor. The end of the poem was not that one was right and the other was wrong. Rather they each wanted to serve their country and do what’s best for it and died doing it.