The Song of Roland is a famous poem that dates way back to the 11th century. In the poem, Charlemagne, who was the ruler at that time, was in a battle in Spain against the Muslims. At the time, the only city left surviving was Saragossa, which was ruled by Marsilla the King. Fearing defeat, the king thus pledges to concede the war and pledged loyalty to Charlemagne through treasure and his conversion to Christianity. The ruler of the Franks accepts this offer, and the leader of the warriors Roland chooses his stepfather Ganelon to go back to Marsilla with the deal. Ganelon suspecting that this was a suicide mission, by his stepson to eliminate him, conspires with the enemy soldiers on how they can counter the rear guard of his army, which he knew perfectly well that his stepson would lead it. Just as predicted by his stepdad, Roland leads the rear guard together with his close allies. They are after that waylaid by the Muslim army who had come in huge numbers. His allies beg him to call for back up from the primary military, but his pride and ego get in the way of doing so, to which he urges his soldiers to continue fighting. Roland realizes too late that they cannot win this fight alone and thus blows his horn requesting for backup with such intensity that he bursts his temples and dies a martyr, and it was, therefore, said that saints placed his soul in paradise. Later on, Charlemagne and his army arrive to find a field full of dead bodies and chase after the pagans making them drown in revenge. Later on, the Babylon Emir by the name Baligant comes to provide back up for the pagan king but is later killed together with Marsilla, and after taking Saragossa, the king and his men head back home. The Frank’s then found out of the betrayal by Ganelon and is charged with treason and is executed together with some of his relatives as punishment. On this basis, the song of Roland’s central theme was religion comparing and contrasting between Christianity and Islam.
Comparing the religion of Christianity and Islam in the context of the poem, the Song of Roland, one particular aspect stands out on both sides. This fact is that both societies portray a feudal system of doing things. This system is said to have originated from the country of France in the early 10th century and, after that, stretched to other areas. This term was derived from another word, fief, which meant a portion of land given out with certain strings attached to it. This being the case, an individual who allocates another this fief is said to be the individual’s Lord while the individual is referred to as the Lord’s vassal. The vassal had the duty to serve the master while the Lord had the responsibility to protect the vassal (Medieval Europe). Going back to the context, according to both religions, the association and relationship between God and man were of a feudal nature. This being the case, both the Muslims and Christians were willing to go to war for God for holy reasons.
The feudal society was thus based on the form of a pyramid scheme in that the peasants who were the lowest in the scheme offered homage and loyalty to the nobles in exchange for protection while the nobles did the same to those above them and so on until it reached the King of the land and finally God. Roland’s gesticulation, when he was on the point of death, portrays this feudal system. As he was dying, he raised to the skies his glove from the right hand and the good saint, Gabriel swoops down to obtain it. “His right-hand glove, to God he offers it, Saint Gabriel form’s hand hath taken it.” (Song 2390-2391) This indication was that of a vassal’s loyalty and devotion to his Lord, therefore dying as a faithful Lord’s vassal.
Contrasting Christianity and Islam still in the context of the Song of Roland Christianity is made to portray courage and good while Islam is made to represent cowardice and evil. Therefore, the Christian entourage led by Charlemagne was said to constitute God’s will, while the Muslim escort guided by Marsilla and Baligant constituted upright evil. According to the medieval perspective of those times, good prevails at the end since the God who is served by the Christians is omnipotent and is very interested in his subjects’ progress. This is shown in the poem, “Sees Tierris then that in the face he is struck, on the grassy field runs clear his flowing blood; Strikes Pinabel on’ s helmet brown and rough.” (Song 3924-3926). This portrays that God made the weaker opponent win for justice to prevail. The poet in the poem illustrates the Muslims as very evil and less brave and noble, thus making them the exact opposite of Christians who are considered victorious and courageous. There was also a contrast in the Gods worshipped since the Muslims worshiped the trinity if Apollo, Mohammed, and Termagant simulating the Christian Trinity, which according to the Christians, illustrated idolatry at its highest.
Christianity is portrayed as heroism based on vassalage, where the respect and loyalty that a knight shows his superior mirrors the dedication between a Christian and The Lord God. In the instance of Roland’s death, despite his flaws that comprise of ego, among other things, he dies a hero due to his loyalty to God when he goes to battle for Christendom and is therefore saved in the process. Muslims, on the other hand, are seen to be pagans with allegiance to idols and therefore lack salvation. The Christians thus justify their course of going to war as guided by Christ in getting the pagans away from the Holy land (Kablitz). The poem thus stated that through the firm belief that the Christians had on God made them sturdy enough to conquer the pagan army, “Pagans are wrong; Christians are right indeed” (Song, 1015).
This poem can further be classified as an example of orientalism in the essence that this concept came forth as Europe’s logic and grounds for dealing with the defiance of Islam (Ziauddin). The foundation of this concept was brought forth by John of Damascus, who was a renowned scholar of Christianity. He claimed that Islam was merely a cult of pagan nature and that Islam’s prophet, the famous Muhammad was a heretic. Going back to the poem, the Song of Roland, it portrays orientalism in the sense that it illustrates how Islam has been structured in a mirror-like image to Christendom. Yet, it is morally inverted in every sense possible through a trinity of false Gods, Prophets, and pure evil (Ziauddin).
In conclusion, since The Song of Ronald’s was written during the medieval times of Holy wars, its main point was comparing Christianity and Islam in the aspect of Feudal society and also contrasting them in the element of Christianity being Good while Islam being evil, the former being courageous while the later illustrates cowardice in every sense. All this was based on the theory of orientalism, which concluded that Christianity was the only true religion. At the same time, Islam was merely the practice of Paganism and idolatry and was therefore referred to as “infidels.”
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