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Final Paper - Har 1 Katherine Har History 3 Final Paper...

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Har 1 Katherine Har History 3 – Final Paper December 3, 2007 The Importance and Permeability of Feudalism and a Warrior Ethic to Political Authority and Values in The Song of Roland In the introduction to her translation of The Song of Roland , Patricia Terry begins by talking generally about the values of literary characters. She emphasizes that the heroes in epics such as The Song of Roland , which depicts a society constantly fighting, were born to die on a battlefield. Later works would use the characters from this poem as proverbial standards: Roland’s absolute courage, the mutual fidelity of Roland and Charlemagne, and Oliver and Roland’s friendship 1 . A product of the society within which it was written, that society itself derived in part from the one depicted in this epic, The Song of Roland is significant for its portrayal of values important enough to be considered enduring. The poem can provide insight into the general values of the society, particularly about the qualities they prized, how they conceived of political authority and legitimacy, and how the two are interconnected. The premise of the poem being a feudal society at war, it is only natural that the discussion of the epic’s values and the prized personal qualities would focus on how these relate to a feudal social order, mainly relating to whom one owes loyalty and how one maintains one’s honor and courage in the face of disgrace. Courage and honor are ideal characteristics for those who were “born to die on a battlefield”. Roland and Oliver are considered to be good men because “their words are fierce and proud (87: 1097)”. The Archbishop Turpin criticizes the pagans he fights saying, “I have no love for men who are afraid (125: 1647)” while Roland expresses his distaste for the idea of not standing up to fight with these words, “Cursed be the heart that cowers in the breast! We’ll hold our ground; if they will meet us here (87: 1107- 1 The Song of Roland , trans. Patricia Terry (New York: Macmillan, 1992) i.
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Har 2 1108)”. These passages emphasize how the values depicted in The Song of Roland are representative of the combative aspect of the society; courage and honor are all important because they make a good warrior. The poem seems to make it clear that one’s prowess in battle determines one’s value to society. Thus, the battlefield experience serves to confer legitimacy and authority. Practically, Charlemagne’s authority comes from his own battlefield experience, allowing him to be admired by both his foes and allies for his courage and prowess, and thus legitimizing his claim to any authority. He is depicted admirably at the beginning of the battle against the Spanish forces of the Emir: With what fierce courage the Emperor sits his horse; He’s in the rear among those veterans Who wear their hauberks with their long beards outside, White as the snow when it lies over ice. (238: 3316-3319) In this passage, and other similar ones, Charlemagne’s authority is highlighted through references to his old age and his status as a veteran among his troops.
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