Based on the massacre in 778 of Charlemagne's rearguard at Roncesvalles in northern Spain, The Song of Roland transforms a legendary defeat into an epic clash between Christianity and paganism. At the heart of the poem is the account of the warrior Roland, Charlemagne's nephew and captain of his rearguard, who valiantly leads his men into battle against a vast pagan host and dies, defiant and triumphant, on a hill facing the enemy. The scene that recounts his death is one of the greatest in world literature.The oldest extant epic poem in French, The Song of Roland is a celebration of the crusading and feudal values of the twelfth century; its skillful structure and poetic intensity make it the most famous of the chansons de geste.
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