The Song of Roland

Deception is an evil doing by someone who is trying to get out of a tough situation. This is the wrong way to try to get out of a situation. For as Mark Twain said, “Truth is the most valuable thing we have, so I try to conserve it.” Twain implies that man does not need to keep lying to get out of difficult situations; one needs to tell the truth because it is very valuable in the sense that without it one would not be able to trust a soul. In the epic poem The Song of Roland translated by W.S Merwin, Charlemagne, the emperor of the Franks, has defeated all of Spain except for the city of Saragossa. Marsiliun was the ruler over the Muslims, and he tries to deceive Charlemagne in order to save his people and himself. Unlike what Twain said about telling the truth, Marsiliun does the exact opposite which is to deceive. Marsiliun was foolish in trying to deceive Charlemagne because Charlemagne was too wise to fall for Marsiliun’s deception, the deception would only backfire, and it was a cowardly way of getting out of a tough situation. All in all, Marsiliun’s choice to deceive Charlemagne was a foolish act.

Charlemagne was too wise to be deceived by Marsiliun. Evidence of this is found after the messengers of Marsiliun come to Charlemagne with their offering of luxuries; Charlemagne was suspicious. He exclaimed, “He says he will join me at Aix in my place, and will submit to our most holy law and become a Christian, and hold his lands under me as a vassal. But I cannot tell what he has at heart” (IXX). Charlemagne was listing off all that Marsiliun promised to do for him if he returned to Aix. Charlemagne was unsure if this was what Marsiliun really planned to do. When Charlemagne said, “I cannot tell what he has at heart,” he is revealing that something was strange about this offer. This showed that he did not fully trust Marsiliun. Because he does not fully trust him, he tells his men to be on guard because Marsiliun could have something planned contrary to what he had said. Another reason why Charlemagne was too wise to be deceived was because he was able to see a person’s true intentions. One way he is able to do this was through his dreams. He interpreted them himself and could tell what was going to happen. As he recalled one dream he said, “Ganelon will be the destruction of France. Last night I saw Ganelon shatter my lance from between my fists. And he has named my nephew for the rear guard, and I have left Roland beyond the frontier in a foreign country. Oh God, if I lose him no one will take his place for me!” (LXVII). This quote is Charlemagne regretting letting Roland be in the rear guard. From his dream he sees Ganelon’s real reason for putting Roland in that position. He put him there to be killed. It was all part of his evil plan of getting rid of him. Charlemagne was filled with grief and was enraged with Ganelon. Charlemagne because of this makes sure that Roland has enough men who will fight with him if something does happen, therefore Ganelon’s plan for Roland to be in great danger does not work because of Charlemagne’s wisdom over the whole instance. This instance with Ganelon supports the idea that Charlemagne was too wise to be deceived by Marsiliun because he was not deceived by Ganelon. Therefore, if he was not deceived by Ganelon, then surely Marsiliun could not deceive him. All of this to say that Charlemagne was too wise to be deceived therefore Marsiliun should not have tried to deceive him.

The deception of Marsiliun was only going to backfire which is why Marsiliun was wrong in his choice to deceive. Marsiliun should have been able to see what was going to happen as a result of his deception because of experience. The first instance of the deception backfiring was when it brought upon the battle. As Oliver and Roland stand in the rear guard Oliver hears a noise. He realizes it is the French and says, “They will bring bitter suffering to our Franks” (LXXX). Oliver sees that there is a battle about to begin which is why he says this. This quote has to do with the deception bringing upon a battle because it shows that the Muslims approach the French and start the battle. They bring the deaths upon themselves because of this deception. They are punished for their actions and this punishment is the loss of almost all of their army. Another reason why the deception would backfire was that the Muslims experienced major pain and suffering. “The French have fought courageously and with a will, and the pagans have been slaughtered by thousands and by multitudes: out of the hundred thousand there are not even two still left alive” (CXI). This quote is emphasizing how great of a loss this battle was for the pagans. They did not even have two men left. They had been slaughtered by the French and were experiencing great suffering. These are all reasons why deception would only backfire therefore Marsiliun should have been more cautious with his decision.

The final reason why Marsiliun was not justified in deceiving Charlemagne was that it was a cowardly way for getting out of a tough situation. For instance, Marsiliun has to lie to try to get the French to leave. He says, “Tell him that he will not see the end of the first month before I have joined him with a thousand of my followers, and that I shall bow to the law of the Christians and become his vassal in all friendship and good faith” (VI). All that Marsiliun had said was a lie to try to get the French out of Spain. He was never going to follow through with all that he has promised. He would not become a Christian, he would not become a friend, and he would definitely not become a vassal. This was showing cowardice because when someone lies he is trying to forget what happened so that he will not feel bad. Instead of facing the real problem, which was that the French would not get out of Spain, Marsiliun lies in order that he would not have to deal with the French anymore. All this to say that Marsiliun was lying to try to get the French out of Spain. Another reason Marsiliun was acting cowardly was because he never really tried to make an alliance with the French or try to fight them fairly. Instead he just lied which looked made him look scared and weak as a ruler. Marsiliun says, “It is far better that our children should lose their heads than we should forfeit our honor and possessions, or be reduced to begging” (III). Marsiliun thinks he sounds very courageous and strong as he said this, but really he was sounding weak and afraid. He was saying that he would rather lose his son than his honor. This shows how self-centered he was. He did not even want to try to stand up for his country but would lose everything but his honor. All of this is to show that Marsiliun was a weak ruler and that he should not have deceived Charlemagne because he did not even try to win fairly.

Although Charlemagne was wise he did make some wrong decisions. An example of this would be when he allowed Roland to become a rear guard (LX). Although Ganelon was the one to choose, the king still had a say over who was in the rear-guard; but instead he left it as Ganelon had chosen. Even though this was a wrong decision on Charlemagne’s part because it brings about Roland’s death, Charlemagne does realize his mistakes and is not oblivious to what his decisions, good and bad, will lead to. It was said that Charlemagne was beyond upset because of this choice. “But more than any of the others Charles is racked with anguish because he has left his nephew in the gorges of Spain. Pity overcomes him. He weeps and cannot help it” (LXVI). Charlemagne is so angry and sad that Roland now is in an unsafe place, and it is all because of his decision. He is full of pity because he knows that he could have stopped this from happening. So even though Charlemagne does make some wrong decisions, he realizes what he does and ensures that the next decision is a noble one. All in all Charlemagne was a wise man because of his thoughtfulness in his decisions and how he learned from the wrong ones.

Even though Marsiliun’s deception would only backfire, some may argue that the deception moved the French out of Spain and most importantly caused the death of Roland. It created an opportunity for the Muslims to be able to conquer the French. The poem is quoted, “Now the King declares his war over. The Emperor rides toward sweet France” (LV). In this quote Charlemagne is declaring that the war between the Muslims and French is over and that he is ready to return home. Charlemagne has given in to the deception of Marsiliun because he is leaving Spain. Marsiliun’s plan has worked and he now has a chance to pay the French back and to kill Roland. Although Marsiliun’s plan did work, he did not realize that because of his deception he would lose hundreds of men and that his city would now be more vulnerable. He should have thought his plan completely through before going along with it because in the end great suffering will come out of it and the Muslims are eventually defeated in the end.

Admittedly, deception was a very cowardly way of getting out of tough situations, but Marsiliun was just looking out for the welfare of his kingdom. In Marsiliun’s discussion with Ganelon, he asks if he should send a great number of men to go fight with Charlemagne. Ganelon answers, “Do nothing of the kind, for the moment. You will lose great numbers of your pagans” (XLIII). Marsiliun listens to Ganelon’s advice because he wanted the best for his kingdom. He did not want any of them to go through much pain so he did not send them out to fight with Charlemagne. Nevertheless, he still acted cowardly by putting them in battle with the rear guards of the French. This is because he put his men in great danger when he could have avoided all the losses of men by leaving the French alone. Therefore, Marsiliun was foolish in deceiving the French because although he was looking out for his men, he lost many at his last battle with the Franks.

As mentioned before Marsiliun was foolish in his decision to deceive Charlemagne. This was especially because of his cowardice. Marsiliun does not even try to get the French out of Spain with a battle or fair one on one combat which shows that he was afraid. He was afraid and a coward towards the French which shows how weak of a leader he was. He did not think of others and he was not thoughtful in his decisions. Mark Twain’s quote which says “Truth is the most valuable thing we have, so I try to conserve it” applies to this point as well. Marsiliun was not valuing his truth like he should have, but instead he was lying showing that he was a coward and could not stand up to the French on his own. He did not think about what might happen because of his actions but was quick in his decisions and slow to think about them. All in all, Marsiliun was foolish to deceive Charlemagne in order for the French to leave Spain.

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