My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The student who opens his heart to Homer, Plato, St. Augustine, the author of The Song of Roland, Dante, Chaucer, and Shakespeare, doesn’t get, he gives; he learns to love these authors whose Beauty, Truth, and Good shine through the dark divine and human matter of their works like swarms of stars in the honey-combed night of time; he gazes on them with the thrilled fear we call “awe” and “wonder,” the way a lover gazes upon his beloved, who would be shocked and ashamed at anyone who asked what he was going to get out of her!
Quoting John Senior, James Taylor introduces me to the 12th Century French epic poem, The Song of Roland. The poem tells the story of Charlemagne’s nephew, Roland, as he goes to battle against pagan Muslims from Spain in the 8th Century. A traitor has betrayed Roland and Emperor Charles, leading to a battle between Roland and the Spanish Muslim king, Marsile.
The poem is reminiscent of Homer’s The Iliad, with graphic depictions of death and battle. It is clear that it was written from a Christian perspective, pitting the Christian God and against the Muslim Muhammad and their idolatry of Apollo. Similar to the Greeks and Trojans pitting the various Greek gods against each other. Of course, in stark contrast to the gods in The Iliad, who were arbitrary and capricious with their help, The Song of Roland shows a Christian God who is active in history and the affairs of kings and men and a Muslim god who is silent and helpless.
This is only my first read, and so I am learning to be hesitant to make any dogmatic statements about the stories I review, but there is a sense in which, like The Iliad, death just continues to lead to more death. There is no end to death, no repentance, no forgiveness. Something that seems to be missing from what should be a thoroughly Christian tale.
I might add that this book was recommended to me as a commentary on The Song of Roland, one that might correct or clarify my above thoughts.