The Lion’s Pride of the Hero: Song of Roland vs. The Iliad
Although the authors of the greatest poems ever written throughout the history of the mankind can be split by time and distance, their ideas intertwine in a paradox and inexplicable way. In spite of the fact that Homer and the unknown author of Song of Roland could never meet, the two poems have so much in common that one might think that the Providence Itself guided the stylus of Homer and the hand of the unknown writer. As Matthew Russell said, “The comparison of The Song of Roland with The Iliad is inevitable” (Song of Roland, 200).
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Since the writings of the Ancient Greece were the earliest documents which survived harsh time-testing, Homer was considered the first man to introduce the rest of the mankind such things as moral principles and certain moral rules. Indeed, the poems of his are a mosaic of all kinds of admonitions. It is important that Homer was the first to teach the ancient world a lesson of morals. He spoke of such things as pride, duty and honor, explaining people what is considered good and what is taken as bad and indecent.
Thus, the first lesson of pride is taught in his poem The Iliad. Homer showed that the pride of a hero, who was actually half-God in the ancient Greek understanding, is something as strong as a stone. Among the qualities of a hero, the pride and the honor were of the utmost importance, according to Homer.
Next to Achilles’ pride, there is Roland and his own heroism. Proving reckless and at the same time devoted to his friends, Roland is closer to the modern understanding of a hero who sacrifices himself not for the sake of an exploit, but for whom and what he values most.
Learning to be Dutiful: Roland and Achilles
Because of different time context and the different environment, the writers approached the role of duty in quite different ways. While Homer’s Achilles takes his duty from completely practical point of view, which is to protect the homeland and its citizen from the Trojans, Roland takes both the duty to fight and the responsibility for his friends in battle as the equal ones.
To put it in simpler words, Achilles’ duty is to fight for his home, while Roland’s duty is fighting for his principles. It is worth paying attention to the fact that Achilles decides to stop the battle for Agamemnon, while Roland never leaves his friends in need, even when his own life comes at a stake. Thus, “The Iliad of the Franks” (Song of Roland, 200) developed the ideas of its ancestor.
However, it must be mentioned that both poems equally value the civil duty of a warrior. Homer and the unknown French poet were preoccupied with the idea of patriotism to the same extent, it seems. Despite all the difficulties, their heroes fight for their ideas and for the future, though the characters never know if they will see this future.
On the Problem of Religion, or the Complicity of God-and-Man Relationships
Since the question of religion is one of the trickiest subjects, the arguments concerning the religious issues in both poems never cease. Because of the modern religious ideas, the ones in the poems can seem rather savage-like for an average man, yet these ideas prove quite well-developed ones for their epoch, both provoking and providing food for thoughts.
It is obvious that Song of Roland makes God the supernatural creature which is both just and powerful. In the fight between Pinabel and Thierry, He helps the latter, and Thierry, though times weaker than Pinabel, wins. God stays an invisible talisman of justice. In contrast to the French epos, The Iliad depicts God as a cruel and savage force. In Homer’s understanding, Greek gods can possess the same drawbacks as people do.
Thus, The Iliad, the grandiose epic poem, and Song of Roland, a bridge between the Greek mythology and classical theology, prove to have a lot of things in common. Despite the time and space gap, the two writers could think in unison. This is another proof to the idea that literature can be a link between civilizations.
Song of Roland. Trans. Matthew Russell. Berkeley: UC Press, 1883. Print.
The Song of Roland and Its Critics. The Periodical. Vol. 5. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1914. Print.