Roland and Vernagu
ROLAND AND VERNAGU: EXPLANATORY NOTES
ABBREVIATIONS: DR: Duke Roland and Sir Otuel of Spain; MED: Middle English Dictionary; OK: Otuel a Knight; OR: Otuel and Roland; Otinel: Anglo-Norman Otinel; Pseudo-Turpin: The Chronicle of Pseudo-Turpin, ed. and trans. Poole; RV: Roland and Vernagu; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases.
1 For he it seighe with sight. Approximately forty-four opening lines are missing because of damage to fol. 263 of the Auchinleck manuscript. See the discussion in the RV Introduction, pp. 27–28. The damaged leaf may by viewed in either of the facsimiles (listed on p. 31).
10 Withouten ani lesing. “without any lying.” The RV poet uses this line frequently as a tag and metrical filler; he also tends to favor phrases that assert his honesty and the tale’s veracity. His source, Pseudo-Turpin, purports to be an eyewitness account; see the discussion in the RV Introduction, pp. 27–28.
11–12 Lorein and Lombardye, / Gascoun, Bayoun, and Pikardye. Except for Lombardy, these are all regions in France that were strong principalities during the Middle Ages. Lombardy, a region in north Italy, figures prominently in many of the Otuel-cycle romances. Medieval Lombardy bordered on France. In The Siege of Milan, the central conflict between Saracens and Christians is over the city of Milan and the surrounding Lombard region. In OK, OR, DR, and Otinel, the Saracen Emperor Garcy has conquered many key Christian cities and made Lombardy his command center.
19 Constansious. Constantius VI (771–c. 805), a Byzantine emperor.
110–24 the holy croun . . . . Withouten ani lesing. The list of relics presented by Emperor Constantius to Charlemagne is most impressive. It includes the Crown of Thorns (“the holy croun”), the arm of St. Simon (on whom, see the note to line 111 below), a portion of the Cross set in crystal, a scrap of Jesus’ robe, all (or a portion) of Mary’s smock, the rod of Aaron, the spear of Longinus, and a nail driven through Jesus’ feet at the Crucifixion. The relics, which give off a sweet odor, are largely (but not all) clustered around devotion to Christ’s Passion. The presentation of the Crown of Thorns to Charlemagne helps to codify his role as divine ruler — follower and worldly successor to Christ.
111 arme of Seyn Simoun. The owner of this arm could be either Simon the Apostle or Simon of Cyrene. The former was one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus, Simon the Cananean (Matthew 10:4), also called Simon Zelotes (Acts 1:13), reputed to have been martyred by being sawn in half, longwise through his torso and head. It is not clear that his arm held any special significance, but arm-and-hand-shaped reliquaries, fashioned of gold or silver, were not uncommon. See, for example, Klein, “Arm Reliquary of the Apostles” (c. 1190, Lower Saxony), Cleveland Museum of Art, viewable at http://projects.mcah. columbia.edu/treasuresofheaven/relics/Arm-Reliquary-of-the-Apostles.php. This identification would complement the appearance of James because Simon is another original apostle. However, it seems also possible, amid the other relics of the Crucifixion, that “Seyn Simoun” refers to Simon of Cyrene, never canonized but famous for being named as the one who “took up the Cross” and bore it for Jesus (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21, echoing Christ’s command at Mark 8:34). Simon of Cyrene’s service to Jesus is integral to the Stations of the Cross. A relic of his Cross-bearing arm would be extremely meaningful, representing the missionary zeal of the crusaders themselves, who figuratively took up the Cross to fight infidels.
117 Araon. Despite the unusual spelling, it is clear that the poet means Aaron, the brother of Moses, whose staff was transformed into a serpent in Egypt. The tale comes from Exodus 7:8–10.
120 Longys. According to legend, Longinus was the unnamed Roman soldier who pierced Jesus’ side with a spear during the Crucifixion. The spear came to be regarded as a precious relic because of its association with Jesus’ heart blood. In RV, Constantius possesses the Spear of Longinus and presents it to Charlemagne.
129 Yif the relikes verray were. On the treatment of relics in the literature of late medieval England, see Malo, Relics and Writing.
139 Aise in Gascoyn. Auch, a city in southwestern France, was the capital of the province of Gascony on the Spanish border. The Via Tolosona, one of the four traditional routes for pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, passed through Auch. The scribe’s spelling may reflect the influence of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) in Germany, where Charlemagne had an imperial residence and where he was buried in 814, or of Aix-en-Provence, a major center in Roman and late medieval France that Charles Martel (Charlemagne’s grandfather) captured from Saracen occupiers in 737.
140 siker aplight. “in faith, truly.” This is another phrase the poet uses frequently as both a metrical filler and a claim that the events being told are true.
144 Galis. Galicia is a region in northwestern Spain. Santiago de Compostela is located in Galicia and originated as a cathedral where Saint James’ remains were buried. It was a popular pilgrims’ destination during the Middle Ages, and remains so today.
152–56 James the apostel . . . . lete me sle. The speaker in Charlemagne’s dream is St. James of Compostela, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, who was killed by Herod (the only martyrdom of a disciple cited in the Bible; see Acts 12:2). James was thus venerated as the first martyred disciple. As the poet says, James’ brother was the apostle St. John the Evangelist (Matthew 10:3). James is the patron saint of Spain, his remains enshrined (according to legend) in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. In RV, his appearance before Charlemagne in a dream further verifies that the king’s campaign into Muslim Spain has divine sanction.
185 Pampiloun. Pamplona is a city located near the border of Spain and France. According to historical accounts of Charlemagne’s failed campaign in Spain, Pamplona was the first city he conquered.
206–08 And thurth the miracle . . . . that ich night. Mass conversion of Muslims is shown to occur first through prayer, then crushing warfare, and then “miracle.” The poet does not reflect upon the compulsory nature of such conversion, and instead seems buoyed by the fact that this method works so well for the conqueror Charlemagne. Mass conversion of this kind, of ordinary citizenry, seems to be desirable, as opposed to the obdurate nature that sets the Saracen giant Vernagu, later in the poem, outside the scheme of salvation (see note to line 813 below). On the convertibility of desirable versus undesirable Muslims, see the discussion in the RV Introduction, pp. 28–30.
221–56 Visim, Lameche . . . . Agabie and Sisens. This long list of cities in Spain conquered by Charlemagne may combine names of real cities with fictional place-names that fit the meter and rhyme. It is impossible to identify every place as being a real locale that is still in existence, but enough do match up to suggest that the RV poet attempts to detail a sweeping swath of true geography. The list’s extreme length also magnifies the success of Charlemagne’s Spanish campaign. Discussing the use of journeys and unfamiliar locations in romances, Robert Rouse argues that romance authors may have included names and descriptions of places that the audience will never visit but would have heard of in other narratives (“Walking (Between) the Lines,” pp. 137–39). The Latin, Old French, and Middle English versions of Pseudo-Turpin (the source for RV) all include similar lists of cities in Spain. See especially the long, helpful list in the translation of the Latin version (Pseudo-Turpin, pp. 10–13); and the abbreviated list in the edition of the Middle English Turpine’s Story (ed. Shepherd, pp. 8–9, 44–46).
259–68 That hat Seyn Torquas . . . . se Godes face. This passage refers to a medieval legend of St. Torquatus of Acci, patron saint of Guadix, Spain. It would appear that pilgrims to his shrine, upon his feast day (May 15), could enjoy the miraculous fruit of his special, sanctified olive tree, and thereby be promised a vision of God’s beatific face at the Last Judgment. St. Torquatus was a first-century missionary who evangelized the town of Acci (present-day Guadix).
280 dussepers. “Twelve peers.” According to legend, Charlemagne recognized twelve knights — his dussepers — as his greatest, noblest warriors. Their likeness to the twelve apostles is noticeable, and perhaps even more so in the plot of RV, which is based upon a military campaign made in St. James the Apostle’s honor.
286 ginne. “strategy, device, tactic, ingenious trick.” See MED ginne (n.), senses 2a and 2b. It is unusual to apply this term to a prayer, which would normally be considered a miraculous intervention rather than a war strategy. The word ginne is also commonly used as a military term for a machine designed to besiege a city (MED ginne (n.), sense 4a). Its use here may thus carry an ironic reference to that meaning, because Charlemagne is able to enter the city through a different kind of device.
309–16 In Marche moneth . . . . to the warldes ende. The site for this legend of a city’s naming as “Paners” after the French word for “basket” is unknown. It was apparently a medieval origin story with strong local resonance, reaching even an English poet, but the exact place cannot be known. A historic district within Marseille, France, is called “Le Paniers,” but its origin is post-medieval, and it is also too remotely located for it to have any bearing on the geography of RV.
317–19 Clodonius the first . . . . and Pipin. Clovis, Clotaire, Dagobert, and Pepin were kings who preceded Charlemagne in ruling the Franks. The first three names denote the Merovingian dynasty. Pepin refers to either Charlemagne’s father or grandfather.
323 maumetes. “idols.” Muslims, as Saracens, are inaccurately depicted as worshiping idols.
325 Turpin. Archbishop Turpin is an important military and ecclesiastical character in the Song of Roland and the Middle English Charlemagne romances. In Otinel, RV, and the three Otuel romances, Turpin’s role is limited to episcopal duties: performing Mass and baptizing converts. In the fifth Otuel-cycle romance, The Siege of Milan, Turpin plays a central role.
328 the Latin. The phrase most likely refers to Pseudo-Turpin. See also line 429.
343 Jubiter and Mahoun. Middle English romances often misrepresent Muslims as polytheists who worship idols, naming three or four gods as central to their fictionalized faith: Mahoun, Jubiter, Apollin, and Termagaunt. See the discussion in the General Introduction, p. 16.
357 Seynt Ysador the confessour. Saint Isidore of Seville, famous as the last of the Church Fathers, was Archbishop of Seville from c. 600 until his death in 636. In c. 1063, his remains were translated from Seville, in what was then Islamic southern Spain, to the newly rededicated Basilica of San Isidoro in León, an important city in northwest Spain. Like the other locations mentioned in lines 353–64, León lies on a pilgrimage route to Compostela.
359 in Aise a chapel. On this location in Gascony, see the explanatory note to line 139 above.
363 Anevaus. This city has not been identified. The reading agrees with all prior editors. The minims of n, v, u invite other readings, but no possibility provides a viable clue. The city of Avignon is not situated in the right geographical area.
368–424 Ther fel a miracle . . . . binimeth the pore. Here the poet departs from the main narrative to offer a pious exemplum taken from a separate chapter in Pseudo-Turpin (pp. 17–18; and Turpines Story, ed. Shepherd, pp. 10–11). While Charlemagne and his host are sojourning in Bayonne, one of his knights, Sir Romain, is condemned to die. The condemned man asks a friend to prepare for his funeral, showing him the clothes he wants to be buried in and asking that his horse be sold and the profits donated to poor clerks so that they will sing psalms on his behalf. The friend, however, keeps the profit for himself. After thirty nights, the executed man appears to his friend in a dream and explains that, although he is now in heaven, he suffered excruciating pain for the past thirty days because his intended charity to the clerks was withheld. The man tells his dishonest friend that now he will suffer for his duplicity. The friend recounts his dream to the court, and then a strong wind fills the hall. Foul demons fly in, lift up the thief, and carry him away. Charlemagne’s soldiers search for four days without finding him. Later when Charlemagne’s host passes through Naverne, they find the dead executor’s body where it was dropped by the demons. The poet closes the exemplum with a warning to other executors: anyone who withholds charity from the needy will experience the same punishment. Subsequent versions of this tale continue its association with the Charlemagne legend. In Etienne de Besancon’s eleventh-century Alphabetum narrationum and its Middle English translation, the Alphabet of Tales #314, it is explicitly linked to Charlemagne. (For a modern edition, see An Alphabet of Tales, ed. Banks, 1:216–17, where tale 314 is titled “A Tale from Turpin.”) The Database of Middle English Romances attributes the English romance to either Pseudo-Turpin or the Estoire de Charlemagne, so it seems likely that Etienne collected this anecdote and its connection to Charlemagne from one of these sources. A few centuries later, the exemplum appears in John Mirk’s late-fourteenth-century Festial (see John Mirk’s Festial, ed. Powell, 2:243). We are grateful to Thomas Hahn for pointing out some of the analogues of this exemplum.
380 on heigheing. “at once, hurriedly.” The phrase is common in this romance.
425–60 Now late . . . . cité of Pampiloun. These lines are also found (with slight variations in wording) in OR, lines 1981–2016. The overlap contributed to the now-discarded “Charlemagne and Roland” theory of a lost romance. See the discussion in the General Introduction, pp. 7–8.
426–36 And speke of Charles . . . . a douhti knight. On Charlemagne’s portrait, borrowed in part from Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne, see the General Introduction, p. 9, and the note to lines 474–83 below.
429 As the Latin ous sede. See the note to line 328 above.
439–42 The holy croun . . . . God was born. There are no records of medieval kings wearing a crown of thorns in procession. A bas-relief reliquary shrine in Aachen Cathedral (dated to c. 1215) depicts Emperor Constantius presenting Charlemagne with the Crown of Thorns (compare note to lines 110–24 above). A pictorial window in Chartres Cathedral (c. 1225) shows Charlemagne offering relics he received from Constantius to his chapel in Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen). See Pastan, “Charlemagne as Saint?,” pp. 105–08, especially Figures 6.6 and 6.7.
440 Wissontide. Whitsuntide is the feast of Pentecost, which occurs fifty days after Easter.
474–83 And fourti fet . . . . swart as piche. Vernagu the giant is seen as remarkable for both his gargantuan size and his racialized Otherness (having dark not light skin, unlike the French, and unlike the English audience). His appearance contrasts with that of Charlemagne at lines 425–36 — a description borrowing from that found in Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne (ed. and trans. Ganz, p. 34). See the discussion in the General Introduction, p. 9. Both portraits follow a pattern, however, in how they stress size, strength, and facial coloring (red face with black hair, in Charlemagne’s case).
560 Durindale. Durendal is the name of Roland’s famous sword. In Rocamadour, France, one may see a chapel with a sword embedded in its outside wall. By local legend, this sword is Durendal. De Veyrières notes the claim (found in l’abbé Cheval’s 1862 guidebook, Guide du Pèlerin à Roc- Amadour) that the real Durendal was stolen in 1183 when Henry II pillaged the chapel, and he includes a drawing of the current sword (“L’Épée de Roland,” pp. 139–41).
578–86 Douk Rouland sone . . . . his wil ydight. As Roland fights Vernagu, he finds that the impenetrability of Vernagu’s skin from his navel upward makes it impossible for him to kill the giant with a sword. When they take a break from dueling, Roland requests a staff with which to fight Vernagu, hoping to have more success with this weapon. See also lines 660–61.
581 the neve. “the evening.” See MED even (n.). The initial n comes from a false sense of elision after the. A common phrase was on eve, “in the evening,” sometimes spelled or pronounced o neve.
660–61 No man is harder than Y / Fram the navel upward. On Vernagu’s monstrous impenetrability, see the note to lines 578–86 above.
663–64 King Charlis . . . . hore bard. The reference here is to Charlemagne’s iconic white beardedness. In Otinel, lines 36–37, Charlemagne has a “fluri gernun” (white moustache) and “grant barbe” (great beard). See, too, OR, line 71 (“hore berde”); and DR, line 80 (“white berde large and lange”).
668 Seynt Austin. The St. Augustine sworn by here is probably the great Church Father, Augustine of Hippo (354–430). A more distant possibility is Augustine of Canterbury (d. 604), a Benedictine monk who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. As a missionary to the pagan Anglo-Saxons, arriving in 597, he is considered England’s “First Apostle.” If Roland is swearing here by the English saint as he avows to his birth in France, then the English poet has inserted an odd bit of incongruity, consciously or not.
685 As sonne passeth thurth the glas. Roland is expounding the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, wherein Jesus was conceived via Gabriel’s annunciation of God’s Word to the Virgin Mary (compare Luke 1:26–38). In medieval artistic depictions, the Word shines as light upon Mary, entering through her ear, without changing her state as a virgin. A very common verbal formulation of this event is repeated here: “as the sun passes through the glass,” that is, just as light passes though glass without breaking it. The simile appears in a Harley lyric (contemporary with the Auchinleck manuscript): “Thourh hyre side he shon / Ase sonne doth thourh the glas” (The Poet’s Repentance, lines 21–22). See The Complete Harley 2253 Manuscript, ed. and trans. Fein, 2:142–43.
695–712 And sitt in Trinité . . . . to fulfille. Roland expounds here the basic tenets of Christianity, as recited in the Athanasian Creed, which priests were enjoined to teach regularly to the laity, following the edicts of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). Jesus died on the Cross, where he suffered five wounds; then he rose from death to life on the third day (the Resurrection, on Easter Day). During his time on the Cross, he harrowed hell (the Harrowing of Hell) and fetched out the virtuous souls of the patriarchs (from Adam and Eve, to John the Baptist). Jesus Christ now sits in heaven (the Ascension), as one of the Three Persons of the Trinity (God, Son, and Holy Ghost). God is indivisibly, mysteriously, and miraculously Three in One and One in Three.
756–60 His bodi slepe . . . . bond Satanas. Christ’s Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Harrowing of Hell. By doctrine, Jesus died in the flesh, but his godhead merely slept. In his apparent passivity on the Cross, he actually descended with great triumphal energy to hell, bearing the Cross and breaking open the gates of hell, in order to vanquish and bind the Devil and release the virtuous biblical patriarchs from hell, where they had to dwell before his coming. The Harrowing of Hell was an extremely popular motif in medieval Christian culture, disseminated widely through the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus and appearing ubiquitously in art and literature. A copy of the Middle English verse Harrowing of Hell appears in the manuscript of RV, the Auchinleck manuscript, fols. 35vb–37ra. It also survives in two forms in MS Harley 2253 (c. 1340): an Anglo-Norman version of the Gospel of Nicodemus and the same Middle English poem found in Auchinleck; see The Complete Harley 2253 Manuscript, ed. and trans. Fein, 1:342–59 and 2:66–79.
795 fothot. “quickly, suddenly, in haste.” See MED, fot-hot (adv.). The idiom survives into present day slang.
813 wald him schrive. “would administer penance to him.” See MED shriven (v.), sense 2a, and shrift (n.). The sacrament of confession before a priest — an action known as “shrift” — was expected at least annually of every Christian. It was seen as necessary for cleansing the soul of sin and then receiving God’s forgiveness. The doctrine is that God’s mercy is available to all Christians who earnestly repent and orally confess. The angel speaks in hyperbole here, saying that even if every living priest were to shrive Vernagu, his soul would never by cleansed; he can never be “good.” He is, therefore, outside the sphere of God’s mercy. The angel verifies that the giant Vernagu can be killed by Roland without regret, for he is more devil than human. For a modern reader, this level of cold, divine judgment against a character who has been given affective, sympathetic attributes of reason, feeling, and emotion is troubling and disconcerting.
818 bi sex and seven. Proverbial. See MED six (num.), sense 2d: “bix six or seven” means “in large quantities in great numbers.” See also Whiting S359.
861 No is worth the brust of a swin. Proverbial. See Whiting B552.
874 Salve. The song being sung triumphantly here is probably the popular liturgical hymn Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen), because Roland has just thanked Mary for his victory over Vernagu (see lines 866–67). This hymn was sung during processionals for Marian feasts, and often chanted in the evening by monks and university students as they headed off to their sleeping quarters.
878–80 To Otuel . . . . this word sprong. These final lines of RV establish a chronological transition to the events narrated in OK, the next romance copied in the Auchinleck manuscript. RV is copied by Scribe 1 in Quire 37, and OK by Scribe 6 in a new gathering (Quire 38). It has been recently proposed that these two seemingly different scribes are in fact the same scribe; see Hanna, “Auchinleck ‘Scribe 6.’” Scribe 1 (the Auchinleck compiler) wrote the catchphrase found in the right bottom of fol. 267v — the opening line of OK — which shows that he intended OK to follow RV. To view the catchphrase, see The Auchinleck Manuscript, ed. Burnley and Wiggins, fol. 267v.
ROLAND AND VERNAGU: TEXTUAL NOTES
ABBREVIATIONS: BW: The Auchinleck Manuscript, ed. Burnley and Wiggins; H: Rouland and Vernagu, ed. Herrtage, in The English Charlemagne Romances. Part VI, pp. 37–61; MS: Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland MS Advocates 19.2.1 (the Auchinleck MS), fols. 263ra–267vb.
1 Romance begins incomplete. See RV Introduction, pp. 27–28, for estimated number of lost lines and their narrative content.
17 was an emperour. So BW, H. MS: he is written between time and was, omitted with three dots below the word.
28 douhti. So MS, BW. H: douȝti.
65 of. MS: of inserted above the line between sent and hem.
123 thurth. So MS, BW. H: þurch.
162 nought. MS: nouȝt written in superscript over comest.
172 wil. So MS, BW. H: will.
175 schalt. So MS, BW. H: shalt.
179 Jamis. So BW. H: Iames. MS: Scribe initially wrote James, then cancels e and inserts i above the word.
206 thurth. So MS, BW. H: þurch.
213 everichon. So MS, BW. H: eurichon.
214 thurth. So MS, BW. H: þurch.
242 grene. MS: final e in grene is superscripted.
261 Biside. So MS, BW. H: Beside.
262 thurth. So MS, BW. H: þurch.
264 frout. So MS, BW. H: front.
282 him. So BW, H. MS: hm.
326 thurth. So MS, BW. H: þurch.
327 thurth1,2. So MS, BW. H: þurch1,2.
338 susten. So H, BW. MS: suiten.
370 Thurth. So MS, BW. H: þurch.
417 thurth. So MS, BW. H: þurch.
425 Now. So BW, H. MS: No.
609 Thurth. So MS, BW. H: þurch.
646 Ellipses have been added because the rhyme scheme indicates that a line is missing. There is no break in the MS.
653 tho. So MS, H. BW: þou.
685 thurth. So MS, BW. H: þurch.
742 day. So MS, BW. H: daye.
756 opon. So MS. BW, H: vpon.
814 he. So MS, BW. H: be.
822 Thurth. So MS, BW. H: þurch.
832 thurth. So MS, BW. H: þurch.
855 be. So BW. MS, H: me.
858 seyd. MS, BW, H: syd.
sikerly. So MS, BW. H: fikerly.
880 Lower right margin of fol. 267vb: catchphrase herkneþ boþe ȝing & old (the first line of Otuel a Knight, the next poem in the Auchinleck MS).