Roland Is Avenged and Ganelon the Traitor Is Condemned to Death

February 20, 2020

At length Charles was ready. Saint James appeared to him in his sleep, touched him on the shoulder, and pointing to Spain, said—‘Go!’

Saragossa

“He went; and at the end of seven years of campaigning he had but one enemy, and one town before him—Saragossa. He had his nephew Roland with him, and feared no defeat. But there was a traitor in the camp; Ganelon sold Roland to the Moors. I will not now relate the circumstances nor the death of Roland amongst the archangels Raphael, Gabriel, and Michael. You have it often times, and I am sure many of you know by heart the poem. But I will tell you how Roland was avenged. There were two traitors, and two punishments. Listen—

Ganelon rode away

“The Emperor caused his clarions to be sounded,

Then he sent forward the baron with the grand army—

They found the track of the Infidel ‘Marsile,’

And ardently pressed on in quick pursuit.

But Charles perceived that daylight would him fail,

And, kneeling in the grass, in meadow green,

He prayed, supplicating the great God

To cause the sun to stop and night to wait!

The angel, who was guardian to the king,

Gave order promptly, and he cried to him—

‘Press on, Charles; on, the daylight shall not fail!’

For Charlemagne did God perform this wonder!

The sun in Heaven halts, immovable—

The pagan flies, the French press in pursuit.”. . .

SONG OF ROLAND, 778 A.D. The death of Roland (in gold armor), the nephew of Charlemagne and the most celebrated of the emperor’s twelve paladins, at the Battle of Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees, 778 A.D., the basis of the epic ‘Chanson de Roland.’ Flemish manuscript illumination, 1462.

The traitor Ganelon remained to be dealt with, but his punishment was not less severe than was the Pagans. Charles, on his return to Aix, had him brought before him chained like a wild beast. They bound him to a post, a prelude to his punishment. Before the king’s tribunal, where all stood in fear of the prisoner, there arose an implacable accuser, Thierry. He stood up amongst all those cowards and traitors, and, with a terrible gesture, pointed to the accused, who had been brought in—

“‘Ganelon is felon! Roland has he slain,

I to death condemn him! Let him hang!

Cast his carcass to the dogs for this,—

This is the punishment of traitors!

Should any friend of his give me the lie,

With this good sword, which hangs upon my hip,

Am I prepared to meet him, and sustain

The words I speak!’ ‘Well said,” replied the Franks.”

Ganelon

It is sad to think that the most unrighteous causes can sometimes find defenders. Pinabel took up Ganelon’s cause. Pinabel, a baron brave and true; tall and strong. He accepted the challenge, confessed and received the sacrament. The great duel began; Pinabel was vanquished, and the death of Ganelon was resolved upon. The judges had no fear of the accused. The time had come—

Ganelon the Traitor’s death

“‘Then four chargers were brought forth:

And to them tied the writhing traitor’s limbs,

Wild were the steeds and foaming: at their heads

Stood four grooms, who led them to the field.

God! What a death for Ganelon!

All his nerves were wrenched, his limbs

Torn by the horses from his trunk by force.

The life-blood reddened all the sward around.

He died a traitor’s and a coward’s death.

It is not just for traitors to boast treason!”

 

León Gautier, Chivalry, trans. Henry Frith (London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1891), 448–50.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 714

 

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