The Song of Roland’s first laisse, The Song of Roland, outlines the theme of the poem. It is the end of paganism. The victory of Christianity through God’s will is the ultimate goal. “Saragossa . . King Marsiliun, who is not a believer in God, held it. Marsiliun is a servant of Mohamed and prays for Appolin. He cannot stop harm from taking him” (3). In these first lines, the poet clarifies what happens to someone who does not love God. He will be ruled by harm. The Song of Roland demonstrates God’s justice through the use of the asymmetries of both good and evil Christians.
To show the power and superiority Christianity has over the pagan religions, the poet presents them as a parallel. Only one difference exists between the two groups: Christians are shown as good while pagans are evil. The first battle illustrates the similarities between Christians, pagans. The Saracen society reflects the knightly virtues of Christians. Blancandrin’s description of himself is, “well-endowed with the kind o courage that befits knights, and he had shrewdness & judgment to help his Lord” (4). This symmetry can also be illustrated in subtle ways throughout the poem. Marsiliun’s, like Charles’s, throne is placed underneath a pine. The outcome of this first battle is also symmetrical. Ganelon’s treachery leads to the Christians losing the first battle. Charles’ and Marsiliun’s losses are mirrored. Roland cuts Marsiliun’s left hand and Charles loses the metaphorical righthand – Roland. The way the poet sets up Christian and Saracens in a symmetrical fashion means that any instances of non-symmetry attract the attention of the reader, and Charles loses his metaphorical right hand – Roland. Both their nephews are proud and bold. Roland responds to Charles’ offer of additional troops. God will confuse me if my ancestors are shamed! I will bring twenty thousand Franks. . . You may continue your journey through the pass with complete confidence and no fear as long as you are alive. Aleroth Marsilun, Marsilun’s nephew, echos Roland’s boldness and pride. I beg you to grant me favor: The first blow against Roland. He will be killed. . .Charles is going to lose his heart. . “You won’t have more wars as long your life” (29). Aleroth as Roland use identical prideful language in order to assure their Kings that the will prevail. Their pride also caused their deaths. Roland is too proud to help Roland, while Aleroth charges forward to attempt Roland’s death. The poet does not treat their deaths in the same way. The poet has been using mirroring to describe their deaths up until this point. This makes any distinction between narration about Christians/pagans clear. Aleroth’s passing is not mentioned by the poet, but Roland’s death is described in great detail. Roland’s death is described in three laisses. The first says, “He offers his glove, as an act of repentance, to God”; the second states, “He has extended his right hand to God.” Angels descend from heaven to meet him,” the second ends with, “he offered his right hand to God, and Saint Gabriel took it from him.” (72). Roland’s offer of his right glove towards God is an indication that Roland is a vassal to God. Saint Gabriel’s acceptance of the glove signifies that Roland is God’s ultimate lord. The fact that Roland’s final moments are suspended in narration is an indication of its importance, as well the poet’s deviations from the usual symmetrical structure. This is because Roland is saved. God’s acceptance is a good example. This is a sign of God’s goodness to Roland, a Christian soldier.
In keeping with the theme symmetry, Roland’s demise is balanced by Charles’ revenge. The poet also creates harmony with Charles’ Christian army and Baligant’s pagan army. The poet depicts the Emir, a pagan counterpart of Charles. Baligant, for example, is not as old as Charles. “[He] has survived both Virgil & Homer,” (79). Baligant tried to imitate Charles, and the mirroring is evident between them. Baligant named his sword “Precieuse” as it rhymes with Charles’ sword, “Joyuse.” This allows him to keep the symmetry that Charles and Emir have, but leave no doubt in the minds of the reader that Charles, and therefore Christianity, are superior. Charles and Baligant mirror each others actions when they clash, which is unlike the case with the swords. The poet describes the fight as follows: “[They] exchange heavy punches. . “They can’t be separated and the fight must end with one of them dying” (106). The poet describes their battle using language that suggests they are equally skilled and strong. Charles is severely injured, so the poet uses this metaphor to suggest that God must intervene.
Charles nearly falls after a strenuous effort, but God has other plans. Saint Gabriel appears at Charles’ side and asks him: “Great king, what are your plans?” Charles is able to forget all his fear and regain his energy and clarity of thinking after hearing the holy voice of an angel. (107)
To create a scenario in which God must intervene, the poet makes use of the symmetry between Charles and the Emir. God saves Charles, naturally. It is an angelic view that saves Charles, and not Charles’ power that wins the battle. This supports the idea of God’s justice and the notion that morally good people will win.
One final time, the epic uses asymmetry (not symmetry) to illustrate God’s power. Ganelon is being tried in a trial by combat. The poet suggests that Pinabel’s and Thierry’s fights are asymmetrical. They are different than Charles and Baligant. Thierry, fighting for the Emperor’s cause, is described as being “gaunt, limb-wise, wiry, fast. . He is neither very tall nor quite short,” while Pinabel (fighting for Ganelon) is “tall and strong, brave and fast, and if the other strikes a men a punch, the other has reached its end of his day” (114). Pinabel is described by the poet so that it seems as if he will beat “gaunt,” Thierry. The huge difference in strength between them again makes the case for Godly intervention. Thierry even says that “may God this Day show which one of us is right” (116). This could be the cry of all Christians throughout this poem. Pinabel’s superiority to Thierry’s is emphasized by Pinabel to emphasise that Pinabel is right and not Thierry.
Song of Roland shows God’s love for Christians and demonstrates His justice. The epic’s structure is created by The Song of Roland’s writer, who employs symmetry to balance the elements. The treachery of Ganelon is balanced by his trial and death, while Roland’s demise is balanced by Charles’ vengeance. Symmetry is used for descriptions of Christians, pagans, Charles and Baligant. God can intervene to determine the outcome. In the example of Roland’s death and Aleroth’s death, the poet uses asymmetrical examples. These situations draw the attention of the reader because they depart from the structure of the epic. In Pinabel’s fight with Thierry, the asymmetry makes it clear that God must intervene to save Pinabel, who is the better man.