Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Strange Words: Retelling and Reception in the Medieval Roland Tradition

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Strange Words: Retelling and Reception in the Medieval Roland Tradition

Article excerpt

Margaret Jewett Burland, Strange Words: Retelling and Reception in the Medieval Roland Tradition (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008). ? + 322 pp. ISBN 978-0-268-02203-7. $37.00.

Too often critical focus on 'the Roland tradition' has been centred entirely on the Oxford Roland; this study is a refreshing change. Burland examines how the battle of Roncevaux is remembered and retold in the Oxford Roland, the Chateauroux version, the Occitan Ronsasvals, and Galten restore. Each text in turn is placed within the Hterary context of its composition/adaptation, giving us a narrative of transformation and renewal. Examining the Oxford Roland Burland avoids a simple literary/oral distinction. While there is a speculative element in her comments on reception they are possible, raising the interesting hypothesis that there is no evidence of circulation of this text on the Continent (pp. 22f.). Her analysis of meta-literary elements and questioning of the reliability of discourse, in particular words spoken by Ganelon (pp. 40f.), is helpful (though it lacks reference to P. E. Bennett's relevant article on Ganelon in Reading around the Epic, ed. Ailes, Bennett, and Pratt, 1998). In places the analysis is speculative rather than drawn upon the text; thus her reference to 'Roland's conscious awareness of his assigned role' suggests a self-awareness not indicated in the text, though it fits with Burland's sense of the retelling of a story already determined. The publication of the complete French corpus in 2005 has made the analysis of each manuscript as a rewriting of the narrative easier. In this study the Chateauroux manuscript is presented as a clearly Christian presentation of the narrative with a conservative rewriting strategy and a focus on Charlemagne. In some ways the chapter on Ronsasvals is the most interesting, with an exploration of the historical and literary context of its composition. Burland presents it as thoroughly embedded in Occitan culture, the Roncevaux story appropriated for a different literary context. …

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