Monday, December 15, 2008

The Paladin (Part1A)

A lot has been said about this class, and I feel I need to join into the conversation. Before I begin my discussion, I do want to say that I actually like the Paladin quite a bit, and it is one of my favorite classes to play. This is going to be a three part blog. The first part (subdivided into 1A & 1B) will deal with the Song Of Roland, the second part will deal with the historical and literary context of the paladin, and then the third part will deal with the specific role of the paladin in the D&D campaign. Initially I was going to do this in 1 blog, but my blog concept has grown considerably, and may actually end up growing past the initial plan of 3 parts.


I think it is important to understand the origins of the paladin before we begin the to discuss the practical application of the class in D&D. I am going to start with the Song of Roland, as this is one of the first uses of the term paladin, and this seemed like the logical place to begin.

Song of Roland

The Song of Roland is the oldest surviving major work of French literature. It exists in various different manuscript versions, which testify to its enormous and enduring popularity in the 12th to 14th centuries. The oldest of these versions is the one in the Oxford manuscript, which contains a text of some 4,004 lines (the number varies slightly in different modern editions) and is usually dated to the middle of the twelfth century (between 1140 and 1170). The epic poem is the first and most outstanding example of the chanson de geste, a literary form that flourished between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries and celebrated the legendary deeds of a hero.

Historical Background

The story told in the poem is based on a relatively minor historical incident, the Battle of Roncevaux Pass on August 15, 778, in which the rearguard of Charlemagne's retreating Franks, escorting a rich collection of booty gathered during a failed campaign in Spain, was attacked by Basques. In this engagement, recorded by historian and biographer Einhard (Eginhard) in his Life of Charlemagne (written around 830), the trapped soldiers were slaughtered to a man; among them was "Hruodland, Prefect of the Marches of Brittany" (Hruodlandus Brittannici limitis praefectus).

The first indication that popular legends were developing about this incident comes in an historical chronicle compiled about 840, which mentions that the names of the Frankish leaders caught in the ambush, including Roland, were "common knowledge" (vulgata sunt). A second indication, potentially much closer to the date of the first written version of the epic, is that (according to somewhat later historical sources) during William the Conqueror's invasion of England in 1066 a "song about Roland" was sung to the Norman troops before they joined battle at Hastings:

Then a song of Roland was begun, so that the man’s warlike example would arouse the fighters. Calling on God for aid, they joined battle.
Taillefer, who sang very well, rode on a swift horse before the Duke singing of Charlemagne and Roland and Oliver and the knights who died at Roncevaux.

This cannot be treated as evidence that Taillefer, William's jongleur, was the "author of the Song of Roland", as used to be argued, but it is evidence that he was one of the many poets who shared in the tradition. We cannot even be sure that the "song" sung by Taillefer was the same as, or drew from, the particular "Song of Roland" that we have in the manuscripts. Some traditional relationship is, however, likely, especially as the best manuscript is written in Anglo-Norman French and the Latinized name of its author or transcriber, called "Turoldus," is evidently of Norman origin ("Turold," a variant of Old Norse "Thorvald)."

In view of the long period of oral tradition during which the ambush at Roncevaux was transformed into the Song of Roland, there can be no surprise that even the earliest surviving version of the poem does not represent an accurate account of history. Roland becomes, in the poem, the nephew of Charlemagne, the Christian Basques become Muslim Saracens, and Charlemagne, rather than marching north to subdue the Saxons, returns to Spain and avenges the deaths of his knights. The Song of Roland marks a nascent French identity and sense of collective history traced back to the legendary Charlemagne. As remarked above, the dating of the earliest version is uncertain, as is its authorship. Some believe that Turoldus, who is named in the final line, is the author; however, nothing is known about him besides his name. The dialect of the manuscript is Anglo-Norman, which suggests an origin in northern France. However, some critics, notably the influential Joseph B├ędier, have held that the real origin of this version of the epic lies much further south.

Perhaps drawing on oral traditions, medieval historians who worked in writing continued to give prominence to the battle of Roncevaux Pass. For example, according to the thirteenth century Arab historian Ibn al-Athir, Charlemagne came to Spain upon the request of the "Governor of Saragossa", Sulayman al-Arabi, to aid him in a revolt against the caliph of Cordoba. Arriving at Saragossa and finding that al-Arabi had had a change of heart, Charlemagne attacked the city and took al-Arabi prisoner. At Roncevaux Pass, al-Arabi's sons collaborated with the Basques to ambush Charlemagne's troops and rescue their father.
Note on references
I am using Wikipedia as my primary source for this entry, as I think the information presented will serve for this discussion.
Paladin Series Summary
For ease of reading, I will provide the links to all the blogs in the series:
Part 1A


Jonathan said...

So far I'm loving this series. You've set a very high bar for yourself here too! =D

Not to plug myself too much, but have you seen the 5-part series I did on history of the Cleric in D&D? `

Mr Baron said...

Many thanks. I was initially thinking of something a lot smaller, but it has grown. I think the forces of chaos are are work on my blog ;)

I will check out your cleric blog, as that is another class that I have really come to appreciate.

Jonathan said...

i forgot to give you a working URL... here is a link to the last part (which includes links to the rest)

The New Cleric is the Old Cleric, Part 5

Sham aka Dave said...

I highly recommend Jonathan's Cleric series, and I'm just diving into your Paladin series, Bret. This first part is very well done.

Mr Baron said...

Thanks for the link..I hope to read up on that today.