Publication details [#1370]

Rois, Robert. 2013. The Oliphant and Roland’s Sacrificial Death. Anthropoetics 18 (2). URL
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In his Originary Thinking: Elements of Generative Anthropology (1993), Eric Gans develops the concept of a "neo-classical esthetic," where the protagonist is aware of his separation from the scene of representation on which he must find significance.(11) Roland’s basic instinct is to pursue glory; this desire drives him irremissibly toward Roncevaux, a scene of ostensive, self-confirming sacrifice. In contrast, Oliver grasps only the worldly imperative need to kill the enemy and win the war. Hence as one character’s behavior points out the central significance of Roncevaux, the other wishes to disengage himself from absorbed entanglement in a hopeless predicament. The measure of Roland’s valor is his pursuit of glory; and essential to this quest is his delay in sounding the Oliphant. The hero’s sacrifice in turn imparts courage to others. This deferral of action delays resolution and increases violence in The Song of Roland. The battle at Roncevaux delays the eventual downfall of the Saracen army. Ambush through Ganelon’s treason provides the necessary motivation for plot development. But it is within the battle itself that we witness the key source for the final tragedy of the French rearguard: Roland’s refusal to sound the Oliphant in time. Roland’s delay provides the necessary deferral, after the rearguard’s separation from the Frankish host, to turn the Oliphant's sound into an ostensive call that broadcasts awareness of events without requesting action, so that only later will Charlemagne and his army avenge the hero’s sacrificial death. Since Roland’s heroism subsequently inspires warriors in Charlemagne’s army, the hero’s sacrifice provides a crucial role model for future warfare. By losing a battle, the claim to glory becomes mounted on sacrifice. In The Song of Roland the main character’s martyrdom provides dramatic content and significant justification for prolonging the war. Deferral of victory is vital for development of the epic narrative. (Abstract provided by the author)