Paris: Jules Labitte, 1845. First Edition. 1/4 calf. 2 vols. 1st edition of the first direct translation of Le Chanson de Roland into modern French, not one of those half–hearted revampings corrupted with the affectations of editors seeking petty immortality by trying to impose their own graffiti. It is the oldest known major work of French literature, an anonymous, 1,000 year old ambition merging history and myth. And also in this edition of it are excerpts from other epics, including The Song of the Saxons, and some parts of King Arthur. Contemporary 1/4 French calf, spine tips chipped, light wear to corners, a 3/4” X 1/2” skinned streak to the vol. II board (see picture), foxing mostly at margins, else very good, uncut (!), not unattractive, and complete with half–titles, fly–titles, contents and the 6 page ad. It looks like OCLC locates 4 dozen copies, in varying condition, and it isn’t even that scarce, however when it’s complete and uncut, it’s as scarce as husbands who vacuum. Very good. Item #51
The Song of Roland is a 4,000 line heroic poem of warfare, parlay, deceit, withdrawal, treachery, ambush, loyalty, bravery, valor, revenge, victory, trial, and justice, in that order. It was written between 1040 and 1115, but it’s set during the first medieval renaissance in 778 (the Carolingian era) when Charlemagne’s Franks defeated the Spanish Muslims at the battle of Roncesvalles. 9 somewhat contemporary manuscripts are known in various forms of Old French. The earliest of them (written in Anglo–Norman, ca. 1129–1165) is now at The Bodleian Library (Oxford). The author is unknown. A name (Turold) is at the base of the Bodleian manuscript but whether he was its author, its scribe, or the oral singer, remains in debate. What is known is that the poem was written in non–rhyming laisses, or stanzas of irregular length, each line having 10 syllables, each being divided by a caesura after the 4th syllable, and with each line’s last stressed syllable having the same vowel sound as every other line’s last stressed syllable in that stanza. The genus is chanson de geste, a medieval literary form that spotlights action rather than introspection, so the individuals are typecasts, delineated by a few prominent features, with little explanation, (beyond what is apparent) for their behavior. The story moves at a fast pace, only slowing down to recount a central scene more than once, so as to concentrate on different details, or show it from different perspective, with all the views and anti–views, parallelism, objectivity, and contrasts that implies.