Jean Bodel a minstrel of the thirteenth century, wrote, "There are but three subjects which interest men,—the tales of France, of Britain, and of Rome the great; and to these subjects there is nothing like. The tales of Britain are so light and pleasant, those of Rome are wise and of teachful sense; those of France, truly every day of greater appearance."
In this story of Roland as I propose telling it, I shall intro-duce you to some of the most pleasing of those "tales of France" The poems and legends which embody them were written in various languages, and at widely different times; but in them two names, Charlemagne and Roland are of very frequent occurrence. Charlemagne, as you know, was a real historical personage, the greatest monarch of medieval times. His empire included France, the greater part of Germany and Italy; and his power and influence were felt all over the Christian world. The fame of his achievements in war was heralded and sung in every country of Europe; his name was in the mouth of every story-teller and wandering bard; and it finally became customary to ascribe all the heroic deeds and wonderful events of three centuries to the time of Charlemagne.
The songs and stories in which these events were related were dressed up with every kind of embellishment to suit the circumstances of their recital. Wild myths of the Pagan ages, legends and traditions of the Christian Church, superstitious notions of magic and witchcraft, fantastic stories derived from the Arabs of Spain and the East,—all these were blended in one strange mass, and grafted upon a slender core of historical truth. The result was a curious mixture of fact and fiction, of the real and the marvellous, of the beautiful and the impure, of Christian devotion and heathen superstition. And it was thus that "the tales of France", which we may term the legendary history of Charlemagne, came into being ..