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a French oliphant
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the death of Roland from a manuscript in Chantilly Museum

Le Chanson de Roland, a old French epic poem written in about 1100, tells of the tragic death of Emperor Charlemagne's champion Roland at the battle at Roncevaux in the Pyrenees on 15 August 778. It recounts the tale of the sad desperate horn-calls made on his field marshall's oliphant in his last mythic battle with the saracens.

'Rolland ad mis l'olifan a sa buche, empeint le ben, par gant vertut le sunet. Hauts sont les monts et longue la voix du cor, à trente lieux, elle se prolonge... Rolland, par peine, très douloureusement sunet sun olifan. Par sa bouche, le sang jaillit clair. Sa tempe se rompt, la voix de sa corn se répand au loin.'

133. Roland has set Oliphant to his lips, firmly he holds it and blows it with a will. High are the mountains, the blast is long and shrill, thirty great leagues the sound went echoing. King Carlon heard it and all who rode with him. "Lo, now, our men are fighting", quoth the king...

134. The County Roland with pain and anguish winds his Oliphant, and blows with all his might. Blood from his mouth comes spurting scarlet-bright, he's burst the veins of his temples outright. From hand and horn the call goes shrilling high; Duke Naimon hears, and all the French beside. Quoth Charles: "I hear the horn of Roland cry! He'd never sound it but in the thick of fight."...

135. Count Roland's mouth with running blood is red; He's burst asunder the temples of his head; He sounds his horn in anguish and distress. King Carlon hears, and so do all the French. Then says the King: "This horn is long of breath!" "T'is blown" quoth Naimon, "with all a brave man's strength. Battle there is and that I know full well. He that would stay you is but a traitor fell. To arms! Let sound your battle cry to heav'n! Make haste to bring your gallant household help! You hear how Roland makes desperate lament!"


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