Olivier (The Song of Roland)

Olivier (The Song of Roland)

Olivier (in Italian: "Uliviero" or "Oliviero"), sometimes referred to as Olivier de Vienne, is a fictional knight in the Matter of France "chansons de geste", especially the French epic "The Song of Roland". In the tradition, he was Roland's closest friend, advisor, and confidant, one of Charlemagne's twelve peers and brother of Alda, Roland's betrothed; and he dies at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass with Roland. Some critics have linked his name to the olive tree, a biblical symbol of divine wisdom. [Brault, 12.]

Olivier in the "Song of Roland"

Whereas the portrayal of Roland is commonly seen as recklessly courageous, Olivier was said to exhibit poise and wisdom in combat. [The opposition Roland-Olivier and unfavorable interpretations of Roland have come under criticism by certain scholars. See Brault, 12-14.] He tells Roland that "heroism tempered with common sense is a far cry from madness; / Reasonableness is to be preferred to recklessness." [Brault, Roland text, p.107. Another translation gives: "bravery in no sense is bravado, and prudence is worth more than recklessness."] (Oxford manuscript, laisse 131). Olivier was fatally impaled from behind by the Saracen Marganice, but before dying, he used his sword, Hauteclere, to split his attacker's head open with one blow. (Oxford manuscript, laisses 145-150).

Olivier in other works

Olivier is a character in other "chansons de geste" that tell of Charlemagne and his knights. He is a major character in "Fierabras" in which he defeats the Saracen giant Fierabras and incites him to convert to christianity. [See Fierabras for references.] His friendship with Roland, and Roland's engagement with his sister Aude is told in "Girart de Vienne" (c.1180) by Bertrand de Bar-sur-Aube. [See Bertrand de Bar-sur-Aube for references.] In the "chanson" " Galiens li Restorés", Olivier has, with a princess of Byzantium, a son named Galien.

He also appears in the Italian romantic epics "Morgante" by Luigi Pulci, "Orlando innamorato" by Matteo Maria Boiardo and "Orlando furioso" by Ludovico Ariosto. In Boiardo and Ariosto, Olivier has two sons: Aquilante and Grifone (their mother is given as Gismonda in Ariosto, xv, 73.)

Historical sources

It is not known if, like Roland, Olivier is based upon a real historical figure.


*"The Song of Roland: An Analytical Edition". Gerard J. Brault, ed. (Pennsylvania Sate University, 1978). ISBN 0-271-00516-5

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