Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Sword of Roland

If you do not have a copy of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, you should buy one. It might be a little expensive but it is worth the price. It is one of the best reference books out there and I look in it all the time.
While looking up something else, my eye was caught by an entry on Roland's sword, which according to Brewer's is fabled to have once belonged to Hector, the prince of Troy. He acquired this fantastic sword from a Icelandic giant called Jutmundus from whom he also won his horn Oliphant which may have belonged to Alexander the Great but I do not know how Jutmundus acquired these treasures. The ogres from The Hobbit are now dancing around in the back of my mind. Inspiration? Probably.
This addition to the myth does not occur in The Song of Roland; it is probably from Orlando Furioso, a 16th century poem by Ludovico Ariosto. I do not own a copy of this book or its predecessor Orlando Innamorato but I do own a copy of The Illiad and I could not see what happened to Hector's sword when Achilles killed him. Presumably Achilles took it and Hector's armor since Hector's body was wrapped in cloth to be given back to his father. It could also have been the sword that Hector gave to Ajax and with which Ajax killed himself but Homer does not name this sword.
Brewer's also states that Durendal had been hurled into a poisonous stream to prevent it from falling in to unworthy hands but this differs from the account in The Song of Roland. There, Roland lays down to die with his sword underneath him and, when Charlemagne finds Roland's body, he gives the sword and the Oliphant to his men Rabel or Guineman but does not state who received which item.
Brewer's does offer a meaning for the name of Durendal: it states that the name probably comes from the Latin word "durare", that is "to last" or "endure". I like it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip on Brewer's Dictionary, I will be sure to get one. I like the definition of Durendal, it makes perfect sense. The Encyclopedia of Arda offers a tenuous connection for ogres in the hobbit, yours seems completely plausible. See the reference here:

Mary/luna's ceiling
I can't seem to post this comment on open ID for some reason so I will give it a final shot anonymously.

The Red Witch said...

It is possible that trolls and ogres were the same thing. After all in their linguistic origins, fairy and elf are. It is a shame the Encyclopedia does not look to where Tolkien might have taken these stories because when you start looking at old Germanic and Norse tales and history, you see where it all comes from. I really think Anduril is an anagram of Durindal so perhaps somewhere Hector's sword is named and it is similar to Narsil.
Some of the cards of the Minor Arcana represent real people and Hector and Roland share a card.

Tracy said...

Yes, I could do with a copy of Brewer's too. Once again I'm impressed with the amount of research you do into the origins of these tales.

The Red Witch said...

It wasn't good enough though. I still haven't found the story about Jutmundus. When I go back to school in the fall, it will have to be on my to do list.

Tracy said...

Mary - try posting on Name/URL - that's what I post on, usually. Only once has this site accepted me posting on Open with my lj ID, and that's only when I've logged into lj first (worked once, didn't work the second time, so I gave up and only ever post on Name now)

saurabh said...

Haha, just arrived here reading the same entry in Brewer's, trying to find the story of Jutmundus. If you get any leads, send me an e-mail? faplap at