Edited and translated by Kevin R. Poole
Italica Press, 2015
The twelfth-century Chronicle of Pseudo-Turpin, also known as the History of Charlemagne and Roland, offers an “eye-witness” account of events during the late eighth century. Charlemagne’s compatriot, Archbishop Turpin of Rheims, describes the miraculous appearance of Saint James to Charlemagne and the battles against the Muslims that he and Roland fought in Iberia as a result of this vision. The chronicle is one of the fundamental texts in the literary legend surrounding Charlemagne, Roland, Compostela and St. James. It served as source material for a large number of other chronicles as well as for French chansons de geste and other forms of heroic literature, including the Song of Roland.
Excerpt from Chapter 17: About the Battle with Ferragus the Giant and His Wonderful Dispute with Roland
Charlemagne found out that the giant Ferragus, a descendant of Goliath from the lands of Syria, and twenty thousand Turks had been sent by the emir of Babylon to wage war in Najera. As strong as forty thugs, the giant feared neither lances nor arrows. So, Charlemagne immediately set out for Najera.
In the very moment in which Ferragus received the news of Charlemagne’s arrival, he left the city and challenged him to single combat — that is, one combatant against another. Charlemagne chose Ogier of Dacia as the first. As soon as he saw Ogier alone in the field of battle, the giant approached slowly and, using his right arm, grabbed the man with all his strength. Before the eyes of everyone, he calmly carried Ogier off to the city as if he were nothing more than a docile sheep. The giant measured almost twelve cubits in height, his face alone being nearly a cubit long. His nose was the length of the palm of a hand, his arms and legs four cubits long each and his fingers three palms.
Charlemagne then sent Rainaut of Aubespin to fight the giant, who immediately grabbed the man with one hand and carried him to the city’s prison. King Constantine of Rome and Count Hoel were sent next, and the giant carried both at the same time — one in his right hand and the other in his left — to the city’s prison. Finally, Charlemagne sent twenty combatants in pairs, and the giant did the same to each. Seeing how things were going and suffering the rebukes of his men, Charlemagne refused to send anyone else to fight.
Roland, however, received permission to fight from the king and immediately approached the giant.…
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