Count of Mans and Knight of Blaives, was son of Duke Milo of Aiglant, his mother being Bertha, the sister of Charlemagne. His sword was called Durandal, and his horse Veillantiff. He was eight feet high, and had an open countenance, which invited confidence, but inspired respect. In Italian romance he is called Orlando, his sword Durandana, and his horse Vegliantino. (See Song of Roland.)
“I knew of no one to compare him to but the Archangel Michael.” —Croquemitaine, iii.
Roland. Called the Christian Theseus (2 syl.), or the Achilles of the West. Roland or Rolando (Orlando in Italian).
One of Charlemagne's paladins and nephews. He is represented as brave, loyal, and simple-minded. On the return of Charlemagne from Spain, Roland, who commanded the rear-guard, fell into an ambuscade at Roncesvalles, in the Pyrenees, and perished with all the flower of French chivalry (778). He is the hero of Theroulde's Chanson de Roland; the romance called Chroniq de Turpin; Boiardo's epic Orlando in Love
(Italian); and Ariosto's epic of Orlando Mad (Italian).
Roland, after slaying Angoulaffre, the Saracen giant, in single combat at Fronsac, asked as his reward the hand of Aude, daughter of Sir Gerard and Lady Guibourg; but they never married, as Roland fell at Roncesvalles, and Aude died of a broken heart. (Croquemitaine, xi.)
A Roland for an Oliver. A blow for a blow, tit for tat. Roland and Oliver were two of the paladins of Charlemagne, whose exploits are so similar that it is very difficult to keep them distinct. What Roland did Oliver did, and what Oliver did Roland did. At length the two met in single combat, and fought for five consecutive days on an island in the Rhine, but neither gained the least advantage. (See in La Légende des Siècles, by Victor Hugo, the poem entitled Le Mariage de Roland.
The etymologies connecting the proverb with Charles II., General Monk, and Oliver Cromwell, are wholly unworthy of credit, for even Shakespeare alludes to it: “England all Olivers and Rolands bred” (1 Henry VI., i. 2); and Edward Hall, the historian, almost a century before Shakespeare, writes-
“But to have a Roland to resist an Oliver, he sent solempne ambassadors to the Kyng of Englande, offeryag hym hys doughter in mariage.” —Henry VI.
(See Oliver, Breche.)
In French, a bon chat bon rat.
To die like Roland. To die of starvation or thirst. It is said that Roland, the great paladin, set upon in the defile of Roncesvalles, escaped the general slaughter, and died of hunger and thirst in seeking to cross the Pyrenees.
“Post ingentem Hispanorum caedem prope Pyrenaei saltus juga ... siti miserrime extinctum. Inde nostri intolerabili siti et immiti volentes significare se torque, facere aiunt, Rolandi morte se perire.” —John de la Bruiere Champie: Re Cibria, xvi. 5.
Faire le Roland. To swagger.
Like the blast of Roland's horn. When Roland was set upon by the Gascons at Roncesvalles, he sounded his horn to give Charlemagne notice of his danger. At the third blast it cracked in two, but so loud was the blast that birds fell dead and the whole Saracen army was panicstruck. Charlemagne heard the sound at St. Jean Pied de Port, and rushed to the rescue, but arrived too late.
Oh, for one blast of that dread born On Fontarabian echoes borne, That to King Charles did come.
SirWalterScott: Marmion, vi. 33.
Song of Roland. Part of the Ghansons de Geste, which treat of the achievements of Charlemagne and his paladins. William of Normandy had it sung at the head of his troops when he came to invade England.
Song of Roland. When Charlemagne had been six years in Spain, by the advice of Roland, his nephew, he sent Ganelon on an embassy to Marsillus, the pagan king of Saragossa. Ganelon, out of jealousy, betrayed to Marsillus the route which the Christian army designed to take on its way home, and the pagan king arrived at Roncesvalles just as Roland was conducting through the pass a rearguard of 20,000 men. Roland fought till 100,000 Saracens lay slain, and only 50 of his own men survived. At this juncture another army, consisting of 50,000 men, poured from the mountains. Roland now blew his enchanted horn, and blew so loudly that the veins of his neck started. Charlemagne heard the blast, but Ganelon persuaded him that it was only his nephew hunting the deer. Roland died of his wounds, but in dying threw his trusty sword Durandal into a poisoned stream, where it remained.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894