“Roland common-sense which is the traditional characteristic

“Roland is fierce, and Oliver is wise.” Oliver is Roland’s
“companion”—brought up with him, according to the practice of the time,
sharing his pursuits and training—and he displays something of that
blunt, hard-headed common-sense which is the traditional characteristic
of the “hero’s friend”. Wisdom, in the sense of practical prudence, is a
valuable, but not a showy or perhaps a very endearing quality. It is the
disastrous Mary Stuarts of history, not the cautious and thrifty
Elizabeth Tudors, who flame their way through the pages of ballad and
romance. Oliver is a sounder soldier than Roland—more concerned with
military necessities than with his own prestige. He mounts a hill before
the battle to find out how many enemies they have to reckon with—an
action which, by _chanson de geste_ standards, scarcely becomes a
gentleman; finding the odds unreasonable, he urges Roland to summon
assistance—a thing which that hero considers to be beneath his dignity.
He goes grimly and gallantly to a task which he knows to be impossible,
but he cherishes no illusions, and is unromantic enough to feel no
pleasure in the knowledge that “someone had blundered”. He has not
Roland’s sunny disposition; he is capable of cherishing resentment, and
when his forebodings have proved all too true, he has a regrettable
tendency to say, “I told you so”:


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