The Legend of Girfaus

The legend of Girfaus survives in only one fragment: the top portion of one manuscript leaf which was used as part of the binding for a later book. The fragment is from between 1200 and 1250, and is written in monorhymed decasyllabic laisses. The only edition is “A Fragment of an Unknown ‘Roland’ Epic”, by Roger Middleton and Karen Pratt, in King’s College London Medieval Studies XII: Roland and Charlemagne in Europe. There is no English translation, and to my knowledge this is the first English summary.

…Karles tells Milon the Bearded that he intends to burn towers, castles and cities to the ground. A Saracen spy overhears this, and begins making his way back to his own camp. He passes by the tents where Roland and Oliver are sleeping, and returns to Orbloise, where he tells Girfaus all. Girfaus splits his army in two, and advances…

…Oliver kills someone…

…Guifar mentions his father Fouré, apparently after killing Druin…

…Roland has Durandal, and kills Jonafin. Oliver kills Brut. Girfaus sees this…

…Antone does something [probably gets killed by Girfaus]…

Girfaus sees the ruin of his men. He kills the young Guion d’Orleans. Roland pursues many, no one can escape him. The younger son of Fourez [probably Guifar] kills Folcart and Focerez, with the sword with which Marsiles the Amirez [Emir] had dubbed him. Oliver sees this, and kills him with Hauteclere. He says that he [the son] will never avenge his father. He then shouts aloud to Girfaus, taunting him with the death of his brother* and of his father Fourez.

[*The MS actually reads “Thy father is dead, and thy father Fourez.” The correction is the editors’, and makes much more sense.]

THE SOURCES OF THE LEGEND

We have so little information that anything would be mere speculation. If Guifar was dubbed by Marsile, then perhaps this is from some lost version of the Entrée en Espagne? Or perhaps it is a completely different war. We will probably never know. It is anyone’s guess if “Milon le Barbé” is the father of Roland or not. The only other Milon le Barbé listed in Langlois has a walk-on role as one of Ganelon’s family in Aye d’Avignon.

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