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Classics and National Cultures$
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Susan A. Stephens and Phiroze Vasunia

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199212989

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199212989.001.0001

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How to Build a National Epic: Digenes Akrites and the Song of Roland

How to Build a National Epic: Digenes Akrites and the Song of Roland

Chapter:
(p.199) 10 How to Build a National Epic: Digenes Akrites and the Song of Roland
Source:
Classics and National Cultures
Author(s):

Fernanda Moore

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199212989.003.0011

This chapter contrasts La Chanson de Roland's successful canonization as France's national epic with the Byzantine epic Digenes Akrites, which seemed destined to serve the same function for Modern Greece when it was rediscovered in 1868. However, Digenes’ manuscript problems became embroiled in contentious and crippling debates between demoticists and purists. The epic suffered further from Henri Grégoire's erudite but naive attempt to ground it in historical fact and from his failure to link the poem to the current political climate. By contrast, Gaston Paris, France's pre‐eminent late nineteenth‐century medievalist, secured Roland's spot at the head of the French literary canon by appealing to nationalist sentiment and establishing a powerful analogy between the France of the poetic Charlemagne and the nineteenth‐century French nation. A close examination of each scholar's methods reveals the cultural and intellectual climate necessary to produce a national epic.

Keywords:   song of Roland, Digenes Akrites, medieval epic, Byzantine epic, nationalism, Greek language question, Psycharis, Gaston Paris, Henri Grégoire, canonization

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