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Teaching Morals Through Storytelling: The Song of Roland

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Storytelling has allowed history and religion to be passed through generations throughout all of time. It is one of the oldest forms of communication known among humans. When we tell stories we leave a legacy of knowledge for our descendants to utilize. As we tell stories we evoke the emotion of wonder, mystery and adventure in all human beings. It remains one of the single most important traditions that all humans participate in.

Stories or narratives have been shared in all cultures around the world mostly to teach morals or lessons. One of those morals or lessons taught in the Song of Roland is how good always triumphs over evil. In One Thousand and One Nights there are even stories within stories. In the texts of One Thousand and One Nights and the Song of Roland the ability of storytelling is highlighted to empower the individual to inform us of values and teach the individual morals.

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The moral lesson of the battle between good and evil is portrayed in the Song of Roland. The Christians otherwise known as the Franks represent the good will of God and the battle against the Muslim Saracens who are portrayed as evil. The Christians are viewed as good for they are following the will of God. Meanwhile, the Muslims represent evil for they follow an idol god and do not share the same beliefs as the Christians. This is evidently a strong religious based text for Christians because it allows one to believe that good will triumph over evil due to the fact that God is good and all-powerful and protects His people. Yet, God still intervenes enough to make sure that good prevails in the greater aspect of things. 

The Muslims, on the other hand, are the exact opposite yet similar to the Christians. The Muslims in The Song of Roland worship Mohammed, Apollo, and Termagant which is similar to Christianity worshipping God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. However, because the Muslims do not worship the Christian Trinity, they are considered to be worshipping evil idolatry and in turn are themselves evil. In the battlefield, there are twelve Muslim warriors as well as twelve Christian warriors but it is the Christians who fight virtuously.

In One Thousand and One Nights there are one thousand and one stories that teach us morals within the main story. In the main story, a young woman named Shahrazad saves herself as well as all the women in her kingdom from being put to death by the king by telling him stories every night. She does this by allowing the story to lead into the next day and leaving him interested each night. By doing so, she is not only saving herself but all the women of the kingdom. Not only does the main story have a lesson of how storytelling can save many but the mini-stories contain morals to be learned. In the Story of the Merchant and the Demon a merchant who is doomed to death by a demon who claims the merchant had killed his son. Three strange old men tells stories of their hardships to the demon to win back the merchant’s life. 

Each of these men’s stories specifically teach a moral for us to learn. The first man’s story teaches the moral that warns specifically against jealousy and teaches that the bad things you do to another will come back to harm you. The woman becomes jealous of her husband’s mistress and turns them into a cow and a bull but, in the end she is the one stuck as a deer next to the old man. The second man’s story teaches the moral that warns against greed and teaches to do good to those who ask for your help; the man’s brothers squander money until a she-demon who loves the man for taking pity on her gets revenge on the brothers by turning them into dogs. The third man’s tale teaches the moral that warns against infidelity. 

The man catches his wife cheating so she turns him into a dog. The man finds a woman to turn him back, and turns his wife into mule. Each night, Sharazad continues to teach different morals to the king even though she knows he could potentially kill her the next day. In doing so she is making the King forget all his hatred of women and showing the inner beauty and best qualities of women. While teaching these important morals, the Shahrazad is able to survive another night.

Another example of how a story can teach morals in One Thousand and One Nights is The Story of the Fisherman and the Demon. This story teaches the moral to believe in God, follow one’s word, and do not do bad to others unless you want bad done to you. The fisherman pleads with the demon he had set free who wanted to kill him by saying “Forgive me, and God will grant you forgiveness. Destroy me, and God will inflict on you one who will destroy you”(QUOTE PGNUM). The demon does not listen, so instead the fisherman uses his wit to trap the demon. The fisherman forces the demon to make a covenant under the name of God, and the demon listens so the demon gets to be free and the fisherman gets to be rich with a lake full of colorful fish. The fisherman’s trust in God gets him riches. 

The stories the demon tell, the fishermen tell, and the story of the colorful fish also have valuable lessons for the King. In a text full of warnings not to trust women and terrible acts committed by women, Shahrazad is the saving grace of womanhood. She tells the King such intriguing stories each night that he does not have her put to death the next morning because he wants to hear more of the story; using the power of words and storytelling, Shahrazad prevents her own death, prevents the death of other women in the kingdom, and teaches the King valuable lessons.

Storytelling has numerous important effects on our daily lives. It has been one of the most effective sources of inspiration known to man. Storytelling acts as a fantastic teaching tool, imparting life lessons of life to individuals of all ages. Those life lessons lead to the teaching of morals which help us decide between the good and the bad. Stories teach us these morals to help us live within established rules and contribute to society. In One Thousand and One Nights the 1001 stories teach us morals such as being merciful, don’t cheat anyone, and think before you act. 

In the Song of Roland the most important moral that is taught is how good will always triumph over evil. In the end, stories are powerful. They can teach several morals which are essentially the values that the author of the story thinks people should live by. Stories are part of every culture and can teach us the history of the world before us. They can also make us think about things in ways we have never thought of them before. Telling stories and the morals that are taught within are a large part of what makes people connected to each other.

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