Charlemagne’s court offers us a vision of the important place of animals in court culture: from hunts to exotic gifts such as the elephant he took on the Saxon campaign in 799, these creatures were part of the ideal of bringing life to what Hincmar described as the ‘insensible’ walls of the palace, and how the dialogue between walls and inhabitants weave together to create both life and history in a manner reminiscent of both tapestry and manuscript illumination (such as that found in the Très riches heures). The role of animals is then equally central to the ‘translation’ of that historical court into the vernacular epic tradition. Through Charles’s dreams, animals become privileged interlocutors as well as embodiments of the life of the palace. However, it is at this point that the dream turns to nightmare, following on from those visions of the emperor in hell being tortured for unspecified sexual transgressions. In this context, it seems fruitful to examine the Roland’s construction of a court art in which the walls come to life by first becoming animal and then acceding to speech that is disturbingly not entirely human. Exploring this, I locate the Roland in relation to the motifs characteristic of the work of the Swiss sculptor and artist, H.R. Giger, creator of the monsters featured in Ridley Scott’s (dir.) 1979 film, Alien, and its sequels. Giger’s designs here and other productions make extensive use of monumental relief sculptural styles clearly influenced by the palace art of various ancient cultures. What connects Giger’s work and the Roland in particular is a process of deformation affecting both representation and language. In this regard, the Roland itself and the animals it represents become symbolic also of the very process of an oral or pseudo-oral tradition of transmission in which features blur and recede in the manner of a dream
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