French literature, it has been said, began with "The Song of Roland". This great narrative poem of the late eleventh century share with its epic predecessors by Homer and Vergil a heroic vision of war and warriors. The historical battle of Rencesvals in A.D. 778 was a thwarted enterprise ending in a painful loss, the death of Charlemagne's greatest knight, Roland. In the poem, however, this story of betrayal, defeat and futile death is transfigured into an idealization of chivalry and valour. The vigour and simplicity of the poem -- it uses a vocabulary of fewer than two thousand words in its four thousand lines -- are recreated in Frederick Goldin's fluent, idiomatic line-by-line translation into verse that retains the rhythm of the original. His introduction is an absorbing description of the historical, cultural and literary contexts of the poem.