Durendal, also spelled Durandal, is the sword of Roland, legendary paladin of Charlemagne in French epic literature. It is also said to have belonged to young Charlemagne at one point, and, passing through Saracen hands, came to be owned by Roland.
The name Durendal arguably begins with a Frenchdur- stem, meaning "hard". Thus Rita Lejeune argued it may break down into "durant + dail", renderable in English as "strong scythe" or explained in more detailed to mean "a scimitar or scythe which holds, up, resists, endures".Gerhard Rohlfs suggested "dur + end'art" or "strong flame". The name may also connote the meaning of "enduring".
The Pseudo-Turpin explains that the name "Durenda is interpreted to mean it gives a hard strike" (Durenda interpretatur durum ictum cum ea dans). It has been argued also that the fact that Pseudo-Turpin needed to gloss the name is evidence it was not a name readily understood in French,[a] hence a foreign name.
One non-French etymology is Edwin B. Place's attempt to construe it in Breton as "diren dall", meaning "blade [that] dulls cutting edge" or "blade blinds". Another is James A. Bellamy's Arabic etymology, explaining the sword's true name to be "Ḏū l-jandal" meaning "master of stone".[b]
At the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, Roland took the rearguard to hold off the Saracen army troops long enough for Charlemagne's army to retreat into France. Roland slew a vast number of enemies wielding Durendal. With the sword Roland even succeeded in slicing the right arm of the Saracen king Marsile, and decapitated the king's son, Jursaleu, sending the one-hundred-thousand-strong army to flight.
Roland later attempted to destroy the sword by hitting it against blocks of marble, to prevent it from being captured by the attacking Saracens. But Durendal proved indestructible. After being mortally wounded, Roland hid it beneath his body as he lay dying along with the oliphant, the horn used to alert Charlemagne before succumbing to his injury.
The sword was capable of cutting through giant boulders of stone with a single strike, and was indestructible.
Durendal was once captured (but not kept) by the young Charlemagne, according to the 12th-century fragmentary chanson de geste Mainet (the title of which refers to the pseudonym Charles adopted in his youth), when he fled to Spain. Young Charles (Mainés in the text) slays Braimant, obtaining his sword (Durendaus). This content is better preserved in some non-chanson de geste texts, and in other language adaptations such as the Franco-Italian Karleto. The place of combat was near the vale of Moriane (Vael Moriale), near Toledo, according to the Low-German version Karl Mainet.
Many years later, the owner of Durendal prior to Roland was a Saracen named Aumon, son of king Agolant,[d] according to another 12th-century chanson de gesteAspremont. Young Roland, mounted on Naimes's horse Morel without permission, and armed only with a rod, defeated Aumon, conquering the sword as well as the horse Veillantif.
These materials were combined in the Italian prose Aspramonte by Andrea da Barberino in the late 14th to early 15th century. That work stated that after young Carlo (Charlemagne) came in possession of Durindarda (Durendal) by killing Bramante in Spain, Galafro gave it to Galiziella,[e] who then gave it to Almonte the son of Agolante (i.e., French: Aumon).[f] Galiziella is glossed as the bastard daughter of Agolante, making her Almonte's half-sister. Durindana is eventually won by Orlandino (young Orlando).
Andrea da Barberino was a major source for later Italian writers. Boiardo's Orlando innamorato traces the sword's origin to Hector of Troy; it belonged for a while to Amazonian queen Pantasilea, and was passed down to Almonte, before Orlando gained possession of it.Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso follows Boiardo, saying it once belonged to Hector of Troy, but that it was given to Roland by Malagigi (Maugris).
Tradition has it that when Roland cut a huge gash in the rocks with one blow, it created Roland's Breach in the Pyrenees in the process.
Legend in Rocamadour, in the Lot department, claims that the true Durendal was deposited in the chapel of Mary there, but was stolen by Henry Curtmantel in 1183.
Local folklore also claims Durendal still exists, embedded in a cliff wall in Rocamadour. In that version, twelfth-century monks of Rocamadour claim Roland threw the sword rather than hiding it beneath himself creating a crevice "due to its sharpness" in the wall. However, the local tourist office now calls the sword a replica of Durendal.
^Encouraged by the fact that there are many Arabic sword names with this prefix, e.g. Ḏū-l-Faqār.
^The scene of the angel giving the sword to Karl (Charlemagne) is depicted in a manuscript of Der Stricker's Karl der Große.
^This is actually alluded to in Mainet also: "Quant il occist Yaumont fil le roi Agoulant".
^Come lo re Galafro.. donò Durindarda a Galiziella "; "..e fu poi di Mainetto, cioè di Carlo; e con spada uccise Carlo lo re Bramante, e chiamavasi Durindarda.. Per questa spada Galiziella col cuore feminile ebbe piatà del re Galafro..", Boni (1951), pp. 12–13, Mattaini (1957), p. 422.
^"Come Galiziella donò Durindarda a Almonte", Boni (1951), p. 13.
Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia (1902). Proceedings of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia. p. 65.