It is curious, for instance, to compare the scanty references to the material marvels of Constantinople which Villehardouin saw in their glory, which perished by sack and fire under his very eyes, and which live chiefly in the melancholy pages of his Greek contemporary Nicetas, with the elaborate descriptions of the scarcely greater wonders of fabulous courts at Constantinople itself, at Babylon, and elsewhere, to be found in his other contemporaries, the later chanson de geste writers and the earlier embroiderers of the Arthurian romances and romans d'aventures.
Flach, Le Compagnonnage dans les chansons de geste (Paris, 1891).
It forms part of the cycle of the chansons de geste dealing with the Crusade, and relates how Helyas, knight of the swan, is guided by the swan to the help of the duchess of Bouillon and marries her daughter Ida or Beatrix in circumstances exactly parallel to the adventures of Lohengrin and Elsa of Brabant, and with the like result.
It has long been conceded that the great French national epics of the 11th and 12th centuries must have been founded on a great fund of popular poetry, and that many of the episodes of the chansons de geste refer to historical events anterior to the Carolingian period.
The cycle of twenty or more chansons which form the geste of Guillaume reposes on the traditions of the Arab invasions of the south of France, from the battle of Poitiers (732) under Charles Martel onwards, and on the French conquest of Catalonia from the Saracens.
The proofs of this which Schultz and Gautier adduce from the Chansons de Geste might be multiplied indefinitely.
Although the last of these works has come down to us only in a prose version, it contains unmistakable signs of a previous poetic form, and what we possess is really only a rendering into prose similar to the transformations undergone by many of the chansons de geste (cf.
Gradually most of the chansons de geste were attached to the name of Charlemagne, whose poetical history falls into three cycles: - the geste du roi, relating his wars and the personal history of himself and his family; the southern cycle, of which Guillaume de Toulouse is the central figure; and the feudal epic, dealing with the revolts of the barons against the emperor, the rebels being invariably connected by the trouveres with the family of Doon de Mayence.
The central fact of the geste of Guillaume is the battle of the Archamp or Aliscans, in which perished Guillaume's heroic nephew, Vezian or Vivien, a second Roland.
In the earlier chansons de geste he is invariably a majestic figure and represents within limitations the grandeur of the historic Charles.