This article was translated by John R. Bopp

Our regular readers will know that every so often, we like to go through the stories told about the Basques in different encyclopedias.  Today, August 15, we’re going to find out what Wikipedia, the most referenced encyclopedia, and Encyclopedia Britannica, the most renowned and esteemed (and open for registered users) have to say about a historical event that took place on this day centuries ago, and which marked an era: The Battle of Roncevaux Pass.

This battle between Charlemagne and the Vascones was fought over the Holy Roman Emperor’s betrayal at attacking Pamplona, which received him with open arms, and ended in his defeat.  The French turned this defeat into a heroic song, the Song of Roland, which changed the events and transformed the Basques’ revenge into an ambush by Saracens.

It’s a good thing we Basques also have our own writers and bards, who can tell the story of what really happened.  That’s why, in addition to the references from the encyclopedias, we’re also leaving you with two songs by Benito Lertxundi about this topic.  Both are based on the works of historian, writer, and Basque-Navarrese patriot Arturo Campión (lyrics from Musikazblai)

Wikipedia – English

Battle of Roncevaux Pass (778)

The Battle of Roncevaux Pass (French and English spelling, Roncesvalles in Spanish, Orreaga in Basque) was a battle in 778 in which Roland, prefect of the Breton March and commander of the rear guard of Charlemagne’s army, was defeated by the Basques. It was fought at Roncevaux Pass, a high mountain pass in the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain. Over the years, the battle was romanticized by oral tradition into a major conflict between Christians and Muslims, when in fact both sides in the battle were Christian. The legend is recounted in 11th century The Song of Roland, which is the oldest surviving major work of French literature, and in Orlando Furioso, which is one of the most celebrated works of Italian literature.

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Encyclopedia Britannica – Great Britain

Roncesvalles

Roncesvalles, French Roncevaux, also called Orreaga,  village, Navarra provincia (province) and comunidad autónoma (autonomous community) of northern Spain. It lies 3,220 feet (981 metres) above sea level, in the Pyrenees,

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Itzaltzuko bardoa – Benito Lertxundi 

The story of Basque bard Gartxot, immortalized by Arturo Campión in his work El Bardo de Itzaltzu, which was the source of Benito Lertxundi’s song.  The video is from a cartoon film titled Gartxot.

 Itzaltzuko bardoa  The Bard of Itzaltzu
Ehunka uso
Elkorretako inguruetan
Itzaltzuko bardoaren
bila etsipenetan.
Gari ttanta
bana dute mokoetan
ezarri ahal izateko
Gartxoten ezpainetan.
Elkorretaren gailurrean
irakatsi huen,
nor bere lurrean
maizter izatea
zein garesti
ordaintzen den.
Lur minak
eragindako zina,
lur ikararen
mugikortasunean ere
zein iraunkorra den.
Atzaparka bat lurrez
hire seme maitearen
abots gardena itoaz
nola herri bakoitzak
bere defuntuak
lurperatu ohi dituen.
Bainan hik Gartxot
ez huen Abraham baten
ohorerik eta Mikelot
euskal epikaren
erresinola lurrari
eskeni behar izan
hioken opari.
Atzerriko latin
zaleen uztarpean
biraozko hizkuntza
basatiaz kantatzea
ez baizen zilegi.
Ez duk eremu hauetan
aingeru zerutarrik
Otsaburu zakur anaikorra
ez besterik,
nork lehunduko dik bada
hire nahigabea
gure lur gozoak ez ezik.
Arrano igarlea hor hago
zeharka begira
heriotzaren getari.
Hire hegalaren azpian
joan nahi nikek,
hire xirularrutik
iheska irriztan
joandako eresien bila
gure adimena
hire oroitzapenez
sendotu dedin.
Ai Frai Martin,
hire zitalkeriak
bardoa hilen dik
bainan haren
sumindura hilezkorra
ondotik izango duk
eta hire maitinak
deabruak kantatuko
dizkik.
Gaur mende
batzuen ondotik
kondairaren ohiartzuna
entzun nahirik
lur honi so,
hire Altabizkarko kantuaren
egarri nauk, Gartxot,
nere oharmenaren
ilunabarretan
noiz entzungo zai.
Elkorretako elurrak
urtzen direlarik
errekan behera datozte,
garden bezain bihurri,
lurraren negarra iduri.
Txori kantazale ederra
nun ote haiz kantatzen?
Harrien negarra haizeak darama
Zaraitzuko ibarretan barna
Hundreds of doves in the skies of Elkorreta
desperately looking for the Bard of Itzaltzu.
Each of them carries a grain of wheat in their beaks
to place it on the lips of Gartxot.
On the summit of Elkorreta you showed
how expensive it is to be a renter
on your own land.How long-lasting the promise
brought about by the land is
even though it shakes and moves.
Drowning with a fistful of earth
the transparent voice of your son,
you remembered how each town
buries its dead.But you, Gartxot,
you did not have the honors of an Abraham
and you had to offer the land
the mockingbird of Basque epics, Mikelot,
Because singing in this sacrilegious
and wild tongue
was not permitted
under the yoke of the Romanized foreigner
In this land, there is no more heavenly angel
thank the faithful dog Otsaburu,
so who will relieve your pain
more than the bosom of the sweet earth?
Ominous eagle,
sentinel of death,
I wish I could fly under your wings,
in search of the eulogies that got away
by sliding out of your hunting horn,
so that our ingenuity would be strengthened
by your memories.
Oh, Friar Martin,
your betrayal killed the bard,
but his eternal wrath
will always follow you, and your matins
will be sung by the devil.
Today, wanting to listen to the echo of history
after the passage of the centuries,
looking at this land,
I’m thirsty
for your song of Altabizkar, Gartxot,
wondering when I’ll be able to listen to it
in my already declining perception.
The snows of Elkorreta
slide downstream,
transparent and lively
the weeping of the earth
Oh, beautiful singing bird,
where are you singing?
The wind spreads the lament of the stones
along the Salazar Valley

Interactive Whiteboards by PolyVision

 

Orreaga, Altabizkarko Kantua

The story of the Battle of Roncevaux.  You can find more information about it on the Auñamendi Encyclopedia (in Spanish)

  Altabizkarko kantua The Song of Altabizkar
 Oihu bat aditua izan da
Eskualdunen mendien artetik,
eta etxeko jaunak
bere atearen aitzinean xutik,
ideki tu beharriak eta erran du:
“Nor da hor? Zer nahi daute?”
Eta xakurra,
bere nausiaren oinetan lo zegoena
altxatu da eta karrasiz
Altabizkarren inguruak bete ditu.
II
Ibañetaren lepoan harrabots
bat agertzen da,
hurbiltzen da, arrokak ezker
eta eskuin jotzen dituelarik;
hori da hurrundik heldu den
armada baten burrunba.
Mendien kopetetarik
guriek errespuesta eman diote;
berek duten seinua adierazi dute,
ta etxeko jaunak
bere dardak zorrozten tu.
III
Heldu dira! Heldu dira!
Zer lantzazko sasia!
Nola zer nahi kolorezko banderak
heien erdian agertzen diren!
Zer zimiztak atheratzen diren
heien armetarik! (bis)
Zenbat dira?
Haurra, kontatzak ongi.
Bat, biga, hirur, laur, bortz,
sei, zazpi, zortzi, bederatzi
hamar, hameka, hamabi, hamairur,
hamalaur, hamabortz, hamasei,
hamazazpi, hemezortzi,
hemeretzi, hogoi.
IV
Hogoi eta milaka oraino.
Heien kontatzea
denboraren galtzea liteke.
Hurbil ditzagun gure beso zailak,
errotik athera ditzagun arroka horiek.
Botha dezagun mendiaren patarra behera.
Heien buruen gaineraino;
leher ditzagun, herioz jo ditzagun.
V
Zer nahi zuten gure mendietarik
Norteko gizon horiek?
Zertako jin dira
guro bakearen nahastera?
Jinkoak mendiak egin dituanean,
gizonek ez pasatzea nahi izan du.
Bainan arrokak biribilkolika
erortzen dira,
tropak lehertzen dituzte.
Odola xurrutan badoa,
haragi puskak dardaran daude.
Oh! Zenbat hezur karraskatuak!
Zer odolezko itsasoa!
VI
Eskapa! Eskapa!
Indar ata zaldi dituzuenak.
Eskapa hadi,
Karlomano errege, hiru luma
beltzekin ata hire kapa gorriarekin;
hire hiloba maitea,
Errolan zangarra, hantxet hila dago;
bere zangartasuna
beretzako ez du izan.
Eta orain, Euskaldunak,
utz ditzagun arroka horiek.
Jauts ghiten fite,
igor ditzaugun gure dardak
eskapatzen direnen kontra.
VII
Badoazi! Badoazi!
Non da bada lantzazko sasi hura?
Non dira heien erdian
ageri ziren zernahi
kolorezko bandera hek.
Ez da gehiago zimiztarik
ateratzen heien
arma odolez betetarik. (bis)
Zenbat dira?
Haurra, kontatzak ongi.
Hogoi, hemeretzi, hemezortzi,
hamazazpi, hamasei, hamabortz,
hamalaur, hamairur, hamabi,
hameka, hamar, bederatzi,
zortzi, zazpi, sei,
bortz, laur, hirur, biga, bat.
VIII
Bat! Ez da bihirik agertzen gehiago.
Akabo da. Etxeko jauna,
joaiten ahal zira zure xakurrarekin.
Zure emaztearen eta zure haurren
besarkatzera.
Zurer darden garbitzera ata altxatzera,
zure turutakin
eta gero heien gainean
etzatera eta lo itera
Gabaz, arranoak joanen dira
haragi puska lehertu horien jatera.
Eta hezur horiek oro
xurituko dira eternitatean.
A scream has been heard
among the mountains of the Basques
and the man of the house,
standing at his threshold,
has opened his ears and said:
“Who goes there?  What do you want?”
And the dog,
who’d been sleeping at his master’s feet,
has stood and and barking,
has filled the area around Altabizkar.
II
A roar echoes
through Ibañeta Pass,
approaching, hitting the rocks
right and left.
It’s the roar of an army
that has come from afar.
From the tops of the mountains,
our men have replied,,
they’ve made the signal heard,
and the man of the house
sharpens his arrows.
III
They’re here!  They’re here!
what a bush of spears!
How ensigns of all colors
float among them!
What storms are brewed
by their weapons!
How many are there?
Son, count them well.
One, two, three, four, five,
six, seven, eight, nine,
ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen,
fourteen, fifteen, sixteen,
seventeen, eighteen,
nineteen, twenty.
IV
Twenty, and thousands so far.
Counting them
would be a waste of time
Let’s bring our hard arms closer.
Let’s rip those rocks out,
thrown them down the mountain
on their heads;
Let’s crush them, hurt them to death!
V
What do these men from the North
want of our mountains?
Why have they come
to disturb our peace?
When God made the mountains,
he didn’t want men to cross them.
But the rocks roll downhill;
crushing the troops.
The blood flows town in torrents,
piece of meat lie shaking.
Oh!  So many broken bones!
What a sea of blood!
VI
Flee!  Flee!
Those who still have strength and a horse!
Flee, King Charlemagne, with your three black feathers
and your red cape!
Your beloved nephew,
brave Roland, there lies dead:
His bravery
did not serve him.
And now, Basques,
let us leave behind these rocks,
let us go down swiftly,
let’s shoot our arrows
against those who flee.
VII
There they go!  There they go!
Where is that forest of spears?
Where are those ensigns
of all different colors
that floated between them?
Sparks no longer fly
from their bloody arms.
How many are there?
Son, count them well.
Twenty, nineteen, eighteen,
seventeen, sixteen, fifteen,
fourteen, thirteen, twelve,
eleven, ten, nine,
eight, seven, six,
five, four, three, two, one…
VIII
One!  Not a single one!
It’s all over.  Man of the house,
you may go with your dog,
to embrace your wife and children,
to clean your arrows and store them
alongside your hunting horn,
and then lie upon them
and fall asleep.
At night, the eagles will go
to eat those broken pieces of meat.
And all those bones
will be without flesh for all eternity.
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