Girard, or Girart, the son of Garin of Montglave, a poor nobleman, goes with his brother Renier to the court of Charlemagne to seek his fortune. After being at court for some time he quarrelled with the Emperor, owing to the latter marrying the widow of Aubery, duc de Bourgogne, who was pledged to Girart. As a compensation for the loss of his bride, he was given the Comte of Vienne, in Dauphine. When he presented himself before Charlemagne to do homage, the queen, whose affection for her old lover had changed to contempt, forced him by a trick to kiss her foot instead of that of her husband. Some time after, Girart learnt the truth, and, furious at the insult placed upon him, he rebelled against his sovereign. Renier, who had been made duke of Genoa, with his son Olivier and his daughter ‘la belle Aude,’ came to help him. Charlemagne besieged Vienne with a great army, and amongst his warriors was his nephew Roland, who was his principal champion, just as Olivier was that of Girart. A siege, like that of Troy, ensued, many doughty deeds being done by the two heroes. In the course of the fighting Roland sees Aude and falls in love with her. He takes her prisoner, and almost succeeds in carrying her off to his tent, but Olivier rescues her. Finally, it is agreed that the quarrel between the monarch and his vassal shall be settled by a duel between the two champions. Needless to say, the latter fall in readily with the proposal. Olivier is armed by an aged Jew, Joachim, who with others of his nation had fled to Vienne with Pontius Pilate after the Crucifixion, and had not yet succeeded in dying. The combat takes place in an island in the Rhone, and la Belle Aude, with mingled feelings, watches from a window her brother and her lover contending for victory. The struggle is full of tremendous incident. At the outset each of the champions cuts the horse of the other in two and the fight is continued on foot. Olivier’s sword is broken, and Roland invites him to send for another and take a little rest and refreshment. A boatman goes to Vienne and procures from the old Jew a famous sword, called Hauteclere, and some wine. The fight is renewed and lasts till nightfall, when an angel descends from heaven, and orders the two heroes to be reconciled and to fight together against the Saracens. The warriors embrace and Olivier promises Roland the hand of his sister. Such was the beginning of the friendship of the two mighty champions ofChristendom.
Hugo’s poem, however, is not based directly on the story, but on a modern prose adaptation by Achille Jubinal which appeared in Le Journal du Dimanche in 1846. Leon Gautier indeed, in Les Epopees francaises, says: `Victor Hugo s’est propose de traduire notre vieux poeme, dont il avait sans doute quelque texte sous les yeux.’ But it is clear from the mistake about the word Closamont and other details that Gautier was mistaken and that the source from which Hugo drew was Jubinal’s reproduction.