History of Literature

French literature


Jean de Meun

Mirth and Gladness lead a Dance in this miniature
from a manuscript of the Roman de la Rose in the
Bodleian Library (MS Douce 364, folio 8r).

born c. 1240, Meung-sur-Loire, France
died before 1305

French poet famous for his continuation of the Roman de la rose, an allegorical poem in the courtly love tradition begun by Guillaume de Lorris about 1225.

Jean de Meun’s original name was Clopinel, or Chopinel, but he became known by the name of his birthplace. He probably owned a home in Paris and may have been archdeacon of the Beauce, a region between Paris and Orléans. Little is known of his life.

His poems are satiric, coarse, at times immoral, but fearless and outspoken in attacking the abuses of the age. His strong antifeminism and censures on the vices of the church were bitterly resented.

Jean used the plot of the Roman de la rose (c. 1280) as a means of conveying a mass of encyclopaedic information and opinions on every topic likely to interest his contemporaries, especially the increasingly important bourgeois class. At various times he relates the history of classical heroes, attacks the hoarding of money, and theorizes about astronomy and about the human duty to increase and multiply. Many of his views were hotly contested, but they held the attention of the age. The allegory itself was of little importance to him; the famous “Confession” of Nature (one of the characters in the poem) digressed from the narrative for some 3,500 verses, yet it was such digressions that secured the poem’s reputation. Nearly a century later Geoffrey Chaucer translated a segment of the poem, and some scholars hold that it influenced his work more than any other vernacular French or Italian poetry.



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