Jean de Meun

views updated Jun 11 2018

Jean de Meun

The French author Jean de Meun (ca. 1240-1305) wrote the second, and longer, part of the "Romance of the Rose." His work is noted for its erudition and encyclopedic spirit.

Jean de Meun, also known as Jean Chopinel or Clopinel, was born in Meun-sur-Loire, the general region of Guillaume de Lorris, to whose Romance of the Rose he added 17,722 lines between 1269 and 1278. Afterward he translated Vegetius's Military Art, Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, the Letters of Abelard and Heloise, Ailred's Spiritual Friendship, and Giraldus's Topography of Ireland and wrote at least two original works in verse: The Testament of Jean de Meun and The Codicil of Master Jean de Meun. He died in a comfortable house near the University of Paris, where he may have had some academic connection.

In Jean's continuation of the Romance of the Rose, Reason tries to dissuade the lover, but the god of Love later reproaches the lover for lending an ear to Reason. In the course of the lover's turmoil he has occasion to reflect, among other things, that possessions are burdens, that charity and justice are by no means equal, that power and virtue never go together, and that, even in destroying, Nature carries on her struggle against death. At last Love organizes an assault on the prison of the rose, depending on False Appearance for military success. The attack succeeds, and the lover receives the rose.

Arésumé of many pages would be hopelessly inadequate, for Jean discourses on innumerable matters and draws from a great variety of sources, including the Bible, Plato, Aristotle, Livy, Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Juvenal, St. Augustine, Boethius, Roger Bacon, John of Salisbury, Alain de Lille, and Andreas Capellanus. Sometimes he reminds us of the scholastics, sometimes of the humanists, and often, with his interest in mining and alchemy, of the medieval scientist-philosopher.

In contrast with Guillaume de Lorris, Jean is bourgeois, extremely learned, realistic, a satirist, and a representative of another generation. Anticlerical and antimilitary, he is clear and eloquent, with didactic instincts that keep him from being negative; it is not surprising that he has been called the "Voltaire of the Middle Ages." Jean's antifeminism shows a curious crossing of the traditions of the fabliaux and of St. Jerome; in fact, there are precious few aspects of medieval life and thought which are not found in Jean's part of the Romance of the Rose.

Further Reading

A study of Jean de Meun is Dorothy Marie Ralph, Jean de Meun: The Voltaire of the Middle Ages (1940). □

Jean de Meung (or Mehun) (ca. 1250-ca. 1305)

views updated Jun 08 2018

Jean de Meung (or Mehun) (ca. 1250-ca. 1305)

French poet who owes his celebrity to his continuation of the Roman de la Rose of Guillaume de Saint-Amour. De Meung also wrote a rhyming treatise on alchemy. He was born Jean Clopinel (or Chopinel) at Meun-sur-Loire and flourished through the reigns of Louis X, Philip the Long, Charles IV, and Philip de Valois. He appears to have possessed a light and railing wit and a keen appreciation of a jest, and it may well be doubted whether he was altogether sincere in his praises of alchemy.

The poet composed a strongly stigmatic quatrain on womankind and the ladies of Charles IV's court resolved to revenge their affronted honor. Surrounding him in the royal antechamber, they ordered the courtiers present to strip de Meung before they gave him a sound flogging. Jean begged to be heard before he was condemned and punished. Having obtained an interval of grace, the poet admittedwith fluent eloquence that he was certainly the author of the calumnious verses, but that they were not intended to disparage all women. He referred only to the vicious and debased, he insisted, and not to such models of purity as he saw around him. Nevertheless, if any lady present felt that the verses really applied to her, he would submit to a well-deserved chastisement! None, of course, accepted.

Like most of the medieval poets, Jean de Meung was a bitter enemy of the priesthood, and he contrived with great ingenuity a posthumous satire upon their inordinate greed. He bequeathed in his will, as a gift to the Cordeliers (friars), a chest of immense weight. Since his fame as an alchemist was widespread, the brotherhood accepted the legacy in the belief that the chest contained the golden results of his quest for the philosophers' stone. But when they opened it, their dismayed eyes rested only on a pile of slates covered with the most unintelligible hieroglyphics and kabalistic characters. The perpetrator of this practical joke was hardly, it seems, a sincere believer in the wonders of alchemy.

Jean de Meung's book on alchemy was published as Le Miroir d'alchymie (1557) and in German as Der Spiegel der Alchymie (1771), but some critics believe it is spurious. Also doubtfully attributed to de Meung are the poetical treatises Les Remonstrances de Nature à l'Alchimiste errant and La Reponse de l'Alchimiste à Nature.