Winning The Rose

A Chapter by Chapter Commentary on The Romance of the Rose

by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung

Part IV: The Crone, Nature - Chapters: LXX-XCIX

By A. S. Kline ©Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved.

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Chapter LXX: The Crone and Fair-Welcome: (Lines 13165-13310)

The Crone, acting as a go-between, now tells Fair-Welcome about the Lover and about the death of Ill-Talk who had plagued him, and shows him the chaplet which the Lover has sent as a gift. Fair-Welcome is reluctant to take it, for fear of Jealousy. The Crone tells him to say it came from her, and so avoid any blame.

Chapter LXXI: The Crone’s advice: (Lines 13311-13598)

The Crone now offers Fair-welcome her wisdom regarding love, being a woman of the world, who has played the field in her youth, one who has been a courtesan, a lady of the night, and is knowledgeable in the ways of amorous and sexual love. Now old, she had once been famed for her beauty and in great demand, pursued by too many suitors and lovers to count (the reference here to master Algus, Al-Khwarizmi, is to the Persian master, Muhammad ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi, c780-c850AD, of Baghdad, who produced works on mathematics, astronomy and geography. His work on algebra was notable, and the terms algebra and algorithm are derived from the title of his treatise).

The Crone sets out to inform the Lover and crucially she speaks from experience rather than theory: ‘all I know the practice taught me, tis experience hath made me wise’. Jean here completes his survey of the experience of amorous Love, to add to Reason’s theorising about it, as previously presented by Friend, Wealth, and False-Seeming, in order to provide us with a view derived from Reason and Experience to balance that of Nature and Genius (the sexual urge) to follow. We have also been moving towards a progressively more cold-eyed view of amorous and sexual love, and the crone will intensify that hard-headed realism, from the perspective of old age, in educating the youth before her.

 She has deceived in love and been deceived, she says, and having had fun in her youth has seen that life evaporate with age and the loss of her beauty (see Horace: ‘Odes’ Book I.25, for a comparable warning to Lydia about old age). She speaks about the revenge she would like to take on those who later abandoned her, but remembers the good times (Villon’s ‘Ballad of the Belle Heaulmière’ is clearly based on these and subsequent passages) and how she lived off the earnings from her amorous and sexual adventures. She is now in the service of Jealousy, and guarding Fair-Welcome and the Rose, but as we will see is still very much of the party of love, though Fair-Welcome remains dubious about her intentions, as he tells the Lover later. She now offers to tell lovers all about the dance of love.

Chapter LXXII: The Game of Love: (Lines 13599-13765)

The Crone teaches a wholly cynical view of amorous and sexual love, as a game in which the heart should be withheld in order to satisfy the flesh. She therefore encourages Fair-Welcome (and all lovers) to dispense with the last two of Love’s Ten Commandments, regarding generosity and fixing the heart in a single place. The wise seducer and lover, and the wise woman of the world, will guard their wealth and prove fickle, while selling their love at the highest price.

She intends to speak of the five arrows (the five senses) and how to fire them and aim them truly. A lover should also dress well, and only cease such things when he has learnt the lesson of a little song about Pygmalion which she has sung to him. (The full Pygmalion story will appear later in Chapters CVI-CVII) The lesson of the Pygmalion myth, as of the Narcissus myth in Guillaume’s Romance, is a warning about single-minded obsession with the wrong object of love, in Narcissus’ case his own form, in Pygmalion’s the statue he has created, which only becomes a true object of love when brought to life by Venus.

The Crone recommends deceit in love. The gods, Jupiter for example, behaved adulterously and were fickle in love, and so human lovers may follow their example, and swear falsely as they did. Men and women should play the field, and find more than one source of profit from doing so (the reference to Saint Liphard is to the saint of Meung-sur-Loire who drained the marshes there c520AD, as the lover should drain the wealth from the marshes of amorous love! Most of the oaths in the Continuation, I note, bear some amusing inner reference to the text, the saints are not chosen at random)

Chapter LXXIII: Tricks and wiles: (Lines 13766-14444)


Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung, Roman de la Rose
France, Central? (Paris?); c. 1380

The British Library

On the subject of fickleness and disloyalty the Crone now gives us the tale of Dido, Queen of Carthage (see Virgil: ‘Aeneid’) who was abandoned by Aeneas and committed suicide. We then have mention of Phyllis who thought herself abandoned by Demophon (see Ovid: ‘Heroides’ II) and likewise committed suicide; of Oenone abandoned by Paris (see Ovid: ‘Heroides’ V); and of Medea abandoned by Jason (see Ovid: ‘Heroides’ XII).

The Crone now speaks of the skills a young woman should acquire in order to succeed in the game of love. She must drive men to distraction, weep if necessary, dress to kill, coiffure her hair or wear a fine wig, use cosmetics, avoid any trace of ugliness, and keep herself clean (especially Venus’ chamber!) She should behave prettily while in company, dine well but gracefully at table, and avoid appearing or being drunk or falling asleep (for the reference to Palinurus see Virgil: ‘Aeneid’ V, 814).

A young woman must seize the day, and not let her youth pass without exploiting it to the full. She should let herself be seen and go about to events and entertainments. She should go wherever ‘the God of Love prances’ where ‘he and the Goddess school do keep, and chant the mass to all their sheep’ (the sheep will reappear in Genius’ mock-sermon later). She should dress and walk when abroad in a manner to catch the eye. She should cast her net widely and some fool will arrive to offer her protection. She should avoid travellers, however, who are by nature flighty and handsome men who are too proud of their beauty.

The woman of the world should avoid making promises, unless money is received in exchange, keep men guessing, and draw them in slowly, pretending love rather than feeling it, and not giving twice without reason. Once an unfortunate victim is in her grasp he should be thoroughly plucked of all his wealth; she should co-opt her family and servants to assist in the process. We then learn the various ways to fleece a man, through loans never repaid etc. 

She must pretend to be afraid of her husband or parents or guardian, and so love-making with her lover must be carried out covertly; she should also pretend to be jealous of his other lovers, and feign to be loyal only to him. She should pretend, indeed, to be as jealous as Vulcan was regarding Venus, who was caught in adultery with Mars.

Chapter LXXIV: Vulcan, Venus and Mars: (Lines 14445-14542)

Jean now gives us the tale of Vulcan, Venus and Mars (see Ovid: ‘Metamorphoses’ Book IV, 167) with passing references to the beauty of Absalom (‘The Bible’ 2 Samuel 14:25) and Paris (according to Homer: Iliad III).

A crucial passage follows in which the Crone explains that ‘all women are born free’ and only limited in action by the marriage laws (framed by men), and that a woman is equipped by Nature to love any man, and he to love any woman. Women therefore look to love freely, and widely. In the past men seized a woman if they desired her, and wars were fought over them, so the marriage laws were instituted to regulate society. (Though this passage clearly reflects 13th century institutionalised misogyny, with its adverse view of women, in line with the Christian ethos at that time, Jean via the Crone expresses his view here and elsewhere that women naturally have equal status with men).

The mention of Nature in the Crone’s speech allows Jean now to give a description, through her, of Nature’s powers, and the mad forces of Love.

Chapter LXXV: The Crone’s Lament: (Lines 14543-15307)

The caged bird longs for freedom, says the Crone, and so does a woman. So too does a man who chooses the religious life and then repents of it. He is like a fish (the religious symbol denotes a Christian, since Christ fished for souls) trapped in a net (the repetition of this monastic theme in the Continuation suggests it might have had personal resonance for Jean). The Crone quotes Horace (see ‘Epistles’ I, X.24) and says that ‘every creature would exercise its true nature’. Thus Venus has every excuse since Nature overrides training, and as in the domesticated creatures (cats, horses, cattle) instinct overrides habit. The marriage laws are too strict, claims the Crone, in restricting a woman to only one man, and vice versa.

Free-will can be exercised by any person, though shame and fear may restrain them; ‘Nature rules’ and the crone in her own life has had many lovers; and would have had every man, and every man would have gone with her, if they could, except perhaps for some ‘madman’ who was deeply in love with the one woman. ‘So we are controlled by Nature’, says the Crone, ‘who incites us thus to pleasure.’ This is a key passage since Jean is now setting up Nature against Reason and Experience, while still confirming that true love is madness. This is how the Continuation maintains all views in balance; amorous and sexual Love is mad and foolish, as confirmed by Reason and Experience, and yet Nature is all-powerful, driving human beings to procreation through the enticement of amorous love and sexual pleasure. Jean is seeking to confirm Guillaume’s aims, but in a wider environment, while exposing the mingling of amorous and erotic forces within Guillaume’s courtly nexus, which Guillaume’s Romance part-conceals within the allegory. The Crone therefore represents a pivotal point between Reason/Experience and Nature/Sexuality, and acts as a literary go-between as well as an actively allegorical one. The themes of Nature, free-will and sexuality will be explored more deeply later.

As regards Mars and Venus says the Crone, Vulcan would have done better to keep quiet and let her have her way, rather than bring shame on himself and her. Husbands should suppress jealousy, while women of the world should feign it with their lover, and suggest they will take another lover in revenge, which is bound to increase the lover’s ardour. She must juggle appointments with her lovers and use one to rouse the other, making the latter feel she and they are taking risks, She must take the lover to bed, but keep in the shadows to veil her appearance, and be sure she is ‘clean’. They should seek to achieve mutual climax, but if love-making disinterests her she should still feign a climax and appear grateful.

She should keep him waiting for his audience with her, but not too long, and ensure they make love in private, securely and secretly, she feigning fear of her spouse. If her spouse is watching her she should get him drunk, and the servants if necessary unless they are doing her errands; or she should make an excuse that she needs to go to the public baths, and then meet her lover there or elsewhere. No husband can set a sufficient guard on a wife seeking liberty, There is a reference here to the myth of Argus, Juno’s guard, who had a hundred eyes (see Ovid: ‘Metamorphoses’ Book I: 662-668).

She should avoid witchcraft and the dark arts (Belenus, is the hermetic Apollo, originally a Celtic sun-god but also a part of the esoteric lore surrounding Hermes Trismegistus, contained in the ‘Hermetica’ writings, probably of Greek origin, and the reference may be to such lore in works ascribed to Apollonius of Tyana, c15-100AD, under the name Balenus) Medea could not hold Jason with her witchcraft, nor could Circe detain Ulysses (see Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ Book X). She should also avoid giving any man costly gifts, trivial ones will do. Generosity is not the female forte (in passing Jean has a dig at religion).

The Crone’s lament now details her regrets on the passing of youth, the advent of age, and the lost wealth she once acquired all of which she gave away, much of it to her true love, a rascal, who beat her and sponged off her but whom she always forgave because he gave her such pleasure in bed. (Again, she is the archetype for Villon’s ‘Belle Heaulmière’, and some of Heine’s more cynical poems also come to mind). He lived a spendthrift life and she whored to support him, but both ended in poverty as time passed. There, the Crone warns Fair-Welcome you will arrive too, if you are not careful.

The Crone has now brought us to the core of Love’s madness and to the recognition of Nature’s irresistible power over men and women. This is the point where the warnings of Reason and Experience meet the urgings of Nature and Love. We now revert to the Mock-Epic.

Fair-Welcome has listened to her lament, and speculates about whether the castle can be captured, which he doubts. There is little about Ill-Talk said within the tower (since he is dead and cannot now bring slanderous news) but the three remaining guards (Resistance, Shame and Fear) feel well-equipped to fight off any attack. Fair-Welcome explains to the Crone that her warnings are not relevant to him (he knows little of love, has what he needs, and never dabbles in magic) and that he is ambivalent about the Lover’s affection for him. Nevertheless he will receive the Lover in a friendly manner, so long as Jealousy is not aware of their meeting. The Crone reassures him and he returns to his room while she goes off to find the Lover, give him the news, and tell him how to enter the castle. The Crone episode here is also then a crucial means of advancing action in the Mock-Epic.

Chapter LXXVI: The Lover enters the Castle: (Lines 15308-15378)

The Crone advises the Lover to enter the castle by the rear; she will open the back door to the hidden passageway, a door which has not been opened wide for two months easily (there is a blatant homo-erotic reference here, as with much of the material surrounding the sexually amorphous Fair-Welcome). He does so, and finds that Amor and his Company have broken into the castle and are gathering there. False-Seeming and Abstinence (pregnant with the Antichrist, i.e. representative of the mendicant orders who prophesy the Antichrist’s coming) are there, and Sweet-Glances arrives to lead the Lover to Fair-Welcome.

Chapter LXXVII: The Lover meets Fair-Welcome: (Lines 15379-15428)

The Lover talking with Fair-Welcome

‘The Lover talking with Fair-Welcome’
Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung, Roman de la Rose
France, N. (Artois or Picardy); c. 1340

The British Library

Being the son of Courtesy, Fair-Welcome greets the lover with a courteous flourish, and the Lover replies in kind. Fair-Welcome offers the Lover whatever is in his power to grant, and the Lover immediately gains the opportunity to approach the Rose. 

Chapter LXXVIII: Resistance: (Lines 15429-15558)

Resistance has overheard their conversation, and now challenges the Lover, while Shame and Fear, the other guards, appear at his outcry. They seize and bind the Lover, and then berate him for having abused Fair-Welcome’s offer by seeking the Rose. He has deceived both Fair-Welcome and the Crone. Fair-Welcome is now taken, beaten, and bundled off to his cell in the tower again.

Chapter LXXIX: The Lover is assailed: (Lines 15559-15698)

The three guards assail the Lover, while he seeks to flatter them and begs to be imprisoned alongside Fair-Welcome. Resistance vehemently refuses. If all lovers were locked away then they would never lose a rose, except to the villains who seek to use force, men who should be hung or banished (again Jean stresses through his characters the need for consent in amorous and sexual love) The Lover protests Fair-Welcome’s innocence, and cries for help to the attacking forces.

Chapter LXXX: The Company of Love aid him: (Lines 15699-15758)

Both sides now gather together and, swearing to win or die, prepare for battle. But before the conflict, the author makes a series of pleas and apologies.

Chapter LXXXI: The author asks for pardon: (Lines 15759-15786)

The author/lover, Jean/Guillaume, now addresses ‘lovers good and true’ and again promises them a new ‘Art of Love’ which will show the path of amorous seduction and conquest which guarantees the winning of the Rose. Anyone troubled by anything they hear should await the further expounding of the Dream, which will resolve their questions. I take this to mean that the significance of the allegory will be understood as a psycho-drama, an alternative literary way of perceiving the emotions, attitudes and so on, associated with real-world amorous and sexual love, not that there is some other hidden meaning in the text, veiled by irony, concealing some deeper religious or secular significance. I would contend that the Continuation merely sets out to achieve what it in fact does, to show the ways of love, and the conflicts of heart and head involved, to a wider audience than the courtly audience of Guillaume’s Romance, but with the same intent.

Chapter LXXXII: The author to the lords: (Lines 15787-15824)

The author/lover now makes an appeal to the sympathetic (male) members of his audience, which I take as a genuine, and not deliberately ironic (though humorous and slightly tongue-in-cheek) appeal from Jean to his readers to understand that the apparent subversion, obscenity, blasphemy or whatever of his text, is necessary, because (as Reason part-authorised) the subject demands it. They should therefore pardon him, and defend him before his critics. Sallust is mentioned (see ‘Bellum Catalinae’ 3.1) regarding the difficulty of conveying deeds in words. The author is forced to write as he does in order to convey the truth.

Chapter LXXXIII: The author to the ladies: (Lines 15825-15934)

Having appealed to the men, the author/lover now appeals to the ladies who read or listen to romances. If he has said anything overly critical of women he asks them not to blame him, since it was never his intent, but rather blame his authorities, those other writers whose works he has read and even quoted, since they must be the liars not himself. His intent is to educate women not attack them (‘for it is good to know all things’). The truth about love was written long before by poets and others who knew about such things, and the truth of whose works has been attested.

If he has offended the religious, through his portrayal of False-Seeming, then he did not mean to offend the truly religious, rather his target was and is hypocrisy, religious or secular, those who profess to abstinence, for example, and yet devour what they can (this is aimed particularly at the mendicant orders). Those who are wounded by his words about hypocrisy are those who practise it. The rest seek to know themselves and are therefore immune to his words. He ends with a pledge to Holy Church to amend whatever seems absurd, if he can (the tongue-in-cheek implication being that Holy Church may be so riven with hypocrisy it does not know itself, and if wounded is therefore complicit).

Chapter LXXXIV: Openness fights Resistance: (Lines 15935-16146)

We now have a pleasant allegorical description of Openness in battle against Resistance. A reference is made to Renouart Au Tinel, hero of ‘Aliscans’, a chanson de geste, which describes a fictional battle between Christians and pagans (Aliscans is presumably from the Alyscamps, or Elysian Fields, at Arles, a Roman necropolis; the ‘tinel’ is Renouart’s stick or baton, which he wields in the tale). Pity appears, to assist Openness, and bears the misericorde (which was a long narrow knife used to slay a mortally wounded knight to put him out of his misery)

Pity’s tears soften and weaken Resistance, who is urged on by Shame, she claiming that if resistance fails, Fair-Welcome will allow access to the Rose, and she will be open to greed (lust); rape; unwanted pregnancy etc. (the elaborate metaphorical/allegorical description here is easily interpreted). Shame now attacks Pity; then Delight in turn appears who attacks Shame. Shame strikes Delight to the ground, but is then countered by Skilful Concealment who captures and defeats Shame.       

Chapter LXXXV: Fear fights Boldness: (Lines 16147-16247)

Fear now attacks Concealment, who is aided by Boldness, whom Fear now lays low. Security, in turn, attacks Fear. There is a reference to Hercules’ defeat of Cacus (see Virgil: ‘Aeneid’ Book VIII) where Fear was much in evidence.       

Chapter LXXXVI: A general mêlée ensues: (Lines 16248-16302)

Amor leading his army to the castle

‘Amor leading his army to the castle’
Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung, Roman de la Rose
France, N. (Artois or Picardy); c. 1340

The British Library

Security and Fear grip each other tight, while a general battle ensues between the forces of Amor and those of the Castle. Amor’s troops receive the worst of the conflict, and so the God of Love sends Openness and Sweet-Glances to ask help of Amor’s mother, the Goddess Venus. Meanwhile the opposing armies forge a truce.

Chapter LXXXVII: Venus is asked for aid: (Lines 16303-16346)

The messengers arrive in Cythera (Kythira, in the Greek Isles), the island of Venus-Aphrodite, who was born from the sea nearby (Jean is pointing us back to the castration myth, and Saturn/Cronos again). Venus meanwhile is out hunting with her lover, Adonis.

Chapter LXXXVIII: Venus and Adonis: (Lines 16347-16430)

Hunting Scene

‘Hunting Scene’
Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung, Roman de la Rose
France, Central? (Paris?); c. 1380

The British Library

Jean now gives us the myth of Venus and Adonis. Venus warned her lover to avoid the most dangerous creatures when hunting; he disobeyed and was killed by a wild boar (See Ovid ‘Metamorphoses’ Book X). Jean employs this example to exhort lovers to always pay heed to and believe their beloved, whatever she says, and to ignore Reason.

In our mock-epic however, Adonis is still alive, and Venus now returns to Cythera with him. The messengers ask for her aid against Jealousy, and she vows to help her son and to burn the castle to the ground.

Chapter LXXXIX: Venus speeds to Amor’s aid: (Lines 16431-16456)

Venus is drawn through the air in her chariot by eight turtle-doves (traditional emblems of the Goddess of Love) and flies to the aid of her son Amor, who meanwhile has broken the truce (Jean stresses love’s fickleness).

Chapter XC: Venus joins the attack: (Lines 16457-16552)

Amor now seeks his mother’s urgent help, and she agrees to war against Chastity and Jealousy, and urges Amor to ensure all men fight in his company. Amor concurs saying that ‘none within our sight will be as men of worth approved if they love not, or are not loved.’ Amor says he detests those who spoil his pleasure by shunning the paths of love, and when they do he could almost die of grief, and would if he were mortal (there is an echo of that thought in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’). Without the joy that it creates, he says, love is reduced to nothing but the God of Love himself, a dreadful loss: ‘For where is the true life other than in the arms of one’s lover?’ This is a common sentiment in medieval French literature, (see for example ‘Aucassin and Nicolette’, Eloise’s letters to Abelard, and the lyric ‘Est-il paradis, amie’) representing a secular strain of amorous defiance that continues into later times. There is, I think, no trace of irony in the Continuation here, despite the air of humour and mockery that always lingers about Amor’s speeches; Amor, after all, has claimed Jean as being of Love’s Company in Chapter LX, and why should we not believe what he says?

 The deities and their forces then swear to attack the castle, taking their oath not on the Trinity, but on the bows and arrows and flaming torches of Venus and Amor. At this point Jean breaks off the action, so that we might hear from the Personification of Nature.

Chapter XCI: Nature: (Lines 16553-16850)

Nature forging a baby

‘Nature forging a baby’
Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung, Roman de la Rose
France, Central? (Paris?); c. 1380

The British Library

Having reached, on the path from Reason through Experience, the point where Venus joins the fight, attention now turns to Nature, whose fundamental purpose is the continuance of the species (from a modern scientific perspective Nature is purposeless, even if the process of Natural Selection gives living entities an appearance of design and intent. As far as the 13th century was concerned however, Nature was created by the deity and fulfilled a divine purpose).

Reason and Nature are not here opposed in a direct sense, since Reason, if we recall, also agreed that the purpose of sex was procreation; though amorous and erotic love was nevertheless to be avoided. However we are here in the realms of the actual as opposed to the theoretical. Nature instils a sexual drive in the species (personified as Genius) which provokes desire, such that in love there is both pleasure and delight associated with the sexual act, (female consent to the act is required, while any use of force was previously deemed unacceptable). In terms of urging the species to amorous love and sexual pleasure, Reason and Nature are therefore opposed.

Nature is seen at her forge, creating new lives, and therefore outrunning Death, and keeping the species from extinction. We are shown a panoply of individuals, at their different pursuits (with a sly dig at religious hypocrisy again). None can escape Death, even the physicians who stave it off must die. We are given a list of famous medical men: Hippocrates (Greek, c460-370BC), Galen (Aelius Galenus of Greek Pergamon, 129-c210AD), Razes (Persian, Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyya al-Razi 854-925AD), Constantine (‘the African’, Italy, 11th century) and Avicenna (Persian, Ibn Sina or Abu Ali Sina, c980-1037AD), all of course long dead.

If only a single example of a species survives the species is not extinct (a jest, since a single individual could not perpetuate the human species). That prompts a remembrance of the fabled Phoenix that resurrects from the flames of its funeral pyre.

Nature creates new specimens to populate the earth, while Art imitates Nature though imperfectly. Art and science will never learn (Jean prophesies, incorrectly) how to imitate or isolate the elements of life, and how to recreate them as if by some species of alchemy, though alchemy (as a primitive chemistry) is valid and compounds may be altered to create new compounds. (Glass can indeed be made by heating sand and charcoal derived from bracken, as ‘forest’ glass. Base metals too can be obtained by purification and refining techniques). The belief that all metals could be derived from mercury and sulphur derives from Zosimos of Penapolis (Egyptian, 4th century AD) and later writers who proposed that precise mixtures of these two elements allowed the underlying volatile and non-volatile ‘spirits’ to produce the different metals.

Nature is seen to be grieving for an act of which she repents (her forging of human beings) and even wishes to leave off the work. The author cannot here portray her or her beauty, nor could the famous philosophers or the Greek classical artists, Parrhasius Apelles, Myron or Polycletus, let alone Pygmalion (in the myth which we shall hear later, as the Crone promised).

Chapter XCII: Nature’s beauty: (Lines 16851-16954)

We now have the tale of Zeuxis the Greek sculptor, and his failure to portray Nature (derived from Cicero: ‘De Inventione’, II.I.1). Jean amusingly and at length denies his ability to describe Nature and then uses a series of comparisons to attempt just that, Nature being a fountain of light etc. 

Nature, overhearing the oaths sworn by Amor and Venus to involve all men in amorous Love and to capture the Castle of Jealousy, realises she has been deceived, and that the human beings she creates are fated to pursue amorous pleasure and delight not merely their task of procreation. She believes she has acted foolishly and the foolishness and madness of Love is thus again highlighted.

Nature goes to seek out Genius, her priest, who is saying a form of Mass, Nature’s Mass, which consists of reading out all the mutable forms Nature has made (Nature is sacred, the world her temple, therefore his role as a priest is not unreasonable). Genius, the god of place, who arranges and orders what Nature creates, represents here also the urge to specific form, to procreation, to the sexual act. Being a priest though he may of course also be a religious hypocrite given to hyperbole, and we should be wary of his tempting but simplistic description of the Paradise Garden presented later, designed perhaps to entice the foolish lovers among Love’s army.

Chapter XCIII: Nature and Genius: (Lines 16955-17062)

Nature wishes to confess her error in creating human beings, and Genius expresses his willingness to hear her confession, conceal what she does not wish to be known, and grant her absolution (there is a clear hint of the hypocritical preacher in this, especially the automatic granting of absolution for a sin that will recur in the future, that same absolution in advance which Dante condemns with regard to Guido da Montefeltro ‘Inferno’ Canto XXVII: 58-136). Genius urges Nature not to weep over her error; though her tears, he deduces, might indicate some great sin. Women however can equally be moved and angered by trifles, he claims, and refers to Virgil (‘variorum et mutabile semper femina; woman is often various and changeable’, see Aeneid IV: 569), to Solomon (possibly a variant of Ecclesiastes 7.26), and to Livy.

Genius now continues in a spirit of mild misogyny; women can’t keep a secret, but he who reproaches a woman for it, and even beats her, will be on the receiving end of her anger. Genius then enters into a digression on the subject of feminine loquaciousness, and male foolishness.

Chapter XCIV: Husband and wife: (Lines 17063-17220)

We now have a dialogue between husband and wife, the husband being portrayed as a fool, and the wife as the verbally dominant partner, as she urges him to confess his secrets. The whole thing is full of Jean’s good humour (for example the reference to Saint Peter, who is of course the stone, or rock, on which the Church was founded) while the relationship between husband and wife is fundamentally, despite appearances, a loving one.

Chapter XCV: The snake in the grass: (Lines 17221-17412)

Delilah cutting Samson's hair

‘Delilah cutting Samson's hair’
Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung, Roman de la Rose
France, Central? (Paris?); c. 1380

The British Library

The husband confesses under pressure, and the wife now has matter to threaten him with in case of need. It is a warning, says Genius (mockingly) to all men to keep silent on such occasions, and he gives us a poetic piece of hyperbole concerning the serpent in the grass, a reference again to Virgil (‘Eclogues’ III.1, 108) from which all should flee. The hyperbolic style and somewhat inflated language, given the context, is typical of Genius, who shows us wilder, madder aspects of existence than Reason. Representing natural order and disorder, and the natural urges, we might anticipate that he is something of an extremist, and one who disregards convention, so we should expect bawdiness, obscenity, even blasphemy in his mockingly subversive speeches. He is reminiscent of the nature god Pan in Greek myth, and his ethos is the Roman Saturnalia, a period when the world was turned upside down, and servants were masters for the day (compare the character of Trinculo in Petronius’ ‘Satyricon’).

Genius now counterbalances his misogyny with a slighter gentler view. More liberally, the husband should allow her freedom to come and go, even to be involved in business affairs if she is competent. (Again we should remember the patriarchal nature of Jean’s society. It saw the wife as virtually a possession of the husband’s, a view that the laws of the time supported, her main purpose procreation, but she was to be valued and cherished, honoured and served in that role.) However she should not be given too much power, or be privy to the husband’s secrets, or she will, according to Scripture, become a problem. Lovers too should treat the woman well but keep silence regarding matters that are not to do with her. Fools of course, will do the opposite. Genius then quotes Solomon, and the example of Samson and Delilah.

He excludes Nature from his warnings however, she who has always proved loyal and true. Genius begs her to cease her weeping, and then prepares to hear her confession.

Chapter XCVI: Nature’s Confession: (Lines 17413-17724)

Nature starts her confession with the Creation myth, in which the deity forms the world from nothing. The content is mainly taken from Ovid (‘Metamorphoses’ Book I) rather than the Bible and Genesis, Jean indicating that Genius is a pagan priest of a pagan goddess, Nature. This mixture of Classical and Christian material is a feature of the whole Continuation (consider Venus and Amor) and of Dante’s Divine Comedy also, which is of the same historical period, a feature therefore of the 12th and 13th century renaissance in Classical studies paralleled by intense theological debate.

Nature we therefore conclude is of earlier creation than the Christian religion. This imitation of a Christian confession, for a sin that was not a sin, given to an imitation of a Christian priest, can thus equally be seen as genuine regret for a primal error confessed to a true priest of nature. She then says that she was appointed by the deity, through his love for her, to be his chambermaid, and Vicar and Constable (a vicar was a deputy for a superior, while a constable was a keeper of a noble household, originally a keeper of horses, or creatures in Nature’s case) She guards the golden chain of the elements, the chain of existence that leads from the deity to the lowest element earth, and the forms of all things; and all the creatures obey her, except for mankind.

This is not, she says, a complaint against the heavens, which carry the stars that influence precious stones below, and carry the planets in their Ptolemaic epicycles (the planets in orbit appear to progress and regress in the sky. Ptolemy, c100-170AD refined the geometrical model of planetary movement of Hipparchus, c190-c120BC, to explain this, by means of epicycles, loosely wheels within wheels. The Ptolemaic system was superseded by the Copernican model, based on elliptical planetary orbits round the sun). The thirty-six thousand year cycle of the heavens described is the Platonic Great Year whereby the heavens were assumed to return to their same exact configuration after that period (which is invalid scientifically, though the earth’s polar axis does rotate through 360 degrees during that period, approximately). The ‘seven planets’ of the medieval period were taken to be the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in that order, the Moon occupying the sphere nearest Earth, Saturn that furthest away from Earth.

Nor does Nature complain of the planets, though the moon has dark patches on its surface, due to the sun’s light passing through the moon there, but being reflected elsewhere. An analogy is claimed to be light passing through glass which does not reflect while a dense or simply reflective surface ‘returns’ the light (eye-beams were assumed to be light rays directed from the eye to objects and being reflected so that the eyes could see, rather than the simpler scientific reality of rays of light entering the eye randomly. The homo-centric nature of medieval thought is here exemplified). The digression to describe the moon’s appearance (serpent, tree and reclining man) seems on the face of it quite wayward; the image unlike the normal moon-face we see. I suggest however that if one looks through an inverting non-corrected telescope, or in the medieval case at the moon seen by means of a ‘camera obscura’ or pinhole camera (a large dark chamber with a hole through to the exterior, aligned to a bright full moon, is sufficient), then the inverted and reversed image does appear something like the description given, especially if seen in a subsequent drawing rather than at the time.

The planets move smoothly in their epicycles along their orbits, through the twelve astrological houses of the Zodiac, retarding the heavens so that life on earth is possible (the sun at ‘the centre’ is not a Copernican insight but the position of the sun in Ptolemy’s model, in the fourth sphere from the earth, between triplets of planets: Moon, Mercury, Venus then Mars, Jupiter, Saturn.) the sun being at a distance not too far or too close to sustain that life (the Goldilocks’ zone in modern science, not too hot or too cold). The sun, Nature says, illuminates the planets and stars, sharing out its light.

We now get a charming reference to the Greek myths, with Night as the spouse of Acheron (the realm of the underworld) and mother of the Furies (see Aeschylus: ‘Eumenides’). The deity set the heavenly bodies in the sky to light the darkness, creating the harmony of the spheres, which is the source of all melody, and the ‘planets’ influence all things on earth (via their astrological aspects) in substance and accident (content and attributes) creating a harmonious mingling of the four elements (earth, water, air, fire). The body’s humours are controlled in this way, and we die shrivelled, and dry, unless we die prematurely of one of the elements; being hanged (air), drowned (water), burnt (fire) or buried (earth), or (in an amusing passage) in some other way. Untoward deaths cause Nature consternation, since they spoil her plan, being caused by human folly and lack of moderation.

Chapter XCVII: Destiny and Free-will: (Lines 17725-18300)

After this excursion through medieval science, which stresses the influence of the heavens, nature highlights the folly of those who perform unnatural acts. Firstly Empedocles (c494-c434BC) who threw himself into Mount Etna’s volcanic crater (according to Horace: ‘Ars Poetica’ and others), then Origen (c184-253), who supposedly castrated himself (according to Eusebius in his ‘Ecclesiastical History’).

Some claim such things are fated from birth, but the heavenly influences do not determine the future completely, says Nature; the natal disposition may be altered in various virtuous ways, and even erroneous paths may be rectified by the use of Reason; the powers and influences of the planets and constellations are in accord with reason, and do not operate against it.

Nature (with Jean) now tackles the thorny question of free-will and predestination. The strategy adopted here is to start from the assumption that God exists and is all-powerful and all-knowing, which is indeed the tacit medieval assumption. Therefore free-will must exist, otherwise human beings would have no responsibility for their actions, good or evil, said actions being pre-determined and outside their control; indeed God could not judge human beings, and so the deity would not be all-powerful. Equally divine prescience of future events must exist and be absolute, or God would not be all-knowing. Therefore it follows from the above that both free-will and absolute prescience must both be valid simultaneously. Note that without free-will the object of love would no longer be a choice, and human beings could not pursue true love rather than inferior versions of it. It is thus vital to Jean’s view of Love that human free-will exists.

The use of reductio ad absurdum would of course suggest an alternative interpretation, that since free-will and pre-determination cannot both be true some aspect of the assumption must be wrong (assuming them to be opposites, since if one’s choices are pre-determined to end in only one way, rather than being the results of a determined but not-predetermined process of choice, then choice is no longer free). Nature’s conclusion as to God’s prescience also leaves open the problem of evil. If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, then evils and disasters are a morally repugnant part of God’s intent.

It is worth spending a few moments on the atheistic scientific view, that pre-determination is impossible (there are too many unknown and often seemingly random variables for any mind to know or compute the outcomes of all events and processes); that nevertheless all is determined (future states follow inevitably from current states, though with apparently random quantum effects at a level below coherent and continuing structure); and that there is no inherent conflict between free-will (human choice) and determinism (the inevitable flow of processes according to physical laws). In this modern view, current configurations of the world constrain future configurations and therefore the outcome of any choice, but the process of choosing includes all internal mental inputs as well as external ones. In other words our future comes to be through us, not despite us, and that is what it means to be a living individual: we are our choices. Determination does allow prediction, based on experiment and theoretical laws, but not direct knowledge of the as yet non-existent future, whereas pre-determination would require a complete knowledge of all events, past, present and future, which in this view is impossible in practice and probably also in principle.

It is the misuse of free-will that Nature condemns in mankind, and that is why Jean has included Nature’s speech about free-will, which is not a digression or extraneous to the matter (there is nothing chaotic in the Continuation, all its seeming digressions are pertinent). Nature deems the idea that mankind does everything through necessity as repugnant; instead anything can be changed by the exercise of Reason and free-will. There is an irony here since the drive to procreation, Nature’s aim, may override free-will, and the Lover indeed rejects Reason; but then Love is madness, and the Lover is a fool. Nature’s view of things, like Reason’s earlier, is somewhat idealistic.

Nature (with Jean) considers some variant views on the manner of God’s prescience, and discounts them (for example, God’s prescience is driven by events, His knowledge is of tendencies, etc.) in favour of God being all-powerful, a view which Nature celebrates. (If God does not exist of course, the opposite of the base assumption, then all these hair-splitting, tortuous discussions are rendered irrelevant, along with all theology)

A long passage follows on human choice through the exercise of free-will, which leads to the conclusion that though the heavens may influence character and the human heart, and direct the mind’s tendencies, free-will can modify that influence to strengthen it or diminish it. Destiny and Fate are thus the names we give to our disposition or tendency towards certain outcomes, rather than being absolutes. The passage on human choice leads to the myth of Deucalion who through exercise of free-will and reason escaped the flood.

Chapter XCVIII: Deucalion and Pyrrha: (Lines 18301-19296)

Nature tells the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha who created people from stones after the Flood (see Ovid: ‘Metamorphoses’ Book I, 313) thereby exercising free-will and foresight. Joseph showed foresight too in feeding the people of Egypt (Genesis 47: 13-27) and so could other folk do in order to endure a harsh winter (Jean is having fun with this Breughel-like scene). The mind and soul through free-will can conquer circumstance, the mind alone is the cause of its own unease (compare Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ and his character’s musings)

Nature (like Jean) is clearly niggled by the matter of free-will and pre-destination, and we have another passage condemning those who blame God for their own wrong choices, misunderstanding the provision of free-will the deity made, or the true meaning of pre-destination.

Nature asserts that the dumb creatures, especially the domesticated ones, having neither language nor Reason, cannot exercise free-will or they would rebel against their masters. All creatures possessing higher Reason however have the ability to exercise free-will and so cannot claim a creature’s ignorance; such minds have no excuse.

Having complained about the heartache and labour the whole matter causes, Nature (with Jean) returns to the question of celestial influences. These influences firstly control the weather (there is a nice pseudo-classical piece here concerning the flooded landscape, with the deities associated with Nature, namely Bacchus, Ceres, Pan, and Cybele mentioned, along with the minor deities of landscape, the Satyrs, Fauns and Naiads, Nymphs, Dryads, and River-gods, and Aeolus god of the winds).

The influences, via the weather, produce rainbows, and we now have a section on optics, derived from Aristotle (‘Meteorologica’) and Ibn al-Haytham (c965-c1040AD, ‘The Book of Optics’). The workings of variously shaped mirrors are described (and the need for experiment to confirm theory reiterated, a pre-requisite for modern science) which leads to a diversion back to the myth of Venus, Mars and Vulcan, with Genius throwing in a little misogyny which Nature appears to agree with, that women are bold in deceit. The author/Lover quickly adds a disclaimer from Solomon, concerning the high worth of a good woman.

Further properties of mirrors are discussed, including their ability to deceive the eye; the significance of this digression being that the Continuation is the ‘Mirror for Lovers’ in which they see themselves reflected; their image clear or distorted, close or distant, heightened or diminished, bright or tarnished. Next follows a further digression concerning visions (Nature is garrulous, and Jean is having fun here), images in disturbed minds, dreams etc. which leads us back via Scipio’s dream to the Dream itself, and then to misconceptions about those dreams which possess a realistic feel, involving apparent faery journeys where their souls enter houses through the cracks, crevices and ‘cat-flaps’, the soul leaving their body, a soul which can be prevented from returning if the body is turned about, head to foot. Yet the body is dead without the soul, says Nature, and none can be resurrected except by the deity.

After this long digression Nature returns to the subject of celestial influences, including comets which do not mark the deaths of kings and princes any more than they do that of poor men, but influence things below in accord with the dispositions and tendencies caused by the planets. Kings do not deserve such special note, as all men are equal at birth as far as Nature is concerned (Jean is being politically subversive without deviating from the truth) it is Fortune that does all the rest. The significance of this digression from our theme is that all folk are equal before Love as all are born equal in Nature.

Chapter XCIX: Nobility: (Lines 19297-20028)

There is now a passage concerning true nobility, which is acquired by exercise of virtue and cannot be inherited (subversion again). Jean gives us, in Nature’s speech, a defence of clerks, learned men, who know the virtues and vices of the world, since they are literate and can study; though a clerk who does not practise nobility of spirit is worse than other men, since he sees the higher path and takes the lower.

Nature then lists some rules men should follow to acquire nobility, including courtesy and honouring women (all this is a little tongue-in-cheek, suggesting that Jean is mocking the courts and courtiers, and Guillaume’s whole courtly world, in favour of his world of learning, and the common man). Knights like Sir Gawain (see Chrétien’s Arthurian tales) or Robert of Artois (presumably Robert I of Artois, 1216-1250, Louis IX’s brother, killed on the seventh crusade, though his son Robert II was also a valiant knight who died at the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302) are noble men, and so are men of learning.

Kings and emperors honoured the ancient philosophers and writers, men like Virgil who was granted land at Naples, and Ennius (c239-c169BC, the Roman poet) in Calabria. (The chateau of Lavardin, west of Orléans, is also mentioned, the ruins of which are on a promontory above the little River Loir not the larger Loire, a chateau which in Jean’s day belonged to the Lord of Vendôme. Thus he may have had some personal connection with the nobility there.) Such learned men are not honoured these days. Those who seek nobility through another should be despised for not having earned it themselves. There follows a long (highly subversive) diatribe against those who inherit nobility but fail to acquire it personally, ending with further comments about comets which exist independently of human concerns.

It is worth mentioning here that Jean’s comments against hypocritical religion and false nobility, coupled with his championing the innate equality and ‘Inner Freedom’ of human beings, are the most subversive of his attacks on the social order, though in neither case does he purport to attack true religion or genuine acquired nobility. It is hardly surprising that the Romance was so popular in its day, since it said (deniably, in the voices of his Personifications, though Jean nowhere explicitly denies it) much of what intelligent men and women thought, but were inhibited from uttering publicly, while itself being ‘only’ a work of literature.

Next, the celestial influences also cause meteorites which people think of as falling stars, though that is impossible due to the stability of the heavens. They also produce eclipses, control the intensity of the seasons, and regulate the tides.

Nor does Nature, in this confession of hers, complain of the elements, which obey her laws, nor the plants, nor creatures, but only of Mankind the aim of all her labour. Nature gives Mankind, formed in God’s image, being, life, and feeling. Mankind possesses intellect and understanding beyond the creatures, yet though ‘a new world in miniature’ (‘O brave new world’: Shakespeare: ‘The Tempest’) acts ‘far worse than any creature.’

All that Nature makes is corruptible, and the gods too are only immortal because God wills it so. Nature references Plato (in ‘Timaeus’) who appreciated the distinction between the supreme deity and the lesser gods including the Olympian pantheon, but was not possessed of the full Christian revelation. There follows a celebration of the Trinity, of God as the Creator, of Christ and the Incarnation, which, Nature claims, was foreseen by Virgil (an interpretation of the Sibyl’s prophecy in ‘Eclogue’ IV) and by Abu Ma‘shar (787-886AD, known as Albumasar; the Persian astrologer, in the ‘Great Introduction to Astrology’) The Feast of the Virgin is celebrated on the eighth of September, when the sun is in Virgo.

Nature now complains more bitterly of Mankind who scorn her laws, and whom nothing satisfies (a view echoed later in Goethe’s ‘Faust’). She advances her view of man following the Fall (see the Bible: ‘Genesis’) he is ‘the slave of all the vices…though free to seek the good’, in a tirade worthy of Juvenal. However all must die, and be punished appropriately. Nature summons up classical myths those of Ixion, Tantalus, Sisyphus, the Danaids, and Tityus (see Ovid: ‘Metamorphoses’ Book IV, 440, and Book, X 1) who suffer tormenting and frustrating punishments in Hell. So ends Nature’s complaint against mankind.

Nature’s complete monologue has taken us through a number of apparent digressions (being a woman she is prolix and garrulous, according to her own admission), though the whole positions her as an agent of deity (handmaid, deputy and keeper of the house), who extends the life of the species, yet is forced to complain of human beings who disobey her laws despite possessing free-will. Nevertheless, she will now send Genius, her priest, to encourage the God of Love and his host in attacking Jealousy’s castle. Nature is thus aligned with Amor, since the urge to love and sexuality supports her aim of procreation. Genius represents the ordering of the world which includes that specific sexual urge in human beings, and forms the link between Nature herself and Human Love; Amor who is amorous Love, being distinct from Venus who represents sexual Love, though born of her, while she is his ally against those forces hostile to love.

The End of Part IV of Winning the Rose