The Juxtaposition of the Rose

On the surface, the thirteenth-century poem “The Romance of the Rose” exists as an allegory of courtly love set in a dream vision narrative. While the first part, composed by Guillaume de Lorris, differs slightly in tone and style from the rest of the piece, which was written by Jean de Meun, the overall metaphor remains intact. Together both composers, inspired by Boethius and Alan of Lille, present a story that unveils the true nature of love. “The Romance of the Rose” depicts both the concept of love and the anthropomorphism of Reason as applications of earlier influences of Lady Philosophy and Lady Fortune from Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy and Alan of Lille’s Anticlaudianus. The overlapping of love with Fortune and Reason with Philosophy results in the underlying notion that love is unstable and leads to false happiness while rationalism is constant and leads to true happiness. In the first three chapters of “The Romance of the Rose”, Guillaume de Lorris presents the concept of love as an application of Lady Fortune by his use of paradoxical descriptions. When the lover enters the garden, he describes many birds singing and remarks that “so sweet and lovely was that song that it seemed not to be birdsong, but rather comparable with the song of the sea-sirens, who are called sirens because of their pure, sweet voices” (12). By comparing the bird’s song, a traditionally harmonious accessory of love, with a siren, known for luring men to their deaths, Guillaume de Lorris subtly displays the antithetical nature of love. When the God of Love relates the process of love to the narrator, he declares that the lover will “endure many sorts of distress, being sometimes hot and sometimes cold, sometimes flushed and sometimes pale; no quartan or quotidian fever was ever so bad” (35). De Lorris again uses a paradoxical technique in relating that love causes pain, ultimately implying that like Boethius’s Lady Fortune, love exists as an inconstant and erratic circumstance. In The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius portrays Fortune as “fickle” and “two-faced” (22). Fortune tells the narrator, “I spin my wheel and find pleasure in raising the low to a high place and lowering those who were on top,” relaying her paradoxical nature and providing the groundwork for the connection between love and Fortune in “The Romance of the Rose” (24). With this base, Guillaume de Lorris establishes a contradictory foundation for the concept of love presented throughout the rest of the text. Similarly, Jean de Meun presents an amalgamation of love and Fortune throughout the remainder of “The Romance of the Rose” with his application of the oxymoron in his depictions of love. Reason relays to the narrator that “love is hostile peace and loving hatred, disloyal loyalty and loyal disloyalty; it is confident fear and desperate hope […] a most joyful suffering and a merciful cruelty […] laughter that sobs and weeps […] a hell that sooths and a heaven that tortures” (66). De Meun borrows this equivocation of the attributes of love from Alan of Lille’s illustration of Lady Fortune in Anticlaudianus in order to align the concept of love with the concept of fortune. Lille too employs the oxymoron in his description of Fortune: She is rough in her gentleness, overcast in her light, rich and poor, tame and savage, sweet and bitter. She weeps as she smiles, roams around as she stands, is blind as she sees. She is constant in fickleness, steadfast in faltering, true to falsehood, false to truth, unchangeable in changeability. She keeps this constant rule-that she is not constant [189-90].While it can be said that Boethius also influences Alan of Lille’s Fortune, it is Lille’s use of the oxymoron in relation to Fortune that provides de Meun with the basis for his equivalence of love with Fortune. De Lorris and de Meun use the techniques of paradox and oxymoron to further consolidate the two concepts of love and fortune in order to establish the notion that love is unsteady. Through the character of Reason in “The Romance of the Rose”, both de Lorris and de Meun imply the unstableness of love, a concept that mirrors the representations of Lady Fortune by Boethius and Alan of Lille. In chapter three, Reason tells the narrator that within the boundaries of love, “if there is joy, it does not last long and it depends on chance” (47). De Meun’s Reason similarly describes love as “an ever-shifting game, a state which is very firm but also very changeable” (66). This unreliable and faltering illustration directly links love to Lady Fortune and her unstable nature. Boethius asserts that “what else does the cry of tragedy bewail but the overthrow of happy realms by the unexpected blow of Fortune” and that man’s desire for good fortune is “disordered” (24-5). Similarly, Alan of Lille contends that Fortune’s “reliability is to be reliably unreliable […] she is unreliable, changeable, uncertain, random, unstable, unsettled” (189). The commonality between the concept of love and Lady Fortune results in the underlying implication that love is unstable and therefore the antithesis of stability and reason.With the notion of love as precarious and irrational, The Romance of the Rose ultimately proposes the assumption that love represents a false happiness. In Anticlaudianus, Alan of Lille remarks that Fortune, and consequently love, is “true to falsehood, false to truth” and she “always proves false,” implying that any happiness gained in the wake of Fortune, and again love, denotes a fallacious bliss (190). In The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius’s Philosophy contends that men “measure the good in terms of gaiety and enjoyment; they think that the greatest happiness is found in pleasure” (44). Philosophy continues that “it is the nature of all bodily pleasure to punish those who enjoy it. Like the bee after its honey is given, it flies away, leaving its lingering sting in the hearts it has struck” (54). In fact, Philosophy refers to Lady Fortune as the “blind goddess” (22). Here Boethius implies that pleasure represents a false happiness, a sentiment echoed in “The Romance of the Rose”. De Meun’s Reason deems love a “false delight” and proposes that the “only way you can be happy” is to “flee” love (66). Reason relays that “love […] makes your life valueless” and that “the man who always believes his heart cannot avoid folly” (47). At the conclusion of the text, Genius in fact tells the lover that the Garden of Pleasure exists as a deceptive euphoria. He relates that “the truth is that the things in the garden are trumpery toys. There is nothing lasting here; everything he saw will perish” (313). Genius remarks of the garden’s spring that instead of “brighter than pure silver,” the spring is “so ugly and muddy that anyone who hangs his head over in order to look at himself will be unable to see a thing” (314). Genius suggests that the lover, so blinded by the concept of love, sees a false beauty instead of the true murkiness of the water. The lover’s vision is “muddied” much like the water, presenting a delusion of elation. The revelation that the pleasures of the garden, and thusly the pleasures of love, portray nothing but a false illusion of happiness explicate the notion that the concept of love, like Fortune, leads man away from true satisfaction.If love can be considered the counterpart to Fortune, then logically the character of Reason in “The Romance of the Rose” can be seen as an interpretation of Boethius’s Lady Philosophy, particularly in the sudden appearance and the physical portrait of each character. Boethius begins The “Consolation of Philosophy” in elegiac form, lost in hopelessness. Alas, while the narrator is gripped by despair, Philosophy suddenly emerges as a rational alternative to his self-pity (3). Likewise, Reason’s arrivals in “The Romance of the Rose” consistently correspond with the lover’s suffering. In chapter 3, the narrator “was a long time in this state, until the lady from her high vantage-point in the tower looked down and saw me thus downcast” (46). And again in chapter four, the lover “bewailed the great sufferings that [he] endured [… he] saw Reason, who had come down […] on hearing [his] lamentations, coming straight towards [him] again” (64). Both Philosophy and Reason appear after the subsequent narrator laments over some loss, implying that both Philosophy and Reason emerge as the rational remedy for the troubled soul. The similarities of characters continue with the physical illustrations of Philosophy and Reason, again furthering the notion that the character of Reason is greatly influenced by the image of Lady Philosophy. In “The Consolation of Philosophy”, Boethius describes Philosophy as having “flashing eyes” that “seemed wise beyond the ordinary wisdom of men” (3). She “seemed so old” yet contains “boundless vigor,” and “her height seemed to vary.” Boethius relates that Philosophy’s clothing “was made of the most exquisite workmanship […] into an everlasting fabric,” suggesting a Godly origin (4). The distinct resemblance of Boethius’s Philosophy with Reason in “The Romance of the Rose” affixes the correlating concepts of philosophy and reason together: She was neither young nor old, neither too tall nor too short […] The eyes in her head shone like two stars, […] she looked like person of importance. It was apparent from her form and her face that she was made in paradise […] she was made in the firmament by God in his own image and likeness [46].By portraying Reason with a strikingly similar entrance and physical description as Philosophy, “The Romance of the Rose” establishes the notion that like Boethius’s Philosophy, Reason alone can lead the lover out of despair and into reprieve. In fact, Reason requests of the lover that he love her, “spurn the God of Love, and attach no value to Fortune” and she relates that by just fulfilling “the first request […] you will be freed from the other two” (105). Essentially, Reason aligns herself with Philosophy in order to propose a more stable and intellectual path for the lover.As an antithesis of Fortune, and thusly the concept of love, Reason’s figuration in both “The Romance of the Rose” and Alan of Lille’s “Anticlaudianus” represents a stability that is key to the lover’s salvation from the “folly” of love. In “The Romance of the Rose”, Reason relays to the lover that she is “ready to listen and endure and keep silence, however much [he …] abuses” her (107). She pledges a stable and unfaltering commitment to the lover, much like the secure portrayal of Reason in “Anticlaudianus”. Alan of Lille relates that with Reason, “nothing is obscure, unstable, changeable, futile, unknown, deceptive; to her each and everything is clear, all is obvious, nothing in doubt” (61). By presenting Reason as the opposite of Fortune, Alan of Lille establishes a precedent of reason existing as the medicine for chance, and this concept heavily influences the picture of Reason in “The Romance of the Rose”. De Lorris and de Meun essentially connect Reason with Boethius’s Philosophy and Alan of Lille’s Reason to propose an antidote to the illogical nature of love.If Reason exists as the paradox to Fortune, and ultimately opposes a false happiness, the conclusion can be drawn that the character of Reason in “The Romance of the Rose” represents true happiness, a sentiment derived from Boethius and Alan of Lille. In “The Consolation of Philosophy”, Lady Philosophy’s goal is to lead the narrator “to true happiness” and away from carnal and earthly pleasure (42). Correspondingly, the Reason of Anticlaudianus represents “the path of right” and the narrator requests that one “let her replace doubt with certainty, falsehood with truth […] make the mind’s day clear with the light of truth and drive out the clouds of falsehood” (61). Both Boethius and Lille influence the true happiness that the Reason of “The Romance of the Rose” exemplifies. Reason relates to the lover, “happy is the man who learns from his folly,” implying that to love is foolishness and to find true happiness is to learn from this mistake (46). Reason tells the narrator that “by my head, I am glad to teach you,” indicating that rationality occurs within the mind and silly love exists elsewhere (65). By suggesting that reason is intellectual and love is mere emotion, Reason basically proposes that the happiness found by carnal love is misrepresented because it is not a rational occurrence. Reason asks of the lover, “Do you know what he does, the man who seeks delight? He surrenders, a wretched and foolish slave, to the prince of all the vices, for such behavior is the root of all evils,” indicating that love leads to corruption and therefore introduces a false sense of happiness (67-8). Reason implies that by engaging in carnal love, one engages in a dishonest life full of evil. She asserts that “the love which has entrapped you has cost many their sense, their time, their possessions, bodies, souls, and reputations” (71). Reason condemns carnal love, and shows the lover the correct path to true love and true happiness. She explains that “friendship is the name of one kind of love […] free from strife and in accordance with the benevolence of God,” and deems this “worthy” (72). Reason denounces any love associated with Fortune and attempts to direct the lover towards true happiness and love (73). Reason relates to the lover that “everything you own is enclosed within yourself” and that “all other gifts belong to Fortune,” indicating that true happiness resides within the lover as a rational presence and everything outside this presence represents a false happiness (82). By aligning Reason with first Boethius’s Philosophy and next Alan of Lille’s Reason, “The Romance of the Rose” continues the notion that reason, and not carnal love, is the path to true happiness and the remedy for falsehood.The allegorical structure of “The Romance of the Rose” extends far beyond a lover’s journey to his beloved. While indeed the text exists as a metaphor for courtly love, the multi-dimensional composition of the poem allows for a philosophical reading. Both Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun crafted the concept of love as a juxtaposition of Lady Fortune, as seen in The Consolation of Philosophy and Anticlaudianus, and accordingly, Reason designates a juxtaposition of Lady Philosophy. Ultimately, The Romance of the Rose proposes that carnal love, like Fortune, engages the lover in false happiness while logic and reason lead to true enlightenment, carrying a continuing theme that has developed over centuries.Works CitedAlan of Lille. Anticlaudianus. Trans. James J. Sheridan. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1973. 39-217.Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Trans. Richard Green. New York: MacMillan, 1962. 3-119.De Lorris, Guillaume, and Jean de Meun. The Romance of the Rose. Trans. Frances Horgan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. 3-335.