Kiss My Relics: Hermaphroditic Fictions of the Middle Ages 9780226724607

Conservative thinkers of the early Middle Ages conceived of sensual gratification as a demonic snare contrived to debase

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Kiss My Relics: Hermaphroditic Fictions of the Middle Ages

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Kiss My Relics

Kiss My Relics Hermaphroditic Fictions of the Middle Ages

David Rollo

The University of Chicago Press C h i c a g o & L o n d o n

d a v i d r o l l o is associate professor of English, with a joint appointment in the Department of French and Italian, at the University of Southern California. He is the author of two books, most recently of Glamorous Sorcery: Magic and Literacy in the High Middle Ages. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637 The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London © 2011 by The University of Chicago All rights reserved. Published 2011. Printed in the United States of America 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11

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ISBN-13: 978-0-226-72461-4 (cloth) ISBN-10: 0-226-72461-1 (cloth) The University of Chicago Press gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the University of Southern California toward the publication of this book. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Rollo, David. Kiss my relics : hermaphroditic fictions of the middle ages / David Rollo. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13: 978-0-226-72461-4 (cloth : alk. paper) ISBN-10: 0-226-72461-1 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Paraphilias in literature. 2. Intersexuality in literature. 3. Homosexuality in literature. 4. Literature, Medieval—History and criticism. 5. Latin literature, Medieval and modern—History and criticism. 6. Martianus Capella. De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii. 7. William, of Malmesbury, ca. 1090–1143. De gestis regum Anglorum. 8. Guillaume, de Lorris, fl. 1230. Roman de la rose. 9. Jean, de Meun, d. 1305?— Criticism and interpretation. 10. Alanus, de Insulis, d. 1202. De planctu naturae. I. Title. PN682 .S38R65 2011 870.9—dc22 2011010524 This paper meets the requirements of ansi/niso z39.48-1992 (Permanence of Paper).


Acknowledgments vii Introduction 1 P a r t 1 Martianus Capella, Remigius of Auxerre, William of Malmesbury Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii: A Brother to Hermaphroditus 2 Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii; Remigius of Auxerre, Commentum in Martianum Capellam: Venus Rediviva 3 William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum: Empowering Remnants of Ancient Rome 1


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P a r t 2 Alain de Lille: De planctu Naturae 4 Alain de Lille, De planctu Naturae: The Orthography of Venus 5 Alain de Lille, De planctu Naturae: The Vulgar Whorehouses of the Earth 6 Alain de Lille, De planctu Naturae: Varied Colors of Venereal Discourse

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P a r t 3 Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun: Le Roman de la Rose 7 Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose: The Garden of Unhallowed Delights 8 Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose: Unrefined Reason 9 Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose: Bele a coilles Conclusion: Never Mind the Relics 215 Bibliography 235 Index 245

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To complete this project required several unanticipated years in near-anchoretic academic isolation, during which I was, for the most part, engaged in the daunting but necessary task of negotiating the obscurities of Martianus Capella (and, as a consequence of doing so, periodically left wondering whether I was as crazed as the material I was working on). Life as a virtual recluse notwithstanding, I was fortunate (and just publicly visible) enough during that time to benefit from the welcome help, advice and inspiration of a number of people. They are Chris Baswell, Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Bill Burgwinkle, Rita Copeland, John Ganim, Simon Gaunt, Anna Green, Noah Guynn, David Hult, Sylvia Huot, Steve Kruger, Don Maddox, John Mitchell, Sally Spence, Zrinka Stahuljak, and Bonnie Wheeler. I extend very special thanks to Anna, Bill, and Simon for their hospitality back in the UK, and to Sylvia for letting me read her then-unpublished Dreams of Lovers and Lies of Poets. Thanks are due also to my colleagues in medieval and early modern literature at the University of Southern California, especially Joe Dane, Moshe Lazar, and Bruce Smith. Crucial throughout this process were the enthusiasm and insight of the students in my graduate seminars (particularly the classes of 2006 and 2010). With them, I was able to share some of the ideas laid forth in this study, and, to them, I owed timely confirmation of my sanity. I am grateful to the anonymous readers of the University of Chicago Press for their encouragement and helpful criticism, and to Randy Petilos, as supportive and patient an editor as anyone could ever hope for.


One of the anecdotes that William of Malmesbury inserted into his Gesta regum Anglorum has become especially celebrated, though more for the permutations it underwent in later centuries than the treatment it received in its original historiographic context.1 I shall call it “The Statue and the Ring,” and in broad outline its plot will already be known to anyone familiar with Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy or Mérimée’s La Vénus d’Ille. To paraphrase: Newly married, a young man in Christian Rome throws a party, and, after the feast, he and his guests go outside to exercise. As master of ceremonies, he is in charge of specifying the sport to be played and decides on pila, a ball game of some kind. Anxious not to damage his wedding ring, he puts it on the pointing finger of a bronze statue and proceeds to play single-handed against his friends. A short time after, exhausted, he takes a rest and goes to retrieve the ring. Yet, to his amazement, the finger of the statue, which only minutes before was pointing, is now clenched inwards to the palm, making the ring impossible to extricate. To avoid mockery, the bridegroom says nothing of the matter and allows the party to end. 1. For comments on William as a leading English historian of the era, see: V. H. Galbraith, Historical Research in Medieval England, especially 15; Antonia Gransden, Historical Writing in England c. 550 to c. 1307, 170–72; James Campbell, “Some Twelfth-Century Views of the Anglo-Saxon Past,” emphatically on 136; Marjorie Chibnall, Anglo-Norman England 1066–1166, 85–100; Rodney Thomson, William of Malmesbury; and my own Historical Fabrication, Ethnic Fable and French Romance in Twelfth-Century England, chapters 1 and 2. On William and fiction, consult: Monika Otter, Inventiones, chapter 3; and my Glamorous Sorcery, chapter 1.



Later, when everyone has left, the young man returns, but finds the situation has become even more bizarre, since the finger is back in its outstretched position and the ring has disappeared. At a loss, he gives up and goes home.2 However: Cumque hora cubandi venisset, seque juxta uxorem collocasset, sensit quiddam nebulosum et densum inter se et illam volutari, quod posset sentiri, nec posset videri. Hoc obstaculo ob amplexu prohibitus, vocem etiam audivit, “Mecum concumbe, quia hodie me desponsasti: ego sum Venus, cujus digito apposuisti anulum; habeo illum, nec reddam.” (Gesta regum Anglorum 2.205) When it came time for bed, he lay down next to his wife, but sensed something nebulous and dense roll over between them, which could be felt but not seen. While this obstacle was getting in the way of his embraces, he heard a voice: “Sleep with me, because today you made me your wife. I am Venus, and it was on my finger that you put the ring. I have it and will not give it back.”

This uncanny performance is reproduced night after night, leading to a problem of some magnitude: much to the consternation of his spouse, the bridegroom cannot consummate his marriage, discovering his affections thwarted by the intruding presence of the pagan goddess.3 “The Statue and the Ring” is not only William’s figurative response to his own ambivalence toward the legacy of the Greco-Roman past. It is also 2. “Interim anulum sponsalitium digito extento statuae aerae, quae proxime astabat, composuit. Sed cum pene omnes solum impeterent, suspiriosus, extis incalescentibus, primus se a lusu removit: anulum repetens, invenit statuae digitum usque ad volam curvatum. Diu ibi luctatus, quod nec anulum ejicere, nec digitum valeret frangere, tacite discessit; re sodalibus celata, nel vel praesentem riderent, vel absentem anulo privarent. Ita nocte intempesta cum famulis rediens, digitum iterum extentum, et anulum subreptum, miratus est. Dissimulato dampno, novae nuptae blanditiis delinitus est” (2.205). The edition used is that of William Stubbs, published as De gestis regum Anglorum, 2 vols. (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, “The Rolls Series,” 1887 and 1889; reprint, New York: Kraus, 1964). In referring to the work as the Gesta regum Anglorum (which I shall usually shorten to the Gesta regum), I am following modern convention. Reference is to book and section number. Here, as in all other instances throughout this study, translation from Latin and Old French is my own. 3. “Elapsum est in hoc multum tempus, ut quacunque ille hora gremio vellet conjugis incumbere, illud idem sentiret et audiret; alias sane valens, et domi aptus et militiae” (2.205).



representative of a more general anxiety that periodically manifested itself throughout the European Middle Ages. As a consequence of an education that lent authority to classical paradigms, medieval intellectuals came into contact with aesthetic and philosophical remnants of pagan culture that did not necessarily cohere with Christian belief. Some such thinkers, conservatively biased or timid in disposition, like the Roman bridegroom found the experience disquieting, and they wrote in order to admonish against pleasures they perceived to be snares of the devil. Others, confident in their faith or impatient of restraint, like William recognized their initial vulnerabilities, but only as a prelude to affirming their mature, lucid enjoyment of previously proscribed delights. And still others without demur embraced the metaphorical idols of the classical world. This study is devoted to the writings of several such figures, each of whom used Venus as the patron deity of pleasures that devolved from reading, writing, or interpreting. Only one of the works addressed, the Roman de la Rose,4 is central to the modern canon. However, though for long unduly ignored, the text to which part 2 is dedicated, Alain de Lille’s De planctu Naturae,5 is now on the point of achieving the recognition it deserves, both for its engagement with contemporary concerns over sex, sin, and representation and for the influence it went on to bear on later authors such as Chaucer and Spencer.6 It is 4. Reference will be to the edition of Félix Lecoy, 3 vols. (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1982–85). 5. The edition used will be Nikolaus M. Häring’s “Alain de Lille, ‘De planctu Naturae,’ ” which appears as an extended article in Studi Medievali 19 (1978): 797–879; reference will be to section and line. There are also two nineteenth-century editions that are easily available: Liber de planctu Naturae, in Patrologia latina, ed. de Visch and Migne, vol. 210, cols. 431–82; and Alani liber de planctu Naturae, in The Anglo-Latin Satirical Poets and Epigrammatists of the Twelfth Century, ed. Thomas Wright, 429–522. The first is flawed. The second, however, in quality falls not far short of Häring’s more comprehensive edition. The translations are from my Alain de Lille’s “De planctu Naturae”: A New Translation from the Latin. 6. On the influence of the De planctu on Chaucer’s The Parliament of Fowles, see Maureen Quilligan, “Allegory, Allegoresis and the Deallegorization of Language,” particularly 173–79; and Lisa J. Kiser, “Alain de Lille, Jean de Meun, and Chaucer: Ecofeminism and Some Medieval Lady Natures.” On Alain and Spencer, see also Quilligan, “Words and Sex.” Chaucer directly cites the text and its author: “And right as Aleyn, in the Pleynt of Kynde, / Devyseth Nature of aray and face, / In switch aray men myghte hire there fynde” (316–18). More generally, compare Chaucer’s assembly with Alain’s description of Nature’s dress, 2.138–95, on which several dozen species of bird are depicted. The edition of Chaucer’s works that I shall be using throughout this study is The Riverside Chaucer, 3d ed., ed. Larry D. Benson.



hoped that the present study will help further this process. Still peripheral to literary studies are the other three texts I consider, the early fifth-century NeoPlatonic De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii by Martianus Capella,7 Remigius of Auxerre’s ninth-century commentary on Martianus’ work, and William’s Gesta regum Anglorum. A wider critical acknowledgment of the first in particular is a matter of some urgency. Chapter 2, in large part devoted to a medieval commentary on the De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, the text analyzed in chapter 1, loses much of its resonance if read in isolation; and, because invoking a series of direct intertextual transpositions, the three chapters on the Roman de la Rose can only be understood in the light of material considered in those on Alain’s De planctu that precede them. Theoretical and bibliographic issues pertinent to each text will be addressed at the appropriate place in the relevant chapters. My reason for beginning with Martianus’ De nuptiis is twofold. As a circumscription of the seven liberal arts, it occupied a fundamental position in the medieval curriculum, and its pedagogical centrality has long been respected.8 However, its frame narrative is one of the last fictions of the pagan gods to have been produced in classical antiquity, and it too proved widely influential. This other, literary prominence has been largely ignored in modern criticism. Two of the reasons are, no doubt, the extraordinary difficulty of Martianus’ Latin and the whimsical vagaries of the text.9 Yet, barriers to 7. From now on I shall abbreviate the title to the De nuptiis. Quotation will be from Martianus Capella, edited by Adolf Dick, with addenda by Jean Préaux, with reference to book and section number. The section numbers assigned in Dick are followed by James Willis in his more recent edition, De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii. I use Dick’s earlier text because it is used for cross-reference by Cora E. Lutz in her edition of Remigius of Auxerre’s commentary, Remigii Autissiodorensis commentum in Martianum Capellam, to which I shall be turning my attention in chapter 2. 8. The importance of the De nuptiis during the reign of Charlemagne and his immediate successors is documented by William H. Stahl, Richard Johnson, and E. L. Burge, Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts, 1:31–32, 61–67, and Lutz, Remigii Autissiodorensis commentum, 1:1–10. 9. These idiosyncrasies have elicited some extremely negative reactions. Commenting on the juxtaposition of the frame narrative and the treatises on the liberal arts, Samuel Dill, for example, observes: “It is difficult to conceive the state of culture where the mixture of dry traditional school learning and tasteless and extravagant mythological ornament, applied to the most incongruous material, with an absolutely bizarre effect, could have been applauded as a sweetener of the toils of learning” (Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire, 412; quoted by Stahl, Johnson, and Burge, Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts, 1:20,



comprehension notwithstanding, the wedding of Philology and Mercury was an inspiration to authors as varied (and, to the modern academy, canonical) as Chrétien de Troyes10 and Chaucer.11 More particularly to my own concerns, Alain de Lille, one of the greatest Latin poets of the Middle Ages, in part modeled his De planctu Naturae on Martianus’ prosimetrum12 and created a text which then itself went on to exercise a definitive influence on one of the greatest Old French poets, Jean de Meun.13 In fine, Martianus is the demonstrable n. 1). With regard to Martianus’ Latin, Stahl et al. remark: “The allegorical setting, occupying the first two books, was a delight to medieval readers and largely accounts for the work’s popularity: but for any reader of an age after Latin ceased to be the vernacular or even the literary language, prodigious effort has been required to plod through Martianus’ tortuous and neologistic bombast. The setting portions of The Marriage constitute some of the most difficult writing in the entire range of Latin literature” (1:23). They later add: “Martianus has been sprung on unsuspecting students of medieval Latin by mischievous teachers as a corrective for the notion that it is easy to read the debased writing of the post-classical period. To inflict a heavy dosage of Martianus even upon a promising graduate student, however, could cause him to abandon thoughts of a career in classical philology” (1:34). 10. The influence of the De nuptiis on Erec et Enide is particularly clear. On this, see: Karl D. Uitti, “A propos de philologie,” and “Vernacularization and Old French Romance Mythopoesis with Emphasis on Chrétien’s Erec et Enide”; Sally Musseter, “The Education of Chrétien’s Enide”; and my own “From Apuleius’s Psyche to Chrétien’s Erec and Enide,” especially 350. 11. Chaucer makes direct reference to Martianus in The Merchant’s Tale: “And certeinly, I dar right wel seyn this, / Ymeneus, that god of weddyng is, / Saugh nevere his lyf so myrie a wedded man. / Hoold thou thy pees, thou poete Marcian, / That writest us that ilke weddyng murie / Of hire Philologie and hym Mercurie, / And of the songes that the Muses songe! / To smal is bothe thy penne, and eek thy tonge, / For to descryven of this marriage. / Whan tendre youthe hath wedded stoupyng age, / Ther is swich myrthe, that it may nat be writen. / Assayeth it yourself; thanne may ye witen / If that I lye or noon in this matiere” (IV [E] 1729–41). 12. On Martianus and Alain, consult Guy Raynaud de Lage, Alain de Lille, poète du XIIe siècle, 37 and 103; and, particularly, Marie-Thérèse d’Alverny, Alain de Lille: textes inédits: “Quoique l’influence de Martianus soit plus sensible dans les détails du style que dans l’inspiration générale, c’est à ce dernier que certains copistes ont voulu comparer l’auteur du De planctu, avec une pointe d’ironie, en le qualifiant de «tout petit Capella». C’est ainsi, nous semble-t-il, qu’il convient d’interpréter les termes que l’on trouve dans plusieurs manuscrits, au génitif: «Alani minimi Capellae»” (33). 13. Over a century ago Ernest Langlois recognized the intertextual relationship, though with little analysis. See Origines et sources du Roman de la Rose, 93–96, 148–50. For far more comprehensive accounts of thematic analogies, see John V. Fleming, The “Roman de la Rose”: A Study in Allegory and Iconography, 190–202, and Winthrop Wetherbee, “The Literal and the Allegorical: Jean de Meun and the ‘de Planctu naturae.’ ”



point of origin for a tradition of innovative writing and played as constitutive a role as any other classical author in influencing the development of medieval fiction, both Latin and vernacular. I analyze Martianus’ work as an ascensional allegory in which the intellect (Philology) strives to join with a transcendent language (Mercury) that would enable humanity to articulate the workings of the divine mind (Pallas). The final result of this endeavor would be represented by the physical union of the first two of these personified categories, whose wedding is celebrated by the Olympian gods and accompanied by lengthy treatises on mortal learning in the allegorical figures of the seven liberal arts. Because transcending the bounds of mortal reference, the discourse that would be embodied by the conjunction of Philology and Mercury can never be described and is left as no more than a post-diegetic hypothesis. What it would not be, however, is made perfectly clear. It would not be the arid scholasticism intoned by the liberal arts, which bores not only the gods who are forced to listen but also, Martianus concedes, the reader of the text. This language of academic inquiry offends in particular Venus, Bacchus, and Voluptas, all of whom imply that whatever would supersede it would have to appeal in some way not simply to the mind but to the body. The appropriate register is finally suggested, though never explicated in detail, by Harmony, the last of the liberal arts to speak. Sensual yet capable of philosophical reference, the discourse she intimates would please and instruct, and it would benefit from the presiding influence not only of the goddess of wisdom but also of the goddess of love. The De nuptiis came to achieve its canonical status in the aftermath of the Carolingian renaissance, and its importance to the era is evinced by the glosses of Johannes Scotus Eriugena,14 Martin of Loan,15 and Remigius of Auxerre. Such growth in interest can primarily be explained in pedagogical terms. During this period of cultural rebirth, a text that conveniently circumscribed many essentials of classical learning would obviously find a wide readership. But there is bibliographic evidence to suggest that the fable of Philology and Mercury also contributed to this appeal. All three glossators devote extensive space to the celestial wedding, and they plausibly do so with the assumption that their students and readers will share their interest. It is to the glosses of Remigius of Auxerre, the most ambitious to have been produced during the ninth century, that I turn in chapter 2. Remigius interprets the De nuptiis as a combination of two texts, each of vastly different 14. Iohannis Scotti Annotationes in Marcianum. 15. Dunchad: Glossae in Martianum. The work was formerly attributed to Dunchad.



register and epistemological function. One is constituted by the seven books on the liberal arts, the circumscription of mortal learning couched in the language of scholasticism that Martianus recognizes as potentially dull. In an extraordinary revision of his paradigm, Remigius considers these pedagogical sections of the De nuptiis to represent the union of Philology and Mercury, whom he interprets respectively to represent ratio and sermo. According to the glossator, therefore, the wedding of categories hypothesized in the De nuptiis is actually consummated within the text itself, and the transcendence that marks the end of the paradigm, that moment at which Philology and Mercury come together under the influence of Harmony and a new poetics is anticipated, has been replaced by the far more mundane marriage of earthly reason and speech. Remigius does not, however, ignore his predecessor’s intimation of a language that could appeal to mind and body. He simply identifies it differently, positing the mythological fabula of the marriage as the harmonious nexus through which the senses and the intellect are united and “the truth of things” made pleasurably manifest. Remigius accompanies his defense of fable with a redefinition of two classical gods. He rehabilitates Venus, transforming the pagan goddess of love into a positive force capable of supplementing reason with the pleasures of fiction, and he creates for her a new offspring, a brother to Hermaphroditus who would in later centuries find his avatar in the works of Alain de Lille and Jean de Meun. The tolerant attitude that authors such as Remigius show toward pagan fiction marks a shift away from a cultural conservatism that also asserted itself with renewed vigor in the ninth century. To this more conservative viewpoint, the frame narrative of the De nuptiis was to be rejected as irretrievably unchristian, at best an empty diversion from the faith, at worst a snare contrived by demonic forces to seduce the faithful away from the love of the one true God. Ninth-century ecclesiastics who proscribed pagan letters in this way, most notably Hrabanus Maurus, were able to avail themselves of extraordinarily authoritative precedents, including those provided by Martianus’ Christian contemporary and fellow North African, Saint Augustine. I devote chapter 3 to one twelfth-century writer’s meditations on his own allegedly sinful dalliance with fable and his efforts—eventually triumphant—to negotiate his rebellion against these trends of confining Augustinianism. The writer is William, monk of Malmesbury. “The Statue and the Ring” would seem particularly worthy of the censure I outline above, since it is not only an entertaining interlude in a work explicitly intended as a history of the English kings. It is an entertainment



that dramatizes the bedroom influence of Venus, the pagan goddess of physical love and sexual pleasure, carnal appetites that had come to be as rigorously proscribed to men of monastic vocation as pagan belief itself. The very themes of the story go some way to anticipating this type of negative response, creating something of a warning against the revival of pagan culture. “The Statue and the Ring” is, after all, a tale in which the modern Christian inadvertently empowers an aspect of the classical past and does so with deleterious consequences. Yet the fact that the story reflects the moral implications of its own production (and, potentially also, the pleasure it will bring) bespeaks a lucid degree of authorial control. The bridegroom may at first empower Venus, but, with help, he finally and definitively succeeds in circumventing her baleful influence. Similarly, through this tale of spousal devotion lost and regained, William finally and definitively exorcizes the spirit of creative inertia and demonstrates his own masterful manipulation of fiction, a traditionally deleterious aspect of classical culture that Augustine, late in his career, viewed to be as harmful to the Christian as that demon dressed in the garb of a goddess, Venus herself. The next three chapters are on the De planctu Naturae, which I consider the most sustained exercise in “venereal” writing to have been produced in the Latin Middle Ages. Alain employs a particular type of discourse and particular sexual inclinations to reflect one another, in both cases as aspects of a rhetorically decadent and allegedly unnatural order. Again, Venus is involved. Delegated the task of overseeing the perpetuation of the human race within the bounds of wedlock, the goddess of love set a disastrous precedent by indulging in extramarital fornication and bequeathed to humanity a widespread indifference to “natural,” reproductive sex. Nature depicts this fall from natural grace in terms that presuppose a corresponding fall from a state of natural language. In describing Venus giving herself over to adultery, Nature refers to the goddess committing a primordial discursive sin, ignoring the natural injunction to make words signify in a literal manner and allowing them instead to function as tropes. The irony is clear. By using a trope to describe Venus’ erotic transgression, Nature commits precisely the verbal transgression she warned Venus against and participates in the allegedly unnatural order the goddess initiated. Because of necessity a product of this order, the De planctu is representative of everything its characters decry. In lamenting erotic irregularity, Alain’s Nature and his first-person narrator/protagonist (henceforth, Alanus) use figurative language invoking the verbal arts. Most notably, as early as the inaugural poem, barren sexuality is identified as metaphor of such extravagance that it falls into verbal vice. Here too, the figurative use of the trope



folds back on itself, since Nature and Alanus repeatedly partake in extravagant metaphor and figuratively perpetrate the supposed depravity they grammatically denounce. Nature and Alanus effect their verbal deviance through a dialogue of hermaphroditic doubles. In the opening poem, Alanus dismissively characterizes gay men (for him, the exemplary perpetrators of nonreproductive sex) as hermaphrodites and goes on to affirm his own straight sexuality. He imagines the ecstasy he would feel if given the opportunity of kissing a beautiful young woman: his spirit would leave him as their lips met and would migrate into her body, there to live a blissful life, “in illa alter ego.” Shortly afterwards, Nature, a young woman of extraordinary loveliness, does indeed arrive and the fondly imagined kisses are indeed provided. Not only does the spirit of Alanus indeed migrate into Nature’s body when the kisses are exchanged, his fantasy of living “in her another self ” also signals an analogous metamorphosis on the part of the other Alanus implicated in the text, and that, of course, is the author. In the dialogic structure of the De planctu, Alain orchestrates a dual-gendered exchange between his narrative surrogate and his feminized reflection and through it explores and, finally, vaunts, the rhetorical and referential potential of their metaphorical deviance, that necessary condition of inhabiting the fallen, venereal order Nature refers to as “the vulgar whorehouses of the earth” (“uulgaria terrenorum lupanaria” [8.4]). Written with clear acknowledgment of Alain’s precedent, Jean de Meun’s continuation of the Roman de la Rose also includes a meditation upon all that is implicated in a fall from an originary linguistic plenitude, and, here too, the context through which this meditation is realized is a hermaphroditic body. The oneiric landscape the romance evokes is populated by allegorical figures that are male or female, depending on the grammatical gender of the nouns that designate the concepts they signify. Dangier and Deduiz, for example, are male, and Honte and Jalousie female. This, however, has one curious effect. Bel Acueil represents the lady’s favorable welcome and is an affective disposition that would be communicated through the female face, body, or voice. Yet, consistent with the masculine gender of the noun “acueil,” the personified category is male, creating circumstances in which Amant, as he searches for an encouraging response from the lady he loves, is described pursuing the attentions of another man. In Jean’s continuation, the grammatical homoeroticism of this relationship is complemented by cross-dressing. Locked in a tower to prevent him from providing Amant the intimacy he seeks, Bel Acueil passes his time receiving advice in the art of feminine seduction from the old woman who, entrusted with the task of acting as his



guardian, comes to pity him in his plight and facilitates a meeting between the lovers. Accordingly, in preparation for the time he and Amant can finally fulfill their desires, Bel Acueil learns, among other things, how to select dresses that will disguise excessively large breasts and to walk with the alluring modesty that befits women of high social standing. I argue that Bel Acueil must be understood in terms of a programmatic hermaphroditism that Guillaume de Lorris introduces to provocative (if contextually unconcluded) effect in the first section of the romance and that Jean later exploits with characteristic exuberance in order further to explore Alain’s initiatives. Extending the sexual metaphors of the De planctu, Jean makes reading into a metaphorically erotic activity through which epistemological desire will be satisfied. In attempting to encourage Amant to espouse charitable love as the only rational foundation for human negotiations, Reason warns against the pitfalls of deliz, the physical lust that must be tempered by rational moderation. Yet she also uses this term elsewhere with an entirely positive resonance to render the gratification that accrues from submitting the poetic artifact to interpretation. The text, then, is the source from which a displaced sexual pleasure can be derived. The site in which the two forms of deliz converge is the body that Bel Acueil represents. As the romance reaches closure, Amant finally satisfies his desire, penetrating his beloved and metaphorically plucking the rose. Yet the reader is also implicated in this allegory of coition, attempting to move beyond the poetic integument and to gain a clear understanding of what is taking place. On the most straightforward interpretative level, however, such clarity is difficult to achieve, as Jean purposefully alternates between male and female anatomical imagery to configure the body Amant penetrates. The conclusion is, once again, hermaphroditic, as the beloved displays both the literal masculinity of the primary signifier (Bel Acueil) and the displaced femininity of its signified (the ever-hypothetical woman the man represents). In this instance hermaphroditism is a denial of uniform categorization: in semiotic effect the beloved is both male and female; however, for precisely this reason, he/she is not in any univocal sense either. Through its very exemption from univocality, this hermaphroditic bilvalence becomes the emblem of and vehicle for a pleasure that is distinctive to the post-lapsarian world. In words he scripts for Reason and Genius, Jean rehearses the end of the Golden Age that was precipitated by the castration of Saturn and identifies figurative language and the poetic text as its interrelated corollaries. Reason performatively demonstrates that transparency of reference ceased at the moment at which the body representing the old order ceased to be a pristine unity; and Genius,



citing Ovid as authority and predecessor, advances the Arts, inevitably including the poetic endeavors of Ovid himself, as the ingenious response to the hardships intrinsic in the fallen order. Like Alain before him, Jean emphasizes the virtue in necessity, and he offers the reader the ambiguous body of Bel Acueil as a vehicle not for one satisfyingly transparent meaning, but for antinomies that threaten to cancel one another out, ultimately to create the absence of meaning itself. Yet the threat of pure nothing serves to validate the means of its perception, as the pleasure accruing from the act of interpretation supercedes the ever-elusive pleasure of a final, definitive and unified clarity of understanding.

chapter one

Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii: A Brother to Hermaphroditus

The De nuptiis is the most confounding of texts. It is couched in Latin of often formidable opacity1 and displays extreme eccentricities of tone and structure. A first-person narrator, who is an impatient old man (Felix Capella), explains how he once related the wedding of Philology and Mercury2 to his disrespectful son (Martianus) and proceeds to tell the story he told all over again (1.2–3). However, the end of the tale is repeatedly deferred, as the authorial surrogate pauses to banter affectionately with a muse (3.221–22) and to argue with his literary genre, Menippean satire, which, personified, is attentively, though critically, observing the proceedings (6.576–79, 8.806–9). What goes on in the story the old man narrates is at least as bizarre, and here too consummation is inordinately withheld: the classical gods may assemble to celebrate the 1. To take an example from early in the text: in one of the most extravagant pieces of writing to have survived from the habitually ornate diction of North African late antiquity, Martianus offers a period of no fewer than 184 words that covers more than two sections of modern editions (1.3–5). Also very challenging, though more for arcane reference than syntactic obscurity, are Martianus’ poems. Consider, for instance, the prayer in which Philology pays homage to the sun, which presents itself to her as a ship of divine energy that moves through the heavens under the direction of seven celestial sailors, displays images of a cat, a lion, and a crocodile, and serves as the platform for a fountain emitting jets of heavenly light (2.185–93). 2. Prone to antonomasia, Martianus refers to Mercury as not only “Mercurius,” but also “Cyllenius” (“The Cyllenian”), “Maiugena” (“The Son of Maia”), “Atlantiades” (“The Descendant of Atlas”); for the sake of clarity in all cases I shall simply translate “Mercury.” Similarly, “Cypris,” “Paphia” and “Cytherea” will all be rendered as “Venus”; “Pronuba” and “Saturnia” will be “Juno”; and “Bromius” will be “Bacchus.”


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wedding, but they find themselves obliged instead to listen to the relentless self-exposure of mortal learning in the allegorized figures of Grammar, Dialectic, Rhetoric, Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy, and Harmony. Such oddities as these (and others that will be considered in due course) have prompted one reader to conjecture that Martianus was probably insane,3 with the expedient implication that his demented ravings are undeserving of academic scrutiny. This view has fortunately failed to gain wide acceptance, and recent scholarship has done much to elucidate the significance of the celestial union. Luciano Lenaz and Jean Préaux argue, with different emphases, that the De nuptiis is a soteriological allegory.4 Concentrating particularly on the second book, Lenaz sees in the story a variation on the Gnostic paradigm of the salvator salvandus, in which Philology and Mercury are respectively the fallen and transcendent halves of the divided soul.5 These ideas have been further pursued by Danuta Shanzer, who agrees that Philology represents the lapsarian trace of a primal unity, but who also points out that she is exceptional in the fallen order because, through a mastery of theurgical practice, she has of herself taken the first steps towards salvation.6 Stressing the importance of theurgy, Shanzer concludes that the De nuptiis was designed to be understood only by a sectarian elite, a group of initiates already conversant with the esoteric rituals that Philology performs; and, as such, it was calculatedly incomprehensible to anyone else, its multiple obscurities symptoms of a deliberate gesture of exclusion.7 Still according to Shanzer, this exclusivity was determined by historical criteria: produced during a period in which theurgy was punishable, the De nuptiis was by design opaque, an encoded message of serious import covered by an intentional veil of inconsequentiality.8 3. James Willis “Martianus Capella and his Early Commentators”: “It is a credible assumption that Martianus was not a ‘sanus homo.’ ” This is cited by Fanny Lemoine in her analysis of the De nuptiis and wider trends of North African Neo-Platonism, Martianus Capella: A Literary Re-evaluation, 2. Oddly enough, Willis went on, some thirty years later, to edit the work of this “credib[ly]” addled mind; see above, n. 1. 4. Luciano Lenaz, Martiani Capellae De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii liber secundus: introduzione, traduzione e commento; Jean Préaux, “Jean Scot et Martin de Laon en face du De nuptiis de Martianus Capella.” 5. Martiani Capellae, 102–8. 6. Danuta Shanzer, A Philosophical and Literary Commentary on Martianus Capella’s “De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii” Book I. 7. Ibid., 27–28, 43. 8. Ibid., 27.

Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii


If Shanzer is right, then we today can approach the De nuptiis with no more than a feeling of hopeless disqualification. Faced with a work of purposeful unintelligibility, we may at best describe only its grammatical meaning, and even this is a daunting enterprise. It is impossible to stretch a syncretic net wide enough to accommodate its bewildering panoply of allegorized principles, which have a marked tendency to blend into one another. For example, Philology, Sophia, Pallas, Philosophy, Mantice, and Phronesis at various times and in different ways all seem to personify wisdom, but the implied distinction between them is often hard to determine. Similarly, following Lenaz, we could see in Philology a particular aspect of the soul, but we must then establish a difference between this category and the allied valences of Sophia, Mantice, and Psyche.9 Assessed within the perspective of medieval reception, these problems are largely overcome by the tradition of glossing I mentioned earlier. The ninthcentury works of Eriugena, Martin of Laon, and Remigius of Auxerre clarify the difficulties of the original with a cluster of simplified (but by no means simplistic) definitions, recasting the marriage of Mercury and Philology as the union of sermo and ratio, eloquence and reason, the requisite attributes of intellectual inquiry and expression.10 Although the products of a Christian culture and very distinct from the pagan epistemology of fifth-century Carthage, these definitions unquestionably reflect allegorical principles at work in the original. Mercury embodies in utterance the movements of the mind of Jupiter11 and, as messenger of the gods, bridges the transcendent and 9. On this difficulty, see ibid., 65–67. 10. Eriugena’s gloss is representative: “Wishing to write about the seven liberal arts, he composed the fable of Philology and Mercury and in the process showed the sharpest of intellects. Philology represents the study of reason and Mercury a plenitude of speech. These two come together, as though united in intercourse, in the minds of those who have applied themselves to the study of wisdom. Without the slightest difficulty, the most rapid access is thereby granted to the knowledge and use of the liberal arts” (“Volens autem de septem liberalibus disciplinas scribere, fabulam quandam de nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii finxerat, nec hoc sine acutissimi ingenii obtentu; Philologia quippe studium rationis, Mercuriusve facundiam sermonis insinuat, quasi simul veluti quodam concubio in animas sapientie studia discentium convenerint, absque ulla difficultate ad artium liberalium notitiam habitumque pervenire promptissimum est.” Iohannis Scotti Annotationes in Marcianum, Prologus [p. 3]). Remigius of Auxerre closely follows Eriugena’s definitions; see below, chapter 2. 11. As opposed to Apollo, who in his mantic capacity preordains its decisions (1.25: “ille mentem nouit, tu uerba componis”).


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the contingent, while Philology suggests by her very name the human desire to elucidate the mysteries of creation through communion with the divine. Mercury, therefore, brings illumination downwards to humanity, and the earthbound Philology strives upwards to explore the secret recesses of the cosmos.12 If only indirectly, their interaction in fact precedes their marriage: Mercury, by granting men and women the gift of the alphabet, supplied the medium through which Philology recorded her pursuit of knowledge.13 Philology in return provided the sum of human learning, the Disciplines or Arts, who are said from then on to act as handmaidens in Mercury’s household.14 The effects of the final union of these two principles are outlined in the song of the Muse Thalia: “nunc, nunc beantur artes, quas sic sacratis ambo, ut dent meare caelo, reserent caducis astra ac lucidam usque ad aethram pia subuolare uota. per uos uigil decensque nus mentis ima complet, per uos probata lingua fert glorias per aeuum. uos disciplinas omnes ac nos sacrate Musas.” (2.126)

“Now, now the arts are blessed, so sanctified by you both that they open a path to the heavens, unlock the stars for the fallen, and let pious invocations fly from below up into the unclouded ether. Through you, the keen and noble intellect fills the void and proven language finds glory through the eons. Sanctify, then, all the disciplines, and sanctify us, the Muses.” 12. “est igitur prisci generis doctissima uirgo, / conscia Parnaso, cui fulgent sidera coetu, / cui nec Tartareos claustra occultare recessus, / nec Iouis arbitrium rutilantia fulmina possunt” (1.22; Apollo describing Philology). And: “nam nostra ille fides, sermo, benignitas / ac uerus Genius, fida recursio, / interpresque meae mentis, d nouz sacer” (1.92; Jupiter describing Mercury). 13. See 3.223 on Mercury inventing Grammar: “diuque obtectam latibulis ab ipso repertam educatamque Cyllenio.” 14. “ ‘nam illum iam pridem,’ ait, ‘Philologiae sentio amore torreri, eiusque studio comparatas habere quamplures in famulitio Disciplinas’ ” (1.36; Jupiter to Juno).

Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii


Guaranteed is the apotheosis of probata lingua and nus mentis. The first of these categories implies a transfigured mode of communication, and the second, a virtual oxymoron bringing together divine cognizance (nus) and the mortal intellect (mens), is most adequately glossed as the potential for transcendence in the human mind.15 Therefore, in an ascensional paean the higher faculties of humanity (nus mentis/Philology) will accede to an eloquence of divine origin (probata lingua/Mercury) and intellectual epiphany will be achieved. Even from this, one thing is clear: Mercury, as Martianus presents him, is no more than a principle of mediation, certainly divine in origin, but irrelevant without a first principle of thought, knowledge, or wisdom to convey. He is only a means to an ulterior end, an as yet undefined communicative pattern through which the movements of the divine mind can be rendered comprehensible. This higher principle of knowledge that Mercury must strive to serve achieves a textual function in the figure of Pallas, whose preeminence in the cosmic order is celebrated in a verse sequence that acts as a prelude to the exposition of Geometry, the median figure among the Arts: Virgo armata decens, rerum sapientia, Pallas, aetherius fomes, mens et sollertia fati, ingenium mundi, prudentia sacra Tonantis, ardor doctificus nostraeque industria sortis, quae facis arbitrium sapientis praeuia curae ac rationis apex diuumque hominumque sacer nus, ultra terga means rapidi ac splendentis Olympi, celsior una Iove, flammantis circulus aethrae, eptaz in numeris, prior igni, tertia Luna. (6.567)

Virgin Pallas, noble in arms and knowing all things, mover of the ether, mind and mentor of fate, guiding force of the universe, sacred intelligence of the Thunderer, mistress of ardent learning, holder of our destiny—in 15. Cf. Stahl, Johnson, and Burge: “Nus (Nous): this word, which commonly means the divine Mind (Neoplatonic terminology), is not found with the simple meaning of ‘intelligence’ elsewhere in Latin” (Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts, 2:45, n. 62). There is in fact no reason why it should mean “intelligence” here either. It is more plausible to see this apparent catachresis as deliberate, emphasis thereby placed on the potential of the mortal mind to commune with the divine.


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your careful prescience you inspire the judgment of the wise. Apex of reason, sacred mind of gods and men, you pass beyond the confines of swift, resplendent Olympus and alone rise higher than Jove. You are the circle of flaming ether. You are the heptad among the numbers. You are prior to fire. And you are the third moon.

Integral and unsullied, Pallas transcends any law of copulation in her origins and in the virgin inaccessibility she maintains. By defying hermeneutic access in this way and yet also incarnating universal knowledge, she is the impossible consummation of Mercury’s very existence. It is revealing, therefore, that in sequential acts of supplementation Mercury seeks to approximate this absolute by selecting a bride from among the female figures who enjoy Pallas’ patronage (1.6–7). His first choice is Sophia, a less hieratic manifestation of the same principle. But he learns that she is devoted to the virgin ways of her patroness.16 He then elects to wed Mantice, a prophetic analogue of Sophia. However, although rejecting virginity (and thereby showing her further removal from the untainted), she has chosen to devote herself to Apollo.17 Psyche is his third choice, and she has received from Pallas’ own breast the mantle of wisdom. Nevertheless he discovers that she has been imprisoned by Cupid.18 Disappointed in his first three choices, Mercury traces a centrifugal course around a seemingly inaccessible absolute. His final choice of bride is determined by Apollo, who proposes the eminently suitable Philology: she is the earthly patroness of the female figures Mercury has himself chosen and is therefore already closer to Pallas than any of them.19 She is, moreover, immensely learned: 16. “nam Sophian ipse miro quidem cupiebat ardore, quod prudens sanctaque sit intemeratiorque cunctis pulchriorque uirginibus, sed quod sororis eius collactea et indiscreto amica foedere uideretur perindeque ad innubas ipsa quoque transisse, eam in Palladis iniuriam non placuit coaptari” (1.6). 17. “non dispar illum formae desiderabilis grataque luculentas in Manticen quoque succenderat; nam et nobilitas generis illam (quippe Pronoees maior est filiarum) et prouidum perspicacis prudentiae commendabat ingenium. sed ipsis diebus forte immensi amoris impatientia ultro iuuenem consecuta Apollini fuerat copulata” (1.6). 18. “his igitur Yuchn opimam superis ditemque muneribus atque multa caelestium collatione decoratam in conubium Arcas superiorum cassus optabat. sed eam Virtus, ut adhaerebat forte Cyllenio, paene lacrimans nuntiauit in potentiam pharetrati uolitantisque superi de sua societate correptam captiuamque adamantinis nexibus a Cupidine detineri” (1.7). 19. “quippe propinquam esse commemorat et laudatae illius Mantices patronam, in ipsam quoque Sophian supellectilis multae remuneratione largissimam. nam Yuchn incultam ac

Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii


“est igitur prisci generis doctissima uirgo conscia Parnaso, cui fulgent sidera coetu, cui nec Tartareos claustra occultare recessus, nec Iouis arbitrium rutilantia fulmina possunt; fluctigena spectans qualis sub gurgite Nereus, quaeque tuos norit fratrum per regna recursus, peruigil immodico penetrans arcana labore, quae possit docta totum praeuertere cura, quod superis praescire datum. quin crebrius in nos ius habet illa, deos urgens in iussa coactos, et quod nulla queat superum temptare potestas, inuito scit posse Ioue. stent ardua magno, alterutrum cumulat parilem meruisse iugalem.” (1.22; Apollo to Mercury)

“There is a most learned girl of noble lineage who is familiar with Parnassus, on whom shines the convergence of the stars, to whom the recondite powers cannot shut off the pits of Tartarus and from whom flaming thunderbolts cannot hide the thoughts of Jove. In the ocean’s depths she studies the nature of sea-born Nereus, and in the heavens she knows the trail you take through the realms of your brothers. With unstinting labor and constant attention she penetrates all that is arcane, and with learned care she can anticipate what the gods are given to foresee. Very often she has rights even over us, making us despite our divinity her subordinates and commanding us accordingly. She knows that she alone is capable of achieving what no divine power would presume to attempt against the will of Jove. The course I propose is certainly arduous, but it is most worthwhile because you are perfectly suited to one another as equals.”

In her capacity to inquire, Philology is at least the equal of the Olympian gods, and, as Thalia indicates in the song quoted earlier, she is even superior to her future husband: “doctus ille divus, sed doctior illa puella.” Nevertheless, as Préaux has convincingly argued, this insistence on learning severely circumscribes Philology’s aptitudes: she is an applied intellect, a gatherer of facts, able to observe and to retain; but nowhere is she said to have attained the ferino more uersantem apud hanc asserit expolitam, ita ut siquid pulchritudinis ornatusque gestaret, ex Philologiae sibi cultibus arrogarit, quae ei tantum affectionis impenderit, ut eam semper immortalem facere laborarit” (1.23).


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epiphany of understanding.20 Although of unlimited potential, she has not achieved union with the divine wisdom located beyond Jupiter himself, the transcendent presence of the “rationis apex,” the “divumque hominumque sacer nus” incarnated by Pallas. Ultimately it is not Mercury but the goddess of wisdom who stands as the fulfillment of the intellectual quest of mankind. To Philology Mercury is no more than a means. Pallas is the end. Mercury and Philology accordingly mediate one another’s desire for the absolute. Through him, she will ascend to the probata lingua of divinity, acquire a transcendent vehicle for understanding. Through her, he will unite with a higher intellectual power, move further toward the First Principle of Wisdom that he so systematically sought to approximate in his own choices of bride. But this reciprocal mediation, relying as it does upon a marriage of categories, displays an unavoidable irreverence to the virginity of the goal it pursues. Pallas’ own response to the announcement of the wedding amply illustrates this problem: tunc Pallas aliquanto summissior ac uirginalis pudoris rubore suffusa oculosque peplo, quod rutilum circum caput gestabat, obnubens improbabat aliquantum, quod super nuptiis uirgo consulitur praesertimque eius, quam propter consociationis officia manere cupiret semper intactam. dedignatur praeterea huius modi adhibere consensum, cum ita expers totius copulae censeatur, ut neque de ulla commixtione progenita neque ipsa procreare quicquam Arithmetica teste monstretur. ac tunc septem radiorum coronam soliuaga uirginitas renudauit, ne feturarum causis et copulis interesset. quia tamen eius optauerat Iuppiter exegeratque consilium, suadet deos maritos dearumque grandeauas in haec decernenda conduci; quippe conuenire Cyllenio, ut pro officiorum praemiis potissimorum fauor caelitum eius uincla sanciret. (1.40) Then Pallas blushed with a modesty befitting a virgin and drew the veil she wore to cover her resplendent head down over her eyes. She quietly observed how inappropriate it was that a virgin should have been consulted about a marriage, especially the marriage of a girl who had so much in common with her and who, she believed, should ideally remain untouched. She also declined to give her consent in this way because she was considered 20. Préaux, “Jean Scot et Martin de Laon,” 163.

Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii


so lacking in experience in copulation that, as the testimony of Arithmetic demonstrates, she was not conceived from copulation of any kind and would never herself procreate. Then, alone in her virginity, she uncovered her seven-spiked crown to show she would have no dealings with matters concerning sex and intercourse. However, because Jupiter had urgently requested her advice, she proposed that the married gods and the eldest goddesses should be invited to determine this issue. It suited Mercury that his marriage should receive the support of the most powerful of the gods, who would approve in order to show their gratitude for services he had rendered them in the past.

Established is a tension between the oneness of infinite wisdom and the conjunction of mutually mediating principles, between the domain of Pallas and that of Hymenaeus. The two at first appear antithetical, since, in giving herself to Mercury, Philology renounces virginity and isolates herself from the pristine unity of the First Principle that she seeks to approximate in the very act of marriage. However, Pallas herself negotiates this impasse. She repudiates not Philology but her own suitability to judge the only thing that lies outside her otherwise all-embracing knowledge. Incapable of deliberation on this issue, she shows her infinite wisdom by calling upon others to supplement her shortcomings. She cannot approve what lies beyond her, but she approves the arbitration of others and subsequently endorses the decisions they make. Far from maintaining an aloof and critical distance, Pallas proceeds energetically to participate in the ceremonies that prepare for Philology’s apotheosis. Nonetheless, the one gap in the unity of cosmic wisdom has been revealed. Sex is the only thing that lies beyond a hegemony that is otherwise absolute. It is the principle of complete alterity, antithetical to the transcendent intellect; yet in this particular context it is indispensable as the force of conjunction. Since Pallas can only identify sex as an elusive zone of the unknown and indefinable, she is reduced to the role of interested and supportive observer in the nuptial proceedings, and other gods begin increasingly to influence the course of the wedding. These deities have one thing in common: they have little time for what they consider the drone of tedious scholars. If they are to be believed, the Arts are variously dishonest, asexual, ill-dressed, and hirsute pedants who, by demeanor and interest, are thoroughly inappropriate to this occasion for priapic revelry. Bacchus, for example, has never even heard of Dialectic, and as soon as she appears he mocks this mistress of argumentation as a ridiculous charlatan,


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chiefly remarkable, he finds, for her ostensible accomplishments in the art of snake-husbandry.21 And he is not alone in his skepticism. By the time the gods are being made privy to the quadrivium, the scholarly expositions have become so excruciatingly dull that Voluptas is prompted to dismiss Geometry as not just an arid bore, but a vagrant of indeterminate gender who evinces an emphatic disinclination to personal hygiene and conspicuously needs a shave.22 Cupid, clearly unimpressed by the impending arrival of Astronomy, resorts to entertaining himself by slapping the snoring Silenus,23 and, at the beginning of the last book, Venus, having ended her aloof (if appalled) silence to accuse the Arts of usurping the role of Suada and Stimula,24 proceeds to dissipate her boredom by arousing the lusts of the male guests.25 While it would be convenient to explain away these negative reactions as the philistine views of a drunk, an adolescent, and a couple of drabs, it is impossible. Other gods, including the irreproachably upright, are also quick to show their displeasure, if only by impatient nods. It is not just Venus and her attendants who find Grammar boring, but absolutely everyone who hears her;26 and it is not Bacchus, despite his hostility, who puts a stop to the 21. “ ‘nimirum’ inquit Bromius, qui facetior est deorum eamque penitus nesciebat, ‘haec aut ex harenis Libyae anhelantis adducitur, quod et capillitium implexum docet et amicitia uenenorum, aut fidendum pharmacopolam esse Marsicae nationis; ita namque agnitione uiperea et blanda anguium adulatione diligitur. quod ni est, ex illius hami fraude colligitur, quod circulatrix pellacissima et metarum Marsicarum incola comprobatur’ ” (4.331). 22. “ ‘unde haec tam duris immitis rustica membris / peregit orbis circulum / et tantos montis, fluuios, freta, competa currens / delere uenit taedia? / hanc ego crediderim sentis spinescere membris / neque hirta crura uellere; / namque ita puluerea est agresti et robore fortis, / iure ut credatur mascula’ ” (6.704). 23. “denique, ut semper impatiens atque inuerecundis procax ac proteruus assultibus ad eum alacer Cupido atque hilarus accucurrit atque, ut depile rubellumque caluitium senex baculum acclinatus affixerat, palmae uerbere percrepantis apploso eoque sonitu reclamanti risum uelut etiam permissum paene omnibus suscitauit” (8.804). 24. “ ‘omnia, quae tenero moris feruescere ludo, / in cumulum doctae uocis honore tacent, / nec Suada inlecebris sponsalia pectora mulcet; / nec Stimula incenso allicit aculeo’ ” (9.888). 25. “cuius uerbis assertionique ruricolae omnes cunctique fluctigenae quamplures etiam astriluci assensere diui, praesertimque Lemnius Mulcifer, fabrilium tantum operum sollers maritus, promptiore attestatione collaudat. tunc denique, quod decenter innixa atque ipsa relabentem lassitudo decuerat, Mars eminus conspicatus tenere cum admirationis obtutu languidiore fractior uoce laudauit profundaque uisus est traxisse suspiria, nec Bromius in fauoris gratiam dispar fuit; quin etiam ipsum Atlantiadem tam flammatae cupiditatis cura concussit” (9.889). 26. “haec cum Grammatice uelut rerum exordium instauratura dixisset, propter superi senatus Iouisque fastidium Minerua talibus interuenit” (3.326).

Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii


meanderings of Dialectic, but Mercury and Pallas.27 The situation eventually reaches a crisis. Even at the end of Astronomy’s speech, no fewer than twelve bridesmaids still remain to be heard and, potentially, to bore. This leads the gods to accelerate the proceedings. As a result, two of the remaining Liberal Arts (Medicine and Architecture) are passed over altogether, and the nine Mantic Arts are put off until the following day (9.890–98). To continue any longer, it appears, would cancel the very purpose of the assembly: to create an appropriate atmosphere for a first night of marriage. More is at issue here than the opinion—incontrovertible—that scholarly pursuits are singularly lacking in sensual gratification and have a marked tendency to turn to tedium. It is rather that a particular form of excess threatens to engender another in response. From the beginning, Juno shows a distrust of Venus and lends support to curtailing the Arts in an attempt to forestall the prospect of Mercury being led astray: marcidulis decenter paeta luminibus Maiugenam conspicatur et quodam aspectu promittentis inlexit, quam Saturnia de propinquo uelut deprehendentis castigabat obtutibus. (7.727) Venus shot [Mercury] a beckoning glance and her languid eyes made her seductive intentions perfectly clear. But Juno was close by and reproachfully glared at her.

By the time Astronomy has finished lecturing the gods about the planets (and therefore redundantly lecturing many of them about themselves), Venus is on the point of disrupting the convocation altogether by seducing Mercury at his own wedding: quin etiam ipsum Atlantiadem tam flammatae cupiditatis cura concussit, ut omittere uellet quae circa sponsalem conuentum ornatiora disposuit; tanti quippe uisum numquam Veneri displicere. (9.889) The effects of an inflamed longing had indeed struck Mercury himself, so much so that he wanted to curtail the opulent ceremonies he had arranged for the wedding celebration. To receive this kind of attention was always delightful to Venus. 27. “talibus insistente Dialectica et ad quaedam non minus inextricabilia quam caligosa properante Pallas nutu Maiugenae festinantis interuenit” (4.423).


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All this, in fact, is quite predictable and confirms the distrust Juno expresses when the possibility of the wedding is first broached: faciendum profecto accelerandumque persuadet, ne itidem Cyllenius Cypridis lactatus illecebris Hermaphrodito fratrem gignere succensus optaret. (1.34) She argued that the wedding should take place as soon as possible in case Mercury, impelled by his burning desire for Venus, should go on to father a brother to Hermaphroditus.

In the opinion of Juno Pronuba at least, Philology is a suitable bride simply because she has the signal advantage of not being Venus. She is reason rushed to the nuptial chamber in an attempt to avoid the disastrous second progeny of probata lingua and illecebra. Paradoxically, the academic maidens Mercury parades before his bride as a wedding gift end up militating against the consummation of his marriage. The longer the Arts speak, the further Mercury falls into the snares of his former concubine, the closer Philology comes to being displaced in the marital bed, and the stronger the possibility of a hermaphroditic closure, of a return to some unmentionable that is congenitally antithetical to reason. To all appearances, Martianus has set himself the impossible task of writing a treatise on the unwritable. The difficulties of his undertaking are perhaps already obvious. First and foremost, by positing Mercury, the god of higher mediation, as the apposite partner for the intellectual desires of mankind, Martianus is inevitably providing a diffident commentary on the viability of any human or contingent language. He makes this diffidence clear in describing the first stage of Philology’s apotheosis, which resolves into a complex ritual of dressing and undressing. Phronesis gives her daughter new robes in the belief that a mortal must don suitably protective clothing for entry into the celestial senate. But she is almost immediately supplanted in her role by Athanasia, who first instructs Philology to vomit forth all mortal learning: “ni haec,” inquit “quibus plenum pectus geris, coactissima egestione uomueris forasque diffuderis, immortalitatis sedem nullatenus obtinebis.” at illa omni nisu magnaque ui quicquid intra pectus perpenderat euomebat. tunc uero illa nausea ac uomitio elaborata in omnigenum copias conuertitur litterarum. cernere erat, qui libri quantaque uolumina, quot linguarum opera ex ore uirginis diffluebant. alia ex papyro, quae cedro perlita fuerat, uide-

Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii


bantur, alii carbasinis uoluminibus implicati libri, ex ouillis multi quoque tergoribus, rari uero in philyrae cortice subnotati. (2.135–36) “Unless you vomit and discharge in violent spasms the material that fills your breast,” she said, “you will have no chance of attaining the seat of immortality.” With intense effort and great force the girl then spewed forth everything she had been weighing in her breast. Then the nausea and vomit she had labored to expel changed into a profusion of all kinds of writing. It was a sight to see which books, how many volumes and works in how many languages flowed from the girl’s mouth. Some seemed to be made of papyrus sealed in cedar resin, some were books made of folded sheets of linen, many too were of sheepskin, and a few were committed to linden bark.

The sum of knowledge that Philology yields is not an abstract principle; it is a veritable library of books, material artifacts bound to linguistic codes and to a graphemic intelligibility. Only when voided of this textualized learning can Philology drink the draught of immortality. The textual sum of human learning, therefore, must be jettisoned before apotheosis can be achieved. Athanasia then dismisses the robes laboriously donned under the supervision of Phronesis as “trifles of fallen and mortal substance” (2.141; “caducae mortalisque substantiae minima”)28 which would be superfluous in the company of the gods.29 Philology therefore strips. Terrestrial texts and terrestrial clothing are shed as the twin and inter-reflexive components of the same ceremony, and, we are left to presume, Philology negotiates the passage from humanity to divinity in a state of complete nakedness. 28. Willis diverges from Dick here and gives the variant reading “munimina,” thereby stressing protection. But I find Dick’s “minima” more consistent with the adjectives “caducus” and “mortalis” and with the implicit contrast that Martianus is drawing here between mortality and divinity. 29. The allegorical significance of Phronesis (Philology’s mother) is open to debate. Lenaz first hesitates between “wisdom” and “prudence” (in their Latin equivalents) and finally opts for the latter and implicitly contrasts Phronesis with Sophia: “In Marziano (cf. II 115 prudens mater) Phronesis è piuttosto prudentia che sapientia, e Sophia è, nel primo libro delle Nuptiae, un «personaggio» diverso” (Martiani Capellae, 184). However, Phronesis’ status as human wisdom is symbolically suggested by the inter-reflexivity established between the discarded robes she gives to Philology and the sum of human knowledge that Philology later discards in the ceremony of regurgitation. She functions as (and symbolically provides) the original matrix of knowledge that Philology conveys, and in this guise she is negatively contrasted with Athanasia, who undoes her influence to prepare for Philology’s deification.


Chapter One

Philology’s vomiting of written knowledge elicits a number of questions. First and foremost, are we to infer that Athanasia’s injunctions cast a negative light on many of the existing achievements of human culture? So it would provisionally appear, since this ritual is a prerequisite to the conjunction of the nus mentis with a higher principle of mediation, the probata lingua of Mercury. But, if this is indeed the case, then the results of this voiding are a little disconcerting: sed dum talia uirgo undanter euomeret, puellae quamplures, quarum Artes aliae, alterae dictae sunt Disciplinae, subinde, quae ex ore uirgo effuderat, colligebant in suum unaquaeque illarum necessarium usum facultatemque corripiens. ipsae etiam Musae, praesertim Vranie Calliopeque, innumera gremio congessere uolumina. (2.138) But while the maiden was vomiting up this material in spasms, a group of girls, some called the Arts, others the Disciplines, were gathering up for their own particular design and use whatever the maiden expelled from her mouth. The Muses themselves, and in particular Urania and Calliope, collected innumerable volumes in their laps.

The “bibliothecalis copia” (2.139) of written learning is appropriated by figures who bear a tutelary relationship to various fields of intellectual inquiry and include the Arts and Disciplines, some of whom will later speak before the celestial senate. Therefore, it seems, Philology must rid herself of the type of knowledge incarnated by the Seven Liberal Arts themselves, meaning that the last seven books are a performance that has already been diegetically determined as an allegory of regurgitation. This would appear, perhaps, an unduly literal reading were it not for the fact that the gods themselves later react to the Arts as boring and superfluous to the purpose of their convocation. If indeed, then, mortal language is being jettisoned, the text itself must from this point on be bracketed as in some way surrogate to something higher. Philology’s transcendence of written communication leaves the all-too-mortal reader far behind and negatively reflects on the very forms through which he or she reads the fulfillment of this exemplary intellectual quest. Since the De nuptiis is a written, terrestrial, mortal construct, then it is the story of its own inadequacy, performing the inability of words to describe something beyond themselves, beyond all “the trifles of fallen and mortal substance” they by analogy represent. Under such circumstances, the last seven books become a literally exhaustive preamble—certainly boring to the gods and quite pos-

Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii


sibly boring to the reader. They function, moreover, as a device of inordinate deferral, simply extending language towards a goal it can never reach, and are finally curtailed lest they destroy the very pretext for their exposition. But simply to state that Martianus forces mortal language to enact its own inadequacies would trivialize his undertaking. First, a performance of this type would hardly be particularly bold or, for that matter, particularly revealing. An avowal of the shortcomings of the terrestrial text is necessary corollary of metaphysical speculation—to accede to a higher knowledge obviously implies an effort to move beyond what is already known and in the process, however obliquely, to recognize the conditions that make such an effort desirable and necessary. Second, the very fact that Martianus sees fit to devote such lengthy attention to the Arts suggests that he does attribute them a value of some kind, even if this value is perceived as limited. Third, it will be clear from my earlier comments that Martianus is working towards a synthesis of apparently incompatible categories, giving voice to principles of pleasure which, at first sight at least, seem to militate against all intellectual activity. Voluptas, Bacchus, Cupid, and Venus may not be superficially prepossessing, yet they are gods nonetheless, and they contrive absolutely to redirect the course of the celestial convocation. It is now necessary, therefore, to devote fuller attention to these tutelary figures of lust, foppery, and drunkenness. Juno’s attempt to forestall the conception of a brother to Hermaphroditus is in fact a belated acknowledgement of his subliminal presence. Not coincidentally, he makes his first appearance in response to the stultifying drone of that bristly hag of questionable gender, Geometry: dixerat, at Paphiae paulum contractior ore mora intricante laeditur nixaque mox famulis marcentia terga reclinat magis quod lassa pulchrior. hic dudum roseas inter resoluta puellas Voluptas inquit anxia “unde haec tam duris immitis rustica membris peregit orbis circulum et tantos montis, fluuios, freta, completa currens delere uenit taedia? hanc ego crediderim sentis spinescere membris neque hirta crura uellere; namque ita puluerea est agresti et robore fortis, iure ut credatur mascula.”


Chapter One

quo dicto Iocus ministris Veneris suscitatur ipsique Cythereae, cui de proximo, susurratim decenter arrisit. quam Arcas nutu hilaro et quo eam solitus intueri propter diuum reprehensiones circumspectus inhibuit. uerum Pronuba propter assidens “nihil mirum,” inquit “si propere Venus cum deliciis famulitioque tam comi appulsa est lasciuire; nam et nuptialiter laeta est et blanda semper arridente Cyllenio.” et cum dicto Geometry praecipitur ad promissa properare, sed ita, ut summa quaeque praestringens fastidium non suscitet tarditate. (6.704–5) So proclaimed Geometry. But Venus pouted, bored by the delay caused by all these intricate details. Supported by her attendants, she leant back and slowly reclined, all the more beautiful because weary. Voluptas, who had for some while been idling among rosy-cheeked maidens, chose that moment to express her concerns: “Are we to be delivered from our boredom by this dire, misshapen hag who has already taken us on a tour of the whole world, with all its mountains, rivers, and straits? I bet those hairy arms and legs of hers are as prickly as thorns. She’s so filthy, with such a big, farm-laborer physique that you’d just have to suppose she’s a man.” With these words Iocus was awakened by Venus’ servants and went up to the goddess herself and began quietly laughing. Mercury glanced at Venus with the amiable expression he always reserved for her and signaled she should stop, anxious to avoid reproaches from the other gods. However, Juno Pronuba, who was sitting close by, said “Sluttish behavior of this kind is hardly surprising from Venus, with all her dissolute attendants and servants fawning around. Besides, she’s always happy at weddings and loves it when Mercury smiles at her.” Geometry was then instructed to proceed with what she had promised, but to concentrate only on what was truly important and offset the boredom that would be caused by any greater delay.

Geometry’s perorations provoke the first stage of Venus’ ascendancy, incarnated by Iocus. This allegorized principle may loosely be associated with game, play, or sport; however, these ideas are more usually rendered by ludus or the more abstract lusus. As it appears in the whispered words circulating in the celestial senate, Iocus is a verbal phenomenon—game, play, or sport manifested in speech. Accordingly, the verbal excess of Geometry, that visual hermaphrodite, elicits by way of response a verbal extravagance of a different type, associated not with pedantry but with the principle of voluptas through which it is first made manifest. It is very specifically to offset the proliferation of this play-in-language that Juno energetically steps in for the first time to

Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii


put a distance between Mercury and Venus, between Hermes and Aphrodite, between the patron deities of language and pleasure. Suddenly entering the fabric of diegesis, therefore, is a verbal register contingent on a fleeting collusion between the principles that gave birth to Hermaphroditus himself. It is left to Arithmetic to increase tedium to such an extent that Iocus explicitly invades the writing of the text. As Arithmetic leaves, she is immediately replaced by Silenus as the object of general attention. Unlike the learned words of his predecessor, however, Silenus’ frog-like grunts prove capable of sustaining more than polite interest: quo terrore et rapiduli sonitus raucitate concussi eodem se quamplures conuertere diui senisque proflantis somnum atque umentis crapulae exsudatione conspecta risus circumstantium eo maxime, quo claudebatur, excussus. tunc quoniam credita iocos nuptialis licentia non uetare, famulitium Veneris uernaculaeque Bromiales tantos cachinnos concussis admodum tulere singultibus, ut quamplures alios conisos cohibere risum hoc maxime in petulantis proruptionis sonitum effusique cachinni libentiam prouocarint. (8.804) Some of the gods turned, astounded by this dreadful, raucous noise. The ones who were standing around the snoring old man saw how he was sweating out his drink as he slept and they burst out laughing, all the louder because they tried to stop themselves. Then, because uninhibited joy is not supposed to be absent from a wedding, Venus’ retainers and Bacchus’ handmaidens gave such hilarity to the gods who were already hit by hiccups that some of the others, despite their efforts to suppress their amusement, broke out into the sound of dissolute, uncontrolled pleasure.

Iocus, now plural, multiplies into a general extravagance marked by the erasure of language, as the scholarly disquisitions briefly give way to the sounds of delight. This riotous excess is the result of its inhibition, directly provoked by the solemn pedantry of the proceedings. As they are presented at the wedding, the Arts unwittingly but necessarily generate their antithesis, invite the incursion of nonreason, betray nus mentis to the fleeting dementia of drunkenness and hilarity. Through the agency of Silenus, Cupid, Venus, and Bacchus, the voice, that earthly vehicle for the domain of Mercury, now expresses unadulterated pleasure, becomes a mode of communion which is both below and beyond language and which concerns not the mind but the body.

Chapter two

Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii; Remigius of Auxerre, Commentum in Martianum Capellam: Venus Rediviva The eruption of dementia into the celestial senate is extremely troubling to another allegorized principle, Menippean satire, which, personified as Satura, has been observing the authorial surrogate indulge in his scribbling of apparent absurdities. Immediately after Cupid is described physically slapping Silenus, Satura is described verbally slapping that other old man, Martianus himself: hac iocularis laetitiae alacritate feruente Satura illa, quae meos semper curae habuit informare sensus “ne tu,” ait, “Felix, uel Capella, uel quiquis es, non minus sensus quam nominis pecudalis, huius incongrui risus adiectione desipere uel dementire coepisti? ain tandem non dispensas in Iouiali cachinnos te mouisse concilio uerendumque esse sub diuum Palladiaque censura assimulare quemquam uelut cerritulum garrientem? at quo etiam tempore Cupido uel Satyrus petulantis ausus procacitate dissiliunt? nempe cum uirgo siderea pulchriorque dotalium in istam uenerabilem curiam ac deorum uentura conspectus! apage sis nec postidhaec nugales ausus lege hymeneia et culpae uelamine licentis obnuberis!” (8.806–7) At the height of all this joking around, Satura, who always took it on herself to try to tell me how I should be feeling, said “Hey you, Felix, or Capella, or whoever you are with even less sense than that beast you’re named after, have you so started to lose your senses that in your lunacy you can’t see how inappropriate it is to introduce laughter like this? Don’t you know that you’ve brought frivolity into the assembly of Jove and that, to the gods and especially Pallas, it’s shameful to depict someone prattling as though

Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii


he’s lost his mind? And what timing, to have Cupid and Satyr disporting themselves with no regard for decency at precisely the point at which the virgin of the skies, one of the more beautiful of the handmaidens, is to appear before the venerable assembly, in full view of the gods? Get on with it, and from now on don’t you dare try to excuse your silliness and cover up the liberties you’re taking by saying it’s all appropriate to a wedding.”

According to Satura, to write about Silenus gibbering nonsense like a madman is in itself an act of dementia, and an affront to Pallas, the rationis apex of the cosmos. It is quite simply to invite nonreason to permeate the fabric of discourse and therefore to repudiate humanity and descend to the level of the she-goat. Apparently reprimanded, Martianus apologizes for his “iocularis laetitiae alacrit[as]” and disingenuously asks Satura which of the Arts is now to appear. By way of reply, Satura shows herself to be an extremely capable poet, introducing Astronomy in portentous verse and yet again criticizing authorial dementia. It is now Martianus’ turn to show contempt: “Euge,” inquam, “Satura mea, an te poetriam fecit cholera? coepistine Permesiaci gurgitis sitire fontes? iamne fulgores praeuides et uultus deorum? ubi illud repente discessit, quod irrisoria semper lepidaque uersutia inter insana semper deridebas uatum tumores dicabulis cauillantibus saleque contenta nec minus poetarum coturno inter lymphatica derelicto? est quod rabido feruebas cerebrosa motu ac me Sileni somnum ridentem censorio clangore superciliosior increpabas? ergone figmenta dimoueam, et nihil leporis iocique permixti taedium auscultantium recreabit.” (8.809) “Very nice, my dear Satura,” I said. “Has your anger made you into a poet? Have you started to thirst after the waters of the Parmessian spring? Can you already see the thunderbolts and the faces of the gods? What has happened to that biting sarcasm you normally show in deriding the inflated pretensions of poets? What has happened to that scintillating wit you so readily use in relegating portentous verse to the lunatic fringes? Why are you flying into a towering rage and criticizing me in such shrill, supercilious tones for laughing at the sleeping Silenus? Am I supposed to get rid of my story altogether and mix in no wit and jokes to help keep my listeners from getting bored?”

Martianus provides a tonal corrective, reminding satire that it should be satirical. By an appalling show of bad taste, it has in the present instance attempted


Chapter Two

to make itself into poetry, but succeeds only in producing verbal inflation. According to the values Satura incarnates, to drink the Permessian waters is as absurd and demented as Silenus’ equally entertaining quaffing of wine. Both produce noises lacking intellectual sense. Elicited in the text, then, are polarized categories: on one side, turgid words that deny any validity of reference; on the other, the nonverbal eruption of bodily sounds. By implication, it would appear that Martianus endorses the latter, assuming a position of nearscatological philistinism and rejecting the pretensions of reason-in-language. However, his purposeful incursion into “iocositas” brings no resolution of its own—snores, hiccups, and laughter cannot under any circumstances accommodate reason and promote the intellectual quest of humanity. Therefore, just as the first six of the Arts banish the body in an arid outpouring of scholasticism, Venus, Bacchus, and the rest offer no blandishments to the mind. They too perform only to unveil their shortcomings and, reduced to alternating with the Arts, precipitate a crisis of impossible closure. As Astronomia prepares to speak, the De nuptiis and the wedding of Mercury and Philology are on the brink of incoherence, oscillating between antitheses of common sterility. If Pallas is inadequate to the senses, Venus is inadequate to the mind. It is nevertheless Venus herself who first intimates the path to compromise. At the end of Astronomy’s speech, the goddess of love speaks for the first time and reiterates the general thrust of the reproaches earlier made by her attendants: the Arts are boring; Flora, Voluptas, Melpomene, Suada, and Stimula have been frustrated of their duties; and “si erudita placent certe sponsalia diui, saltem docta ferat carmina Calliope; nam simul oblectans uocis modulamine mentes taedia dulcisonis auferet illa tonis. quippe scruposis, fateor, lassata puellis insuetis laedor maestificata moris. Pronuba, sic uolupe est haec seria carpere, Iuno, nec cura astriferi te stimulat thalami, ast ego succubui, lepidisque assueta choreis non ualeo tristes cernere Cecropidas.” (9.888)

“If erudite matters are deemed necessary at the wedding of a god, then at least let Calliope sing learned songs. Her melodious voice delights the

Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii


mind and her sweet tones banish tedium. I admit it, I’m bored by these girls belaboring their subjects and really disappointed that we’ve had these unexpected delays. Juno Pronuba, if you take pleasure in listening to all this serious business and have no interest in the cosmic union, then I just give up. I’m used to delightful choruses and don’t enjoy watching these dreary examples of Athenian scholarship.”

Venus proposes, if only as a distant hypothesis, a vast epic of mortal learning performed by the muse of heroic poetry. The advantage here would be twofold: the inquiring mind would be enlightened by the knowledge conveyed; the listless senses would be satisfied by the sweetness of song. This proposal is approved by all of the gods and wins approval for Venus herself, who elicits sighs of longing from Mars and attracts the enraptured gazes of Vulcan, Bacchus, and the bridegroom. Now focal to the celestial convocation, Venus controls the course of the wedding—failure to heed her advice may lead to the erasure of reason itself, to the eclipse of nus mentis in the warming glow of illecebra. Juno reacts swiftly and decisively and prevails on Jupiter to end the preparatory ceremonies with all haste. Once eleven of the Arts have either been canceled or postponed, the one remaining bridesmaid is called upon to usher the bride and groom into the nuptial chamber. And this Art responds perfectly to Venus’ proposed union of mind and body. She is the transcendent principle of all thought and all sensation, the daughter of Venus and the ward of Pallas. She is Harmony, the union of all antitheses. Immediately on her entry, Harmony succeeds in pleasing everyone and banishes the discord that has infiltrated the assembly. In this, she has signal advantages over her academic colleagues. As a scholar, she is obviously congenial to Mercury, Apollo, and Pallas. But, unlike the other Arts, she also has the distinction of being Venus’ daughter. She is, in short, the conflation of knowledge and pleasure, bridging the intellectual and the sensual, simultaneously delighting the soul and the body. Symbolizing this concord, Harmony enters the celestial senate in the company of Apollo, Pallas, and Venus.1 With them walk various patrons of the senses, including Pitho, Voluptas, and the 1. “tandem inter Phoebum Pallademque media Harmonia sublimis ingreditur, cuius sonorum caput auri coruscantis bratteis comebatur, caeso etiam tenuatoque metallo rigens uestis, et omnibus ad motum gressumque rata congruentia temperatum blandis leniter crepitaculis tinniebat. cuius incessum mater Paphie, ut eam contigue sequebatur, licet pulchris rosea numeris ac libratis passibus moueretur, uix tamen poterat imitari” (9.909).


Chapter Two

three Graces,2 and the three preeminent musicians of mankind, Orpheus, Amphion, and Arion, who celebrate Harmony’s power by performing the songs which enabled them, as mortals, to breath life into the dead, to move animals and plants, to raise the walls of Thebes, and to calm the raging seas.3 This sway over all earthly phenomena is but a terrestrial manifestation of a cosmic hegemony which transcends the bounds of human understanding: uerum ille orbis non chelys nec barbiton nec tetrachordon apparebat, sed ignota rotunditas omnium melodias transcenderat organorum. denique mox ingressa atque eiusdem orbis sonuere concentus: cuncta illa, quae dissona suauitas commendarat, uelut mutescentia tacuerunt, ipseque tunc Iuppiter caelestesque diui superioris melodiae agnita granditate, quae in honorem cuiusdam ignis arcani ac flammae insopibilis fundebatur, reueriti intimum patrimumque carmen paululum in uenerationem extramundanae omnes intellegentiae surrexerunt. (9.910) It was not [the sound of ] the tortoise-shell lute, the lyre, or the tetrachord that emerged from her round shield. Rather, that mystic orb emitted melodies that transcended those of all instruments. Every other sound seemed dissonant in comparison with the sweet music that accompanied her entrance, and soon all else was silent. Then Jupiter himself and the other celestial powers recognized the grandeur of the higher melodies—which were pouring forth to honor a particular hidden fire and everlasting flame—and, in homage to this secret song of the ancients, they all quickly rose up and paid reverence to the otherworldly intellect.

What lies beyond human understanding is of course beyond representation, and Martianus is obviously obliged to document only the more pedestrian aspects of this universal principle. Yet even these are significant to everything that has gone before. Music is the binding accord of body and soul;4 it has enabled humanity to commune with the gods, including those of the under2. “post hos psallentes Pitho, Voluptas et Gratiae admixtis lyrae uocibus atque ipsae harmonicis dissultantes motibus aduenere” (9.906). 3. “uerum sequens heroum praeclui enituit admiratione conuentus; nam Orpheus, Amphion, Arionque doctissimi aurata omnes testudine consonantes flexanimum pariter edidere concentum” (9.906). Their achievements are then celebrated in the poem that follows (9.907). 4. “Pythagorei etiam docuerunt ferociam animi tibiis aut fidibus mollientes cum corporibus adhaerere nexum foedus animarum” (9.923).

Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii


world;5 it heals addled minds and diseased bodies;6 and it moves animals, plants, and rocks.7 Most importantly to the union of reason and language, Harmony devotes the final part of her speech to identifying herself as the principle that guides the meters and rhythms of poetry,8 thereby gesturing back to Venus’ earlier suggestion that the scholastic expositions should give way to verse. However, Harmony is tutelary deity to poetic forms that could infinitely exceed the pedestrian epic that Venus anticipates Calliope composing, since she incarnates all harmonies, ranging from the music of mortal inflections to the accord that maintains the fabric of the Neo-Platonic cosmos. In this guise, she could potentially act as the nexus of all the principles that have so far been antagonistic: under her influence, language could accede to a poetics of divine origin, could finally appeal to the senses while becoming the medium through which reason could express transcendent truths. Such, in any event, is the implication of the end of Martianus’ tale, which reaches closure with Harmony taking the initiative of leading Mercury and Philology to the wedding chamber where they will finally consummate their marriage.9 This endpoint in the narrative is not, of course, accompanied by any further information that would allow us more clearly to define the copula sacra over which Harmony presides or the transcendent poetry that would be its result, quite simply because both must, of necessity, remain beyond the signifying frames of the mortal text. 5. “per me quippe uestrum homines illexere succursum irasque inferas per naenias sedauere” (9.925). 6. “perturbationibus animorum corporeisque morbis medicabile crebrius carmen insonui; nam phreneticos symphonia resanaui, quod Asclepiades quoque medicus imitatus” (9.926). 7. “animalium uero sensus meis cantibus incunctanter adduci saltem Thracius citharista perdocuit; in quo non fabula, sed ueritas gloriam procreauit” (9.927); “quid canticis allici disrumpique serpentes, glandem ferunt messesque transire!” (9.928); “in Lydia Nympharum insulas dici, quas etiam recentior asserentium Varro se uidisse testatur, quae in medium stagnum a continenti procedentes cantu tibiarum primo in circulum motae dehinc ad litora reuertuntur” (9.928). 8. Meters: the dactyl (9.981), the anapest (982), the spondee (983), the iamb (985), the trochee (986); rhythms: the dochmiac (990), the alogoi (992), the trochaeides (992). Harmony ends her speech (and brings the work to an end) with a discussion of rhythmopoeia and melopoeia (994). 9. “quae cum Harmonia intentis tam diuis quam heroum populis augusta quadam suauitate percurreret, ad cantus carminumque dulcedines decenter regressa conticuit. tuncque Ioue assurgente diuisque praeambulis coemesin modulata in thalamum quoque uirginis magna cunctorum uoluptate peruenit” (9.996).


Chapter Two

The emphasis Martianus places on a discourse that would appeal to mind and body went on to exercise a profound influence on later generations of readers, particularly the ninth-century critics who strove to explicate the celestial wedding and adapt its allegorical import to the service of Christian culture. The most ambitious and enduring of the works produced by these scholars in the wake of the Carolingian renaissance are those of Remigius of Auxerre. Little is known of Remigius. He was active in the late ninth century; before gaining celebrity in Auxerre, he taught at the cathedral schools of Rheims and Paris; and he wrote perhaps as many as forty commentaries on classical, biblical, and patristic works.10 Of these, the most influential during the Middle Ages and the best known today is the Commentum in Martianum Capellam. Between its appearance and the sixteenth century, authors as varied in interest, era, and geographical location as Benvenuto Rambaldi da Imola,11 Hugh of St. Victor,12 Alexander Nequam,13 Albericus (The Third Vatican Mythographer),14 Gerald of Wales,15 Sigebert of Gembloux,16 and Notker Labeo17 10. For greater biographical detail, see Lutz, Remigii Autissiodorensis commentum in Martianum Capellam, 1:5–16. So far the works of Remigius have benefited from little critical interpretation. 11. In his commentary on Dante, Benevenuti de Rambaldis de Imola Comentum super Dantis Aldigherii Comoediam, ed. Vernon and Lacaita, 3.5. 12. In his Hugonis de Sanco Victore Didascalicon de studio legendi, ed. Buttimer, 3.2. 13. Nequam frequently quotes Remigius in his own commentary on the first two books of De nuptiis. Consult, for example, Alexander Nequam super Marcianum De nupciis Mercurii et Philologiae in Bodleian, Digby 221ff., 34v–88r. 14. In his Mythographia, in Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini tres Romae nuper reperti, ed. Bode, 152–256; see especially 238. For further references in the mythographer’s work consult R. Raschke, “De Alberico Mythologo.” 15. In the Topographia Hibernica. On this relationship and the hermaphroditic monstrosities Gerald claims inhabited twelfth-century Ireland, see my Historical Fabrication, 257–58. 16. In his Liber de scriptoribus ecclesiasticis; see Migne, Patrologia latina, vol. 160, col. 573. 17. Notker expresses his indebtedness to Remigius in the forematter to his Old High German translation of the first two books of De nuptiis. See Notker der Deutsche: Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, ed. King. Recent studies of Notker are: Herbert Backes, Die Hochzeit Merkurs und der Philologie: Studien zu Notkers Martian-Übersetzung; Nikolaus Henkel, Deutsche Übersetzungen lateinischer Schultexte: Ihre Verbreitung und Funktion im Mittelalter und in der frühen Neuzeit: and, with particular reference to his use of Remigius’ commentary, Rita Copeland, Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Translation in the Middle Ages, 97–103.

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showed they were familiar with it, and several early editors drew on its glosses for the prefatory material to their imprints of the De nuptiis itself.18 Remigius interprets his paradigm as an allegory of transfiguration in which discourse, vain, dissolute, but elegant, achieves heightened significance through the rigors of intellectual discipline. In his first gloss he defines Philology in straightforward terms: she is the love or study of reason (“amor vel studium rationis”)19 that strives to come together with a linguistic principle that would be adequate to philosophical expression. This principle is, of course, represented by Mercury, but the positive resonance of Martianus’ probata lingua has been replaced by a set of problematic categories. Mercury is initially glossed as a figure (“similitudo”) for two types of discourse, “facundia” and “sermo.” Both have unambiguous meanings: the first is an approximate synonym of “eloquentia” (which is itself later offered as an additional definition) and the second is simply speech. But Remigius mentions this verbal mastery only to qualify its allegorical value: further clarified as “sermonis copia,” as a discursive plenitude, it is bracketed as potentially harmful if not tempered by the guiding principles of wisdom and reason to which it is ideally joined (“sine ratione et sapientia nocet aliquando, raro aut numquam prodest”).20 Since Mercury does indeed finally marry Philology, he rises above this deleterious linguistic register and, according to Remigius, the most expeditious path to wisdom is thereby disclosed: “When, therefore, in a man of intellect these two come together (that is, precise reasoning and fecundity of expression), then Mercury and Philology are, so to speak, united, and the most prompt access to knowledge of the seven liberal arts is ensured to 18. See Lutz, Remigii Autissiodorensis commentum in Martianum Capellam, 1:40. 19. The text is from Lutz, Remigii Autissiodorensis commentum in Martianum Capellam; here 1:66. Remigius randomly uses the present and past tenses for his glosses. For consistency I shall translate into the present in all cases. Usually he explains Martianus’ written practice in the third person. Sometimes, however, he puts himself in the author’s place and uses the first. For consistency and to avoid confusion I shall translate these latter cases into the third person. 20. The relevant sections of the gloss on the title read: “Nam Philologia interpretatur amor vel studium rationis, Mercurius dictus est quasi medius currens, quia sermo inter duos seritur; vel quasi mercatorum kyrios, id est dominus, quia sermo maxime inter mercatores viget. Philologia ergo ponitur in persona sapientiae et rationis, Mercurius in similitudine facundiae et sermonis. Ut autem Cicero dicit, eloquentia, id est sermonis copia, sine ratione et sapientia nocet aliquando, raro aut numquam prodest; sapientia vero sine eloquentia prodest semper, numquam obest. Cum ergo in sapiente haec duo convenerint, et acumen videlicet rationis et facundia sermonis, tunc quodam modo sociantur Mercurius et Philologia, tuncque promptissimum est unicuique ad scientiam VII liberalium artium posse accedere” (1:66).


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the individual in question” (“Cum ergo in sapiente haec duo convenerint, et acumen videlicet rationis et facundia sermonis, tunc quodam modo sociantur Mercurius et Philologia, tuncque promptissimum est unicuique ad scientiam VII liberalium artium posse accedere”). However, even though Philology allows Mercury to accede to higher reference, she cannot erase the result of one of the indiscretions he committed in his former, unrehabilitated guise. Before meeting his eventual spouse, Mercury took Venus as his concubine. Their son is Hermaphroditus, and, according to the glossator, he “signifies a particular lasciviousness of speech that obtains when the reasoned search for truth is neglected and the superfluous adornment of speech above all pursued” (“Ermafroditus autem significat quandam sermonis lascivitatem, qua plerumque neglecta veritatis ratione superfluus sermonis ornatus requiritur” [1:108; on DN 22.16]).21 This unbounded discourse of pleasure can only be inimical to the philosophical speculation Remigius associates with Philology: it is playful, it appeals to the senses, and it takes the rejection of reason itself as a requisite for its existence. However, later in his glosses, Remigius invokes an allied discursive principle, one that is sensual, certainly, but can also act as a medium through which to articulate truths that reason alone cannot apprehend. It too is the offspring of Mercury and Venus, Hermes and Aphrodite, and Remigius implicitly identifies it as a brother to Hermaphroditus. Remigius elaborates this alternative principle at the margins of his comments on Mercury, who progressively receives a variety of definitions that amplify the ambivalence found in the first gloss. At his most neutral, he is simply sermo. At his most pejorative, he is guile and fraud. Consider, by way of example, Remigius’ remarks on the image of Mercury as the Egyptian god Thoth, which, incised on a tablet, Erigone presents to Philology: Quidam hanc tabulam sub figura artis negotiatoriae exponunt. Mercurius namque dicitur quasi mercatorum kyrrios, id est dominus. Erigone autem custos domus Cylleniae ipsam artem negotiatoriam significat; quae habet formam et imaginem petasi, quia omnis negotiator velocissime omnes terras et regiones amore pecuniae motu quasi quoddam volatile perlustrat. Habet serpentes quia negotiatorum lingua venenosa est ad fallendum. 21. Following each quotation from the Commentum I shall add a reference to the part of the De nuptiis that Remigius is commenting on. I shall depart from my own earlier (and standard) practice of referring to a Latin work by book and section, and, to facilitate cross-reference with the printed glosses, shall instead follow Lutz and refer to page and line.

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Habet virgam quasi ipsam artem quae primo introitu quasi pulchra videtur, in processu vilescit, quod per glaucum significatur colorem, in fine ad mortem deducit, quod per piceum colorem demonstratur. (1:194; on DN 72.4) Some interpret the writing tablet as a figure for the art of commerce because Mercury is said to be the patron of merchants. Erigone, who is the mistress of Mercury’s household, in fact herself signifies this art, which here has the form of [an ibis wearing] a traveler’s hat because merchants, driven by the love of money, are like winged creatures in the way they pass across all the lands and regions of the earth. Mercury is also depicted holding snakes, signifying that the speech of merchants is filled with the venom of deceit. He also carries a [three-colored] staff, [golden at the top] because this art at first seems attractive, grey in the middle, because it gradually induces corruption, and black at the bottom, because it will eventually lead to death.

From stating that the writing tablet suggests Mercury’s association with merchants, Remigius reads a mercantile significance into absolutely all of the god’s accoutrements and goes so far as to invent an art that is the opposite of liberal, the ars negotiatoria, which rests not on amor rationis but amor pecuniae, entails speech of venomous effect, and leads not to the transfiguration celebrated in the De nuptiis but simply to death. Elsewhere in this same gloss on Thoth, this mercantile guile elides into an equally devious forensic expertise: pulcherrimum os id est rostrum. Facundia enim rhetorum pulchra est. . . . implexio gemini serpentis. Per geminos serpentes venenosa et acuta rhetorum facundia accipitur. gemini autem ideo quia sermo rhetorum damnat et liberat. (1:193; on DN 71.20) “Very beautiful” refers to the face, implying that the eloquence of orators is itself beautiful. . . . And the twin serpents of “In the embrace of twin serpents” suggest that this eloquence is also poisonous and cutting. “Twin” because the speech of orators both damns and liberates.

Metonymically associated with mercatores, those who debate in the forum to condemn or acquit are merchants of words, their mastery of eloquence always poisonous beneath the sheen of its abundance. This emphasis on beauty inextricably binds deceit with verbal finesse and serves to caution against the seductive potential of highly rhetorical language. In glossing the reasons for


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inviting the god Fraus to the wedding, Remigius states that practitioners of the ars rhetorica very often deceive even as they profess to enlighten: Ideo Fraus recepta est ad deorum nuptias quia fautrix erat Mercurio, quod ideo fingitur quia ars rhetorica plerumque fraudulenter decipit et verisimilia pro veris persuadet; mercatoribus etiam quorum deus est Mercurius semper est fraus familiaris. (1:118; on DN 28.18) Fraud is a guest at the wedding of the gods because she was once patroness of Mercury. Her presence implies that the art of rhetoric is very often false and deceptive and can substitute plausibility for truth. And fraud is no stranger to merchants, the god of whom is Mercury himself.

These reservations certainly apply to forensic oratory, which, predicated on the art of persuasion rather than any necessary defense of truth, may employ beautiful words to disguise plausible fiction as unassailable fact and circumvent any absolute conception of justice. But they also open other vistas for interpretation, already adumbrated early in the glosses on book 1. This is how Remigius explains Mercury’s choice of Sophia as his bride: sophiam is est sapientiam quam veluti quandam virginem introducit amatam a Mercurio quia non numquam sermo facundiae speciem praetendit sapientiae. (1:75; on DN 6.20) “Sophia” that is wisdom, which is here introduced as a young woman loved by Mercury to suggest that eloquent speech sometimes makes claim to wisdom of some kind.

Copious speech (“sermo facundiae”) searches for a type of wisdom (“species sapientiae”), presumably in an effort to become the vehicle for a virtuous, ethical, or philosophic message. As Remigius indicates through the nonchalant “non nunquam,” this is of course not always the case, implying that the eloquent sometimes pursue copious diction for its own sake. He makes this point more explicit when giving his explanation for Sophia’s refusal: et ad innubas ipsa quoque transisse innubas id est virgines, virtutes videlicet, quia sapientia nullam admittit corruptionem. Quod ergo Sophia non vult copulari Mercurio hoc significat quia, licet sermo magnum sit ornamentum rationalis creaturae, sapientia tamen superfluum verborum

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ornatum respuit. Non quidem amari refugit sed immoderatae verbositati misceri non consentit. (1:75; on DN 7.2) “And she passes over to join the other unmarried girls”: “unmarried girls” here means virgins, that is the Virtues, [and Sophia joins them] because wisdom will not admit corruption of any kind. Sophia’s refusal to be united in marriage to Mercury signifies that, even though speech may be the great ornament of rational creatures, wisdom rejects words laden with superfluous ornamentation. This is not to say that she rules out the possibility of being loved. Rather, she will not consent to being joined with verbal excess.

Remigius in this case defines Mercury as not simply speech, but superfluus verborum ornatus and immoderata verbositas—verbal ornamentation, therefore, that tends to excess. But the implications here are not entirely negative. Though tending to superfluity, Mercury himself strives to signify. As Remigius explains, excess can be tempered by virtue and, indeed, wisdom: Et bene Cyllenio Virtus dicitur adhaerere quia sermo per se vagus et nullius est utilitatis nisi virtute sibi inhaerente roboretur. (1:81; on DN 8.21) Virtue is rightly said to cling to Mercury because in itself speech is vain and useless and must be strengthened by some inherent virtue. Notandum quod Virtutem semper dicit inhaerere Cyllenio, sermo enim facundiae, quamvis ex se ornatus et clarus sit, nisi tamen virtute sapientiae moderetur, vagus et pene nullius utilitatis deprehenditur. (1:82; on DN 9.10) It is to be noted that Virtue is always said to cling to Mercury because eloquent discourse, however ornate and brilliant in and of itself, will turn out empty and practically useless unless moderated by the virtue of wisdom.

Mercury, then, cannot become the medium for sapientia in his present excessive guise, but his eventual consort, Philology, will assure his transfiguration. In fact it is only as an initial premise that Remigius posits Mercury as the superfluus verborum ornatus that wisdom avoids. As his interpretation of the wedding progresses, he modifies the terms of this antithetical relationship: Plerumque ergo dum philosophi, posthabita ratione, immoderatius cultui sermonis insistunt et minus inquirendae veritatis studium gerunt, Pallas


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quae typum tenet aeternae sapientiae quaeque solius rationis curam non verborum gerit fugere videtur. Illa autem fugiente corona septem radiorum aperitur quia cum sapientia verborum ornatum neglegit, septem liberalium artium scientia demonstratur. Non ergo detrectat Pallas nuptias Mercurii et Philologiae sed interesse recusat quia sapientes debent quidem facundiae et eloquentiae studium habere, plus tamen inquirendae veritati operam dare. (1:113; on DN 25.14) Often philosophers show no moderation in pursuing the cult of speech and, laying reason aside, neglect to turn their studies toward inquiring into the truth. Pallas, who represents eternal wisdom, [here enacts the opposite] as she is portrayed fleeing, concerned not with words, but reason alone. While she flees her “seven-spiked crown” opens, meaning that knowledge of the seven liberal arts will only be possible if wisdom rejects verbal excess. It is not that Pallas criticizes the marriage of Mercury and Philology. Rather she chooses not to be involved because the wise should give only limited attention to the study of eloquence and should instead devote most of their energy to inquiring into the truth.

Remigius reads the goddess’s retreat as an allegory that inverts regrettable scholarly practice: unlike the dedicated philosophers suggested by Pallas, some abandon the search for truth and indulge in a discourse of immoderate ornamentation. That reason is often repudiated (“posthabita ratione”) suggests that an alternative fable of conjunction exists in which Philology is ignored altogether; and, faithful to the copulative terms of the narrative he glosses, Remigius grants this displacing principle a female identity: Mercurius iuxta deliramentum fabularum adhuc adolescentulus fertur cum Venere concubuisse, de qua natus est Ermafroditus, quod est nomen compositum a Mercurio et Venere, nam Grece Mercurius Ermes dicitur, Venus autem Afrodite vocatur. . . . Ermafroditus autem significat quandam sermonis lascivitatem, qua plerumque neglecta veritatis ratione superfluus sermonis ornatus requiritur. Dicebat ergo se Iuno metuere ne iterum ad amplexus Veneris Mercurius vellet redire et Ermafrodito alium fratrem procreare, ideoque debere nuptias Philologiae accelerari. (1:107–8; on DN 22.16) According to crazed fables, Mercury, when still an adolescent, is supposed to have slept with Venus, who gave birth to Hermaphroditus. This name is a composite of Mercury and Venus, since Mercury is called Hermes in

Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii


Greek and Venus is called Aphrodite. . . . Hermaphroditus signifies a particular lasciviousness of speech that obtains when the reasoned search for truth is neglected and the superfluous adornment of speech above all pursued. Juno claims she feared Mercury might want to return to the embraces of Venus and father another brother for Hermaphroditus, and so she announced that his wedding to Philology should be completed as quickly as possible.

Remigius has expanded Martianus’ passing allusions to the offspring of Hermes and Aphrodite to create a counter-paradigm to the conjunction of reason and speech. Taking verbal finery, superfluus sermonis ornatus, as one of his distinguishing attributes, Hermaphroditus has inherited the most salient trait of Mercury, who is spurned by Sophia specifically because he is superfluus verborum ornatus and immoderata verbositas. But he also partakes of that all-defining characteristic of his mother, lascivitas. He is ornamental language that is not just copious and unbounded, but pleasurable. The terms in which Remigius identifies this sensual register anticipate and clarify his slightly later reference to the ornamental excesses of some speculative writers: “Ermafroditus autem significat quandam sermonis lascivitatem, qua plerumque neglecta veritatis ratione superfluus sermonis ornatus requiritur” > “plerumque ergo dum philosophi, posthabita ratione, immoderatius cultui sermonis insistunt.” They also find resonance in his earlier commentary on the written practice of Martianus Capella himself: Capella dictus est ab acumine ingenii, capella enim ceteris animalibus acutius videt. . . . Vel Capella vocatus est a petulantia et lascivia poetali ad quam se relicta philosophia transtulit. Poetarum enim est ludere et lascivire, philosophorum autem rerum veritatem subtili ratione investigare. (1:66; Introduction) He is called “Capella” [she-goat] because of his acute intelligence. . . . The goat, after all, sees more acutely than all other animals. Or he gets his name from the playful pleasures of poetry, to which he transferred his attention after leaving philosophy aside. Poets play and appeal to the senses, while philosophers, applying subtle reasoning, investigate the truth of things.

Martianus abandons philosophy for the lasciviousness of poetry, here to be understood in its extended classical meaning of creative writing in general. In this, he is similar to those philosophers Remigius later describes neglecting


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the search for truth in favor of the “cultus sermonis.” Further, the linguistic register Martianus espouses is a context for “petulantia et lascivia,” synonyms for the free-play of the senses later identified as the distinguishing attribute of hermaphroditic speech (“Ermafroditus autem significat quandam sermonis lascivitatem”). Evidently, since these remarks on Martianus’ written practice act as a prelude to the Commentum in Martianum Capellam, it is quite reasonable to apply the polarities of poetry and philosophy to the De nuptiis itself. Under these circumstances, the expositions on the arts would be the writings of the philosopher, and the fabula of the wedding would represent the playful, pleasurable domain of the poet. But this should not be taken to imply that Remigius considers the fabula of Mercury and Philology to be the type of lascivious writing he associates with Hermaphroditus. Martianus is certainly similar to those who pursue the cult of extreme ornamentation in that he appeals to the senses. But he is different in one crucial respect. While delinquent philosophers reject reason altogether (“posthabita ratione, immoderatius cultui sermonis insistunt”), Martianus employs his writing as a medium through which reason itself can be articulated. As Remigius would have it, preparing to explain the meaning of the personified categories: Volens ergo disputare de VII liberalibus artibus, composuit hanc fabulam de nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, non tamen absque magni ingenii ratione. (1:66; Introduction) Wishing to expound on the seven liberal arts, he composed this fable about the wedding of Philology and Mercury, and he did so not without showing great reason and intellect.

The first two books of the De nuptiis, then, display some of the playful, enjoyable qualities Remigius associates with Hermaphroditus, but they remain very much a vehicle for intellectual expression. And, as Remigius understands, Martianus manifests his magni ingenii ratio to a magisterial degree by recognizing that Pallas and all she represents must be complemented by the influence of Venus. Remigius sees this complementarity at work in both the thematic and formal structures of his paradigm. As observed in the previous chapter, in the De nuptiis Voluptas argues the importance of the senses when she interrupts the dreadful drone of Geometry and states the obvious: academic lectures are

Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii


inappropriate to a gathering designed to create an ambiance of pleasure and sensual anticipation. Yet it is the stultifying intellectual excess of Geometry and her scholarly sisters that creates the conditions in which Voluptas, Cupid, Iocus, and Venus finally break their silence and begin to influence the course of the wedding. The senses, then, become more powerful precisely because efforts are made to keep them in check, and they come to function as a necessary foil to the arts. Remigius is quite aware of this interdependence. Witness the most incisive of his many definitions of the marriage: Per Philologiam, ut notum est, amor rationis significatur, per Mercurium vero verborum facundia, ac per hoc per ipsius Mercurii et Philologiae nuptias iunctura rationis verborumque significatur, hoc est dialectica et rhetorica. His enim duabus omnem sapientem perfectum constare manifestum est. His enim nuptiis omnes contrariae potestates, quae per Furias significari possunt, resistere conantur. (2:175–76; on DN 364.14) As has been noted, the love of reason is signified by Philology and copious diction is signified by Mercury. Thus the wedding of Mercury and Philology resolves into the conjunction of reason and words, that is dialectic and rhetoric. Clearly, the consummate wise man realizes himself through these two principles. All those opposing forces that could here be represented by the Furies try to resist this union.

Remigius in this instance defines the union of Mercury and Philology as a marriage of two categories that lose their discrete identity to become one, rhetoric and dialectic inextricably intermingled through iunctura. A union of this type is difficult to achieve, and it must overcome contrariae potestates variously glossed as furiae and vitia. One of these vicious furies is an excessive intellectual zeal that Remigius first broaches in his comments on the outraged words of Voluptas: Lex ista in qua Pallas consistit non est Hymeneia, id est non pertinet ad deum nuptiarum, nam non convenit ut Pallas habeat partem in agro Veneris. (2:174; on DN 363.17) The law over which Pallas presides is not that of Hymenaeus, that is, does not pertain to the god of marriage. It is not suitable that Pallas should play a role in the realm of Venus.


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Timebat Voluptas quodam modo ne Cyllenius intentus artibus a voluptate nuptiali deficeret. (2:174; on DN 363.21) Voluptas is somehow afraid that Mercury, intent on the arts, may be deficient in the pleasures of the wedding.

Cast into a nuptial assembly, Pallas and the arts themselves become contrariae potestates. Tending toward periergia, they act as impediments to consummation and must be forced to step aside so that Venus can oversee the final stages of the wedding. Thus the realms of Venus and Pallas must be allowed to complement one another. Or, to rephrase in terms of their epistemological implications, the language of the poet must alleviate the potential aridity of scholasticism. The most obvious way this complementarity can be achieved has already been intimated. By stating that Martianus abandoned philosophy in order to devote himself to the pleasures of poetry, Remigius implicitly distinguishes between the two textual registers found in the De nuptiis, and, by asserting that intellectual excess must be avoided, he implies that this adoption of poetry was a conscious choice designed to make the books on the liberal arts more palatable. But juxtaposition is not the only form of complementarity Remigius reads into his paradigm. To emphasize this point, he retains one of the personified categories he sees in the conjunction of Venus and Mercury, while literalizing the other. Late in the glosses, he states that Satyra (the Satura of the printed editions) is the author of the mythological fabula: “fabulam lusit satyra, id est ludendo composuit” (2:367; on DN 533.12). This, it turns out, is not the only part of the De nuptiis for which she is responsible. She also, apparently, sings the hymn to Hymenaeus that begins book 1: “Tu quem psallentem thalamis Introducitur hoc loco quaedam Satyra Martiani amica hos versus in honorem Hymenei cecinisse” (1:67; on DN 3.5). We can later infer that it is with some justice, and with admirable qualification, that Satyra celebrates the god of marriage, since she is his wife under her alternative name of Cypris: “satyra id est Cypris uxor Hymenei, a saturitate dicta quasi divitiarum dea” (2:127; on DN 287.7). Further, and rather startlingly, we shortly after also learn that Cypris is none other than Venus herself: “Cypris Venus uxor Hymenei, dicta a Cypro insula ubi praecipue colitur” (2:131–32; on DN 290.17). Venus, therefore, is not simply a character who appears in the tale of the wedding. In her alternative guise of Satyra, she is also its author. Or, again to quote Remigius, “fabulam lusit satyra, id est ludendo composuit.”

Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii


Accordingly Remigius identifies Venus as the true creative presence behind the text, a sensual muse who actually dictates the tale of Mercury and Philology to her chosen scribe, Martianus Capella. The goddess of love in effect becomes the patron deity of the story and creates a new form of textual hermaphroditism. Although not the physical product of another mythological union of Hermes and Aphrodite, the fable is nonetheless “hermaphroditic” because created by Aphrodite from sermo, facundia, eloquentia, from the verbal categories with which Hermes, the Mercury of the text, is at one time or another equated. It is the second progeny of sensuality and speech, a textual brother to Hermaphroditus, but one that shows none of the negative characteristics of the elder sibling, since, by creating this alternative hermaphroditism, Venus in fact comes to the aid of those philosophers against whom she seems starkly contrasted. Certainly, she is not the tutelary deity of “the investigation into the truth of things.” Indeed, her textual realm appears the very antonym of such a project: “fabulam lusit satyra, id est ludendo composuit.” But, as Remigius points out, this playful, fabulous domain can be employed as a vehicle through which the conclusions of the philosopher’s quest may be conveyed. These are his comments on Martianus’ declaration that he will personify the arts as handmaidens at the wedding: nil mentiamur, inquit id est vera dicamus sub ipso figmento fabularum. et vestiantur id est adornentur, artes per fictionem poeticam. (2:2; on DN 81.17) “In no way do I lie, he says”: that is he is telling the truth beneath the figment of fable. “And they are clothed”: that is the arts are adorned in poetic fiction.

By recognizing that the apparent lie of fiction is an integument beneath which the truth of philosophical speculation can find an effective, articulate voice, Remigius adds another function to fable. Not only is it a necessary complement to the sober scholasticism of the seven liberal arts. Because it is the device that allows the arts to be personified as young women, it becomes a vehicle for truth and not simply its desirable foil. Remigius’ Commentum went on to become a near compulsory handbook to a canonical work that was read in cathedral schools and, later, universities throughout Europe during the early and High Middle Ages. Evidently it exercised its greatest influence in the way the liberal arts were taught, learned, and understood. Yet the importance of Remigius’ remarks on Martianus’ fabula


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cannot be underestimated. They occupy over one third of the total commentary, and they do more than merely clarify how the story of Mercury and Philology may be interpreted. They entail a defense of fiction, conceived not as a devilish snare or a shameful inanity, but as a supple medium for reasoned speculation. This defense was itself no doubt read, interpreted, and discussed in later centuries, plausibly to have become an inspiration for authors who, like the Martianus of Remigius’ glosses, chose to combine the roles of philosopher and poet and to use fiction as a means to investigate the truth of things. One philosopher who did indeed employ poetria as a vehicle for speculative thought was Alain de Lille, the doctor universalis of Neo-Platonic poetry and one of the most influential minds of the twelfth-century renaissance. However, before considering his De planctu Naturae, one of the other great prosimetra of the Middle Ages, it is apposite to address the extraordinary innovations that were being made in the domain of fabula by one of Alain’s contemporaries, William of Malmesbury.

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William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum: Empowering Remnants of Ancient Rome

Martianus first mentions Venus in the De nuptiis when describing the gods as they assemble to determine a suitable wife for Mercury: quam et conspicere nitentem et fantem audire dulcis illecebras et attrahere flagrantissimi spiritus halatibus redolentem et osculis lambere et contingere corpore eiusque uelles cupidine suspirare. (1.85) You would want to gaze at her in her resplendent beauty, to listen to her as she spoke her words of sweet seduction, to pull her toward you in the scent of her panting breath, to taste her kisses, to touch her body, to sigh in your desire.

Remigius glosses these remarks as an exercise in ekphrasis: through a “beautiful transfer of sense” (“pulchra translatio”), the apostrophized second person of the verb “velle” is put into the position of someone who is actually present (“aliquis qui adesset”) to witness Venus’ loveliness and to experience the goddess as an object of pleasure that delights the senses of sight (“voluptas oculorum”), hearing (“aurium voluptas”), smell (“voluptas olfactus”), and touch (“illecebra tactus”).1 1. “velles id est vellet aliquis qui adesset, et est pulchra translatio a tertia persona ad secundam. velles illam conspicere nitentem id est fulgentem. Hoc ad voluptatem oculorum pertinet. et audire fantem id est loquentem, dulces illecebras hoc est voluptuosa laetificaque verba. Hoc ad aurium voluptatem et attrahere id est odorari, redolentem halati-


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The terms voluptas and illecebra that Remigius uses to designate these sensual responses are standard to the medieval Latin lexicon as signifiers for carnal delight and lust, respectively. The register of voluptas is stronger than that conveyed by its modern English adjectival derivation,2 and illecebra implies physical desire of extreme intensity. For example, in the anecdote that immediately precedes “The Statue and the Ring,” William of Malmesbury uses the latter term in the last of the several titles he lends the witch/prostitute3 bus fragrantissimi spiritus hoc est ad voluptatem olfactus. et osculis lambere id est demulcere, et contingere corpore hoc pertinet ad illecebram tactus. velles suspirare id est ardere et inhiare, cupidine eius id est amore” (1:135). 2. Consider Augustine’s remarks on voluptas and carnal delight in De civitate Dei 14.15: “Preceding pleasure of the senses is a certain longing that is felt in the flesh as a desire particular to it. Examples are hunger and thirst and the urge residing in the genitals, which is usually called lust, though this latter is a generic term that can be used for any type of cupidity” (“Voluptatem praecedit appetitus quidam, qui sentitur in carne quasi cupiditas ejus, sicut fames et sitis, et est quae in genitalibus usitatius libido nominatur, cum hoc sit generale vocabulum omnis cupiditatis”). 3. That the woman in question is a witch is clear: she is “maleficiis insueta” and “auguriorum veterum non inscia” (2.204, as all subsequent cases). However, she is also an expert in “petulantia” and “flagitium,” reprobate, though enjoyable acts that have nothing necessarily to do with magic, and she uses her “jackdaw” (which can talk) as a device for administering these delights (“cornicula quam in deliciis habebat”). Moreover, when, one day while she is engaged in the unthreatening and non-necromantic activity of entertaining a guest at her place (“cum quadam die convivaretur”), she hears of her impending death, the “knife” (“coulter”?) this “domina” has been handling falls from her hand (“dominae cultellus de manu excidit”) and she ambiguously proclaims “ad ultimum sulcum meum pervenit aratrum”—either “my plough has arrived at its last furrow” or “the plough has arrived at my furrow for the last time.” The use of ploughing as a metaphor for sex (with the coulter representing the male organ and the furrow the female) is found elsewhere in twelfth-century letters (most notably, in Alain de Lille’s De planctu Naturae), and this opens the possibility of lending all of these terms an erotic interpretation. The end of the tale also implies prostitution. The woman goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid infernal torture: she has herself sewn alive into the hide of a deer and placed in a stone sarcophagus; she has the lid sealed with lead and iron and held fast by a massive stone secured by three iron chains; and she has fifty psalms sung for her by night and fifty masses by day. All is in vain, however. On the third night, while the celebrant priests look on with their hair standing on end and their voices stuck in their throats (“steteruntque comae et vox faucibus haesit”), a demon of dread appearance enters the church, breaks open the sarcophagus, drags the woman outside, and impales her on the back of a black horse bristling with iron spikes. This gruesome torture is, perhaps, meant as a punishment perceived to befit the prostitute’s trade. The final tableau of a woman riding a mount also corresponds with the ending of “The Statue and the Ring,” which immediately follows and itself ends on a note of prostitution: here, Venus, clad as a whore, rides a mule and makes her profession clear through obscene gestures.

William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum


of Berkeley: she is “gulae patrona” (“Patroness of the Throat”), “petulantiae arbitra flagitiis non ponens modum” (“Arbitra of Passion placing no Limits on Lewdness”) and, with final concision, “illecebrarum magistra” (“Mistress of Carnalities”). Elsewhere in the Gesta regum, William uses this same vocabulary of concupiscence when making one of his few autobiographical remarks. The following is the beginning of the prologue to book 2: Diu est quod, et parentum cura, et meapte diligentia, libris insuevi. Haec me voluptas jam inde a pueritia cepit; haec illecebra mecum parilibus adolevit annis. (2.Prologue) It has been a long time now that, through the care of my parents and my own application, I have grown used to books. Their seductions seized me as early as my childhood and their intense pleasures have grown old to match my advancing years.

These are forceful words from a man of monastic vocation, for whom the physical realities of voluptas and illecebra were proscribed. Yet they outline a relationship of displaced passion. In the absence of lovers of any kind, books became William’s lifetime partners, seducing him at an early age and metaphorically tending to his needs as he grew older. And, clearly, it was not only as a reader that William enjoyed these pleasures. From the simple evidence of his bibliographic output, he undoubtedly also took delight in the production of books of his own. It is not coincidental that these remarks on the pleasures of reading and writing come from the prologue to the section of the work that contains William’s anecdotes. The prefatory emphasis the historian places upon the voluptas and illecebra that books have to offer serves as a general rubric to his own relationship with the traditionally proscribed allurements of fiction, particularly as they are negotiated in that other story of displaced passion, in which the Roman bridegroom finds himself haunted by a remnant of classical culture. “The Statue and the Ring” is a densely allusive riddle that carries within it semantic markers pointing to clarifying coordinates elsewhere in the work. Like “The Statue and the Ring,” the anecdote of the woman of Berkeley continued to be known in subsequent centuries. For example, Jules Michelet mentions it in the notes to his celebrated history of witchcraft, La sorcière,139, n. 1: “Voir la fin de la sorcière de Berkeley dans Guillaume de Malmesbury.”


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The most obvious of these is the ring itself, which is complemented by a staff at the end of the tale (more of this later). William introduces these empowering insignia two sections before the anecdote, although in a context that at first sight appears to have little to do with the pagan goddess of love. The section concerns the papal tenure of Gregory VI, and it is as much a fiction as the story of the bridegroom. William, it would appear, deliberately conflates two popes, making the obscure and fleeting papacy of Gregory VI reflect the assertive reforms instituted later in the eleventh century by Gregory VII.4 According to William, at the time of this composite Gregory’s accession Rome had degenerated into a den of thieves and murderers, and the new pontiff ’s response to civic unrest was as energetic as it was simple: he formed a militia and removed all those who threatened the power of the Apostolic See. This action was unpopular among the patrician inhabitants of the city, who had financially benefited from the former anarchy, and they accused Gregory of defiling his sacred vocation with the blood of others. The cardinals agreed and determined that the pope should not be buried in St. Peter’s alongside his predecessors. This is part of Gregory’s response: “Laudatus est olim praedicandae memoriae praedecessor noster Adrianus primus, quod investituras ecclesiarum Karolo Magno concesserit, ita ut nullus electus consecraretur ab episcopo nisi prius a rege insigniretur et anulo et baculo: contra, laudatur in nostri saeculi pontificibus quod has donationes tulerunt principibus. Poterat tunc rationabiliter concedi, quod nunc rationabiliter debet auferri. Cur ita? Quia erat animus Magni adversus avaritiam invictus, nec facile invenisset aditum aliquis nisi intrasset per ostium; praeterea, per tot terrarum interstitia nequibat requiri sedes apostolica ut unicuique electo assensum commendaret suum, dum esset prope rex qui nihil per avaritiam disponeret, sed juxta sacra canonum scita religiosas personas ecclesiis introduceret. Nunc omnia palatia regum luxus et ambitus occupavit; quare merito libertatem suam sponsa Christi asseverat, ne illam tyrannus ambitioso usurpatori prostituat.” (2.202) “My predecessor Adrian I, whose actions are to be cited as a precedent, was once praised for conceding ecclesiastical investitures to Charles the Great, with the effect that no elected churchman could be consecrated by any bishop whom the king had not ratified with the signs of the ring and 4. For general information on William’s treatment of Gregory VI, see Gesta regum Anglorum, ed. William Stubbs, 2:lxxxiii-v.

William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum


the staff. In contrast to this, the pontiffs of our own time have been praised for taking this power of donation away from secular rulers. Therefore, what could once be reasonably conceded is now of necessity taken away. Why should this be so? It is because the spirit of Charles was not to be overcome by avarice and would only entertain the advice of those prepared to state their case in a straightforward manner. Moreover, if the Apostolic See could in the past dispense with the impractical necessity of approving every ecclesiastical election made in distant territories, it was only because there was a king who would never delegate power through avarice and who granted individuals of religious vocation Church appointments strictly according to the sacred edicts of the Canons. Now, however, luxury and ambition have come to dominate every royal palace, and it is for this reason that the Spouse of Christ has affirmed its independence, thereby avoiding the possibility of being prostituted by a tyrant to some ambitious usurper.

Denying the right of ecclesiastical investiture to the monarch who still lays claim to the title “Imperator Romanus,” Gregory represents the modern Church circumventing a secular power that has attempted to arrogate ecclesiastical prerogatives. With gender roles reversed, “The Statue and the Ring” is a fictional enactment of precisely the kind of error the papacy has avoided. While the pope has reappropriated the ring and staff to assure the Church again be “Sponsa Christi” and not concubine to a representative of the Empire, the young bride finds it impossible to free her spouse from the illicit embrace of yet another remnant of the Roman past. Accordingly, Venus and the Empire enter a relationship of analogy with one another: they are introduced in closely positioned narratives; and both, with vastly different degrees of success, lay claim to symbols of spousal devotion that belong elsewhere. As goddess of love, Venus obviously represents a particular aspect of pagan sensuality and, as an object of art, incarnates a classical aesthetic that medieval Christian culture had proscribed as indecent if not demonic. In a travelogue he wrote after visiting Rome sometime around the middle of the twelfth century, an English contemporary of William, also called Gregory, attests to the tangible survival of pagan iconography and to the concerted (though not entirely successful) program of moral sanitation that had been instituted to counter its baleful effects: Nunc uero pauca subiciam de signis marmoreis, que pene omnes a beato Gregorio aut delete aut deturpate sunt. Quarum unam propter eximie


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pulcritudinis speciem primum referam. Hec autem ymago a Romanis Ueneri dedicata fuit in ea forma in qua iuxta fabulam cum Iunone et Pallade Paridi in temerario examine dicitur Uenus se nudam exhibuisse. Quam temerarius arbiter intuens inquid: “Iudicio nostro uincit utramque Uenus.” Hec autem ymago ex Pario marmore tam miro et inexplicabili perfecta est artificio ut magis uiua creatura uideatur quam statua: erubescenti etenim nuditatem suam similis, faciem purpureo colore perfusam gerit. Videturque comminus aspicientibus in niueo ore ymaginis sanguinem natare. Hanc autem propter mirandam speciem et nescio quam magicam persuasionem ter coactus sum uisere, cum ab hospicio meo duobus stadiis distaret.5 Now I shall add a few words on marble images, which have been almost completely destroyed or cleansed of their indecency by the Blessed Gregory. I shall first describe one of them in recognition of its extraordinary beauty. This statue was dedicated by the Romans to Venus in the form in which, according to the fabulous tale, she is said to have revealed herself naked to Paris during her fearless contest with Juno and Pallas. When the man called on to arbitrate looked at her, he declared with absolutely no hesitation: “It is my judgment that Venus triumphs over each of the others.” This image is of Parian marble and has been crafted to such miraculous and inexplicable perfection that it seems a living creature rather than a statue. She appears to be blushing at her nakedness, her face suffused with a reddish color, and, when inspected at close range, her snowy-white lips look as though they have blood flowing through them. Because of this astonishing beauty and the promptings of some obscure magic, I was three times obliged to go and gaze at this statue, located as it was half a mile away from my lodgings.

A statue such as this was a practically unheard-of license at the time. Representations of the naked Eve did exist, in two and three dimensions, yet they were subsumed into a Christian iconography and often placed at a height disobliging to rapt inspection.6 The Roman Venus, on the other hand, is an openly displayed icon of naked sex that cannot be recuperated by any theocentric gloss. To Gregory, she exists solely as an object of bewitching pleasure, 5. Magister Gregorius, De mirabilibus urbis Romae, 548. 6. For a convenient selection of Romanesque examples, see plates 108, 110 and 112 in Gérard de Champeaux and Sébastien Sterckx, Introduction au monde des symboles.

William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum


so much so, indeed, that the English cleric, captivated by a force he disingenuously identifies as “nescio qua magica persuasio,” makes a highly secular pilgrimage three times just to gaze at her. The statue of the Gesta regum also has aesthetic implications, although associated with the verbal rather than the plastic arts. At a slightly earlier stage in his work William provides another Roman tale. Its protagonist is Gerbert of Aurillac in the guise of the allegedly necromantic pope, Silvester II, and it involves a motif that will by now be familiar: Erat juxta Romam in campo Martio statua, aerea an ferrea incertum mihi, dexterae manus indicem digitum extentum habens, scriptum quoque in capite “Hic percute.” (2.169) On the outskirts of Rome, on the Campus Martius, there was a statue, either of bronze or iron (I am not sure which). It was pointing with a finger of its right hand and also had written on its head “Strike Here.”

Interpreting this command literally, many treasure hunters had struck the statue on the head, only to find their search for gold impeded by obdurate metal. Yet the directions in fact referred to the spot on the ground indicated by the finger at noon. This Gerbert understood, and, returning that night with one of his servants, he excavated the ground as directed and came upon an underground vault containing the storied treasure of Octavian. This tale of lateral thinking provides an intertextual allusion to the antecedent that codifies an analogue to the hermeneutic skill exhibited by Gerbert. The outstretched finger not only indicates a spot on the ground to be excavated, and thereby a displaced signified. It also points toward the gesturing figure of Augustine as he describes himself pointing at the stars in the prologue to his treatise on metaphorical displacement, the De doctrina Christiana: Illis qui haec quae scribimus non intelligunt, hoc dico: me ita non esse reprehendendum, quia haec non intelligunt: tanquam si lunam veterem uel novam sidusve aliquod minime clarum vellent videre, quod ego intento digito demonstrarem; illis autem nec ad ipsum digitum meum videndum sufficiens esset acies oculorum, non propterea mihi succensere deberent. Illi vero qui etiam istis praeceptis cognitis atque perceptis, ea quae in divinis Scripturis obscura sunt intueri nequiverint, arbitrentur se digitum


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quidem meum videre posse, sidera vero quibus demonstrandis intenditur, videre non posse.7 To those who do not understand what I am writing, I say this: it is hardly my fault if they do not understand. It is as if they wish to see the old or new moon or some faintly shining star that I am pointing at with my outstretched finger, but find their sharpness of vision insufficient even to see the finger itself. They should not fly into a rage with me for that. And as for those who, even knowing and understanding these precepts of mine, fail carefully to look at the obscure parts of the Holy Scriptures, they can be likened to people who are able to see my finger but cannot see the stars it is pointing at.

By transforming the pointing Augustine of the De doctrina into a statue that Gerbert sees pointing only to indicate the most expeditious path to wealth, William charges Gerbert with a literate self-interest that is a perversion of caritas and makes the tale of the Campus Martius into a warning against clerical hubris: elected by God to use his learning to further the knowledge of those who lack education of any kind, Gerbert instead exploited his talents to promote his personal ambitions, to amass riches unbecoming an ecclesiastic, and ultimately to engage in demonic dealings of a figurative nature.8 The indices that bind this tale and “The Statue and the Ring” are unmistakable. Most obviously, both involve the obtrusive presence of a pointing statue. Further, William begins his story of the bridegroom with the resonant “Verum ut Romam revertar” (“But let me return to Rome”). This comment in the first instance refers to the papal tenure of Gregory VI, which is brought to closure two sections earlier. But “The Statue and the Ring” also displays a semantic marker that points back to the even earlier Roman tale of Gerbert: the bridegroom encounters a classical statue “that can be felt but cannot be seen” (“quod posset sentiri nec posset videri”), and, in a near-precise semantic and grammatical reversal, Gerbert, as he descends into the underground vault, encounters classical statues, among which “there was nothing that can be touched even though it can be seen” (“nihil erat quod posset tangi etsi posset videri”).9 Yet these analogies are made only to underscore the extent to which 7. The text is from Migne, Patrologia latina, vol. 34, cols. 15–122; here Proem. From now on this work will be designated as the De doctrina; reference will be to book and section. 8. For more details, see chapter 1 of Glamorous Sorcery. 9. The passage reads in full: “Conspicantur ingentem regiam, aureos parietes, aurea lacunaria, aurea omnia; milites aureos aureis tesseris quasi animum oblectantes; regem metallicum

William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum


the transfer of power is reversed in the later of the stories. While Gerbert gains wealth and prestige by appropriating the classical knowledge Augustine designates as figurative silver and gold to be directed to the Christian cause, here it is the remnant of the pagan legacy itself that is empowered, and with sterile effects. The icon of Augustine and the statue of Venus are contrived textually to point to one another, and William is inviting the reader to interpret the second in the light of the principles of lateral interpretation that are configured by the first. As goddess of a profane and sensual love, Venus is at the furthest remove from the Christian caritas Augustine preaches, and, as a tangible idol erected by a gentile culture, she gestures toward the passage in which the Church patriarch argues the need to redirect pagan knowledge to the service of God: Sicut enim Aegyptii non tantum idola habebant et onera grauia, quae populus Israhel detestaretur et fugeret, sed etiam uasa atque ornamenta de auro et argento et uestem, quae ille populus exiens de Aegypto sibi potius tamquam ad usum meliorem clanculo uindicauit. . . . Sic . . . etiam liberales disciplinas usui ueritatis aptiores et quaedam morum praecepta utilissima continent deque ipso uno deo colendo nonnulla uera inueniuntur apud eos. (2.40) The Egyptians had not only idols and burdensome figments, which the people of Israel abhorred and rejected, but also vessels and ornaments of gold and silver, and clothing, all of which, when this same people left Egypt, they secretly took for themselves and put to better use. . . . The same should be done with the liberal arts, which fully lend themselves to the expression of Truth, setting down social precepts of great utility and even disclosing a considerable number of truths regarding the worship of the one unique God.

Assessed according to these precepts, the statue of Venus represents the survival of empty pagan artifice, of the “idola,” and “onera grauia” that Augustine later in this same passage characterizes as “simulata et superstitiosa figmenta cum regina discumbentem, apposita obsonia, astantes ministros, pateras multi ponderis et pretii, ubi naturam vincebat opus. In interiori parte domus carbunculus, lapis inprimis nobilis et parvus inventu, tenebras noctis fugabat. In contrario angulo stabat puer, arcum tenens extento nervo et arundine intenta. Ita in omnibus, cum oculos spectantium ars pretiosa raptaret, nihil erat quod posset tangi etsi posset videri” (2.169).


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grauesque sarcinas superuacanei laboris” and balances against the silver and gold of the liberal arts that had been formerly used in the aberrant worship of demons. The De doctrina is of course a treatise on the pagan signifier in which the Christian is urged to study classical texts as paradigms for rhetorical figuration.10 Augustine does not, in the De doctrina itself, explain his attitude toward the pagan signified, those historical or mythological themes as military glory, political intrigue, or love, lust, and seduction that he and his fellow Christians had also inherited from Greco-Roman culture. He does, however, make his views in this respect explicit elsewhere in his writings, with changes in perspective over time. As Sabine MacCormack has demonstrated, Augustine altered his attitude toward classical letters during the forty years in which he wrote as a Christian apologist and, with the pressure of polemical imperative, showed a progressive intolerance in later works.11 In the period immediately following his conversion, Augustine is respectful, if not affectionate, toward the writings on which his pagan education had been founded. For example, in the Contra academicos, composed in northern Italy in 387, he is prepared to lend aspects of the Aeneid an allegorical function, reading the wanderings (“errores”) of Aeneas as a type for his own spiritual failures before he found the love of God;12 and in the De ordine, written in this same decade, he uses the term “reasonable lie” (“rationabile mendacium”) to refer to poetic fictions that can instruct.13 However, in the Confessions, probably completed a little over ten years later, such equanimity disappears. Discussing his boyhood preference for the Aeneid over reading, writing, and arithmetic, Augustine observes: item si quaeram, quid horum maiore vitae huius incommodo quisque obliviscatur, legere et scribere an poetica illa figmenta, quis non videat, quid responsurus sit, qui non est penitus oblitus sui? peccabam ergo puer, cum illa inania istis utilioribus amore praeponebam vel potius ista oderam, illa amabam. iam vero unum et unum duo, duo et duo quattuor odiosa cantio 10. For more comprehensive studies of Augustine’s sign theory, see: Narciso Jubany, “San Agustín y la formación oratoria Cristiana”; Raffaele Simone, “Semiologia agostiniana”; R. A. Markus, “St. Augustine on Signs”; B. Darrell Jackson, “The Theory of Signs in St. Augustine’s De doctrina christiana”; and Marcia L. Colish, The Mirror of Language: A Study of the Medieval Theory of Knowledge, rev. ed., 7–54 (particularly 41–46). 11. Sabine MacCormack, The Shadows of Poetry: Vergil in the Mind of Augustine. 12. Ibid., 48–49. 13. Ibid., 51–54.

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mihi erat et dulcissimum spectaculum vanitatis equus ligneus plenus armatis et Troiae incendium atque ipsius umbra Creusae. cur ergo graecam etiam grammaticam oderam talia cantantem? nam et Homerus peritus texere tales fabellas et dulcissime vanus est et mihi tamen amarus erat puero. 14 If I were to ask which of the following would be the more inconvenient to someone’s life, to forget how to read and write or to forget those poetic figments, who does not see what he would reply, unless he has completely forgotten himself. I therefore sinned as a boy when in my affections I gave greater priority to those frivolities than to those more useful disciplines, or rather when I hated the latter and loved the former. To me it was odious to chant aloud “one and one make two,” or “two and two make four.” Of the greatest sweetness, however, was the empty spectacle of a wooden horse full of armed men and the burning of Troy and even the shade of Creusa. Why, then, did I detest study of the Greek language, which sings of these same things? Homer was skilled at weaving such tales, and, though sweet indeed in his emptiness, to me as a boy he was bitter.

Augustine uses a variety of pejorative terms to reject the narratives of love and war he encountered in the Aeneid: figmenta, things fabricated, contrived, invented; inania, empty frivolities; and spectaculum vanitatis, a spectacle of no substance. Slightly earlier in this same section, he gives an example of the type of fabrication he dismisses, observing that the educated would deny the historical truth of even the relatively sober matter of Aeneas at some point in the past visiting Carthage (“si proponam eis interrogans, utrum verum sit quod Aenean aliquando Carthaginem venisse poeta dicit, indoctiores nescire se respondebunt, doctiores autem etiam negabunt verum esse” [1.13]). Moving from classical texts to their authors, but to the same effect, he characterizes Homer as an expert in crafting a seductive tissue of fabellae, the diminutive of fabula, story, tale, or fiction. Such fables, he maintains, are more than frivolous: they are potentially deadly to the soul of the Christian. As he begins to evaluate his early education, he expresses gratitude for being obliged to master the principles of reading and writing, which, he states, are infinitely better quam illae [litterae] quibus tenere cogebar Aeneae nescio cuius errores oblitus errorum meorum et plorare Didonem mortuam, quia se occidit ab 14. The edition used is that of Martin Skutella, rev. H. Jurgens and W. Schaub, S. Aureli Augustini Confessionum Libri XIII, here 1.13–14.


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amore, cum interea me ipsum in his a te morientem, deus, vita mea, siccis oculis ferrem miserrimus. (1.13) than those texts through which I was made to become acquainted with the wanderings of a certain Aeneas, even as I forgot the extent of my own error, and to cry over the death of Dido, who killed herself out of love. In this I was all the while dying as I strayed from you, O God, my life, and at my utter misery I wept never a tear.

In these reflections on the “errores” (again, at once “errors” and “wanderings”) of his younger years, Augustine looks back at the sympathy he felt for Dido as a living death brought on by denying the life that communion with God would bring. Still deploring his enslavement to these written pleasures, he then shifts register: non te amabam et fornicabar abs te et fornicanti sonabat undique “euge, euge.” amicitia enim mundi huius fornicatio est abs te et “euge euge” dicitur, ut pudeat, si non ita homo sit. et haec non flebam et flebam Didonem extinctam ferroque extrema secutam, sequens ipse extrema condita tua relicto te et terra iens in terram: et si prohiberer ea legere, dolerem, quia non legerem quod dolerem. talis dementia honestiores ut uberiores litterae putantur quam illae, quibus legere et scribere didici. (1.13) I did not love you and I fornicated against you and, as I fornicated, it was to resounding, ubiquitous cries of “well done, well done.” The friendship of this world is fornication against you and “well done” is said in an effort to discourage, in shame, anyone who wishes to live his life differently. I did not weep over this. I wept over Dido, whose life was extinguished as she pursued the extremity of death with the sword. I abandoned you when, as dust returning to dust, I for my part pursued the extremity of degradation in your created order. If I had been forbidden to read the things I mention, I would have grieved that I could not read what gave me grief. Madness of this type is thought to be a more honorable and beneficial form of writing than that through which we are taught to read and write.

To take pleasure in reading of tragic love is to fornicate, here to be interpreted in its widest sense of being swayed by the flesh to reject Divine caritas. Allied with this capitulation to written cupidity are those other, more directly sexual varieties of fornication that Augustine, in this same section of the Confessions,

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describes himself pursuing in his early years in Carthage, the city he refers to as “a skillet of unbridled loves” (“sartago flagitiosorum amorum” [3.1]). In the De civitate Dei, the last great work of his maturity, Augustine remains dismissive, even if his intolerant stance is, at first sight paradoxically, now accompanied by a willingness to treat as factual works he had previously rejected as fictions. This change in position arises from the polemical nature of his undertaking. In celebrating the city of God, Augustine demonizes the gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon and argues that they orchestrated Roman history to their own perverse ends. 15 Accordingly, he not only draws on Livy, Cicero, and particularly Sallust16 (and does so with an evident, if not always explicit, confidence that he is dealing with fact).17 He also reverses the position he had earlier adopted in the Confessions and ascribes historical truth to the principal events of the Aeneid.18 As MacCormack explains: 15. Of the many passages that express these sentiments, the following summary of the material treated in books 1 to 3 of the De civitate Dei is representative of Augustine’s view: “I have so far taken it upon myself to demonstrate that reality was in fact vastly different from what was believed by certain authors who recorded past events. I have also fulfilled the necessary task of revealing that the false gods they openly worshipped or still worship in secret are in fact the most repugnant spirits. These demons are of such extreme malignancy and deceit that they actually take delight in the abominations they are truly or falsely ascribed. It was their desire their crimes be celebrated at the festivals dedicated to them in order to assure that human infirmity, encouraged to imitate by purportedly divine authority, could not be called back from perpetrating similarly damnable acts” (“de libris quos auctores eorum ad cognoscendam praeteritorum temporum historiam memoriae mandauerunt, longe aliter esse quam putant demonstrandum fuit, et simul docendum deos falsos, quos uel palam colebant uel occulte adhuc colunt, eos esse immundissimos spiritus et malignissimos ac fallacissimos daemons usque adeo ut aut ueris aut fictis etiam, suis tamen criminibus delectentur, quae sibi celebrari per sua festa uoluerunt, ut a perpetrandis damnabilibus factis humana reuocari non possit infirmitas, dum ad haec imitanda uelut diuina praebetur auctoritas”). The edition used is that of P. G. Walsh, here. 4.1. 16. For example: 1.5, 1.6 (Sallust’s Catalina); 1.6, 1.15, 1.19, 1.34 (Livy’s Historia ab urbe condita or his Epitome); 1.22 (Cicero’s Tusculanae disputationes). 17. Although he is prepared on occasion to emphasize a given historian’s veracity if it suits his polemical purposes; see, for instance, 1.5, in which Sallust is praised as “nobilitatae ueritatis historicus.” 18. Particularly and logically in the early sections of book 1, which deal with the Trojan origins of the Roman state; 1.2, on the Greek gods taking sides in the Trojan war (with the Aeneid quoted three times); 1.3, on Rome being entrusted to the same gods (the Aeneid again quoted three times); 1.4, on the failure of the gods favoring Troy to protect the city (the Aeneid quoted once); 1.5, on the alleged magnanimity of the Romans in victory (the Aeneid quoted once); 1.19, on Lucretia’s suicide (the Aeneid quoted twice, though here for affective rather than historical purposes).


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[The] validation of Vergil’s vision of Roman origins was inseparable from Augustine’s argument about demons. The demons were present in every aspect of Roman public life, not only by sponsoring stage spectacles, but also fostering the very wars and conflicts in which the Romans displayed their bravery, thereby gaining the renown that they so passionately sought. To fight for glory thus amounted to falling prey to demonic stratagems and incitements. The gods, those “patrons of the Roman Empire,” sat watching like spectators in the theatre while the heroes of early Rome performed their deeds of cruel prowess. During the Roman civil wars, the demons staged an entire battle among themselves in order to foster conflict among human beings, and when Julius Caesar set out on the military command that gained him his glory, the “goddess of war with her bloodstained whip,” as Vergil had described her, “incited wretched nations to warfare so as to create scope for military virtue to shine forth.”19

This willingness to grant legitimacy to Virgil’s witness is accompanied by an implicit warning: pagan letters are worthy of Christian attention only in so far as they furnish proof that demonic forces influenced the pagan past; but under no circumstances must texts such as the Aeneid be read for enjoyment, since the pleasure they grant is as unchristian as the classical gods themselves (unless, of course, it is a pleasure that arises from the joy of perceiving the abject blindness of pagan belief ). This suspicion of the pleasures granted by classical letters was explicitly integrated into the De doctrina in the ninth century by Hrabanus Maurus, archbishop of Mainz. In this modified version of Augustine’s treatise on signs, which today bears the title De institutione clericorum, Hrabanus did more than simply warn against the pagan text. He depicted that text as a woman, fleshy, by implication enticing, and often decked in adornments conceived as depraved pitfalls for the Christian exegete.20 As the title of his work suggests, Hrabanus attempts to circumscribe the education—predicative, moral, interpretative—of the priest, the vicar of Christ who by vocation must mediate between the secular world and the ways 19. MacCormack, The Shadows of Poetry, 200–201. 20. The feminization of the pagan text, ultimately derived from Deuteronomy, first gained currency in the work of Augustine’s contemporary, Jerome; see Epistula ad Magnum in vol. 1, p. 702, of Isidor Hilberg’s edition of Jerome’s letters, in Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum. Hrabanus, however, was responsible for using this allegory in an attempt to clarify the hermeneutic principles Augustine lays forth in book 3 of the De doctrina.

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of God. The most important discipline of the established curriculum that the cleric must master is grammatica, which Hrabanus defines as a hermeneutics founded on the recognition of the trope21 that is to be applied to any instance of writing, whether sacred or profane, Christian or pagan, fabulous or historiographic: “grammar is the discipline for interpreting poets and historians and the principle for correct writing and speech” (3.18).22 This hermeneutic imperative reflects Hrabanus’ view that the pagan text, despite the idolatry of its author, may offer Christian culture much that is either factually edifying or of practical use. The works of classical historians would fall into the first category, and treatises contributing to a knowledge of the verbal and scientific arts into the second. Other types of writing, however, are to be treated with caution: Poemata autem et libros gentilium si velimus propter florem eloquentiae legere, typus mulieris captivae tenendus est quam Deuteronomium describit; et Dominum ita praecepisse commemorat, ut si Israelites eam 21. “This is the origin and foundation of the liberal arts. . . . How could anyone know the properties of the voice or the length of syllables if he had not already, through grammar, learned of these things? . . . Or how could anyone be acquainted with the rules for the parts of speech, the appropriate use of figures, the powerful effects of tropes, the discipline of etymology, and the correct way to spell if he had not already taken note of the art of grammar? It is not to our detriment, but very much to our advantage, to learn this art, particularly if we wish not to struggle vainly with words but aim instead to acquire facility in correct speech and experience in correct writing. Grammar is the judge of every scribe, because it chides wherever it perceives error and judiciously approves where words are accurately employed. All of the many figures of speech that were committed to writing in secular letters are also frequently to be found in holy scripture. Indeed, anyone who diligently reads sacred texts will find that writers of our faith also made use of tropes, and did so more liberally than can be imagined or believed” (“Haec et origo et fundamentum est artium liberalium. . . . Quomodo quis vim vocis articulatae seu litterarum et syllabarum potestatem cognoscit, si non prius per eam id didicit? . . . Aut quomodo partium orationis jura, schematum decorem, troporum virtutem, etymologiarum rationem, et orthographiae rectitudinem novit, si non grammaticam artem ante sibi notam fecit? Inculpabiliter enim, imo laudabiliter hanc artem discit quisquis in ea non inanem pugnam verborum facere diligit, sed rectae locutionis scientiam et scribendi peritiam habere appetit. Ipsa est enim omnium judex librariorum, quia ubicunque errorem perspexerit, reprehendit, et ubi bene dicta sunt, suo judicio comprobabit. Schemata autem omnia quotquot saecularis disciplina conscripsit, in sanctis libris saepius posita reperiuntur. Necnon tropis auctores nostros usos fuisse, et multiplicius atque copiosius quam possit existimari vel credi, quisquis libros divinos diligenter legit, inveniet”). De institutione clericorum, in Migne, Patrologia latina, vol. 107, cols. 293–420; here 3.18. 22. “Grammatica est scientia interpretandi poetas atque historicos, et recte scribendi loquendique ratio.”


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habere vellet uxorem, calvitium ei faciat, ungues praesecet, pilos auferat, et cum munda fuerit effecta, tunc transeat in uxoris amplexus. . . . Itaque et nos hoc facere solemus, hocque facere debemus, quando poetas gentiles legimus, quando in manus nostras libri veniunt sapientiae saecularis, si quid in eis utile reperimus, ad nostrum dogma convertimus; si quid vero superfluum de idolis, de amore, de cura saecularium rerum, haec radamus, his calvitium inducamus, haec in unguium more ferro acutissimo desecemus. (3.18) But if we wish to read the poetry and books of the Gentiles for the flower of eloquence, we must apply the metaphor of the captive woman described in the Book of Deuteronomy. Here God is recorded to have declared that, if any Israelite should want to take this captive as a spouse, he should shave her head, pare her nails, and rid her body of hair, and only when she was thoroughly cleaned could she pass over into the embracing role of a wife. . . . The following, then, is our custom and our duty when we read the Gentile poets and when books of worldly knowledge come into our hands: if we find anything useful in them, we convert it to our doctrine; but if we find anything superfluous about idols, love, and the cares of worldly things, we should scrape it, we should shave it, we should cut it with the sharpest of blades as we would the fingernails.

The “poemata et libri gentilium” mentioned here are creative rather than expository, since their themes are identified as “superfluum de idolis, de amore, de cura saecularium rerum.” The only utility such works may have, Hrabanus suggests, is found in the way they are written, and they are to be studied exclusively as paradigms for the “flos eloquentiae.” Therefore, with regard to pagan poetry, Hrabanus makes grammatica itself the only object of worthwhile study, and, by aligning pagan themes with gaudy and unseemly excrescences such as hair and fingernails, he places ungodly or secular meanings in a position exterior to the signifier and implies that these may be easily removed from the terms of their verbal figuration. This exterior, marginal state can be coherently rationalized according to Augustine’s assertion that God prepared grammatica for the ultimate use of the Faith: the pagan signified is supernumerary and only peripherally bound to a signifier designed for a higher cause and still awaiting its true meaning. Since, according to Hrabanus, the “flos eloquentiae” inherited from Rome must be converted “to our doctrine” (“ad nostrum dogma”), then it is the

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truth of Christ that is to assume its apposite and preordained function as the internal sense of the now cleansed verbal figure. Of course, this amounts to another way of expressing what Augustine far more concisely advocates in stating the need to redirect grammatica to the Christian cause. But it is significant nonetheless in its emphasis on the female body and the implied seduction it may perpetrate. The negative corollary of the obedient and silent captive is a text granting such delight that it contrives to seduce the exegete and lead him astray from the sanctioned modes of “grammatical” purification. The physical pleasures through which this seduction would be effected come from those licentious externals, the “superfluum de idolis, de amore, de cura saecularium rerum” metaphorically rendered as luxuriant hair and elegant fingernails. As he brings the section on the captive text to a close, Hrabanus presents this delight in the pagan signified as potentially deleterious in its effects not just to the priest but his community: Hoc tamen prae omnibus cavere debemus, ne haec licentia nostra offendiculum fiat infirmis; ne pereat qui infirmus est in scientia nostra frater, propter quem Christus mortuus est, si viderit in idolio nos recumbentes. (3.18) We should be wary of one thing above all else, in case any laxity of this type on our part should come to do harm, however slight, to the weak. We should avoid the prospect of any brother of ours who is weak in the knowledge we possess, and for whom Christ died, going astray by seeing us recline in idolatry.

To enjoy the themes of the pagan narrative for their own sake (“haec licentia”) is to neglect the role the priest must play in edifying the uneducated in the ways of God. Those who allow themselves to be captivated by the superfluous externals of the classical text not only run the risk of perverting the infirmi they should ideally serve. They become idolaters, figurative bedfellows of the legacy of pagan Rome, “in idolio recumbentes.” As a writer of short stories that involve, in addition to moving statues, a French scholar flying across the Mediterranean with the help of the devil, a Jewish sorcerer retrieving incalculable riches from inside an Italian mountain, a West-country witch receiving warnings from her talking jackdaw, a group of German revelers condemned to sing and dance for one year without stopping, and a bat-infested, corpse-strewn subterranean labyrinth that leads to a bridge


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of bronze guarded by a mechanical peasant wielding a club,23 William could not possibly have been unaware of the affronts to referential orthodoxy and moral austerity his own writing at times displays. Indeed, it is surely significant in this regard that the dominant theme of William’s fiction is, quite precisely, the potentially disastrous consequence of becoming slave to malign powers, whether sexual, magical, epistemological, or economic. This establishes an analogical relationship between the theme of enslavement and William’s capitulation to the allurements of the unorthodox writing through which that enslavement is being described. Accordingly, William’s stories can be read to enact the circumstances of their production, with the actions of one or more of their characters reflecting the compositional moves of the author himself. But, before proceeding in this direction, a further point must be made. As a writer of short stories that involve, among other things, the classical goddess Venus, William could not possibly have been unaware of the extent to which his own practice contravenes Augustine’s rejection of any fabulous narratives pertaining to, quite precisely, the Greco-Roman gods. However, with regard to this spirit of creative independence it is surely significant that William shows a marked sensitivity to scholarly innovation, particularly when accompanied by a refusal to heed inherited formulations of what is permissible and what is not. The Ovidian aphorism that he uses to illustrate Gerbert’s pursuit of knowledge previously inaccessible to the Christian west, “semper enim in vetitum nitimur, et quicquid negatur pretiosius putatur” (“We always strive for what is forbidden, and whatever is denied us seems more appealing” [2.167; from Amores 3.4.17]), also applies to his own initiatives in fiction and helps elucidate the dismissive stance he adopts toward the uncritical respect for received ideas. At several junctures in his works he pauses to explain to his contemporaries that, contrary to circulating rumor, Muslims are not idolaters but worshippers of God who respect Jesus as a prophet.24 And, in one extraordinary passage of literary criticism, he brings a particular predecessor to task for intellectual sloth. That predecessor is Hrabanus Maurus. Hrabanus emerges from William’s prose as an unimaginative hack incapable of original thought whose voluminous output, derivative to the point 23. Respectively: “De Gerberto” (2.167), “Quomodo quidam thesauros Octaviani quaesierunt” (170), “De muliere malefica a daemonibus ab ecclesia extracta” (204), “De viris et foeminis choreas ducentibus” (174), and, again, “Quomodo quidam thesauros Octaviani quaesierunt” (170). 24. For more on William and Islam, see Thomson, William of Malmesbury, 174–84.

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of intellectual theft, stands in direct proportion to the expansive mediocrity of mind that produced it.25 The De institutione qualifies for conspicuously scathing criticism, rejected as no more than a patchwork of ideas copied from the truly inspired work of great predecessors. As William explains to his fellow monk Robert in the preface to his Abbreviatio Amalarii: Praeterea libri ejus per se parum conferunt scientiae, minimum accommodant doctrinae, de aliorum quippe laboribus aut ad litteram aut ad sententiam omnino usurpati. Denique duo libri voluminis illius quod supradixi ex Isidoro, et tertius ex Augustino De doctrina Christiana et Pastorali Gregorii, ad verbum sunt transcripti. In libro porro De natura rerum quid dicit aliud quam Isidorus Ethomologiarum [sic]? Vel in illo De compoto? Quid nisi quod Beda De temporibus praeter quaedam allegoriarum commenta? Fuit enim vir ille huic vitio peculiariter assiduus, quasi prorsus desperaret lectores suos memoriam non habere qua possent ejus furta deprehendere. Enimvero sicut aliquanta verba dissimulata prudentia a majoribus mutuari datur gloriae, ita totas sententias aperta impudentia furari deputatur audaciae. Illo ergo repulso in Amalarium qui Catholice de talibus scripsit animum intende.26 Anyway, his books in themselves contribute very little to our knowledge and exhibit scarcely any learning, lifted as they are, either in letter or spirit, entirely from the works of others. Two of the books in that volume of his I mention above [the De institutione] are just verbatim transcriptions of Isidore, and the third is derived from Augustine’s De doctrina Christiana and Gregory’s Regula pastoralis. What does he say in that book of his called the De rerum naturis other than what Isidore says in the Etymologiae? And what about his De computo? What’s in there except what Bede has in his De temporibus, apart from some remarks on allegories? This man was so peculiarly prone to this vice, it’s almost as though he labored under the false apprehension his readers lacked memories that would help them identify his theft. With judicious discretion we can borrow a few glorious words here and there from our great predecessors. But 25. From the preface to the Abbreviatio Amalarii, reproduced in Gesta regum Anglorum, ed. Stubbs, 1:cxxviii–xxx. 26. The section of the preface to the Abbreviatio I consider here is from Gesta regum Anglorum, ed. Stubbs, 1:cxxix.

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to steal whole sections, and to do so openly, with brash impudence, is utterly unacceptable. So don’t bother with him, and devote your attention instead to Amalarius, who wrote on matters such as these in a true Catholic spirit.

To write “catholice” is, in William’s opinion, to expand the limits of knowledge. It is not passively to reproduce the ideas of dominant authorities, however great those ideas may be, however glorious the writing through which they were communicated. That, by contrast, does not even qualify as scholarly activity. It is variously, in William’s words, furtum and vitium.27 This respect for scholarly initiative no doubt accounts for William’s fascination with Gerbert, to whom he devotes more space than to any other intellectual except his own great predecessor in Insular historiography, the Venerable Bede.28 That William finds Gerbert guilty of hubris in no way detracts from the admiration he expresses for the tenth-century scholar’s accomplishments in the quadrivium and certain fields of inquiry that so were marginal to Christian orthodoxy they could be studied only in Muslim Spain: Ibi vicit scientia Ptholomaeum in astrolabio, Alandreum in astrorum interstitio, Julium Firmicum in fato. Ibi quid cantus et volatus avium portendat didicit; ibi excire tenues ex inferno figuras; ibi postremo quicquid vel noxium vel salubre curiositas humana deprehendit: nam de licitis artibus, arithmetica, musica, et astronomia, et geometria, nihil attinet dicere; quas ita ebibit ut inferiores ingenio suo ostenderet, et magna industria revocaret in Galliam omnino ibi jam pridem obsoletas. Abacum certe primus a Saracenis rapiens, regulas dedit quae a sudantibus abacistis vix intelliguntur. . . . 27. “Fuit enim vir ille huic vitio peculiariter assiduus, quasi prorsus desperaret lectores suos memoriam non habere qua possent ejus furta deprehendere” (Abbreviatio Amalarii; emphasis added). With regard to the De institutione at least, William is being a little harsh, since in the preface Hrabanus does acknowledge he is reproducing the work of others: “Confido tamen omnipotentis Dei gratiae, quod fidem et senum catholicum in omnibus tenuerim, nec per me quasi ex me ea protuli, sed auctoritati innitens majorum, per omnia illorum vestigia sum secutus. Cyprianum dico atque Hilarium, Ambrosium, Hieronymum, Augustinum, Gregorium, Joannem Damasum, Cassiodorum, et caeteros nunnullos, quorum dicta alicubi in ipso opere ita ut ab eis scripta sunt per convenientiam posui, alicubi quoque eorum sensum meis verbis propter brevitatem operis strictim enuntiavi.” 28. Gerbert, 1.167–69, 172 (six and a half printed pages); Bede, 1.54–63 (eight and a half printed pages).

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Extant apud illam ecclesiam [Remensem] doctrinae ipsius documenta: horologium arte mechanica compositum; organa hydraulica. (2.167, 168) There he exceeded Ptolemy in his knowledge of the astrolabe, Alandreus in the position of the stars, Julius Firmicus in portents. There he learned what the song and flight of birds signify, how to conjure forth insubstantial figures from hell—in short, there he learned everything, whether harmful or beneficial, that human curiosity strives after. Nothing need be said of the licit arts of arithmetic, music, astronomy, and geometry, which he so mastered that he showed them to be unworthy of his genius and with great industry reintroduced into France, where they had for a long time been completely forgotten. He was certainly the first to snatch preeminence in the abacus away from the Saracens and formulated procedures of computation that are scarcely understood by even the most assiduous accountants. . . . Still surviving in Rheims cathedral are notebooks of his designs, including a mechanical clock and a hydraulic organ.

Such intellectual ambition is a far cry indeed from the plodding and blinkered fidelity to precedent that the likes of Hrabanus observe and preach as exemplary practice. In the context of this innovative energy, the theme of enslavement I mentioned earlier is crucial. “The Statue and the Ring” is the story of the modern Christian bedeviled by a remnant of the Roman past that is to be associated with love or sensuality (the statue is of Venus) and the preoccupations of the De doctrina (the statue points back to its Augustinian analogue in the earlier anecdote of Gerbert and the Campus Martius). Also by analogy, the bridegroom’s wife reflects the true vocation that is symbolically to be espoused by the Christian, since she plays the same role of displaced sponsa as the Church in the story of Pope Gregory. As already observed, Augustine devotes the De doctrina to pagan rhetoric, the one legacy of classical culture he considers the Christian should at all costs master and redirect to the glorification of God. By omission in the De doctrina, but by emphatic denunciation elsewhere, the pagan signified, the textual manifestation of the cultural detritus Augustine identifies as “simulata et superstitiosa figmenta grauesque sarcinas superuacanei laboris” (De doctrina 2.40), is to be rejected. Through the simple fact of writing stories treating of such traditionally ungodly forces as Venus, William is offering to his twelfth-century contemporaries examples of precisely these “simulata et superstitiosa figmenta” Augustine calls on all Christians to repudiate. Indeed, Venus herself comes to


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function as a metonym for the narrative mode through which she is brought back to life: both she and fiction are purportedly demonic; and both, in different contexts, are capable of preventing the Christian from fulfilling his true vocation. Evaluated in these terms, “The Statue and the Ring” is a modern mythological tale that takes its own problematic relationship with Christian culture as its theme. An obvious implication of all that has preceded is that the bridegroom in some way represents William, who, in writing fiction, that deviant narrative mode Hrabanus associates with “superfluum de idolis, de amore, de cura saecularium rerum,” is flagrantly guilty of being seen “in idolio recumbens,” even to the point of writing a story about a young man who reclines in bed with an idol and the worldly cares that result. Under these circumstances, the mutually reflecting relationship of Venus and the fiction through which she is resurrected can be interpreted in the light of the feminized textuality that was passed down to the High Middle Ages from Deuteronomy through Jerome and Hrabanus. The story itself becomes the metaphorical female body, with its vain and empty themes functioning as gaudy sources of pleasure, and the young man is a surrogate for the author himself, enslaved by the mendacious power of fiction and neglectful of his duties to the Church. This is true, but only to a certain extent. Through the simple fact of writing about the hapless Christian, William inserts a critical distance between his own alleged idolatry and the predicament of his thematic surrogate. While the young man in Rome inadvertently falls into the embrace of the pagan past, William writes his story with a lucid grasp of all that is implicated in his actions. The motif of the imperceptible demonic snare is consonant with the ubiquitous ecclesiastical concern with the often undetectable beginnings of temptation and sin. Yet by contrast it also points toward the possibility of so mastering the allegedly sinful activity as to be immune to its negative effects. The bridegroom stands, therefore, as the hypothetical vulnerable reader, a past avatar of William perhaps, but one who lacks the authority that is conferred by the act of writing. This confident power of creation is allegorized through another character: Tandem, querelis uxoris commonitus, rem parentibus detulit: illi, habito consilio, Palumbo cuidam suburbano presbytero negotium pandunt; erat is nigromanticis artibus instructus, magicas excitare figures, daemones territare et ad quodlibet officium impellere. (2.205) Finally, moved to take action by the complaints of his wife, [the bridegroom] took the matter to his parents. After some discussion, they revealed the

William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum


situation to a certain Palumbus, a priest living on the outskirts of the city. He was an initiate of the necromantic arts who could conjure up figures by magic and terrify demons into doing anything he wanted.

Enlisted to end the young couple’s predicament, this gifted cleric writes a letter and gives it to the bridegroom with instructions to wait that evening at a specified crossroads. There he will observe a procession but must hold his peace until the man to receive the missive comes by in a cart.29 The bridegroom stations himself at the appointed place and, as Palumbus has predicted, sees uncanny figures pass by. The man in the cart finally arrives and proves to be none other than the devil. He reads the letter and, at once complying with Palumbus’ request, orders his retainers to recover the ring.30 This is done, since, decked out as a half-naked whore with flowing locks, Venus too is part of the cortège, making gestures appropriate to her trade as she rides by on a mule and prods her mount with a golden staff.31 And so, finally freed from the embrace of pagan love, the bridegroom returns to his wife and finds he can finally fulfill his desires.32 Writing is the sole means whereby Palumbus deploys his power over dark forces. He does not cast spells, intone incantations, draw magic circles in the dust. He merely commits instructions to the page and the devil miraculously finds himself obliged to comply. This diegetic emphasis on written magic serves to foreground William’s own creative necromancy, his participation 29. “‘Valde,’ inquiens, ‘illa hora noctis ad compitum ubi se findit in quadruvium, et stans tacite considera. Transient ibi figurae hominum utriusque sexus, omnis aetatis, omnis gradus, omnis postremo conditionis; quidam equites, quidam pedites; alii vultum in terram dejecti, alii tumido supercilio elati; et prosus quicquid ad laetitiam vel tristitiam pertinet, in illorum videbis et vultibus et gestibus: nullum eorum compellabis etsi loquantur tecum. Sequetur illam turbam quidam, reliquis statura procerior, forma corpulentior, curru sedens; huic tacitus epistolam trades legendam: fiet e vestigio quod voles, fac tantum praesenti animo sis’” (2.205). 30. “Ultimus, qui dominus videbatur, oculos terribiles in juvenem exacuens, ab axe superbo smaragdis et unionibus composito, causas adventus exquirit: nihil ille contra, sed protenta manu porrigit epistolam. . . . Nec mora satellites a latere suo misit qui anulum extorquerent a Venere: illa, multum tergiversata, vix tandem reddit” (2.205). 31. “Inter ceteros quoque transeuntes vidit mulierem ornatu meretricio mulam inequitantem; crinis solutus humeris involitabat, quem vitta aurea superne constrinxerat; in manibus aurea virga qua equitaturam regebat; ipsa, pro tenuitate vestium pene nuda, gestus impudicos exequebatur” (2.205). Alongside the ring, the “aurea virga” serves to emphasize the correspondences between this tale and the earlier narrative concerning Gregory VI’s decision to deny the Empire the privileges of the ring and staff. 32. “Ita juvenis, voti compos, sine obstaculo potitus est diu suspiratis amoribus” (2.205).

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in the glamorous sorcery of fiction. For it is through the written word that William conjures up the ungodly figures of Venus and the devil (“magicas excit[at] figuras”), and it is by scripting their actions that he forces them to obey his every whim (“daemones ad quodlibet officium impell[et]”). In demonstrating this power over his allegedly demonic medium, William performs an exorcism of his own, laying to rest the specter of creative inertia inherited from conduits of timid conservatism such as Hrabanus. There is, nevertheless, one final twist to the tale. All ends well for the bridegroom. But the same cannot be said for Palumbus. Before acceding to his instructions, the devil “with his arms raised to the heavens, said ‘Almighty God, how much longer are you going to tolerate the infamies of Palumbus the priest?’” (“brachiis in caelum elatis, ‘Deus,’ inquit, ‘omnipotens, quamdiu patieris nequitias Palumbi presbyteri?’” [2.206]). This, Palumbus rightly understands, does not bode well: Ubi daemonis clamorem ad Deum de se audivit, finem dierum sibi praesignari intellexit. Quocirca, omnibus membris ultro truncatis, miserabili defunctus est poenitentia, confessus papae coram populo Romano inaudita flagitia. (2.205) When he heard that the devil’s appeal to God concerned him, he understood his days to be numbered. Therefore, with all his members completely lopped off, he died in abject penance, having confessed to the pope to unheard-of crimes before the Roman people.

This self-mutilation may been seen as a fit ending for a tale of literal magic: the fallen Christian punishes his body for his necromantic transgressions and publicly acknowledges his depravities. It is not, however, apposite to the figurative magic through which it is written: on the contrary. But the extent to which the literal and figurative registers of the tale so diverge at its end serves to emphasize the innocuous nature of William’s transgression, his control of a necromancy that is malign only in the realms of conservative metaphor. For, in the very act of creating “The Statue and the Ring,” William performs a confession of his own, though he does so only to suggest to his twelfthcentury contemporaries that there is nothing sinful either in writing fiction or in taking pleasure reading it. Or, to return to the terms William employs in his prologue to the section of the Gesta regum in which he tells the tale of the hapless bridegroom, there is nothing sinful in the voluptas, the illecebra that fiction has to offer.

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Alain de Lille, De planctu Naturae: The Orthography of Venus

Early in the De nuptiis, Martianus states that Mercury selects Philology as bride only after discovering that a number of other young women are unavailable. One of them is Psyche, held in adamantine chains in the lair of Cupid.1 Mention of this allegorical figure for the human soul is accompanied by an account of the gifts she received from the gods at birth. Pallas gave her a cloak of wisdom, Apollo a wand of prophecy, Vulcan flames to light her way, and omnes uero illecebras circa sensus cunctos apposuit Aphrodite. . . . praeterea ne ullum tempus sine illecebra oblectamentisque decurreret, pruritui subscalpentem circa ima corporis apposuerat uoluptatem. (1.8) Aphrodite imparted every pleasure to each of the senses. . . . To prevent [Psyche] from at any time being without joy and gratification, she had also imparted acute sensitivity to the lower parts of the body to ensure they be stimulated to arousal.

Remigius reads this reference to Venus bequeathing sexual desire to humanity in lapsarian terms, interpreting the goddess’s gifts of voluptas and illecebra as the predisposition to carnal sin that was occasioned by the Fall: 1. “his igitur Yuchn opimam superis ditemque muneribus atque multa caelestium collatione decoratam in conubium Arcas superiorum cassus optabat. sed eam Virtus, ut adhaerebat forte Cyllenio, paene lacrimans nuntiauit in potentiam pharetrati uolitantisque superi de sua societate correptam captiuamque adamantinis nexibus a Cupidine detineri” (1.8–9).


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Per illecebrosa Veneris donaria significantur omnia vitia quae merito originalis peccati rationali animae ingeruntur. Distincte vero commemorat singulorum quinque sensuum voluptates per quas mortifera delectatio penetral animae irrumpit et eius castitatem incestat.2 By the sensual gifts of Venus are meant every vice to which the rational soul is subjected as a result of original sin. More particularly, this refers to the pleasures enjoyed by each of the five senses, through which a deathinducing delectation breaks into the most intimate region of the soul and defiles its chastity.

That Venus should here achieve such uncompromisingly negative associations is starkly at odds with the positive role she plays elsewhere in the Commentum, and Remigius goes some way to recognizing as much, pausing later in the text to explain: Duae namque sunt Veneres, una voluptuaria et libidinum mater quae fertur Ermafroditum genuisse, altera casta quae praeest honestis et licitis amoribus. Duo enim sunt amores; est enim amor castus, est et incestus. (1:135–36; on DN 37.1) There are in fact two Venuses. One, sensual and the mother of lust, is said to have given birth to Hermaphroditus, and the other is chaste and governs honorable, licit relationships. There are also two types of love—one is chaste and the other is shameful.

The goddess of chaste, honorable love is presumably the Venus that Remigius presents under the guise of Satyra Cypris, the lawfully wedded wife of Hymenaeus who dictates the fable of Mercury and Philology to Martianus. Her antithesis exists in Remigius’ work only in hypothetical terms, as that deleterious force which left to mankind the poisoned gifts of the senses and gave birth to a hermaphroditic son associated with the pleasures of language. In his De planctu Naturae, Alain de Lille too grants Venus antithetical identities, and, in her alternative, fallen guise, the goddess of love is a dominant presence in his narrative. The text is an extended, quasi-pedagogical disquisition on alleged sexual and moral irregularity, delivered by Nature for 2. Lutz, Remigii Autissiodorensis commentum in Martianum Capellam, 1:79. References are to volume and page. See chapter 2, n. 21.

Alain de Lille, De planctu Naturae


the benefit of a male first-person narrator/protagonist (who shall from now on be referred to as Alanus to distinguish him from the author). Its affronts to plausibility are many: Nature is not the abstract principle of reproduction her words would imply her to be, but a young woman of incandescent beauty (2.1–39) who glides down from her ethereal abode in a chariot of glass drawn by doves (4.8–11), clad in garments on which the flora and fauna of the natural world miraculously assume life (2.138–292; 3.1–28); she is later joined by her retainers, including Hymenaeus (16.1–21), who constantly shifts in visible age between youth to maturity and wears multiform garments depicting the rites of marriage (16.22–33), and her sacerdotal son, Genius (18.57–63), who rivals Hymenaeus in vestiary opulence (18.63–68) and brings the narrative to a close by excommunicating anyone who should refuse to follow the strictures of natural reproduction (18.141–58). The last period of the text recuperates these accumulated improbabilities, revealing that all that preceded was a dream, from which Alanus awoke after the “mistica apparitio” of Nature faded from view (18.159–65). The cause of complaint is a catastrophic fall from grace that Venus precipitated after Nature assigned her the task of overseeing reproduction within God’s newly created order. The following are the most important of the metaphorical tools Nature provided to help the goddess fulfill her duties: Ad officium etiam scripture calamum prepotentem eidem fueram elargita, ut in competentibus cedulis eiusdem calami scripturam poscentibus quarum mee largitionis beneficio fuerat conpotita iuxta mee orthographie normulam rerum genera figuraret, ne a proprie descriptionis semita in falsigraphie deuia eumdem deuagari minime sustineret. (10.30–34) I had given her an extremely potent pen that she was to use in her scribal responsibilities. This gift I had so generously presented to her was to be applied to sheets of specifically designed parchment. On them I had instructed her to draw the genders of things according to the rules of my orthography and had warned her not to tolerate her pen wandering in the slightest from the path of correct delineation and to stray instead into falsigraphy.3 3. In translating here, one could give “genus” its dialectical meaning of “type,” “class,” “category.” In this case, to write according to the laws of nature would be an exercise in accurately representing the phenomena of the natural world. But there is good reason to reject this interpretation: Alain frequently employs “genus” in the De planctu with its alternative meaning of “gender”; and the wider themes of the work, which from its inception reads as


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To write according to the laws of nature is, in the words of Nature herself, an exercise in accurately attributing grammatical gender to each thing. This correct procedure in gender assignment is figuratively equated with heterosexual intercourse, the pen emitting ink and imprinting form onto the matrix of the parchment. What Nature designates as falsigraphia is any deviation from this script, an error in gender identification that would logically take as its consequence a deviation from conventional sex. Rather than fulfill her assigned task, Venus gave herself over to fornication and initiated an adulterous affair with Antigenius. The results of her delinquent behavior manifest themselves throughout mankind as a perversion of Nature’s sexual precepts: Solus homo, mee modulationis citharam aspernatus, sub delirantis Orphei lira delirat. Humanum namque genus, a sua generositate degenerans, in constructione generum barbarizans, Venereas regulas inuertendo nimis irregulari utitur metaplasmo. Sic homo, Venere tiresiatus anomala, directam predicationem per compositionem inordinate conuertit. A Veneris ergo orthographia deuiando recedens sophista falsigraphus inuenitur. Consequentem etiam Dionee artis analogiam deuitans, in anastrophen uiciosam degenerat. Dumque in tali constructione me destruit, in sua syneresi mei themesim machinatur. (8.54–63) Only man, shunning the modulations of my cithern, is stirred to delirium by the lyre of the demented Orpheus. The human race, degenerating from its nobility, commits barbarisms in its construction of gender and makes use of excessive irregularities of metaplasm as it inverts the rules of Venus. Man, altered like Tiresias by venereal anomalies, disdains order in his composition by distorting all that has been decreed to be straight. In his deviance he retreats from the correct penmanship of Venus and shows himself to be a sophistic falsigrapher. Avoiding anything that could be related even by analogy to the art of Dione’s daughter, he degenerates into vicious inversion. He destroys me in such a construction and contrives to split me in two by eliding two attributes into one. a treatise on irregularities in sex, including gender indeterminacy or duality, strongly imply that this latter meaning is by far the more logical to present context. For “genus” used elsewhere in the De planctu with the clear meaning of “gender,” see particularly 1.15–18, 8.83–87, 10.43–57.

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According to Nature, the fall of humanity results from a primordial act of perverted penmanship. First Venus receives the calamus prepotens and is instructed to follow the rules of Nature’s orthography. Once in the keeping of Venus, Nature’s orthography becomes the Veneris orthographia, the correct script of gender assignment that would foster heterosexual intercourse and, through it, the perpetuation of the species. But, as soon as Venus neglects her duties, she allows men and women to subscribe to a new and errant Veneris gramatica and become examples of falsigraphi, figurative authors of affective deviance: Penitet me tot uenustatum prerogatiuis hominum plerumque priuilegiasse naturas, qui decoris decus abusione dedecorant, qui forme formositatem Veneris informatione deformant, qui pulchritudinis colorem fuco adulterini Cupidinis decolorant, qui forme florem in uicia efflorendo deflorant. Cur decore deifico uultum deificaui Tindaridis, que pulcritudinis usum in meretricationis abusum abire coegit, dum regalis thori fedus defederans, fede se Paridi federauit? Pasiphe etiam, yperbolice Veneris furiis agitata, sub facie bouis sophistice cum bruto bestiales nuptias concelebrans, paralogismo sibi turpiori concludens, stupendo boui conclusit sophismate. Mirra etiam, mirtice Cypridis aculeis stimulata, in patris dilectione a filie amore degenerans, cum patre matris exemplauit officium. Medea uero, proprio filio nouercata, ut inglorium Veneris opus construeret, gloriosum Veneris destruxit opusculum. Narcisus etiam, sui umbra alterum mentita Narcisum, umbratiliter obumbratus, seipsum credens esse se alterum, de se sibi amoris incurrit periculum. (8.63–78) It pains me to have made men in such a beautiful image and to have privileged their natures with so many prerogatives, since they allow their graces to fall into disgrace, they deform the form of love to create formlessness, they discolor the color of beauty through the dye of adulterine desire, and they deflower the flower of loveliness in an efflorescence of vice. Why did I deify with divine grace the countenance of Helen, who, forcing the use of her beauty to degenerate into abuse worthy of a slut, abandoned the obligations of the royal marriage-bed and gave herself to Paris? Pasiphae, spurred on by the furies of a hyperbolic passion, disguised herself as a cow, celebrated a bestial parody of marriage by giving herself to a beast and led the dumb animal to draw a false inference by closing her argument with a deplorable sophistry. Myrrha, goaded to arousal by a myrrh-drenched


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Venus, allowed her passion for her father to pervert the love of a daughter and played the role of her mother in her father’s arms. Medea, like a stepmother to her own son, wrought destruction on the glorious little work of love in her construction of a work that love would find lacking in any glory whatsoever. And Narcissus, his image falsely conjuring forth another Narcissus, was blinded by the shadow of his own reflection into believing himself to be another self and inflicted upon himself the dangers posed by his own self-love.

Although not sexual, the crimes of Medea and Narcissus logically take their place alongside the more obvious venereal anomalies of Helen, Pasiphae, and Myrrha, since they all hold in common an indifference to reproductive norms as they were codified by conservative thinkers of the High Middle Ages. Medea in effect reverses the course of conception by killing the offspring she bore in wedlock to Jason, and Narcissus is caught in a solipsism that prohibits any kind of sexual contact with another. Helen, Pasiphae, and Myrrha, for their part, pursue sex as a source of pleasure, not as a means of procreation, and thereby pervert what was considered the ultimate goal of all erotic activity. Sex was permissible, it was maintained, within the bounds of marriage and its function was reproductive. Any sex acts perpetrated to any other end were varieties of fornication, even if pregnancy could be their result. Accordingly, contact between prostitute and client, bestiality, masturbation, incest, carnal relations between people of the same sex, heterosexual sodomy, and all forms of oral sex were liable to be identified as “contra naturam.”4 In the general excursus on degeneracy that immediately precedes these mythological examples (8.54–63), Alain configures the disregard for procreation through a vocabulary of discursive excess: to show indifference to reproduction and, though it, to participate in the falsigraphia that Nature laments is metaphorically to commit barbarisms and to abuse such figures of speech 4. In Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality,169–206, John Boswell gives an entertainingly written account of the way in which all nonreproductive sex acts had been homogenized by the beginning of the High Middle Ages. See also Mark D. Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology: “In the history of Christian moral teaching, sexual love was permitted for the sake of procreation and on the condition that it was unerotic, that it strive to suppress so far as possible the intensity of passion. This is, at best, a rather restricted license for sexual life among Christians” (177). Similarly, Douglas Kelly, Internal Difference and Meanings in the “Roman de la Rose,” 77–78, 113–14; as Kelly notes, the Old French term “sodomite” was applied to anyone engaged in “sexual activity that does not serve nature’s purpose to continue the species” (113).

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as metaplasm, anastrophe, syneresis, and tmesis.5 Although this reproductive sterility is at one point or another associated with such diverse practices as masturbation and incest, by the end of Nature’s commentary male homoeroticism has emerged as the paradigm for the alleged perversions of sexuality that characterize the falsigraphus. Indeed, the text is inaugurated under the sign of the homophile, as Alanus articulates a plaint of his own against a widespread indifference to traditional masculinity: In lacrimas risus, in luctus gaudia uerto, In planctum plausus, in lacrimosa iocos, Cum sua nature uideo decreta silere, Cum Veneris monstro naufraga turba perit; Cum Venus in Venerem pugnans illos facit illas Cumque sui magica deuirat arte uiros. (1.1–6)

I turn from laughter to tears, from happiness to sorrow, from joy to lamentation, and from elation to grief, as I observe how the very decrees of Nature are passed over in silence and crowds are led to ruin, shipwrecked by a monstrous Venus. For Venus has declared war on Venus herself, making “he’s” into “she’s” and through her magical art robbing men of their manhood.

As he continues, Alanus too employs mythological figures to demonstrate the activities he decries: Paris, he states, no longer pursues Helen, since he now seeks sexual pleasure with other men;6 for the same reason Pyramus has become indifferent to Thisbe; and Achilles, elsewhere the paragon of military prowess, is now renowned for his inclination to wear women’s clothes.7 In short, Alanus declares, men have allowed themselves to undergo a particular metamorphosis: Flet natura, silent mores, proscribitur omnis Orphanus a ueteri nobilitate pudor.

5. For a thorough analysis of the grammatical, rhetorical, and dialectical terms Alain uses as metaphors, see Jan Ziolkowski, Alan of Lille’s Grammar of Sex. 6. “Non modo Tindaridem Frigius uenatur adulter / Sed Paris in Paridem monstra nefanda parit” (1.51–52). 7. “Non modo per rimas rimatur basia Thisbes / Piramus, huic Veneris rimula nulla placet. / Non modo Pelides mentitur uirginis actus / Vt sic uirginibus se probet esse uirum” (1.53–56).

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Actiui generis sexus se turpitur horret Sic in passiuum degenerare genus. Femina uir factus sexus denigrat honorem, Ars magice Veneris hermaphroditat eum. (1.13–18)

Nature weeps, morals go unheeded, and decency, deprived of the noble station it held for so long, is pervasively proscribed. The sex of the active type draws back in horror from itself as it degenerates into the passive. The man who is made into a woman blackens the honor of his sex and the art of magical Venus turns him into a hermaphrodite.8

It is not simply the homosexual male who becomes the preeminent practitioner of crimes against nature. It is the homosexual male who assumes the verbal guise of Hermaphroditus. This hermaphroditism is consistent with medieval theories of sexuality, which held the gay man to be male in body yet female in inclination and accordingly identified him to participate in both sexes.9 But it is also pertinent to the wider concern with falsigraphia, since, as the text unfolds, the her8. This passage offers a fine example of the untranslatable polysemy of Alain’s Latin. The verb degenerare can be rendered through the perfectly defensible derivation “to degenerate.” But Alain’s usage also implies something along the lines of “to be degendered,” signifying the condition of men who adopt sexual practices that conservative thinkers would have categorized as feminine and judged to entail a falling away from some kind of normative virility. 9. In using “hermaphrodite” to signify a person who seeks out erotic contact with others of his or her sex, Alain is part of a long-flourishing tradition. The bizarre sixth-century Liber monstrorum de diversis generibus (as its name suggests, a treatise on prodigies) begins with a chapter called “De quodam homine utriusque sexus.” The man in question, however, is “of both sexes” and, according to the author, “prodigious,” not because he has the genital attributes of male and female but because he enjoys a receptive role in intercourse with other men: “At the beginning of this work of mine let me state that I have personally known a man of both sexes. In his face and chest he appeared more a man than a woman, and he was thought to be male by those who didn’t know him. However, he took delight in playing a woman’s role in sex and used the tricks of a prostitute to deceive unsuspecting men” (“Me enim quemdam hominem, in principio operis, utriusque sexus cognosse testor: qui tamen ipsa facie plus et pectore virilis quam muliebrus apparuit; et vir a nescientibus putabatur; sed muliebria opera dilexit, et ignaros virorum, more meretricis, decipiebat”). Rather bafflingly, since, by the logic of his enterprise, he seems to consider behavior of this kind anything but typical, the author then observes: “But this is reputed to occur frequently in the human race” (“Sed hoc frequenter apud humanum genus contigisse fertur”). Quoted by Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, 184–85, n. 54; trans. mine. Shortly after on 185, Boswell cites a

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maphrodite is also the first and primary practitioner of the rhetorical excess Nature later figuratively ascribes to those who flout her strictures. To return to Alanus in the initial metrum: Predicat et subicit, fit duplex terminus idem, Grammatice leges ampliat ille nimis. Se negat esse uirum Nature, factus in arte Barbarus. Ars illi non placet, immo tropus. Non tamen ista tropus poterit translatio dici. In uicium melius ista figura cadit. (1.19–24)

He is subject and predicate, he in himself displays a double termination, he amplifies the rules of grammar to excess. In his grammatical usage he commits the barbarism of denying himself a man of Nature. Indeed, it is not grammar, but the trope, that gives him pleasure. The metaphor in question cannot even be called a trope. Rather this figure falls into the category of a vice.

The genus of the falsigraphus may include all of those who turn away from reproductive sex in their pursuit of erotic pleasure. But it is dominated by the figurative hermaphrodite, the man who will love other men only and who in so doing writes his sexuality at an uncompromising distance from Nature’s stipulation to procreate. It is for this reason that Nature introduces the crimes of Helen, Pasiphae, Myrrha, and Medea as no more than a prelude to the activities she evidently considers the greatest affront to her laws and uses her reference to Narcissus as the pretext for an extended denunciation of depravities perpetrated by men: Multi etiam alii iuuenes, mei gracia pulcritudinis honore uestiti, siti debriati pecunie, suos Veneris malleos in incudum transtulerunt officia. Talis monstruorum hominum multitudo tocius orbis amplitudine disgressorie degrassatur, quorum fascinante contagio ipsa castitas uenenatur. Eorum siquidem hominum, qui Veneris profitentur gramaticam, alii solummodo masculinum, alii femininum, alii commune siue genus promiscuum, familiariter amplexantur. Quidam uero, quasi etherocliti genere, per hyemem in feminino, per estatem in masculino genere, irregulariter declinantur. Sunt roughly contemporary Latin poem called “In puellam hermaphroditam,” which is not about a hermaphrodite, but about lesbian sex.


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qui, in Veneris logica disputantes, in conclusionibus suis subiectionis predicationisque legem relatione mutua sorciuntur. Sunt qui, uicem gerentes suppositi, predicari non norunt. Sunt qui solummodo predicantes subiecti termini subiectionem legitimam non attendunt. Alii etiam, Diones regiam ingredi dedignantes, sub eiusdem uestibulo ludum lacrimabilem commentantur. (8.78–92) Many of the other young men who are indebted to me for the honor of their physical beauty have had their senses so dulled by the love of money that they have modified their hammers of Venus to function as anvils. A multitude of these living monstrosities has spread in all directions across the entire face of the earth and chastity itself has been drugged by the poisonous charm of their touch. Of these men who subscribe to Venus’ laws of grammar, some embrace exclusively the masculine gender, others the feminine, and still others are indiscriminate and tend to either. Also, there are certain men who form what amounts to a heteroclite group of their own and show their irregularity by sleeping exclusively with the feminine gender in winter and the masculine in summer. Others, as they argue in the logic of Venus, reach the conclusion that subject and predicate are interchangeable. Some who take the lower position of subject display no willingness to be predicate. Others who will only be predicate have no interest in having the subject term adopt its legitimate place beneath them. Also, there are certain men who will not even deign to enter the palace of Dione’s daughter because they prefer to indulge in a lamentable game that requires they remain at the entrance.

The activities Nature is most plausibly referring to here—prostitution, anal intercourse, and masturbation—can of course be in some way practiced by men and women alike. But in the De planctu they are the preeminent signs of an alleged deviance that becomes an almost exclusively male phenomenon. Women, as Nature presents them, may commit crimes against nature. But when they do so they come nowhere close to approximating the depravities of men, who emerge as the most adept masters of the Veneris gramatica Nature here invokes and earlier identifies as the antithesis of her own natural script. Two obvious provisional conclusions present themselves: Alain considers heterosexuality to be not merely compulsory but limited to marital intercourse pursued with an end to reproduction; and he admires stylistic restraint.

Alain de Lille, De planctu Naturae


Somewhat less obviously, Alain is also creating a metaphorical relationship between gender duality and written procedures in a manner that recalls the definition of Hermaphroditus that Remigius gives in the Commentum: Mercurius iuxta deliramentum fabularum adhuc adolescentulus fertur cum Venere concubuisse, de qua natus est Ermafroditus, quod est nomen compositum a Mercurio et Venere, nam Grece Mercurius Ermes dicitur, Venus autem Afrodite vocatur. . . . Ermafroditos autem dicimus homines utriusque sexus quos et androgios vocamus; aner enim vel ander Grece vir, ginex mulier. Ermafroditus autem significat quandam sermonis lascivitatem, qua plerumque neglecta veritatis ratione superfluus sermonis ornatus requiritur. Dicebat ergo se Iuno metuere ne iterum ad amplexus Veneris Mercurius vellet redire et Ermafrodito alium fratrem procreare, ideoque debere nuptias Philologiae accelerari. (1:107–8; on DN 22.16) According to crazed fables, Mercury, when still an adolescent, is supposed to have slept with Venus, who gave birth to Hermaphroditus. This name is a composite of Mercury and Venus, since Mercury is called Hermes in Greek and Venus is called Aphrodite. . . . We call men of both sexes “hermaphrodites.” We also call them “androgynes,” because in Greek “aner” or “ander” means “man” and “ginex” means “woman.” Hermaphroditus signifies a particular lasciviousness of speech that obtains when the reasoned search for truth is neglected and the superfluous adornment of speech above all pursued. Juno claims she feared Mercury might want to return to the embraces of Venus and father another brother to Hermaphroditus, and so she announced that his wedding to Philology should be completed as quickly as possible.

Obviously, Remigius, active in the ninth century, did not make these remarks with reference to the De planctu, written in the twelfth. Yet his comments are pertinent to present concerns in the extraordinary clarity with which they anticipate the way Alain too associates hermaphroditism with various modalities of writing, finally to make the De planctu as much a meditation on representational practice as a denunciation of sexual preference. The initial metrum does more than simply introduce the hermaphrodite as a figure of alterity. It creates an ambiguous double to this progeny of the gods whose unsettling presence subverts any effort to read the ensuing text as an unnuanced rejection of the inclinations Alanus and Nature seem so anxious to proscribe.


Chapter Four

Consonant with my interests are two studies that engage the text’s representational instabilities. The first is a chapter that Alexandre Leupin devotes to Alain’s work in Barbarolexis.10 I am in complete agreement with Leupin’s argument that, Nature’s remonstrations notwithstanding, the De planctu manifests a “frenetic relish for tricks of the signifier” and an “altogether Ovidian passion for metamorphosis (evident in the numerous negative examples illustrating hermaphroditism in Nature’s discourse—examples . . . revealing an excellent knowledge of the ancient literature she so fervently condemns)” (72). However, I have a different view of the narrator’s (and ultimately Alain’s) relationship with “the phantasmal seductions of narcissistic falsigraphy” (77). Leupin regards the narrator as wary of venereal discourse. I, on the other hand, consider him its exuberant practitioner. More inclined to emphasize the positive term of Nature’s “pharmakon,” I shall analyze the extent to which Alain demonstrates that fallen language can be controlled as a valid medium for speculative thought. William Burgwinkle too has broached the semiotic tensions of the De planctu.11 In a manner that anticipates some of my own concerns, Burgwinkle remarks on the uncompromising extent to which this text that purports to communicate the truths of nature subordinates the natural to the artificial, ultimately to create an unyielding barrier of representation that not only occludes its referent but bespeaks its absolute alterity: “Alain . . . delights throughout the De planctu in calling attention to the ephemeral nature of his integumenta and rarely does his narrator get beyond the flashy clothing to show us anything more substantial. His conclusion even suggests that the text we have read is but another of these marvelous screens onto which have been projected the insubstantial musings of a febrile dreamer” (177). I take this point further. Alain, I contend, not only discloses the inevitability of representational supplements in the decayed world Nature designates as “the vulgar whorehouses of the earth” (“uulgaria terrenorum lupanaria” [8.4]).12 He also, 10. Leupin, Barbarolexis: Medieval Writing and Sexuality, 59–78. The chapter is an expanded version of ideas Leupin first expounded in French: “Écriture naturelle et écriture hermaphrodite: Le De planctu Naturae d’Alain de Lille, un art poétique du XIIe siècle.” 11. See Burgwinkle’s excellent Sodomy, Masculinity and Law in Medieval Literature, 170–99. 12. There are several other incisive studies of the De planctu that do not relate to my concerns quite as closely as those of Leupin and Burgwinkle but will be cited hereafter. They are: Larry Scanlon, “Unspeakable Pleasures: Alain de Lille, Sexual Regulation and the Priesthood of Genius”; Elizabeth Pittenger, “Explicit Ink”; Mark Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy, 85–96; Elizabeth B. Keiser, Courtly Desire & Medieval Homophobia, 71–92; Susan Schibanoff,

Alain de Lille, De planctu Naturae


through the language of the hermaphrodite, demonstrates their utility and, indeed, beauty.13 At first glance, nothing could appear more obedient to natural stricture than the heterosexual desire that Alanus expresses in the opening poem. Having denounced the preferences he attributes to the modern Paris, Pyramus, and Achilles, he asks: Virginis in labiis cur basia tanta quiescunt, Cum reditus in eis sumere nemo uelit? Que michi pressa semel mellirent oscula succo, Que mellita darent mellis in ore fauum. (1.43–46)

Why are so many kisses left unattended on the lips of a young woman? Why does no one want to take for himself the rewards they offer? If these kisses were pressed to my lips they would at once be as sweet and luscious as honey, and, in their honey-sweetness, they would come together as a honeycomb in my mouth.

Shortly after he imagines a beautiful young woman embracing him in this way, Alanus finds his wish fulfilled, since it is at this point that Nature herself appears before him, and among her exquisite features are lips that “in their gentle fullness invited the followers of Venus to kisses” (“modico tumore surgentia Veneris tirones inuitabant ad oscula” [2.20–21]). Alanus recognizes that she too is distraught and gazes at her until the exquisite joy of contemplation proves intolerable: In faciem decidens mentem stupore uulneratus exiui totusque in extasis alienatione sepultus sensuumque incarceratis uirtutibus nec uiuens nec mortuus inter utrumque neuter laborabam. Quem uirgo amicabiliter erigens, pedes ebrios sustentantium manuum confortabat solatio meque suis innectendo complexibus meique ora pudicis osculis dulcorando mellifuoque sermonis medicamine a stuporis morbo curauit infirmum. (6.4–10) “Sodomy’s Mark: Alain de Lille, Jean de Meun, and the Medieval Theory of Authorship”; and Noah D. Guynn, Allegory and Sexual Ethics in the High Middle Ages, 93–135. 13. Early studies of the De planctu are the those of Guy Raynaud de Lage, Alain de Lille, poète du XIIe siècle; Marie-Thérèse d’Alverny, Alain de Lille: Textes inédits; and Winthrop Wetherbee, “The Function of Poetry in the De Planctu Naturae of Alain de Lille,” and Platonism and Poetry in the Twelfth Century.


Chapter Four

Falling on my face, I lost consciousness, my senses clouded and stupefied. Robbed of all powers of perception, I completely left my body and, in my alienation from myself, found I was neither alive nor dead, but, tormented as neither, I floated in a state in between. However, the young woman graciously helped me up and comforted my intoxicated feet with the solace of her strengthening touch. Then, putting her arms around me, she sweetened my lips with modest kisses and with the salve of her honey-sweet words cured me of my stupefying affliction.

A man dreams of being kissed by a young woman and, with remarkable compliance, a young woman presents herself and proceeds to kiss him. Reserving for a later stage the gender ambiguities of Alanus’ ecstasy (and they are considerable), let us further pursue this erotically modest yet insistently heterosexual encounter. The transition from Alanus’ dream of being kissed by a young woman to Nature’s eventual appearance marks a passage from the erotic to the verbal that is demarcated by a consistent use of imagery: the kisses Alanus imagines are “sweet and luscious as honey,” and, “in their honey-sweetness,” they would coalesce to create “a honeycomb” (“mellirent oscula succo, / Que mellita darent mellis in ore fauum” [1.45–46]); and the words Nature speaks immediately after kissing Alanus are themselves “honey-sweet” (“meique ora pudicis osculis dulcorando mellifuoque sermonis medicamine a stuporis morbo curauit infirmum”). This movement from kisses to words and the transfer of a vocabulary of gratification from the first to the second serve to eroticize Nature’s discursive performance, with verbal exchange replacing physical contact and the pleasure of enlightenment substituted for the pleasure of sex. Such a displacement has by this stage already been prepared. Before mentioning that he lost consciousness, Alanus describes Nature’s physical features. He remarks upon the exquisite beauty of her hair, forehead, eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth, teeth, cheeks, chin, neck, and arms, and he pays particular attention not only to the gentle swell of her lips but also to her “breasts, round as apples” (“mamillarum pomula”) that “gracefully testified to her youthful maturity” (“graciose iuuentutis maturitatem spondebant” [2.27–28]) and to her figure, which “elevated her body to the pinnacle of perfection” (“corporis speciem ad cumulum perfectionis eduxit” [2.30–31]). This increasingly erotic register of description reaches its apogee when Alanus moves on to consider those aspects of Nature’s body that are not visible: Cetera uero que thalamus secretior absentabat meliora fides esse loquatur. In corpore etenim, uultus latebat beatior, cuius facies ostentabat preludium.

Alain de Lille, De planctu Naturae


Vt ipse tamen uultus loquebatur, non Dionea clauis eius sigillum reserauerat castitatis. (2.32–35) It can be stated with all assurance that the rest of her, hidden as though in a secret chamber, was more exquisite. For the beauty that lay in wait in the form of her body was even greater, and her face was but its prelude. As this beauty testified, the key of Dione’s daughter had not yet opened the lock of her chastity.

Thus Alanus ends his commentary on a candid note of sexual appraisal, imagining his visitor as a figure of naked loveliness who has visibly reached maturity but has not as yet lost her maidenhead. Despite the sexual register of his musings, Alanus does not, however, attempt to act on the attraction he expresses. Rather, the eroticism of physical contact is displaced by an eroticized pedagogical performance on Nature’s part: Cum per hec uerba michi Natura nature sue faciem deuelaret suaque ammonitione quasi claue preambula congnitionis sue michi ianuam reseraret, a mee mentis confinio stuporis euaporauit nubecula. (6.170–72) With these words Nature unveiled the identity of her nature to me and used the information she shared as a key in the first stage of unlocking the door that would lead me fully to know her. In the meantime, the mists of stupor evaporated from the confines of my intellect.

This passage echoes in its figurations Alanus’ earlier musings on Nature’s virginity. The aspect of Nature that is hidden from view is rendered in the Latin of the two passages through the virtual synonyms of “uultus” (“in corpore etenim, uultus latebat beatior”) and “facies” (“cum per haec uerba michi Natura nature sue faciem deuelaret”). In both Alanus refers to a first, introductory stage of revelation (“in corpore etenim, uultus latebat beatior, cuius facies ostentabat preludium”; “suaque ammonitione quasi claue preambula congnitionis sue michi ianuam reseraret”). And, most obviously, in both a figurative key opens, if only hypothetically, an equally figurative lock or door (“non Dionea clauis eius sigillum reserauerat castitatis”; “suaque ammonitione quasi claue preambula congnitionis sue michi ianuam reseraret”). Therefore the physical congress imagined in the earlier passage, that stripping of the body and the loss of maidenhead effected through the “Dionea clauis,” gives way to


Chapter Four

a gradual self-revelation whereby Nature will unveil her mysteries and edify her interlocutor. Alanus will not know her body, but he will come to know what she represents. In this, Alanus is the fortunate, even privileged recipient of epistemological favors that are only very rarely bestowed, since, by her own admission, Nature has taken pains to prevent many men from gaining even the slightest knowledge of her: “Sed tamen plerisque mee potestatis faciem palliare decreui figuris, defendens a uilitate secretum, ne si eis de me familiarem impartirem scientiam, que apud eos primitus ignota uigerent, postmodum iam nota uilescerent. Vt enim uulgare testatur prouerbium, ‘Familiaris rei communicatio contemptus mater existit.’ Aristotiliceque auctoritatis tuba proclamat quia ille ‘maiestatem minuit secretorum qui indignis secreta diuulgat.’” (6.121–27) “To most, nevertheless, I have decreed that my face in all its power should be covered by figures, thereby protecting my secret from being vilified. By refusing to divulge an intimate knowledge of myself in this way, I have made sure my attributes will not eventually be trivialized and no longer held in the respect they commanded when unknown. For, as the popular proverb testifies, ‘Familiarity breeds contempt,’ and, as the maxim of Aristotelian authority resoundingly declares, ‘He who divulges secrets to the unworthy diminishes their majesty.’”

Here again a corpus of knowledge is presented as though a corporeal presence, as Nature expresses her unwillingness to share information about herself in terms that would be apposite to the parrying of unwanted physical advances. Judged in the light of this desire for figurative privacy, Nature’s readiness to accommodate Alanus is remarkable indeed. In fact, not only does she welcome his inquiries. As she herself observes, she is the one who makes the first move, taking the initiative and unveiling herself without any invitation to do so. Evidently, Alanus desires to know Nature. But Nature desires, at least as much, to be known by Alanus: “Hec omnia sine omni scrupulo questionis de me tibi familiarem largiuntur noticiam. Et ut familiarius loquar, ego sum Natura que mee dignationis munere te mee presentie compotiui meoque sum dignata beare colloquio.” (6.166–69)

Alain de Lille, De planctu Naturae


“Without you even having to ask a single question, everything I have said grants you an intimate knowledge of me. To speak on still more intimate terms, I am Nature, and, from my exalted station, I have granted you the bounty of partaking of my presence and graciously allowed you the blessing of my conversation.”

Cast, therefore, into a rhetoric of sexual intercourse and enacted between a beautiful young woman and a man enraptured by her loveliness, the dialogue of Nature and Alanus would seem to be the perfect reflection of the heterosexuality both parties cite as the unquestionably natural inclination of all mankind. Or at least it would be so were it not for an obtrusive problem. By her own account, Nature is mother of all humanity (8.16, 166) and Alanus too recognizes this maternal status, referring to her as “genitrix rerum” (7.1), the generative principle responsible for the perpetuation of all things and also, quite simply, “mater” (8.155). Indeed, he goes so far as to acknowledge his relationship with her before their dialogue even begins, referring to his visitor as “my relative” (“michi cognata”) when he mentions her first approaching him.14 Left to itself, the use of this latter term would not be worthy of remark. Yet it is peculiar to context. Alanus could have selected any one of several other terms that would have been as appropriate—“uirgo,” for example, or “puella,” or even “mulier”—and less disquieting, since reference of this relative who is later revealed to be a mother figure is preceded by mention of her lips that “in their gentle fullness invited the followers of Venus to kisses” (“modico tumore surgentia, Veneris tirones inuitabant ad oscula”), of her “breasts, round as apples” (“mamillarum pomula”) that “gracefully testified to her youthful maturity” (“graciose iuuentutis maturitatem spondebant”), of her figure that “made her body the pinnacle of perfection” (“corporis speciem ad cumulum perfectionis eduxit”), of her virginity that the “key of Venus had not yet unlocked” (“non Dionea clauis eius sigillum reserauerat castitatis”), and of the rest, covered by her clothing, that was even “better” than those parts that were visible (“cetera uero que thalamus secretior absentabat meliora fides esse loquatur” [2.20–21, 27–28, 29–31, 34–35, 32–33]). In fine, an alternative term could have been found to offset the incestuous resonance that accompanies 14. “Quam postquam michi cognatam loci proximitate prospexi, in faciem decidens, mentem stupore uulneratus exiui totusque in extasis alienatione sepultus sensuumque incarceratis uirtutibus nec uiuens nec mortuus inter utrumque neuter laborabam” (6.4–7).


Chapter Four

Alanus’ candid appraisal of Nature’s exquisite features and his musings over the beauty of her naked body. To overcome this problem, one could, perhaps, cite mitigating circumstances. For example, at the point at which Alanus describes Nature’s beauty in such fond detail, he as protagonist has no idea who she is and should therefore be exonerated of any impropriety. But, on at least two counts, this hardly stands. First, it has the odd result of making Nature in effect argue that, however desirable she may be, Alanus should extinguish any desire he feels because she, it turns out, is his mother and for that reason cannot be desired without indecency. Second, it fails to take account of the narrativity of the text, the descriptive sequences of which are couched in the past tense: when Alanus imagines how beautiful his visitor would be if divested of clothing and muses, through metaphor, over the likelihood of her virginity being intact, it is, in retrospect, with full, subsequent knowledge of her identity. One could also attempt to attenuate the incestuous resonance of these erotically candid musings by arguing that Nature is a mother figure only in the realms of traditional metaphor, just as, for example, rhetoric, likewise referred to as “mother” in the text (10.111), plays a maternal role only because it functions as a nurturing principle for particular skills. To espouse this line of argument would seem all the more pressing in the light of Alanus’ certainty that his visitor still has her maidenhead, since metaphor would circumvent the problem posed by those incompatible categories, virginity and maternity. Two points, however, must be taken into account. First, the notion of the virgin mother was certainly not alien to medieval Christian culture (a point to which I shall return, in an even more ambiguous context, in the next chapter). Second, unlike rhetoric, Nature is a personified character in the text and from her humanized position evidently considers her status to be maternal in the most literal sense. Shortly after learning the reasons for Nature’s plaint, Alanus notices her clothing is slightly torn and asks: “Miror cur quedam tue tunice portiones, que texture matrimonio deberent esse confines, in ea parte sue coniunctionis paciantur diuorcia, in qua hominis imaginem picture representant insompnia.” (8.161–63) “I am wondering why some of the parts of your dress that should bring together the union of marriage are instead coming apart at the seams in the area in which the pictorial representations show the image of man.”

Alain de Lille, De planctu Naturae


This rent not only symbolizes in physical terms the dissolution of marriage that Alanus and Nature elsewhere lament as they decry sexual pleasures that are pursued outside the bounds of wedlock. It is also, according to Nature, the consequence of a heinous perversion she has already by this stage rehearsed: “Sed ab huius uniuersalitatis regula solus homo anomala exceptione seducitur, qui pudoris trabea denudatus impudicitieque meretricali prostibulo prostitutus, in sue domine maiestatem litis audet excitare tumultum, uerum etiam in matrem intestini belli rabiem inflammare.” (8.12–16) “Only man goes against the norm and makes an exception of himself by refusing to participate in this universal regulation. Stripped bare of the robe of modesty and shamelessly offering himself up for sale as a prostitute, he has the audacity to instigate tumultuous litigation against the majesty of his mistress and even goes so far as to fan the flames of civil war against his mother.” “Cum enim, ut prediximus, plerique homines in suam matrem uiciorum armentur iniuriis, inter se et ipsam maximum chaos dissensionis firmantes.” (8.165–67) “As I mentioned earlier, many men take up vices as arms to do violence against their mother and declare to exist between them and her the greatest possible chaos that could be caused by such dissension.”

It is not simply the fact of violence that outrages Nature. It is the type of violence that has been brought to bear. Perpetrated against a mother by rapacious offspring and entailing the stripping of the maternal body preparatory to unmentioned and unmentionable transgressions, the “uiciorum iniuria” here at issue are supreme symptoms of incestuous lust.15 These, of course, are extreme cases, and they entail physical violence that has no place in Alanus’ reaction to his visitor: while the nameless offspring mentioned here actually expose the body of Nature, Alanus has his interest in Nature’s naked beauty forestalled by Nature herself, who in revealing her identity also reveals the impropriety of Alanus’ attraction and imposes a tacit rule of chastity. Lest Alanus should have missed her point, in the next verse 15. See also “maternis” (10.179).


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sequence she returns to incest in more explicit terms and does so with the express purpose of warning him against irregular passions. Desire, she states, has the capacity to make men and women forget moderation, and in some cases it pushes them to become monstrosities: “Filius in matre stupet inuenisse nouercam Inque fide fraudes, in pietate dolum. Sic in Medea pariter duo nomina pugnant, Dum simul esse parens atque nouerca cupit, Nesciit esse soror uel se seruare sororem Dum nimium Cauno Biblis amica fuit. Sic quoque Mirra suo nimium subiecta parenti In genitore parens, in patre mater erat.” (9.45–52)

“The son is stupefied to have discovered a stepmother in his mother, deceit in what appeared to be candor, betrayal in what appeared respect. Thus in Medea two names compete on equal terms while she tries to be parent and stepmother. Biblis could neither be a sister nor act like one as long as she found herself excessively attracted to [her twin brother] Caunus. And Myrrha, too, in the excess of her submission to her father, became a parent with her progenitor and by her father was made into a mother.”

Immediately after mention of these mythological aberrations, Nature recognizes that no one is exempt from the potential for such enormities (9.53–56) and advocates abstinence as the only way to avoid the ever imminent threat of amorous excess, here, again, personified by Venus: “Ipse tamen poteris istum frenare furorem, Si fugias. Potior potio nulla datur. Si uitare uelis Venerem, loca, tempora uita. Et locus et tempus pabula donant ei. Prosequitur, si tu sequeris. Fugiendo fugatur. Si cedis, cedit. Si fugis, illa fugit.” (9.67–72)

“You yourself can, however, rein in this fury if you flee. No more potent an antidote will be forthcoming. If you wish to avoid Venus, avoid the places and times she frequents. Both place and time are sustenance to her. If you follow her, she will pursue. She is, however, put to flight if you fly from her. If you retreat, she retreats. If you flee, she flees.”

Alain de Lille, De planctu Naturae


Nature does more than offer a general admonition. The last two of the figures of depraved passion she cites are Biblis and Myrrha, the second of whom she has by this time already mentioned in her catalogue of falsigraphi. Both are examples of incestuous lust and are offered, explicitly, directly, and with a second-person intensifier, to Alanus as paradigms of the type of passion he should avoid—“ipse tamen poteris istum frenare furorem.”

Chapter five

Alain de Lille, De planctu Naturae: The Vulgar Whorehouses of the Earth

Alanus’ initial response to Nature is, therefore, something rather more complex than conventional attraction. Certainly, it meets the most fundamental of Nature’s normative requirements, since it involves male and female. But it is of a variety resisted by the most fundamental taboos, similar, with gender roles reversed, to the desire that Nature, with clear monitory intent not once but twice attributes to Myrrha as she lay beneath her father in the union Venus oversaw in her fallen guise as patron goddess of depravity: “Myrrha, goaded to arousal by a myrrh-drenched Venus, allowed her passion for her father to pervert the love of a daughter and played the role of her mother in her father’s arms” (8.72–74); “And Myrrha, too, in the excess of her submission to her father, became a parent with her progenitor and by her father was made into a mother” (9.51–52).1 If read in the light of the examples of irregular passion that are later drawn from classical myth, Alanus’ response to his visitor is if anything to be aligned not with the orthography of Nature but with the type of errant desire characteristic of the falsigraphus. It must be conceded that there is a reversal of gender roles, as Alanus replicates the transgressive lust of a woman from mythology, and Nature is an innocent patient to his passion. Moreover, though in Nature’s opinion deplorable, the lust in question does not correspond with the desire experienced by gay men, who are allegedly the archetypal practitioners of affective falsigraphy. 1. “Mirra etiam, mirtice Cypridis aculeis stimulata, in patris dilectione a filie amore degenerans, cum patre matris exemplauit officium”; “Sic quoque Mirra suo nimium subiecta parenti / In genitore parens, in patre mater erat.”

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But, here too, things are more complex than they at first appear, and gender identity is not quite what it seems. In a particularly lucid analysis of the opening lines of the text, Noah D. Guynn has demonstrated that Alanus presents his own poetic creation as the metaphorical product of that biological impossibility, male parturition. Accordingly, Guynn argues, Alanus figuratively becomes a man who takes on female attributes and shows himself to be guilty of the very crime he laments.2 I find these points thoroughly convincing and would add that Alanus’ capacity to reproduce extends beyond his lamentation also to embrace the female figure who comes to echo the sentiments he expresses therein. The initial metrum ends: Non modo Tindaridem Frigius uenatur adulter Sed Paris in Paridem monstra nefanda parit. Non modo per rimas rimatur basia Thisbes Pirmaus, huic Veneris rimula nulla placet. Non modo Pelides mentitur uirginis actus Vt sic uirginibus se probet esse uirum, Sed male Nature munus pro munere donat Cum sexum lucri uendit amore suum. A Genii templo tales anathema merentur Qui Genio decimas et sua iura negant. (1.51–60)

The Phyrgian adulterer no longer pursues the daughter of Tyndareus. Rather, Paris engages in acts of unspeakable monstrosity with Paris. Pyramus not longer cleaves to the kisses of Thisbe through a crack in the wall. Indeed, the cleft of Venus no longer holds any attraction for him. [Achilles], son of Peleus, no longer belies the behavior of a girl in order to prove to girls that he is a man. Instead he sells his sex for love of lucre and ill rewards Nature for the rewards she had given him. Such men as these, who deny Genius the tithes that are rightfully his, deserve to be banned as anathemas from Genius’ temple. 2. “Even as he excoriates unmanned men, the poet metaphorically translates the authenticity of his grief, and the process of literary creation it gives rise to, into the painful throes of childbirth. More than simply offering a conventional trope for the agonies of literary invention, the poet repeatedly insists on the authenticity of his suffering, which is not pretense or deceit but real. His words thus paradoxically transform his moral anguish into the very crime that is the source of that anguish and his writing into the perversity he seeks to counteract through writing: the unmanning of men, the biologically impossible act of male parturition” (Guynn, Allegory and Sexual Ethics, 105).

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The reference to the desire of Paris for Paris, like the example of Pyramus that follows, in the first instance implies homosexuality. Nevertheless, the verb “parere” literally means “to create” or “to conceive” in a reproductive sense, and it is here used in a reflexive construction, Paris conceiving unspeakable monstrosities in Paris himself. The implication of autogamic conception is amplified by the threefold paronomastic repetition of “par” (“Paris in Paridem monstra nefanda parit”), which itself entails a pun, since the syllable is a virtual homophone of the adjective “par,” meaning “like,” “equal” (“virtual homophone” because the vowel of the nominative singular is long, though short in all other cases, including the genitive “paris”). This reflexive reproduction takes its place in a wider lament over the ostensibly unrelated aberration of men who assume the attributes of women: Alanus decries the degenerate male who is made into woman (1.17), he denounces the hermaphroditic influence of the fallen Venus (1.8), he deplores those who display both masculine and feminine terminations (1.19), and he condemns the modern Achilles who wears women’s clothing (1.55–56).3 In what immediately ensues, however, the two aberrations become one. Having ended his poem, Alanus, in prose, states: “While in my lamentation I constantly repeated these elegiacs, a woman descended from the innermost palace of the impassible world and was to be seen quickly making her way toward me” (“Cum hec elegiaca lamentabili eiulatione crebrius recenserem, mulier ab impassibilis mundi penitiori delapsa palacio, ad me maturare uidebatur accessum” [2.1–3]). The woman in question is, of course, Nature, who, at a later stage, speaks for the first time to criticize Alanus for not recognizing her: “Heu,” inquit, “que ignorantie cecitas, que alienatio mentis, que debilitas sensuum, que infirmatio rationis, tuo intellectui nubem opposuit, animum exulare coegit, sensus hebetauit potentiam, mentem compulit egrotare, ut non solum tue nutricis familiari congnitione tua intelligentia defraudetur, uerum etiam, tanquam monstruose imaginis nouitate percussa, in mee apparitionis ortu tua discretio paciatur occasum?” (6.13–19) 3. See Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.162–71, and Ars amatoria 1.689–702. The editions used are, respectively, those of Frank Justus Miller, 2d ed. rev. G. P. Gould, and of J. H. Mozeley, 2d ed. rev. G. P. Gould. Later, in the Anticlaudianus, Alain himself returns to the cross-dressing Achilles. See the edition of Thomas Wright in The Anglo-Latin Satirical Poets and Epigrammatists of the Twelfth Century, 8.5.56–60 (p. 421).

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“Alas,” she said, “what blindness of ignorance, what alienation of mind, what weakness of the senses, what infirmity of reason has cast a cloud over your intellect, forced your spirit to take up exile, dulled the strength of your judgment, exposed your mind to disease? Not only have your thoughts been defrauded of familiar knowledge of the one who nursed you. Your power of recognition, too, has been entirely occluded, struck as though by the unexpected sight of a monstrous vision when I first rose up to appear.”

By her own account, Nature initially made Alanus behave as though confronted not with the beautiful young woman of his fondest dreams but with an uncanny, phantasmal “montruosa imago.” The noun here can be translated, quite accurately, as “vision” or “image,” yet it also has a wide range of other meanings, including “replica,” “copy,” and “echo.”4 The adjective is derived from “monstrum,” the plural of which, qualified by “nefanda,” is used in the opening poem as the direct object of the verb “parit”: one man conceives in himself unspeakable monstrosities, and these “monstra nefanda” are lexically related to the “monstruosa imago” that Nature at first seemed to be. More is at issue here than a monstrous replica, since the sense of “monstrum” is wider than its English derivation and covers also the notion of “prodigy.”5 When used about people, the word implied physical deformity, usually contingent on birth, and among the most celebrated of such prodigies were hermaphrodites.6 One man, therefore, conceives in himself things that are by plausible 4. The Oxford Latin Dictionary, ed. P. G. W. Glare, s.v. “imago”: “1. A representation in art of a person or a thing, picture, likeness, image. 2. A death-mask of an ancestor. 3. A reflection in a mirror; (b) a reflection of sound, echo. 4. An image emitted by an object and apprehended by the eyes. 5. An illusion, apparition, ghost, phantom; (med.) hallucination. 6. A representation to the imagination, mental picture. 7. A representation in words, description, sketch; (b) (rhet.) a comparison, simile. 8. That which resembles, but is not, a thing; a semblance, show, imitation. 9. A duplicate, copy, reflection, likeness, image. 10. A similar thing serving as an illustration, parallel, model, example. 11. That which indicates or makes visible, an example, manifestation, personification. 12. Visible form, shape, appearance. 13. Shape, form, species.” 5. The Oxford Latin Dictionary, s.v. “monstrum”: “1. An unnatural event regarded as an omen, a portent, prodigy, sign. 2. An awful, monstrous thing, event, etc. 3. A monstrous or horrible creature, monstrosity, monster. 5. A monstrous act, horror, atrocity.” S.v. “monstruosus”: “portentous, ill-omened; (esp. transf.) unnatural, strange, monstrous.” The poem “In puellam hermaphroditam,” cited by Boswell (Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 185, n. 58), begins, in the vocative: “Monstrum feminei bimembre sexus.” 6. See in particular Augustine’s comments on prodigies (“monstruosa hominum genera”) in the De civitate Dei 16.8 (themselves adapted from 7.2 of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History):


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medieval connotation hermaphroditic, and these monstrous abominations partake in the same semantic field as the equally monstrous and potentially replicating initial appearance of Nature.7 By this stage in the text, a hermaphroditic self-replication has in fact already been countenanced. As already stated, the narrator/protagonist begins to bring the initial metrum to a close with the fantasy of being kissed by a “It remains to be ascertained whether we are to assume that particular monstrous races of men described by pagan histories were descended from the sons of Noah, or, rather, from that one man from whom they themselves traced their lineage. Some of them are held to have a single eye in the middle of the forehead; others to have their soles pointing backward behind the legs; others are by nature of both sexes, male in the right breast and female on the left, and take turns in sexual intercourse between the roles of begetting and conceiving” (“Quaeritur etiam, utrum ex filiis Noe, vel potius ex illo uno homine, unde etiam ipsi extiterunt, propagata esse credendum sit quaedam monstrosa hominum genera, quae gentium narrat historia; sicut perhibentur quidam unum habere oculum in fronte media; quibusdam plantas versas esse post crura; quibusdam utriusque sexus esse naturam et dextram mamam virilem, sinistram muliebrem, vicibusque inter se coeundo et gignere et parere”). After then discussing monstrous races that variously lack mouths, grow to only a cubit tall, give birth at the age of five, have two feet but one leg, lack heads but have their faces in their torsos, and have the heads of dogs and bark accordingly, Augustine remarks: “Androgynes, otherwise known as Hermaphrodites, are unquestionably rare. However, it is difficult to imagine any time at which there were no people exhibiting both sexes. It is unclear what name they should best be given. In prevailing usage, they are referred to in the more eminent masculine and no one has ever called them Androgynaecae or Hermaphroditae” (“Androgyni, quos etiam Hermaphroditos nuncupant, quamvis ad modum rari sint, difficile est tamen ut temporibus desint, in quibus sic uterque sexus apparet, ut, ex quo potius debeant accipere nomen, incertum sit; a meliore tamen, hoc est a masculino, ut appellarentur, loquendi consuetudo praevaluit. Nam nemo umquam Androgynaecas aut Hermaphroditas nuncupavit”). The edition used is that of B. Dombart, published as Aurelii Augustini episcopi De civitate Dei libri XXII. Also, to take an example that I myself have already cited, recall the Liber monstrorum de diversis generibus, the opening chapter of which is about the man who qualifies as a prodigy for no other reason than because he enjoyed the “female” (“muliebria”) role in intercourse with other men and was therefore judged to be “of both sexes” (“utriusque sexus”). See, again, chapter 4, n. 9. 7. Alanus returns to Nature’s initially “monstrous” appearance when he later attempts to explain why he lost consciousness at her approach: “Consequenter uero ad excusationis asilum confugiens, precibus humilitatis melle conditis eius beniuolentiam exorabam, ne uel mee temeritatis assignaret errori uel indignationis supercilio deputaret uel ingratitudinis uenenis ascriberet, quod eius aduentui nullam hilaritatis festiuitatem persolueram. Sed potius eius apparentia uelut monstruosi fantasmatis anomala apparitione percussus, adulterina extasis morte fueram soporatus” (6.179–84; emphasis added).

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young woman. Scarcely articulated, this dream veers into unexpectedly ambiguous territory: Spiritus exiret ad basia, deditus ori Totus et in labiis luderet ipse sibi, Vt dum sic moriar, in me defunctus, in illa Felici uita perfruar alter ego. (1.47–50)

My spirit would go out to meet these kisses and, now entirely lodged in her mouth, would amuse itself on the lips in such a way that, no longer alive in me, I would die and enjoy a blissful life, in her another self.

The hypothetical encounter brings consequences that grammatically reproduce everything that Alanus has so far criticized and that Nature will extensively excoriate hereafter. The first effect of the kiss is the departure of the spirit, which now hovers on the girl’s lips.8 The resulting ecstasy entails a death to the masculine self, and Alanus becomes a male spirit who inhabits a female body. Now existing “in illa alter ego,” he retains the propriety of the masculine subject, yet does so in a construction that allows him also to be accommodated by the feminine. Imagining his alter ego in grammatical and physical alterity, Alanus dreams of being precisely the hermaphrodite he accuses others of becoming. Or, to return to an earlier sequence of the poem, with the apposite stress on word ending, he conceives of himself displaying a double termination and as a result resembling those men he censures when he states: “Femina uir factus sexus denigrat honorem, / Ars magice Veneris hermaphroditat eum. / Predicat et subicit, fit duplex terminus idem” (1.17–19). At the point at which Nature takes Alanus in her arms and provides the kisses he so fondly desires, this miraculous doubling of the self is indeed accomplished and the “monstruosa imago” conceived: the male spirit finds itself exteriorized in female form, there to live a blissful life, and Alanus comes to assume a second self, incarnated as a woman and not merely, as the modern Achilles, clad in her garments. The results are even more prodigious than those anticipated in the initial metrum: while Alanus imagines it will be necessary to die as himself in order to exist “in illa alter ego,” after his self-reduplicating kiss with Nature he continues to live also in his initial masculinity. That Na8. The Latin “in labiis” is indeterminate and could mean “on her lips” or “on my lips.” The verb “exiret,” however, unequivocally imposes the former reading.


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ture is already present before this prodigy takes place, gliding down from the heavens and bestowing the desired kisses, does not vitiate the coherence of this hermaphroditic reproduction. The initial metrum is part of diegesis: when Nature first appears before him, Alanus is in the process of repeatedly reiterating its verses (“Cum hec elegiaca lamentabili eiulatione crebrius recenserem, mulier ab impassibilis mundi penitiori delapsa palacio, ad me maturare uidebatur accessum” [2.1–3]). In terms of narrative development, the poetic lament functions as a metamorphic incantation, since the aberrations Alanus decries anticipate what he himself will undergo, as he deplores both conception in and of the self and men becoming women. The prescriptive force of Alanus’ words in effect conjures Nature into being, first as a mute physical reproduction in female form and, after the kiss, as a medium through which the sentiments expressed in the initial metrum will achieve extensive amplification. Now “femina vir factus,” “deviratus” to become “devirata,” Alanus will articulate her own grief as the planctus Naturae and therein reiterate the sadness expressed in the planctus Alani with which the text begins.9 All the affronts to plausibility of this cross-gendered self-replication are circumvented by oneiric context: as already mentioned, the De planctu is a dream narrative, rendered at the end of the text not as the neutral-to-positive “sompnium” but as its troubling pendant, “insompnium,”10 at best a dream beset by daytime anxieties, at worst, quite simply, a nightmare.11 Nature emerges as the most disquieting figment of this internal drama, incarnating the antithesis of everything she professes to represent. A mother incestuously desired by her son and also the son by whom she was created exteriorized 9. Or, to use one of Alain’s neologisms, culled from Nature’s later criticism of man’s singular proclivity to sexual sin, Alanus becomes “tiresiatus” (8.57)—literally “Tiresiatized,” manbecome-woman, following Tiresias in Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.316–48. 10. “Postquam Genius huius anathematis exterminio finem orationi concessit, huic imprecationi applaudens uirginum assistentia, festino confirmationis uerbo Genii roborauit edictum lampadesque cereorum in manibus uirginum suis meridiantes luminibus in terram cum quadam aspernatione demisse extinctionis uidebantur sopore deiecte. Huius igitur imaginarie uisionis subtracto speculo, me ab extasis excitatum insompnio prior mistice apparitionis dereliquit aspectus” (18.159–65). 11. The classic definitions of dreams known to the Middle Ages are those found in Macrobius’ Commentary on the Dream of Scipio. According to Macrobius, the insomnium is “caused by anxieties of the mind or body or concerns over the future, which plague the individual while he sleeps very much as they do when he is awake” (“Est enim . . . quotiens cura oppressi animi corporisve sive fortunae, qualis vigilantem fatigaverat, talem se ingerit dormienti”). The edition is that of James Willis, published as Ambrosii Theodosii Macrobii Commentarii in Somnivm Scipionis, here 1.3.4.

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in female form, this “monstruosa imago” is a grotesque travesty of another offspring and another mother, described in all their resistance to dialectical categorization by Alain in his other work of fiction, the Anticlaudianus: Hic natura silet, logicae vis exulat omnis, Rhetoricae perit arbitrium, ratioque vacillat. Haec est quae miro divini muneris usu Nata patrem, natumque parens concepit, honorem Virgineum retinens, nec perdens jura parentis, In cujus ventris thalamo sibi summa paravit Hospitium deitas, tunicam sibi texuit ipse Filius artificis summi, nostraeque salutis Induit ipse togam, nostro vestitus amictu.12

Here nature is silent, all power of logic takes up exile, the judgment of rhetoric perishes and reason vacillates. Here is she who, through the miraculous power of divine benevolence, gave birth to the father by whom she was born and was mother to him, now her son. She retained the honor of virginity without losing the rights of a parent. In the chamber of her womb the almighty godhead prepared his own hospice. The son of the supreme artificer wove a garment for himself and, clothed in our flesh, dressed in the robe of our salvation.

While the “autogamic” progeny of the Virgin assures the path to redemption will be open to those of the faith, the mutual reproduction of Alanus and Nature would appear the most unhallowed of couplings, a double simulacrum caught in a vertiginous mise en abyme of self-reflexivity, at once hermaphroditic, onanistic, and incestuous. While Christ assures the consequences of the original sin will be reversed, the auto-referential figure of the De planctu bespeaks the fall itself. When first introduced, Nature is described as “delapsa” (2.2). Certainly, the participle can here be lent its specialized sense, since it is regularly employed to refer to a deity who has glided down from the heavens.13 However, in this text that takes as its dominant concern a fall from an 12. Ed. Wright, 5.9.8–16 (p. 362). 13. For example, Virgil, Aeneid, ed. H. Rushton Fairclough, 7.620–22, on Juno: “tum regina deum caelo delapsa morantis/ impulit ipsa manu portas, et cardine verso/ belli ferratos rumpit Saturnia postis.” More generally, see the Oxford Latin Dictionary, s.v. “delabor”: “2. To descend (of one’s own accord) through the air, fly or glide down.”


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originary natural plenitude, the word takes on a far less benign meaning. Now herself a hermaphroditic monstrosity that incarnates the aberrations she excoriates, Nature too is fallen.14 As will by now be apparent, Nature presents Venus as the antithesis to all that she herself attempted to institute as the norm of sexuality. Equally apparent, however, will be Nature’s own implication in the origin of the alleged deviance she denounces. This is how she explains her response to her divinely-instituted duty to oversee reproduction: “Ita tamen sub diuine potestatis misterio ministerium huius operationis exercui, ut mee actionis manum dextera supreme auctoritatis dirigeret, quia mee scripture calamus exorbitatione subita deuiaret, nisi supremi Dispensatoris digito regeretur. Sed quia sine subministratorii artificis artificio suffragante tot rerum species expolire non poteram meque in etheree regionis amenante palatio placuit commorari, ubi uenti rixa effecate serenitatis pacem non perimit, ubi accidentalis nox nubium etheris indefessum diem non sepelit, ubi nulla tempestatis seuit iniuria, ubi nulla debachantis tonitrus minatur insania, Venerem in fabrili scientia conpertam meeque operationis subuicariam in mundiali suburbio collocaui, ut ipsa sub mee preceptionis arbitrio, Ymenei coniugis filiique Cupidinis industria suffragante, in terrestrium animalium uaria effigiatione desudans, fabriles malleos suis regulariter adaptans incudibus, humani generis seriem indefessa continuatione contexeret, ne Parcarum manibus intercisa discidii iniurias sustineret.” (8.232–46) “Under the mysterious power of the Divine, I fulfilled what was required of me in this task, with the right hand of the supreme authority directing my actions, since my pen would abruptly stray off course were it not guided by the finger of the Supreme Arbiter. However, because without the supplementary aid of a surrogate worker I could not bring to completion so many species of things and because it pleased me to linger in my agreeable palace in the ethereal regions, where no swirling winds disturb the peace of perfect serenity, where no sudden night buries in darkness the unflagging day of the ether, where no violence of storms rages, and where no wild thunder brings the threat of mad destruction, I appointed Venus, with her expert craftsmanship, on the fringes of the universe to work at this task as my dele14. Again, the Oxford Latin Dictionary, s.v. “delabor”: “4. To be brought by circumstances (into a condition), fall; to sink (by moral or sim. standards), slip.”

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gate. There, following my will and instruction, and with the additional help of her husband, Hymenaeus, and her son, Cupid, she would labor in shaping the varied species of animal found on earth, matching the craftsman’s hammers to the anvils appropriate to them, and would untiringly weave the continuous line of the human race in case it should be severed at the hands of the Fates and sustain the damage of discontinuity.”

The first of the reasons Nature adduces for appointing an assistant is defensible, though it qualifies her powers and makes her somewhat less hieratic a figure than could perhaps have been expected: because, Nature states, there were so many species to perpetuate, she enlisted supplementary labor to assure they all receive the attention God had presumably ordered her to give them. But the second of her reasons belies even this, since she used Venus not as an addition to her own efforts but as a substitute whose presence enabled her to absent herself altogether. What, then, should have supplemented as a principle of complementarity instead supplements as a principle of surrogation. But Nature is not simply inadequate to the task of fulfilling her natural responsibilities. She is prone to pleasure, delegating her duties to Venus in order to enjoy a life of ease in the locus amoenus of her ethereal residence and avoid the discomforts occasioned by the elemental chaos of the cosmic fringes (discomforts, we note, she describes with an attention to detail that bespeaks a truly appalled horror: “ubi uenti rixa effecate serenitatis pacem non perimit, ubi accidentalis nox nubium etheris indefessum diem non sepelit, ubi nulla tempestatis seuit iniuria, ubi nulla debachantis tonitrus minatur insania”). The plaint of Nature is therefore a consequence of delinquency on the part of Nature herself, and when Venus eventually neglects her duties the precedent has already been set, as the substitute simply follows the lead of the overseeing power she was assigned to replace. What is more, the catastrophic results of this delegated irresponsibility could have been anticipated. As Mark D. Jordan indicates, Nature willfully chooses to disregard her own experience when she abandons Venus to solitary labor: In the official narrative, Venus’ culpable boredom leads her to disarrange hammers and anvils. But Nature herself had conceded earlier that she could carry out the exacting work of writing reproduction only if her hand were constantly guided by God. A moment without divine guidance, and the writing would immediately deviate—not into sterility, but into illicit


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reproduction. How then could she delegate this work to Venus, placing the powerful stylus in her lesser hands?15

Despite her intent to incriminate Venus, Nature unwittingly contrives to do the opposite, and, with similar exculpatory effect, she proceeds to imply that the goddess’s eventual dereliction of her duties was in fact quite predictable (natural, in fact), citing the impatience provoked by repetitious tasks as not simply a recognized phenomenon but a universal tendency and thus a response that could surely have been avoided had the requisite foresight been brought to bear: “Sicque aliquandiu stipendiarie administrationis iura michi officiosissima curiositate persoluit. Sed quoniam ex matre sacietatis idemptitate fastiditus animus indignatur cotidianique laboris ingruentia exequendi propositum appetitus extinguitur, unitas operis tociens repetita Cytheream infestauit fastidiis continuateque laborationis effectus laborandi seclusit affectum. Illa igitur magis appetens ociis effeminari sterilibus quam fructuosis exerceri laboribus, serialis operationis exercitatione negociali postposita, nimie ociositatis eneruata desidiis cepit infantiliter iuuenari.” (10.118–26) “For a while she showed the greatest diligence in carrying out for me the obligations I had given her as my deputy. But, because the mind from infancy onwards grows weary and indignant if made to deal with the same thing over and over again, and because the burden of daily labor extinguishes the appetite to complete what has been begun, the monotony of so often repeating the same assignment quickly filled Venus with impatience, with the effect that this continuous labor ultimately put an end to her willingness to do any work at all. Therefore, finding more to enjoy in unproductive, womanly leisure than in the fruitful exertions of work, she lost any enthusiasm for the demands made on her by this repetitive task, and, pushed on by her desire to be as free of responsibility as possible, she began to act with a lack of judgment that was worthy of a child.”

Nature’s description of Venus abandoning her duties in essence tells the same story as her reference to herself taking refuge in her ethereal palace: if the 15. Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy, 85–86. A similar point is made by Pittenger, “Explicit Ink,” 231.

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goddess of love is guilty of “finding more to enjoy in unproductive, womanly leisure than in the fruitful exertions of work,” so too is Nature.16 Under these conditions, Nature is ultimately responsible for the falsigraphia Venus proceeds to perpetrate when left to her own devices. This being so, she is also responsible for all the activities she identifies as deviant, most notably homosexuality, the form of desire she most frequently cites as an anathema to her. While Nature grammatically denies at every turn that erotic intimacy between people of the same sex is natural, she contradicts herself through the metaphor she employs to configure her natural truth as a corporeal presence that can be either hidden from view or, in special cases, divested and displayed. Consider once more her comments upon the incestuous violence she is forced to endure: “Cum enim, ut prediximus, plerique homines in suam matrem uiciorum armentur iniuriis, inter se et ipsam maximum chaos dissensionis firmantes, in me uiolentas manus uiolenter iniciunt et mea sibi particulatim uestimenta diripiunt et, quam reuerentie deberent honore uestire, me uestibus orphanatam, quantum in ipsis est, cogunt meretricaliter lupanare. Hoc ergo integumentum hac scissura depingitur quod solius hominis iniuriosis insultibus mea pudoris ornamenta discidii contumelias paciuntur.” (8.165–72) “As I mentioned earlier, many men take up vices as arms to do violence against their mother and declare to exist between them and her the greatest possible chaos that could be caused by such dissension. They violently lay their violent hands on me and rip my clothing into small pieces to keep for themselves, and, as far as they can, when they should dress me in reverential honor, they instead deprive me of my clothes and force me to be offered around as a slut. Represented, then, by the tear you mention is the way the outer garb of my modesty has undergone the mortification of being ripped apart by the injuries and insults of man alone.”

Nature draws a startling equation between knowledge, albeit unwillingly surrendered, and alleged sexual perversion. The “uiciorum iniuria” she mentions here can only be the deviations away from conventional sexuality that she by 16. Consult also Keiser, Courtly Desire & Medieval Homophobia: “Despite this apparent insight into how boredom creates sloth and how diversion is sought as an antidote to inertia, Nature sees no connection between her own choice to move away from this fatiguing job to an easier way of life in more pleasing surroundings and her apprentice’s urge for recreation” (77).


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her own account (“ut praediximus”) has catalogued earlier in this same prose section (8.54–92). This is absolute. Nature has not so far even mentioned anything else that could be remotely identified as vice or violence directed against her. What is more, her reference to transgressions that man alone commits (“solius hominis iniuriosa insulta”; emphasis added) marks a clear thematic and grammatical return to the beginning of her comments on purportedly unnatural sexuality (“solus homo, mee modulationis citharam aspernatus, sub delirantis Orphei lira delirat” [8.54–55]; emphasis added), which itself gestures back to her first reference to the singularity of man and the crimes she later ascribes to the falsigraphus: “Cum omnia lege sue originis meis legibus teneantur obnoxia michique debeant ius statuti uectigalis persoluere, fere omnia tributarii iuris exhibitione legitima meis edicitis regulariter obsequuntur. Sed ab huius uniuersalitatis regula solus homo anomala exceptione seducitur, qui pudoris trabea denudatus impudicitieque meretricali prostibulo prostitutus, in sue domine maiestatem litis audet excitare tumultum, uerum etiam in matrem intestini belli rabiem inflammare. Cetera, quibus mee gracie humiliora munera commodaui, pro suarum professionum conditione subiectione uoluntaria meorum decretorum sanctionibus alligantur. Homo uero, qui fere totum mearum diuitiarum exhausit erarium, nature naturalia denaturare pertemptans, in me soloecistice Veneris armat iniuriam.” (8.10–21; emphasis added) “All things, by the law of their origin, are bound to my laws and must by stipulation pay the tribute I have instituted, and almost all of them show the necessary respect for these legal requirements by paying, in accordance with my edicts, their tribute at regular intervals. Only man goes against the norm and makes an exception of himself by refusing to participate in this universal regulation. Stripped bare of the robe of modesty and shamelessly offering himself up for sale as a prostitute, he has the audacity to instigate tumultuous litigation against the majesty of his mistress and even goes so far as to fan the flames of civil war against his mother. Out of my graciousness I furnished all other things with more humble gifts, and they of their own volition remain beholden to the varied terms I decreed should be applied to each. Man, nonetheless, who has practically exhausted the entire sum of my wealth, attempts to denature all that is natural in nature and arms the violence of a solecistic Venus against me.” (emphasis added)

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Thus the violence Nature decries assumes a twofold identity. In this earlier passage it is the pursuit of “unnatural” sexual practices (“soloecistice Veneris iniuria”) that do not take reproduction as their goal and, to respect Nature’s metaphor, do not represent the tribute that should be paid by natural stipulation; and later it is an act of aggression whereby her body will be forcibly exposed (“me uestibus orphanatam . . . cogunt meretricaliter lupanare”). Therefore, by Nature’s own account, to take pleasure in nonreproductive sexual practices is to tear Nature’s clothing apart and to unveil her naked body, and both, assessed according to the vestiary figurations used here and elsewhere to suggest enlightenment, are successful efforts to force Nature to give up secrets she would prefer to keep hidden. Accordingly, to participate in nonreproductive sexuality is to gain access to the innermost secret of Nature, and the ultimate natural truth, one Nature herself so vehemently attempts to occlude, is revealed to be all that is allegedly deviant, including homosexuality, that apparently irregular declension of erotic preferences that Alanus and Nature cite as the apogee of all conceivable perversions. However, despite the inadvertent avowals he scripts for Nature, Alain is no more an overt apologist of homosexuality than a defender of masturbation, adultery, and incest. All, he concedes, are natural contingencies of the human condition. But all, he suggests through an overwhelming hyperbole of denunciation, must be resisted. What emerges from the grammar of Alain’s writing is an idealized image of rectified irregularity: all men and women sin in erotic potential, but all must follow the straight path of heterosexual moderation.17 What precedes addresses sexual desire only. In the context of the writing through which it is configured, self-denial is not even any longer a possibility, except under the extreme circumstances of also denying the very language that Nature is made to use. Here are the first requirements Nature imposed on Venus at the moment of delegating her the task of overseeing reproduction: “Cum enim, attestante gramatica, duo genera specialiter, masculinum uidelicet et femininum, ratio nature cognouerit, quamuis et quidam homines, sexus depauperati signaculo, iuxta meam oppinionem possint neutri generis designatione censeri, tamen Cypridi sub intimis ammonitionibus minarumque immensis iniunxi tonitruis, ut in suis coniunctionibus ratione exigentie naturalem constructionem solummodo masculini femininique 17. I emphasize “grammar” here. What emerges from Alain’s rhetoric is another matter altogether, and I shall return to it in the next chapter.


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generis celebraret. Cum enim masculinum genus suum femininum exigentia habitudinis genialis adsciscat, si eorundem generum constructio anomale celebretur, ut res eiusdem sexus sibi inuicem construantur, illa equidem constructio nec euocationis remedio uel conceptionis suffragio apud me ueniam poterit promereri. Si enim genus masculinum genus consimile quadam irrationabilis rationis deposcat iniuria nulla figure honestate illa constructionis iunctura uicium poterit excusare sed inexcusabili soloecismi monstruositate turpabitur.” (10.43–57) “Since, as grammar testifies, the scheme of Nature specifically acknowledged two genders, that is the masculine and the feminine (though certain men, bereft of the slightest sign of sex, could in my opinion be considered neuter), I ordered Venus, with personal warnings and grave, thundering threats, systematically and solely to use, as reason requires, the natural union of the masculine and feminine in her constructions. The masculine gender takes to itself the feminine through the exigencies of reproductive practice. However, if an anomalous construction involving the same gender should become commonplace, with one thing coming into contact with another of the same sex, that construction would never be tolerated by me either as a means of evocation or a supplement to conception. If the masculine gender, through the deleterious influence of unreasonable reason, should demand a gender identical to itself, the union created by such a construction would never be able to excuse its vice as an honorable figure, but would be laid bare in all its ugliness as the inexcusable monstrosity of the solecism.”

In sanctioning the union of masculine and feminine, the above offers a coherent metaphor for straight sex. Yet, despite Nature’s reference to grammar as the model for “natural” couplings, it contradicts the grammatical conventions of the very language she is speaking. By Nature’s definition, Latin, and, indeed, any language predicated on gendered termination and agreement, would have to be categorized as homosexual, since it requires the adjective agree with the noun and thereby brings together words of the same gender. As she continues, Nature indirectly draws attention to precisely this paradox: “Preterea Cipridi mea indixit preceptio, ut ipsa in suis constructionibus, suppositiones appositionesque ordinarias obseruando, rem feminini sexus caractere presignitam suppositionis destinaret officio, rem uero specificatam masculini generis intersignis sede collocaret appositi, ut nec appositum

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in uicem suppositi ualeat declinare nec suppositum possit in regionem appositi transmigrare. Et cum utrumque exigatur ab altero, appositum sub adiectiua proprietate, supposito substantiue proprietatis proprium retinenti, exigentie legibus inuitatur.” (10.58–65) “Furthermore, my teaching required that Venus observe in her constructions guidelines regarding how the upper and lower positions should be occupied. Specifically she was to assign the lower function to the female sex and put anything bearing the particulars of the male gender in a more eminent position above. In this way she was to avoid the prospect of the superjacent descending to take the place of the subjacent and the subjacent migrating to the region of the superjacent. Because each is demanded by the other, the superjacent, which takes on the properties of the adjective, should be invited by rightful necessity to unite with the subjacent, which retains the properties of the noun.”

At first, Nature briefly amplifies the terms of her criticism, extending her charge of effeminacy to include any man, straight or gay, who should renounce what she calls the “eminence” of his gender in order to adopt the apparently female, lower position in intercourse. Yet, by then insisting there must be no deviation from the male superjacent physically allying itself to the female subjacent (“appositum supposito exigentie legibus inuitatur”), she by contrast contemplates an even greater affront to her laws, the possibility of both positions being occupied by people of the same sex. Despite her desire to denounce such combinations, Nature herself performs the homosexual copula she rejects. In categories such as “feminini sexus,” she correctly realizes the grammatical union of superjacent adjective and subjacent noun. Yet the “female” position she in this same passage assigns the substantive is occupied by a noun that has the same masculine gender as its superjacent. This agreement of same-sex terminations is an unavoidable corollary of the language Nature uses, and to attempt in Latin the type of union she cites as natural would be to create the construction she rejects as “the inexcusable monstrosity of the solecism”: “puer pulchra” and “puella pulcher”—for example—correctly juxtapose the masculine and feminine as Nature demands, but they are oxymorons of double termination and, according to the most basic rules of Latin grammar, quite simply wrong. Certainly, this problem can be circumvented. Nature speaks from within the linguistic domain of the fallen Venus, yet she does so in order to look back at a prelapsarian, “natural” language that cannot be expressed in the alterity of

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the conventions she must of necessity employ. But this gesture to an ineffable ideal merely draws attention to the sexual ambivalences of its fallen surrogate. Whatever Venus was assigned to regulate is lost forever, and in its place is a discursive register that obliges Nature to use the grammatical copula she attempts to revoke. In fact, the distance separating Nature and Alanus from “natural” language is so great that any effort to use post-lapsarian grammatical forms to render what has been lost merely resolves into a reproduction of the hermaphroditic monstrosity both characters see as the condition of the falsigraphus: “puer pulchra” and “puella pulcher,” though correct according to Nature’s primordial script, exemplify the gendered duality of double termination that Alanus laments when he states: “Femina uir factus sexus denigrat honorem. / Ars magice Veneris hermaphroditat eum” (1.17–18).18 Alain clearly would not have written this linguistic prehistory had he not been aware of his own implication in its consequences. He, like Nature, can never return to the originary moment of natural orthography, and he goes so far as to imply that he cannot even conceptualize what such a discourse would be, except in terms of an absolute, all-inverting alterity from everything to which he is accustomed. In fact, according to Nature’s sexual metaphor, there is no longer such a thing as straight writing. To employ the fallen grammar of Latinity is to employ a grammar in which male or female categories must occupy the copulating postures of both the superjacent and the subjacent. While we may conjecture that this leaves open the possibility of adopting 18. It is in fact possible to push the alterity of Nature’s grammar even further. In explaining the sexual positions her orthography required, Nature refers to biological sex (here in the feminine) and grammatical gender (here in the masculine) as the same thing (“mea indixit preceptio, ut . . . rem feminini sexus caractere presignitam suppositionis destinaret officio, rem uero specificatam masculini generis intersignis sede collocaret appositi” [emphasis added]). This opens the possibility of interpreting natural grammar to have necessitated something even more radical than a masculine noun being joined to a feminine adjective and vice versa. Since, in Nature’s words, the fact of occupying the lower, substantive position takes not just the female anatomical sex, but also the feminine grammatical gender, as a prerequisite, it could be argued that it would have been simply impossible for a masculine noun to have existed. Similarly, since to be the epithetical appositum is to be male in sex and masculine in grammar, there would have been no such thing as a feminine adjective. In fine, natural grammar would have required all nouns be feminine and all adjectives masculine. Under these conditions, Latin would be even more isolated from Nature’s linguistic premise, since it not only requires agreement but also accommodates masculine and neuter nouns. This, however, changes nothing to my argument, which concerns the necessity of Nature compromising with the homosexual copula she denounces and not the precise identity of the construction she would have preferred (which, as I mention, can only be hypothesized in the alien forms of Latinity).

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another post-lapsarian language, we must do so with the recognition that in the De planctu this was clearly not an eventuality Alain chose to pursue. Nature articulates her plaint in Latin and not some hypothetical alternative that would come closer to her original script. The grammatical copula of noun and adjective is not the only context in which Alain ostentatiously reveals himself to participate in linguistic practices he has Nature banish from her prelapsarian rules. As William Burgwinkle has crucially observed, Nature attempted to proscribe from Venus’ usage even the relatively sober resources of metonymy:19 “Sicut autem quasdam gramatice dialecticeque obseruantias inimicantissime hostilitatis incursus uolui a Veneris anathematizare gignasiis, sic methonomicas rethorum positiones, quas in sue amplitudinis gremio rethorica mater amplectens, multis suas orationes afflat honoribus, Cypridis artificiis interdixi, ne si nimis dure translationis excursu a suo reclamante subiecto predicatum alienet in aliud, in facinus facetia, in rusticitatem urbanitas, tropus in uicium, in decolorationem color nimius conuertatur.” (10.108–14) “Just as I wished to ban from the practice of Venus certain observances of grammar and dialectic, proscribing them as anathemas, forays into the territory of my most hostile enemy, I also excluded from Venus’ craftsmanship the metonymic placements used by rhetors, which Mother Rhetoric herself holds to her ample breast and uses to breathe great dignity into her orations. I did this in case, trying out too intricate a figure, she should remove the signifier from its subjacent sense and, despite the objections of the latter, place it elsewhere and go to the extreme of allowing felicity to turn into error, urbanity into rusticity, the trope into vice, and color into discoloration.”

Once more, Nature is being figurative: she literally speaks of metonymy, yet does so with an ulterior intention of stressing the imperative not to substitute what should occupy the supine position in intercourse. Yet, this is a supremely self-reflexive moment in a supremely self-reflexive text. Nature uses tropic substitution as a trope, but does so in a grammatical construction that designates, quite specifically, tropic substitution as an anathema to her. This has the effect of making Nature speak against the use of the very metaphor she 19. Burgwinkle, Sodomy, Masculinity, and Law, 180–83.


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employs. One could, perhaps, object by arguing that metonymy and metaphor are not the same thing. But two points must be taken into account. First, Nature’s concern in disciplining Venus was, quite simply, to assure the goddess of love not “remove the signifier from its subjacent sense and, despite the objections of the latter, place it elsewhere,” that is, perform precisely the semiotic displacement that metaphor also achieves. Second, medieval tropic theory (unlike Jakobsonian structuralism) categorizes metonomia and metaphora as allied subcategories of tropus, not as a syntagmatic/paradigmatic pendants to one another. Among the most widely read analyses of tropi in the High Middle Ages are those found in Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae.20 Isidore defines metaphora as “verbi alicuius usurpata translatio” (1.37.2) and gives examples (1.37.3–5). He then, after dealing with catachresis (“alienae rei nomen adpositum”; 1.37.6) and metalempsis (“tropus a praecedente quod sequitur”; 1.37.7), broaches metonymia, which he identifies as “transnominatio ab alia significatione ad aliam proximitatem translata” (1.37.8). Accordingly Isidore defines both metaphora and metonymia as principles of transfer (“translatio,” “transnominatio translata” respectively), and specifies, as their sole semiotic difference, the requirement that metonymia effect this translation of sense between related categories (“ab alia significatione ad aliam proximitatem”). In this linguistic context, abstinence is of course as possible as it is in the domain of sexuality (or at least theoretically so—the prospect of completely avoiding metonymy, metaphor, synecdoche, or any other trope that effects a shift from the literal is difficult to imagine). But it is an abstinence that Alain categorically rejects, and with wide-ranging consequences. By refusing to deny himself the pleasures of metaphor, Alain exhibitionistically shows himself to be a practitioner of the falsigraphia he has Nature cite as the obverse of her orthography. The metaphorical deviance that subtends this constant recourse to figuration has been astutely identified by a number of critics. In the context of the initial metrum, Larry Scanlon comes to the very crux of Alain’s rhetorical paradox when he remarks that, in using terms for figuration (“figura,” “translatio,” “tropus” and, ultimately, “uicium”) as figures for sexual irregularity, 20. Themselves explicitly derived from the (also canonical) Ars grammatica of Donatus: “Tropos Graeco nomine grammatici vocant qui Latine modi locutionum interpretantur. Fiunt autem a propria significatione ad non propriam similitudinem. Quorum omnium nomina difficillimum est adnotare, sed ex omnibus Donatus tredecim usui tradenda conscripsit.” The edition cited is that of W. M. Lindsay, published as Isidori Hispalensis Episcopi Etymologiarum sive Originum Libri XX, here 1.37.1. Cf. Roman Jakobson, “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances.”

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“Alain becomes guilty of the very sin he decries in making the comparison.”21 Elizabeth Pittenger makes a similar point in her discussion of the rape of Ganymede. Through the threefold play on the verb “transferre” (“transferens,” “transtulit,” “translatum”)22 Jupiter’s transfer of Ganymede to the heavens is grammatically an act of translatio, of metaphor itself, and this superimposition prepares for the homosexual metaphoricity of the immediately following period, in which intercourse between men is figuratively expressed as the “unnatural” copula of male predicate upon male subject.23 More recently, Noah Guynn demonstrates that Alanus performs precisely the discursive decadence he uses to configure barren sexuality. At the beginning of the text Alanus complains that the male hammer no longer seeks the female anvil. Yet, as Guynn observes, he in the process employs a trope that militates against the heterosexual copula it is intended to signify: If the anvil transforms the vagina and uterus into an impervious plane rather than a vessel for enveloping new life, the union of hammer and anvil should be understood as impeding procreation and thwarting Nature’s design. Moreover, if the anvil is a hard surface struck by an equally hard hammer, then the metaphor tends toward the pairing of like with like—precisely the error it is meant to correct. Perhaps, therefore, the anvil should be taken less as a metaphor than a catachresis or vicium: all pairings of hammer and anvil are improper, defective figurations and therefore morally deviant.24

Thus Alanus enacts the twofold descent from propriety he criticizes at an earlier stage in the poem: like the falsigraphus, he repudiates the normative standard of grammar (“grammatice leges,” “ars”),25 commits himself to the 21. Scanlon, “Unspeakable Pleasures,” 221. 22. “Iupiter enim, adolescentem Frigium transferens ad superna, relatiuam uenerem transtulit in translatum. Et quem in mensa per diem propinandi sibi prefecit propositum, in thoro per noctem sibi fecit suppositum” (“Jupiter transferred that adolescent from Phrygia to the heavens and there conferred on him a love that was appropriate to the object of his lust, making the boy stand above him to wait at his table by day and lie beneath him in his bed at night” [8.117–20]). 23. Pittenger, “Explicit Ink,” 226–27. 24. Guynn, Allegory and Sexual Ethics, 108. 25. As part of this threefold decline from desirable rectitude, “ars” is contrasted with “tropus” and “vicium,” and must therefore be a synonym for “grammatice leges.” Danuta Shanzer has rightly argued that the term carries the sense of “grammar book,” “primer.” See “Parturition

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pleasures of the trope (“tropus”), but, in his inclination to excess, falls into rhetorical vice (“vicium”). These insights are particularly apposite to my concerns, and I would like to add to them. I regard Alain’s stylistic choices to be quite deliberate, rather than an infelicitous accident or an inadvertent consequence of exuberance, and I shall argue that they function as a primary medium for the text’s “deviant” significance. By intentionally practicing the rhetorical forms that he uses to configure alleged sexual depravities, Alain aligns himself with the discursive hermaphrodite he has his first-person surrogate denounce in the opening verse sequence of the text, “Ars illi non placet, immo tropus” (1.22).26 Furthermore, in the prose sequences that follow, he proceeds to apply this preference for unnatural figuration to the ostensibly antithetical context of nature itself. Inserted between Alanus’ physical description of Nature (1.3–39) and the beginning of Nature’s explanation for her visit (6.13) are lengthy descriptions of Nature’s garments, each of which is devoted to a discrete domain of her hegemony, including the flora and fauna of the natural world. Here again, Nature shows an alienation from herself, and the shadow of the hermaphrodite subtends all she represents. While men and women, she declares, reject her laws, birds, fish and beasts show due obedience: “Aues uero uariis sigillate naturis, mee directionis regimine, sub alarum remigio fluxus aeris transfretantes, precordialiter meis inhiant disciplinis. . . . Pisces uero, uoto mee professionis astricti, reformidant mearum regularum canonibus derogare. . . . Terrestria uero animalia, sub mee dispositionis examine, diuersas suorum obsequiorum profitentur milicias.” (8.35–36, 43–44, 47–48) “The birds, stamped with their various characteristics, by the regimen of my direction use their wings as oars as they sail across the ocean of the air, and from the bottom of their hearts they yearn for my teaching. . . . through the Nostrils? Thirty-Three Textual problems in Alain de Lille’s ‘De planctu Naturae,’” 141. 26. My view of Alain’s Nature as an exhibitionistic practitioner of the rhetorical excess she denounces finds its laconic origin in remarks I make in “Gerald of Wales’ Topographia Hibernica: Sex and the Irish Nation,” particularly 176–79. This material also appears, in slightly altered form, as chapter 10 of my Historical Fabrication.

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The fishes, too, constrained by a vow of my promulgation, fear to flout the impositions of my rules. . . . The animals of the earth, under the rule of my disposition, offer their allegiance on a variety of fronts.”

Consequently, to observe the birds, fish, and animals on her garments would in itself be sufficient to observe the enactment of the natural laws that Nature refers to in such varied terms (“regimen,” “directio,” “disciplinae,” “professio,” “canones,” “regulae,” “dispositiones,” “examen”). Since Alanus not only observes them but gives a detailed description of what he observes, it would follow that the relevant early sections of the De planctu constitute a demonstration of precisely the nature humanity has elected to pervert. As Mark Jordan and William Burgwinkle have noted, however, these textile projections of the natural world prove disconcerting.27 On the dress (2.148– 95), the eagle grows old and then miraculously young again; the phoenix is reborn through dying; the raven is convinced his offspring are not his own; the cuckoo passes off her offspring as those of another. Most of the birds that are not marked by the stigma of genealogical rupture are in various ways absorbed into a world of confrontation and decay: the hawk is a tyrant demanding tribute; the kite surreptitiously imitates the hawk; the falcon and the heron are at war; the swan sings of its death; the dove swoons in the clutches of desire; the peacock has appropriated the entire sum of natural beauty; the stork gives away its offspring; the sparrow and the crane become freaks, respectively made dwarf and giant; the owl sings lugubrious songs of the dead; the crow wastes its life in idle chatter; the magpie can only express itself in disputation; the jackdaw amasses a treasury of stolen goods; the nightingale laments the loss of her virginity; the partridge comes under attack from the elements; the turtle dove bewails the loss of its mate. Still others reject this lurid scenario of conflict and suffering, but they do so only by living in hermitic isolation (the ostrich, the wild hen), by refusing to wander from their place of birth (the duck and the goose), and by allying themselves to man (the pheasant, the rooster). Others still emerge as no more than imitations of human artifice: the woodpecker and the swallow are architects; the lark employs its throat as a musical instrument; and the parrot imitates human speech. Mentioned last of all is a creature of the air that is not simply repellant in appearance and habit but also the product of the most unhallowed coupling. This is the bat, part 27. Respectively: Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy, 70–71, and Burgwinkle, Sodomy, Masculinity and Law, 179.

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fowl, part mouse, the offspring of dissonant generative patterns. Or, as Alanus puts it, this is the “auis hermaphroditica” (2.193). In a similar manner, many of the animals depicted on the tunic act out dramas of conflict, and some skillfully employ artifice (2.239–78). For example, the ass’s braying is a barbarism (“barbarismus”); the bear is a moneyer (“monetans”) and manipulator of a stylus (“stilus lingue”); the goat is clad in a fraudulent imitation of wool (“lana uestitus sophistica”); the ram is an adulterer (“matrimonii defraud[ans] honorem”); and the fox makes an effort to emulate human cunning (“ad meliorem hominis anhel[ans] astuciam”). The marine domain is equally bizarre (2.201–29), structured according to a clearly defined social hierarchy, with its despots (the pike) ruling over an aquatic fiefdom and barbel. It too is populated by creatures of equivocal form, part fish but also ostensibly part animal (sea-dogs, sea-hares, sea-serpents), and even, in one case, displaying a human countenance—“there the siren, a fish in body, could be read as a man in its face” (“illic in sirenum renibus piscis homo legebatur in facie” [2.212–13]). The fauna of the natural world, therefore, show the vices of men and women, and Nature, repeatedly declaring that man alone ignores her regulations, remains blind to the widespread dysfunctions of her hegemony. Therefore, just as a prelapsarian language of nature once existed, only now to be lost to man’s comprehension, so too did a natural concord that can now only be assessed as a radical and unknown otherness. Appropriately, fallen nature and fallen language reflect one another throughout the description of the natural world, since Alain repeatedly has recourse to figuration in rendering the fauna Alanus observes. Of the thirty-three species of bird projected onto the dress, for example, twenty are described through metaphor, for the most part anthropomorphic: by molting, the eagle, previously Nestor, once again becomes Adonis; by dominating the skies, the hawk is the prefect of the aerial city and demands tribute from his subjects with violent tyranny; in its stealth, the kite puts on the mask of the huntsman; in search of prey, the falcon declares civil war on the heron; in taking the deserted wilds as its habitat, the ostrich renounces secular life; the swan is the prophet of its own death; in making the peacock so beautiful, Nature dispossessed herself of her fortune; the stork offers its young to Nature as a tithe; the sparrow is a dwarf, the crane a giant; the rooster is an astrologer for the people, its voice a timepiece; the owl sings psalms of funereal lamentation; the magpie shows an interest in logic; the dove labors in Venus’ gymnasium; the turtle dove refuses to be a bigamist; the parrot fabricates on the anvil of its throat an imitation

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of the human voice; the woodpecker is an architect, its beak a pickaxe; the nightingale laments its rape; and the lark plays a cithern.28 This tendency to metaphor continues through the following, shorter descriptions of the fish projected on the mantle and the animals on the dress, and it culminates in the last of the seventy-seven species of fauna found on Nature’s garments: Illic martrix cum sabelo semiplenam palliorum pulcritudinem eorum postulantem subsidia suarum pellium nobilitate deducebant ad plenum. (2.276–78) There the marten was joined by the sable in completing the incomplete beauty of mantles that begged to be supplemented by the nobility of their pelts.

The deficient artifice of man, here represented by the textile, falls short of the beauty of nature and must avail itself of the natural supplements provided by animal pelts for completion. But there is an eloquent irony to the context in which this subordination of artifice to nature is affirmed. All of the fauna of the natural world, including the marten and the sable, are projections onto, quite precisely, the textiles of Nature’s clothing, and here the terms of supplementarity are reversed, since the artificial acts as the medium through which the natural may be represented and, through representation, analyzed and understood. While this by no means realizes the completion of “natura” (it is already complete and self-sufficient), it helps complete its relationship with humanity. Witness in this regard the terms in which Nature refers to her descent to mankind: “An ignoras que terreni orbis exorbitatio, que mundani ordinis inordinatio, que mundialis curie incuria, que iuris iniuria, ab internis penetralibus celestis archani in uulgaria terrenorum lupanaria me declinare coegit?” (8.2–5) 28. I am possibly being conservative in my estimate of metaphor here: the wild rooster, for example, is described “deriding” the life led by its domestic cousins; the crow “prognosticates” the future; the raven is involved in “disputation”; the partridge is “deceived by the sophistry” (“sophismata”) of hunters, as is the quail by the hunter imitating its own call; the cuckoo makes its victim into “the stepmother” who has “adopted” its offspring; and the bat (catalogued as a bird) is “hermaphroditic.” All of these are indeed metaphors. I bracket them because they could be regarded as sufficiently idiomatic to have lost their figurative resonance.


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“Do you not know what exorbitant movement of the terrestrial orb, what disorder of the universal order, what oversight of the world’s overseers, what lawlessness of law, has forced me to descend from the inner sanctum of the heavenly mysteries to the vulgar whorehouses of the earth?”

Nature habitually resides among the hieratic mysteries of the divine, inaccessible to men and women and accordingly beyond their ken. In her view, to condescend to humanity, as she presently must, is an act of self-vilification. But it is inevitable, a consequence of the necessity of making herself accessible to the very category she denounces, and that of, course, is the falsigraphus, who, as she elsewhere indicates, already inhabits the context of harlotry she is now forced to enter: “Sed ab huius uniuersalitatis regula solus homo anomala exceptione seducitur, qui pudoris trabea denudatus impudicitieque meretricali prostibulo prostitutus, in sue domine maiestatem litis audet excitare tumultum, uerum etiam in matrem intestini belli rabiem inflammare.” (8.12–16) “Only man goes against the norm and makes an exception of himself by refusing to participate in this universal regulation. Stripped bare of the robe of modesty and shamelessly offering himself up for sale as a prostitute, he has the audacity to instigate tumultuous litigation against the majesty of his mistress and even goes so far as to fan the flames of civil war against his mother.”

In order to be understood, Nature must join the falsigraphus in the whorehouses of the earth and employ the discourse of humanity. This entails recourse to the homoerotic couplings of the language she must now speak and to the displacing figurations she once tried to preclude. But it also entails recourse to something of even greater import. “Natura,” whether interpreted as an abstract principle of reproduction or the sum of phenomena constituting the mundus, cosmic or terrestrial, that lies beyond human culture, is not, in the experience of readers of any era, a woman who flies through the air in a chariot of glass drawn by doves, still less a beautiful virgin who visits men in order to give them kisses, frown at their questions, explain how her dress came to be torn, and discuss, among other things, unconventional sex, alcoholic prelates, and the goddess Venus as though a demonstrably real individual. In the De planctu, however, “natura” assumes this garrulous corporeality and in doing so is more than simply a user of

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metaphor—she is embodied by it. By taking on human form, “natura” is no longer true to its literal self and, now signifying through an alien signifier, becomes an example of the shift she vainly precluded from the orthography of Venus. It is through inhabiting the trope that Nature, her dismissive vocabulary notwithstanding, ultimately validates the artifice of the fallen world and demonstrates not only the necessity of falsigraphia but its utility. Her plaint, by its nature, obviously expresses loss. But this loss is in itself, to use Remigius’ expression, one of the “truths of things” that Alain acknowledges as a condition of humanity.

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Alain de Lille, De planctu Naturae: Varied Colors of Venereal Discourse

The necessary recourse to falsigraphia brings pleasures of its own. These, obviously, differ from the joys Nature professes to have attempted to institute when God created her as his amanuensis. But whatever such delights may have been is now unknown and unknowable, and full reconciliation with the post-lapsarian world entails a willingness to find beauty in the vulgar whorehouse inhabited by man. Here too, Nature is a participant in activities she claims to abhor, yet in this case her grammar of revulsion is contradicted by a rhetorical opulence of unmatched virtuosity. Nature comments on her relationship with the beauties of discourse when declaring a shift in the register she intends to use in describing depravities: “Sed tamen aliquando, ut superius libauimus, quia rebus de quibus loquimur cognatos oportet esse sermones, rerum informitati locutionis debet deformitas conformari. In sequenti tamen tractatu, ne locutionis cacephaton lectorum offendat auditum uel in ore uirginali locum collocet turpitudo, predictis uiciorum monstris euphonia orationis uolo pallium elargiri.” (8.190–95) “Although, as I demonstrated above, a deformity of speech should at times be used to conform with the deformity of action, since our words should correspond with the things of which we speak, in what follows I intend to throw a cloak of euphonious discourse over the aforesaid monstrosities of vice lest any defect of locution offend the hearing of readers and anything shameful find a place in the mouth of a maiden.”

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Despite her protestations against the harlotry of being known, Nature colludes with her eventual circulation in the public domain, indirectly recognizing that Alanus will transform her spoken words into writing and announcing her intention to accommodate the readers (“lectores”) who will come to share the revelations she makes. This harlotry is, of course, yet another effect of Nature’s necessary condescension to humanity and the need to enter the common brothels in order to join the falsigraphi she wishes to admonish. Nature must, in short, permit herself to be read, with all of the resonances of prostitution such permission entails. To emphasize the whoredom from which she speaks, Nature uses a sexual metaphor to explain the criterion she will employ when choosing her words. In using pleasing language to refer to abominations of vice, she will not only avoid offending the ears of her readers. She will prevent anything shameful finding a place in her virgin mouth and thereby decline to participate in the metaphorical fellatio she imagines the articulation of unpleasant sounds to be. But the very fact that Nature, in a single period, anticipates the sensibilities of her readers and chooses figuratively to present herself to them refusing oral sex serves yet again to demonstrate the metaphoricity of her language and, through antiphrasis, to emphasize the epistemological services she is in fact providing to the readers she cites. Consistent with her trope, her mouth will administer pleasure, but that pleasure will be auditory rather than sexual. The sources of pleasure are the beautiful words Nature will employ, and these she has already broached in the passage immediately preceding her allusion to her readers: “Ab altiori etenim sumens inicium excellentiorique stilo mee uolens seriem narrationis contexere, nolo ut prius plana verborum planicie explanare proposita uel prophanis uerborum nouitatibus prophanare prophana, uerum pudenda aureis pudicorum uerborum faleris inaurare uariisque uenustorum dictorum coloribus inuestire. Consequens enim est predictorum uiciorum scorias deauratis locutionibus purpurare uiciorumque fetorem odore uerborum inbalsamare mellifluo, ne si tanti sterquilinii fetor in nimie promulgationis auras euaderet plerosque ad indignationis nauseantis uomitum inuitaret.” (8.182–90) “Preparing to engage matters of lofty import and wishing to weave together the ensuing parts of my commentary with a superior pen, I declare that I refuse to explain facts on the plain of plain words, refuse to profane the


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profane with a novel profanity of diction. Rather, I shall gild shameful deeds with golden ornaments of modest words, clothe them with the varied colors of attractive discourse. As a result the filth of the aforementioned vices will be dignified by golden locutions and their reek covered with the balsam scent of honey-sweet words. This will prevent the stench of the dung-heap from spreading too far on the breeze and causing many to vomit in the nausea of indignation.”

To cover monstrosities of vice Nature will use verbal palliatives she refers to as “odor uerborum mellifluus,” “deauratae locutiones,” “aureae pudicorum uerborum falerae,” and “uarii uenustorum dictorum colores.”1 The last of the terms I cite is particularly significant to context. “Colors” of diction are at issue, and they devolve from words that are “uenusta.” Although the adjective is derived from “venus” “veneris” in its general meaning of “loveliness,” “charm,” or simply “beauty,” in the venereal context of the De planctu it is inevitably subtended by the proper noun signifying the goddess of love. Nature, then, states she will use colors of diction that are lexically related to her own antagonist in the verbal arts, Venus herself. On first impression, coloration of this type does not seem to bode well and would imply, if anything, embellishment pursued as a pleasurable end in itself, a discursive equivalent of the scandalous excesses Nature and Alanus lament in sexuality. The possibility of such immoderation is anticipated in 1. In discussing this passage Maureen Quilligan states: “In her description of God’s creation of the world, she [Nature] must ‘cloak’ her subject in fine-sounding phrases, for bad words should not reside in the mouth of a virgin. So in her discussion of sexuality she resorts to metaphor—and almost all her metaphors are drawn from the verbal arts (meter, rhetoric, orthography, grammar)” (“Words and Sex,” 197). Nature, therefore, will avoid the impropriety of direct nomination and use euphemisms entailing metaphor. I agree, but with two reservations. Nature has in fact already started to use metaphor in speaking of “monstrosities of vice”: these comments come half-way through section eight of Häring’s edition, and Nature begins her metaphorical disquisition at the beginning of section six. (I shall return to this apparent contradiction between Nature’s stated intent and her demonstrable practice.) Moreover, even though Quilligan is ultimately correct in emphasizing circumlocution, Nature herself does not actually state that she will use euphemisms: rather, she will use words that sound pleasant, and this does not exclude the possibility that these words will retain referential propriety and actually mean what they say. This however, is a small point. Other critics who read this passage as an announcement of euphemism are John V. Fleming, Reason and The Lover, 106, n. 9; Sylvia Huot, The “Romance of the Rose” and Its Medieval Readers, 108, and John M. Fyler, Language and the Declining World in Chaucer, Dante and Jean de Meun, 89–90.

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the text, at the very moment at which Venus abandoned her delegated scribal duties: “Sed pocius se gramaticis constructionibus destruens, dialeticis conuersionibus inuertens, rethoricis coloribus decolorans, suam artem in figuram, figuram in uicium transferebat.” (10.142–44) “Rather, effecting her destruction through the constructions of grammar, inverting the conversions of dialectic, and discoloring the colors of rhetoric, she turned her art into a figure and her figure into a vice.”

Nature here describes the point at which natural language was irrevocably lost and replaced by fallen surrogates such as the homoerotic constructions of Latinity. For that reason, whatever Nature’s desired, prelapsarian standard for rhetorical coloration may have been can now only be hypothesized and can never be rendered through the alien forms of the language Nature now speaks. If Nature, or any man or woman in the sluttish environment she now visits, were to employ colors of rhetoric, it would of necessity be according to the aesthetics Venus bequeathed to mankind at the moment of her primordial transgression. It would, in fine, be yet another manifestation of falsigraphia. Yet employ them Nature does, and here we have far more than the evidence of her resolve to render monstrosities of vice through “uarii uenustorum dictorum colores.” We have her practice. In the most wide-ranging study of Alain’s Latinity to date, Guy Raynaud de Lage repeatedly emphasizes the singular position of the De planctu. Though not the most generous critic of the text (stylistic aspects of which he finds “insupportable,” “redondant,” and, even, “odieux”),2 Raynaud de Lage rightly notes that Alain here pushes embellishment beyond anything attempted by his contemporaries.3 As he also remarks, such extraordinary opulence stands in stark contrast with the far more austere register Alain espouses in his other 2. Raynaud de Lage, Alain de Lille, poète du XIIe siècle: “insupportable” 114 and 148; “redondant” 148; “odieux” 148. Raynaud de Lage also finds fault with the structure of the work: “Le De planctu se présente de façon assez massive . . . et son ordonnance est plus que maladroite; un long portrait, de longs discours l’alourdissent; puis, sans que rien ait permis de la prévoir, une action s’ébauche, pour se conclure du reste presqu’aussitôt; encore le dénouement dépend-il d’un deus ex machina” (43–44). 3. See particularly 133–52, in which Raynaud de Lage compares Alain’s stylistic tendencies with those of Gautier de Châtillon, John of Hanville, Pierre Riga, and Mathieu de Vendôme.


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work of fiction, the Anticlaudianus (and, one may add, in his works of theology, such as the Contra haereticos). Raynaud de Lage diffidently attributes this singularity of style to youthful exuberance and conjectures that the De planctu must be dated among Alain’s earliest works.4 While I concur with this last point (or at least consider the Anticlaudianus to be posterior), I view the ostentatious virtuosity of the De planctu to be integral to the text’s significance. Before preceding, however, it is necessary to negotiate an apparent contradiction between Nature’s declared intent and the evidence of her subsequent usage. By her own account, Nature will in the future alter registers and employ a more agreeable diction when describing monstrosities of vice, and this would suggest that, in the remaining sections of poetry and prose, such an alteration is indeed discernible. It would be discernible, moreover, in those sections of the text in which, also by her own account, Nature will further elaborate on the vices that she has already mentioned (“predict[a] uici[a]”). The vices that Nature has so far cited are the affronts to the sanctioned, marital perpetuation of the species perpetrated by Helen (adulterous fornication), Pasiphae (bestiality), Myrrha (filial incest), Medea (infanticide), and Narcissus (self-love), by bisexuals, gay men, practitioners of masturbation (or, perhaps, voyeurism), male prostitutes, and by those mythological figures that Alanus mentions, Apollo, Bacchus, and Jupiter, who devoted themselves to the love of beautiful youths (8.115–22). Perusal of the remaining sections of the text reveals that Nature does indeed return to adultery, incest, infanticide, and homosexuality as she here suggests: in the next verse sequence (9), Nature again decries, alongside the incestuous Biblis, both Medea and Myrrha; and, at a later stage, and to much more extensive effect, she also deals with sexual vices in describing the primordial 4. “[N]ous verrons en effet que la donnée de l’Anticlaudianus prolonge celle du De planctu, si bien que cette oeuvre-ci est assurément la plus ancienne des deux; il y a même certainement plusieurs années d’écart d’une oeuvre à l’autre, car la conception et l’inspiration en sont bien différentes: l’une pourrait être une oeuvre de jeunesse, bouillonnante d’invention métaphysique; l’autre est d’un esprit assagi et qui a atteint la maturité” (20); “L’expression est si différente aussi que nous supposons d’instinct plusieurs années entre les deux poèmes; extravagance de l’«ornement», boursouflures, recherche gratuite, redondance et pédantisme de «l’effet», on pense en feuilletant le De planctu Naturae à la première oeuvre d’un jeune clerc tout proche de ses études, tandis que le démon littéraire, qui n’a pas lâché l’auteur, paraît assez assagi dans l’Anticlaudianus” (95).

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laws of copulation and the adulterous relationship of Venus and Antigenius. However, having decried the tawdry lineage of their illegitimate offspring, by antiphrasis named Iocus, she states that she will now move on to other social ills (10.165–83; 11.passim), and, for the remainder of her speech, she turns her attention to sins that are not sexual—to wit, drunkenness (12.20–54, 76–86; 15.1–12), gluttony (12.55–86; 15.13–24), greed (12.87–148; 13.passim; 15.25–35), pride (14.1–45; 15.36–40), envy (14.46–94), and flattery (14.95–140). The instances in which Nature will employ gilded words to render monstrosities of vice must, therefore, fall between her announced intent to change descriptive registers (8.182–90) and her commentary on other, nonsexual transgressions (which begins at 10.165). It remains, therefore, to determine what these gilded words may be. Throughout the relevant sections, Nature shows a proclivity toward alliteration and paronomasia (for example, 9.45–52) and also makes extensive use of metaphors drawn from the verbal arts to render same-sex relationships: homosexuality is an unnatural grammar in which words of the same gender are brought together (10.43–57), subject is joined to subject and predicate to predicate (10.58–65), the transitive becomes the intransitive, the active the passive, the passive the deponent (10.66–72); homosexuality is a fallacious dialectic in which the major and minor of the syllogism refuse the logic of their propositional relationship (10.81–107); and homosexuality is an inflated rhetoric in which excessive figuration compromises referential decorum (10.107–14). With regard to the indiscretions of Venus (10.131–64), the second of the possible contexts for the altered verbal register she claims she will adopt, Nature is for the most part quite straightforward in her language and uses literal terms to refer to adultery, concubinage, fornication, sexual pleasure, and illegitimacy. Here too, nevertheless, she does at times cross over into metaphor, particularly to render the results of Venus’ rejection of her laws: hammers were assigned to fraudulent anvils, as the goddess of love brought her own destruction through the constructions of grammar, the conversions of dialectic, and the disfiguring figurations of tropic excess (10.131–46). Yet if Nature is referring to alliteration, paronomasia, and metaphor when she mentions the “varied colors of attractive diction” that she will use as a new departure, she is spectacularly disregarding her own earlier practice: as even the most cursory glance at passages I have so far cited will show (and later analyses on my part will further demonstrate), these stylistic devices dominate her preceding comments on sexual irregularity (most notably her description of those affective falsigraphi, Helen, Pasiphae, Myrrha, Medea,


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and Narcissus). Nature, then, announces she will change the way she speaks of sex, but in fact she continues to speak as before. In the verse sequence that immediately follows her announcement that she will from now on switch stylistic registers, Nature does, however, make a remark that goes some way to explaining this discrepancy. By this stage the terms of her plaint have so captivated Alanus that Nature begins to believe he constantly asks her questions in order not just to learn, but to listen. She comes to make this view explicit after he asks her a question about, not coincidentally, desire itself, personified by Cupid: “Ha, ha, nisi iniuriosa tue locutionis sincopatione mearumque questionum uenatione timerem tue benignitatis offensam incurrere, uellem Cupidinis naturam, de quo aliquantulum mentionem tua prelibauit oratio, pictura tue descriptionis agnoscere.” (8.249–52) “Aha! If I wasn’t afraid of abusing your kindness by interrupting your comments in this annoying way and bothering you with my questions, I would ask you to edify me by picturing, in words, the nature of Cupid, to whom you made a passing reference in what you just said.”

By way of response Nature accuses Alanus of being disingenuous, voicing her belief that he is already well acquainted with the desire Cupid signifies (“Credo te in Cupidinis castris stipendiarie militantem quadam interne familiaritatis germanitate eidem esse connexum” [8.261–62]). In this, of course, she merely confirms a desire that Alanus expresses as early as the opening elegy, in which he imagines the ecstasy of being kissed by a beautiful young woman (1.43–46). Yet, accusations of disingenuousness notwithstanding, Nature announces she will comply: “Siue certa descriptione describens siue legitima definitione diffiniens, rem indemonstrabilem demonstrabo, inextricabilem extricabo, quamuis ipsa nulli nature obnoxialiter alligata, intellectus indaginem non expectans, nullius descriptionis posset signaculo sigillari.” (8.269–73) “Either by describing through certain description or by defining through appropriate definition, I shall demonstrate the indemonstrable, extricate the inextricable, even though my subject matter is not irrevocably tied to any one nature, does not brook investigation by the intellect, and cannot be imprinted by the seal of any description.”

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By agreeing, Nature seems to express her willingness to undertake a doubly pointless task. First, gauged in terms of the enlightenment it would bring, her description of desire is superfluous because, as she herself acknowledges (and the reader has by this time recognized), Alanus already knows what desire is. Second, even if Alanus were ignorant in this respect, present circumstances would scarcely leave him any the wiser, since, as Nature also acknowledges, desire cannot be apprehended by the intellect. But both of these apparent illogicalities are central to Alanus’ request and Nature’s compliance. Here is the beginning of Nature’s demonstration of the indemonstrable: “Pax odio fraudique fides, spes iuncta timori Est amor et mixtus cum ratione furor; Naufragium dulce, pondus leue, grata Caribdis, Incolumis langor, insaciata fames Esuriens sacies, sitis ebria, falsa uoluptas, Tristicies leta, gaudia plena malis. Dulce malum, mala dulcedo, sibi dulcor amarus Cuius odor sapidus insipidusque sapor; Tempestas grata, nox lucida, lux tenebrosa, Mors uiuens, moriens uita, suaue malum; Peccatum uenie, uenialis culpa, iocosa Pena, pium facinus immo suaue scelus. Instabilis ludus, stabilis delusio, robur Infirmum, firmum mobile, firma mouens; Insipiens ratio, demens prudentia, tristis Prosperitas, risus flebilis, egra quies; Mulcebris infernus, tristis paradisus, amenus Carcer, hiemps uerna, uer hiemale malum.” (9.1–18)

“Love is peace wed to enmity, fraud to fidelity, hope to fear, and madness mixed with reason. It is a sweet catastrophe, a light burden, a welcome disaster. It is healthy languor, satiated hunger, hungry satiety, thirst that has drunk its fill. It is pleasure that disappoints, sadness that delights, happiness filled with grief. It is an enjoyable sorrow, a sorrowful joy, a sweetness bitter to itself. Its stench is appetizing, its flavor insipid. It is an agreeable storm, a night filled with light, a light filled with night, a living death, a dying life, a caressing evil. It is a sin that is pardoned and the blame that comes from pardoning. It is a festive penalty, a pious crime, or rather a villainy that gratifies. It is an unstable game, a stable mockery, a strength that is weak, a


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stationary object that moves, a mover of the stationary. It is unthinking reason, demented wisdom, sad prosperity, tearful laughter, restless stillness, soothing hell, sorrowful paradise, a pleasing prison, a Spring in Winter, a disagreeable Winter in Spring.”

Not only does Nature state, before she even begins, that the signified of her elegy lies beyond description. She devotes the first part of her performance to accumulated oxymoron, precipitating the dissolution of precise reference and freeing the poetic signifier to function as the insubordinate medium for the pleasures of euphony, cadence, and meter. In this way, Nature does indeed respond to Alanus’ desire, the object of which is in this instance not enlightenment but language itself, that healing balm earlier identified as “mellifluum semonis medicamen” and metonymically associated with the kisses Alanus dreams of receiving. The world of fallen language may be a figurative brothel. But, if Nature must circulate in the public domain, must allow herself to be known, she will give pleasure in the process. Though presented as spoken by Nature, this elegy is the written work of the first-person protagonist/narrator, and Nature herself recognizes as much. These are the words that directly precede the poem on desire: “Ergo incircumscripte rei hec detur descriptio, inexplicabilis nature hec exeat explicatio, hec de innoto habeatur noticia, hec de non scibili comparetur scientia, stili tamen altitudine castigata.” (8.274–76) “Let heed be taken, therefore, of this description of that which cannot be circumscribed. Let this go forth as the explication of a nature that is inexplicable. Let this be taken as knowledge of the unknown. Let this be received as comprehension of the incomprehensible that nonetheless benefits from the refining sublimity of the pen.”

Nature is manifestly not writing her plaint as she articulates it, and her reference to the pen can only be assessed as a further acknowledgement that Alanus will transform her words into writing and present them to readers. This act of refining mediation has profound implications for the entire text: within the economy of its own fiction, the written planctus Naturae is not a verbatim transcription of words once spoken; rather, it is a creative embellishment of words spoken within a dream, an act of scribal artifice that Nature, within the dream itself, anticipates and condones. The effect is twofold: Nature’s stated

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change in verbal registers is not borne out because her entire discourse has been revised, “stili tamen altitudine castigata”; and this very act of revision is consistent with Nature’s own wishes, which she expresses immediately before stating she will from now on speak differently of erotic abomination: “Ab altiori etenim sumens inicium excellentiorique stilo mee uolens seriem narrationis contexere, nolo ut prius plana verborum planicie explanare proposita uel prophanis uerborum nouitatibus prophanare prophana, uerum pudenda aureis pudicorum uerborum faleris inaurare uariisque uenustorum dictorum coloribus inuestire.” (8.182–86) “Preparing to engage matters of lofty import and wishing to weave together the ensuing parts of my commentary with a superior pen, I declare that I refuse to explain facts on the plain of plain words, refuse to profane the profane with a novel profanity of diction. Rather, I shall gild shameful deeds with golden ornaments of modest words, clothe them with the varied colors of attractive discourse.”

This, Nature’s first reference to the stylus, can also only be lent a prospective sense. Consistent with Nature’s wish that her words be well written, Alanus will adopt the “aureis pudicorum uerborum falerae” and “uarii uenustorum dictorum colores” that she here claims to be a necessary palliative to sexual vice and, shortly after, states she will employ lest her readers be offended by harsh sonorities (“ne locutionis cacephaton lectorum offendat auditum” [8.193]).5 Although negotiated between two literary characters, these stylistic choices are, obviously, the work of Alain de Lille,6 and they point toward the 5. Nature refers to the stylus a third time, again in anticipation of Alain’s authorial ministrations, immediately after warning against desire pushed to excess: “Predicta igitur theatralis oratio, ioculatoriis euagata lasciuiis, tue puerilitati pro ferculo propinatur. Nunc stilus, paululum ad pueriles tue infantie fescenninas digressus, ad seriale prefinite narrationis propositum reuertatur” (10.17–20). 6. This being so, it is necessary somewhat to adjust Susan Schibanoff ’s reading of Genius’ anathema. Schibanoff (“Sodomy’s Mark,” 36–37) argues that the end of the text is marked by recourse to an official, perhaps effective, discourse of moral censorship. Genius, who is first seen drawing images of virtue and vice, puts down his pen and changes into sacerdotal robes in order orally to excommunicate any who should practice nonreproductive sexuality. In so doing, Schibanoff argues, he reasserts the power of predicative Christian regulation that the

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Latin author’s acknowledgement of the pleasures that can be gleaned from the discourse he has Nature associate with a fall from her own natural order. The most sustained of Alain’s experiments with these fallen aesthetics is, quite precisely, the passage in which Nature laments the sexual excesses of falsigraphi: Penitet me tot uenustatum prerogatiuis hominum plerumque priuilegiasse naturas, qui decoris decus abusione dedecorant, qui forme formositatem Veneris informatione deformant, qui pulchritudinis colorem fuco adulterini Cupidinis decolorant, qui forme florem in uicia efflorendo deflorant. Cur decore deifico uultum deificaui Tindaridis, que pulchritudinis usum in meretricationis abusum abire coegit, dum regalis thori fedus defederans, fede se Paridi federauit? Pasiphe etiam, yperbolice Veneris furiis agitata, sub facie bouis sophistice cum bruto bestiales nuptias concelebrans, paralogismo sibi turpiori concludens, stupendo boui conclusit sophismate. Mirra etiam, mirtice Cypridis aculeis stimulata, in patris dilectione a filie amore degenerans, cum patre matris exemplauit officium. Medea uero, proprio filio nouercata, ut inglorium Veneris opus construeret, gloriosum Veneris destruxit opusculum. Narcisus etiam, sui umbra alterum mentita Narcisum, umbratiliter obumbratus, seipsum credens esse se alterum, de se sibi amoris incurrit periculum. (8.63–78)

After a brief exercise in alliteration (“penitet me tot uenustatum prerogatiuis hominum plerumque priuilegiasse naturas”) the first period resolves into a series of grammatically balanced anaphoric clauses, each marked by annominatio involving a dual, triple, or even quadruple play on cognates (“qui decoris decus abusione dedecorant, qui forme formositatem Veneris informatione deformant, qui pulchritudinis colorem fuco adulterini Cupidinis decolorant, qui forme florem in uicia efflorendo deflorant”). Similar effects are then carried over into the next periods (for example, “cur decore deifico uultum deificaui Tindaridis, que pulchritudinis usum in meretricationis abusum abire coegit, dum regalis thori fedus defederans, fede se Paridi federauit”), finally preceding text had poetically subverted. The result is not so much a triumph of orthodoxy as an escape from a dilemma. Matters are more complicated, however. Genius certainly puts down his pen and delivers his anathema through the spoken word. Yet Alain, author of this dream of first-hand experience, reinscribes Genius’ excommunication into precisely the poetic order Schibanoff sees it to circumvent.

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to be complemented by an emphatic assonance (“Narcisus etiam, sui umbra alterum mentita Narcisum, umbratiliter obumbratus, seipsum credens esse se alterum, de se sibi amoris incurrit periculum”). Also present are spectacular effects of inter-clausal repetition. The three consecutive periods devoted to Pasiphae, Myrrha, and Medea begin with the offending falsigrapha as subject (“Pasiphae etaim,” “Mirra etiam,” “Medea uero”), followed by a subordinate clause governed, in terminal position, by the feminine, first-conjugation past participle (“yperbolice Veneris furiis agitata,” “mirtice Cypridis aculeis stimulata,” “proprio filio nouercata”). This, in the first period, leads to two further subordinate clauses, each ending in a present participle beginning with the syllable “con-” (“bruto bestiales nuptias concelebrans, paralogismo sibi turpiori concludens”) the terminations of which are echoed in the third proposition of the second period (“in patris dilectione a filie amore degenerans”). The main clause of the second of these periods, meanwhile, ends in verb/direct object (“exemplauit officium”), which establishes, in its structure and terminal second-declension accusative, the paradigm for the equivalent clauses of the following two periods, on Medea (“destruxit opusculum”) and Narcissus (“incurrit periculum”) respectively. Of comparable rhetorical opulence are many other passages in both verse and prose, including those bearing upon: homosexuality (Alanus, 1.1–60, but especially 1–8); reproduction (Nature, 6.43–50);7 reason and sensuality (Nature, 6.55–65, complemented by antithesis);8 the omnipotence of God 7. “Ego illa sum, que ad exemplarem mundane machine similitudinem hominis exemplaui naturam, ut in ea uelut in speculo ipsius mundi scripta natura compareat. Sicut enim quatuor elementorum concors discordia, unica pluralitas, consonantia dissonans, consensus dissentiens, mundialis regie structuram conciliat, sic quatuor complexionum compar disparitas, inequalis equalitas, difformis conformitas, diuersa idemptitas, edificium corporis humani conpaginat.” 8. “Rationis enim motus, ab ortu celestium oriens, occasum pertransiens terrenorum, considerando regiratur in celum. Econtrario uero, sensualitatis motus planetici contra rationis firmamentum in terrestrium occidens oblicando labuntur. Hec mentem humanam in uiciorum occasum deducit ut occidat. Hec in orientem uirtutum ut oriatur inuitat. Ista hominem in bestiam degenerando transmutat. Illa hominem in deum potentialiter transfigurat. Hec contemplationis lumine mentis noctem illuminat. Hec concupiscentie nocte mentis lumen eliminat. Ista hominem facit disputare cum angelis. Illa eundem cogit debachari cum brutis. Ista in exilio docet hominem patriam inuenire. Illa in patria cogit hominem exulare. Nec in hac re hominis natura mee dispensationis potest ordinem accusare.”


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(Nature, 6.128–39, again with antithesis);9 theology (Nature, 6.154–65);10 Divine truth (Nature, 8.143–49);11 the fall of Venus (Alanus, 8.173–78);12 gilded words (Nature, 8.179–95);13 and Venus’ adultery (Nature, 10.142– 9. “Sed ne in hac mee potestatis prerogatiua deo uidear quasi arrogans derogare, certissime Summi Magistri me humilem profiteor esse discipulam. Ego enim operans operantis dei non ualeo expresse inherere uestigiis, sed a longe quasi suspirans operantem respicio. Eius enim operatio simplex, mea operatio multiplex. Eius opus sufficiens, meum opus deficiens. Eius opus mirabile, meum opus mutabile. Ille innascibilis, ego nata. Ille faciens, ego facta. Ille mei opifex operis, ego opus opificis. Ille operator ex nichilo, ego mendico opus ex aliquo. Ille suo operatur in numine, ego operor illius sub nomine. Ille rem solo nutu iubet existere, mea uero operatio operationis est nota diuine. Et respectu diuine potentie meam potentiam impotentiam esse cognoscas. Meum effectum scias esse defectum, meum uigorem uilitatem esse perpendas.” 10. “Ego ratione fidem, illa fide comparat rationem. Ego scio ut credam, illa credit ut sciat. Ego consentio sentiens, illa sentit consentiens. Ego uix uisibilia uideo, illa inconprehensibilia conprehendit in speculo. Ego uix minima metior intellectu, illa immensa ratione metitur. Ego quasi bestialiter in terra deambulo, illa celi militat in secreto. Et cum de predictis pertractare mei non sit officii, tamen ad hoc sermonem euagari permisi, ut respectu superlatiue dei potentie meam potentiam diminutam esse non dubites. Sed quamuis meus effectus diuine potentie deficit comparatus, tamen humane potentie proficit coequatus. Et sic in quodam conparationis triclinio tres potestatis gradus possumus inuenire, ut dei potentia superlatiua, Nature comparatiua, hominis positiua dicatur.” 11. “Cum enim iam Epicuri soporentur insompnia, Manichei sanetur insania, Aristotilis arguantur argutie, Arrii fallantur fallatie, unciam Dei unitatem ratio probat, mundus eloquitur, fides credit, Scriptura testatur. In quem nulla labes inuehitur, quem nulla uicii pestis aggreditur, cum quo nullus temptationis motus congreditur. Hic est splendor nunquam deficiens, uita indefesse non moriens, fons semper scaturiens, seminale uite seminarium, sapientie principale principium, initiale bonitatis initium.” 12. “Iam mearum dubitationum fluctus, tuarum solutionum serenitate sedati, mee menti impellendi largiuntur inducias. Sed si tuo conplaceret affectui, affectuoase affectarem agnoscere, que irrationabilis ratio, que indiscreta discretio, que indirecta directio, ita in homine obdormire rationis coegit scintillulam ut homo, leteo sensualitatis poculo debriatus, in tuis legibus apostata fieret, uerum etiam tuas leges illegitime debellaret?” 13. “Si sementitiam huius pestis originem uelis agnoscere, altius mentis accendas igniculum, appetentius intelligendi repares appetitum. Hebetudinem ingenii depellat subtilitas, cogitationum fluctus attentionis conpescat stabilitas. Ab altiori etenim sumens inicium excellentiorique stilo mee uolens seriem narrationis contexere, nolo ut prius plana verborum planicie explanare proposita uel prophanis uerborum nouitatibus prophanare prophana, uerum pudenda aureis pudicorum uerborum faleris inaurare uariisque uenustorum dictorum coloribus inuestire. Consequens enim est predictorum uiciorum scorias deauratis locutionibus purpurare uiciorumque fetorem odore uerborum inbalsamare mellifluo, ne si tanti sterquilinii fetor in nimie promulgationis auras euaderet plerosque ad indignationis nauseantis uomitum inuitaret. Sed

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46).14 Most notable, however, is Nature’s definition of envy, in which Alain seems intent to exceed even his own florid precedent (annominatio underscored): Hec est inuidia, que continue detractionis rubiginosa demorsione hominum animos demolitur. Hic est uermis cuius morsu morbidata mentis sanitas contabescit in saniem, mentis sinceritas conputrescit in cariem, mentis requies liquitur in laborem. Hic est hospes qui, apud suum hospitem inhospitaliter hospitatus, sui hospitis labefactat hospicium. Hec est possessio pessime suum possidens possessorem que, dum alios detractionis latratibus uexat, sui possessoris animum intestino morsu profundius inquietat. (14.47–54)

No translation can do this passage justice, especially since the Latin “hospes” means both “host” and “guest,” but the general sense is: I am referring to envy, which, in its constant need to detract from others, gnaws the minds of men to corrosion and collapse. It is a worm through whose diseased bite the healthy mind, once infected, disintegrates into putrefaction, the sincere mind rots into decay, the restful mind dissolves into the muck of misery. It is a guest who acts as anything but a guest toward its host’s hospitality and ruins the hospice its host provides. It is a possession that pejoratively possesses its possessor, yapping away at others with belittling intent and using its inner bite even more profoundly to damage its possessor’s soul.

Here, as elsewhere, Alain’s exuberance is diminished when translated into a language that less easily accommodates extended wordplay and alliteration than medieval Latin. Yet, even by the standards of twelfth-century Latinity, this is remarkable indeed. “Hic est hospes qui, apud suum hospitem inhospitaliter hospitatus, sui hospitis labefactat hospicium” is an exercise in sustamen aliquando, ut superius libauimus, quia rebus de quibus loquimur cognatos oportet esse sermones, rerum informitati locutionis debet deformitas conformari. In sequenti tamen tractatu, ne locutionis cacephaton lectorum offendat auditum uel in ore uirginali locum collocet turpitudo, predictis uiciorum monstris euphonia orationis uolo pallium elargiri.” 14. “Sed pocius se gramaticis constructionibus destruens, dialecticis conuersionibus inuertens, rethoricis coloribus decolorans, suam artem in figuram, figuram in uicium transferebat, dumque fornicariis excessibus cum adultero perpetuat concubinatus illecebras, ab eodem prolem suscipiens pro filio spurio compotitur.”


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tained annominatio in which “hospes” and derivations thereof are used no fewer than six times in a period of thirteen words. No less exceptional is Alain’s proclivity to interweave several simultaneous progressions. Consider, for instance, Nature’s remarks on the triumph of faith: “Sed tamen, cum a poetis deorum pluralitas sompniatur uel ipsi dii uenereis ferulis manus subduxisse dicuntur, in hiis falsitatis umbra lucescit. Nec in hoc poeta a sue proprietatis genere degener inuenitur. Cum enim iam Epicuri soporentur insompnia, Manichei sanetur insania, Aristotilis arguantur argutie, Arrii fallantur fallatie, unicam Dei unitatem ratio probat, mundus eloquitur, fides credit, Scriptura testatur. In quem nulla labes inuehitur, quem nulla uicii pestis aggreditur, cum quo nullus temptationis motus congreditur. Hic est splendor nunquam deficiens, uita indefesse non moriens, fons semper scaturiens, seminale uite seminarium, sapientie principale principium, initiale bonitatis initium.” (8.139–49) “When poets dream up their fantasies about a plurality of gods or claim these same gods escaped the shackles of conventional love, in cases such as these the shadow of falsehood is clearly defined and the poet shows himself to be no different from the material he treats in his writing. Because the sleepless delusions of Epicurus have now been put to sleep, the insanity of Manicheus made sane, the close arguments of Aristotle disclosed, and the fallacies of Arrius demonstrated fallacious, reason proves the unique unity of God, the world declares it, faith believes it, Scripture testifies to it. No defect can be attributed to him, no pestilent vice can make war on him, no promptings of temptation can find favor with him. He is a splendor that never falters, an unflagging life that cannot die, a fountain that always gushes, a master seed that provides the seed of life, the primary principle of wisdom, the initial initiation of good.”

In this example Alain does not exploit multiple variations on a single lexeme. Rather, he limits himself to a relatively austere bipartite paradigm but derives great amplitude of embellishment from its sheer insistence: “genere degener,” “sanetur insania,” “arguantur argutie,” “fallantur fallatie,” “unicam unitatem,” “seminale seminarium,” “principale principium,” “initiale initium.” This play on dual cognates is complemented by ulterior effects of repetition. Some are syntactic: genitive, passive verb, subject (“Epicuri soporentur insompnia, Manichei sanetur insania, Aristotilis arguantur argutie, Arrii fallantur fallatie”);

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relative, negative subject, verb (“in quem nulla labes inuehitur, quem nulla uicii pestis aggreditur, cum quo nullus temptationis motus congreditur”); subject, adverb, present participle (“splendor nuquam deficiens, uita indefesse non moriens, fons semper scaturiens”); adjective, genitive, subject (“seminale uite seminarium,” “initiale bonitatis initium”). Others are alliterative and assonantal, involving repeated endings of words in consecutive clauses (“cum enim iam Epicuri soporentur insompnia, Manichei sanetur insania”; “Aristotilis arguantur argutie, Arrii fallantur fallatie”; “splendor nuquam deficiens, uita indefesse non moriens, fons semper scaturiens”; “seminale uite seminarium, sapientie principale principium, initiale bonitatis initium”), and repeated beginnings and endings of words in consecutive clauses (“in quem nulla labes inuehitur, quem nulla uicii pestis aggreditur, cum quo nullus temptationis motus congreditur”). The context in which Alain has Nature make this particular display of virtuosity points toward another type of pleasure. It comes as the latter part of a response to an inquiry on Alanus’ part regarding the classical examples Nature has just cited to clarify what she means by the term falsigraphus: “Miror cur, poetarum commenta retractans, solummodo in humani generis pestes predictarum inuectionum armas aculeos, cum et eodem exorbitationis pede deos claudicasse legamus. Iupiter enim, adolescentem Frigium transferens ad superna, relatiuam uenerem transtulit in translatum. Et quem in mensa per diem propinandi sibi prefecit propositum, in thoro per noctem sibi fecit suppositum. Bachus etiam et Apollo, paterne coheredes lasciuie, non diuine uirtutis imperio sed supersticiose Veneris prestigio, uerterunt in feminas pueros inuertendo.”15 (8.115–22) “I am amazed that, in the examples you draw from the work of poets, you arm the barbed invective I have just heard against the sick behavior of the human race alone. After all, we read that the gods limped along with the same exorbitant step. Jupiter, for example, transferred that adolescent from Phrygia [Ganymede] to the heavens and there conferred on him a love that 15. Even by Alain’s standards, this is an extremely ingenious piece of writing. The verb transferre is used three times in one clause (“Iupiter enim, adolescentem Frigium transferens ad superna, relatiuam uenerem transtulit in translatum”) simultaneously to render the ideas of physical transfer, verbal figuration, and the transferral of sexual attributes. No translation can come close to conveying such virtuosity. This applies also to the next period, which includes one of Alain’s preferred tropes for male-on-male intercourse, involving top/predicate (“propositum”) and bottom/subject (“suppositum”).

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was appropriate to the object of his lust, making the boy stand above him to wait at his table by day and lie beneath him in his bed at night. Similarly Bacchus and Apollo, both of them inheriting their father’s taste for debauchery, out of their own inverted desires converted boys into women, not by some divine edict, but through the magic of an irreverent Venus.”

By arguing the unique unity of God, Nature in her reply asserts a monotheism which, despite Neo-Platonic trappings, is to be identified as Christianity, and it is from the theological perspective of Faith that she rejects poetic fantasies of the type Alanus mentions. The irony of her position is transparent. This same Nature who dismisses the aberrant love affairs of the classical gods as mendacious figments will recount, a few hundred words later, the aberrant love affair of the classical goddess Venus, and do so with no apparent discomfort at her own compromise with what she calls “the shadow of falsehood” (“falsitatis umbra”). The use of fiction becomes yet another context in which Nature is in denial of her own practice. But here as elsewhere, pleasure is potentially to be gained from the category Nature treats with suspicion. Immediately before rejecting the pagan gods of the classical past, Nature provides a commentary on poetic reference: “An ignoras quomodo poete sine omni palliationis remedio auditoribus nudam falsitatem prostituunt, ut quadam mellite delectationis dulcedine uelut incantatas audientium aures inedrient? Aut ipsam falsitatem quadam probabilitatis ypocrisi palliant, ut per exemplorum imagines hominum animos inhoneste morigerationis incude sigillent? Aut in superficiali littere cortice falsum resonat lira poetica, interius uero auditoribus secretum intelligentie altioris eloquitur, ut exteriori falsitatis abiecto putamine dulciorem nucleum ueritatis secrete intus lector inueniat. Poete tamen aliquando hystoriales euentus ioculationibus fabulosis quadam eleganti sutura confederant, ut ex diuersorum conpetenti iunctura ipsius narrationis elegantior pictura resultet.” (8.128–39) “Do you not know how poets offer falsehood as a naked whore to their listeners, without even having recourse to a garment, and, as it were, enchant the ears of those who listen and intoxicate them with a particular honeysweet pleasure? Or how they sometimes cover this same falsehood with a misleading cloak of probability and deviously use the device of familiarity to imprint a sign wrought on the anvil of acquiescence into the minds of men? Do you not how the poetic lyre also strikes a false note on the

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superficial rind of the letter, but on a more profound level communicates to listeners a secret of higher understanding, with the result that, once this shell of falsehood has been discarded, the reader may find secreted inside the sweeter kernel of truth? Occasionally, too, poets bind together historical events with an elegant suture formed of entertaining fictions. Through the artful conjunction of differing elements that this creates, the narrative assumes a more pleasing design.”

Assessed according to these remarks and her own narrative of Venus, Nature must be interpreted as a poet of both verse and prose, and her work shows some of the attributes of the first of the fictions she adduces, undisguised falsitas that imparts a honey-sweet pleasure: it takes as its foundation the literal falsehood of a classical goddess growing impatient with the task of overseeing prescribed sex, and it is delivered through the “honey-sweet salve” of language designed as a source of delight. All of this applies also to Alain, the author of Nature and her plaint, and in this case the metaphor of prostitution also obtains, since, by giving nature a corporeality it does not have and thereby making it falsitas, Alain grants Nature accessibility to readers who inhabit the terrestrial brothels and therein allows her to express her intention to please. Evidently the pleasure she will give derives in part from the beautiful words she speaks. But she will please also through her semiotic complexity. Although Nature is as much undisguised fiction as her tale of Venus, she signifies beyond the type of falsitas she mentions as her first example and carries the ulterior significance she intimates in her third. She presents a nucleus of truth that must be retrieved from beneath mendacious externals. These externals are all the signs of her humanity. Not only must her clothing be stripped away. Since she is naked in her falsehood specifically because she has a corporeality that nature does not, it is necessary also to strip her of the fictional body through which she speaks. The residue is, to use her own words, whatever the lector interprets to be the dulcior nucleum ueritatis her fictive voice articulates—the Neo-Platonic fall from an originary plenitude of sexuality and language, the post-lapsarian inevitability of temptation, the virtue that can be recuperated from vice, the pleasures of fallen language, and, finally, the utility of that most fallen of all categories, falsehood itself, as a medium through which to investigate the truths of creation and to give pleasure in the process. For pleasure is the principle that informs the search for the nucleus of truth that lies beneath the false rind of the letter. Poets, Nature states, use naked


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falsitas to seduce listeners (“poete sine omni palliationis remedio auditoribus nudam falsitatem prostituunt, ut quadam mellite delectationis dulcedine uelut incantatas audientium aures inedrient”). The quest for deeper significance, on the other hand, though first intimated on an auditory level, is explicitly to be undertaken by the reader (“in superficiali littere cortice falsum resonat lira poetica, interius uero auditoribus secretum intelligentie altioris eloquitur, ut exteriori falsitatis abiecto putamine dulciorem nucleum ueritatis secrete intus lector inueniat”), and this reader, in moving beyond the mendacious surface, will eventually encounter a truth that brings a sweetness of its own. Accordingly, the very act of reading, of interpreting the truths that fiction expresses, itself becomes a source of pleasure. This of course extends to the act of reading Nature herself and adds yet another positive dimension to the corrupt world she is made to enter. Nature may now be obliged to walk in the “uulgaria terrenorum lupanaria,” but it is that very obligation that allows her to communicate with readers, and to offer them pleasures that devolve not only from hearing the beauty of her words but also from apprehending the universal truths their fiction signifies.

Chapter seven

Guillaume de Lorris, Le Roman de la Rose: The Garden of Unhallowed Delights

There is nothing new in stating that Jean de Meun’s seventeen-thousand-line contribution to the Roman de la Rose bears the influence of the De planctu.1 Reason rearticulates in the vernacular Nature’s elegy on the ambivalences of love;2 Venus, Nature herself, and Genius are present as characters;3 and the latter, like Alanus before him, inveighs against nonreproductive erotic practices and uses scribal, agricultural, and metallurgical metaphors to do so.4 My interest in Jean’s work stems from the observations I have made on the De planctu and concerns the translation of Alain’s hermaphroditic poetics into the vernacular.5 But since Jean follows Alain in configuring aspects of 1. For early studies, see Ernest Langlois, Origines et sources du Roman de la Rose, 93–96, 148–50; John V. Fleming, The “Roman de la Rose,” 190–202; and Wetherbee, “The Literal and the Allegorical,” 264–91. There are also two analyses of specific aspects of this intertextual relationship by Sarah Kay: “Sexual Knowledge: The Once and Future Texts of the Romance of the Rose,” particularly 72–76; and “Women’s Body of Knowledge in the Romance of the Rose,” particularly 216–22. I shall return to both. 2. 4249–310. 3. Venus begins to play an active role in the narrative at 15638 (she has already by this stage made a brief appearance in Guillaume de Lorris’ section of the romance, between 3422 and 3461); Nature at 15861; Genius at 16242. Nature’s lamentation on the sins of mankind (18937– 9292), although much less pointedly focused on alleged sexual deviance, also owes much to the plaint of Alain’s character of the same name (8.10–107). 4. 19475–705; cf. De planctu, 1.passim, and 10.27–34. 5. There are, of course, many incisive analyses of the Roman de la Rose that are not directly germane to my concerns. At this early juncture I would like particularly to draw attention to the work of Kevin Brownlee, who has made several studies of the romance as an auto-referential


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his written practice through metaphors of sexual irregularity, I shall first consider the erotic tensions of the romance. To this end I shall also address the first section of the conjoined text, the four thousand lines composed by Guillaume de Lorris some forty years before Jean began his continuation.6 There is no evidence Guillaume wrote with any knowledge of Alain’s precedent.7 Yet certain of his thematic preoccupations cohere with those set forth in the De planctu, and Jean exploits these analogies, remotivating what is quite possibly mere coincidence to create a disciplined intertextuality. While critics have in the past concurred in recognizing the incontrovertible fact that the romance is a narrative of desire, few have devoted detailed analysis to the equally incontrovertible ambiguity of that desire’s object. Sylvia Huot has aptly indicated that “the woman pursued by the Lover of the Rose is so deeply hidden and fortified behind multiple obstacles, so obscured beneath a proliferation of allegorical figures, that it is difficult to be certain that there even is a woman there at all.”8 And Sarah Kay has justifiably remarked: “The 21,000 lines of the Roman de la Rose recount the desire of the lover for union artifact and a rewriting of classical paradigms: “Orpheus’ Song Re-Sung: Jean de Meun’s Reworking of Metamorphoses X”; “Jean de Meun and the Limits of Romance: Genius as Rewriter of Guillaume de Lorris”; and “The Problem of Faux Semblant: Language, History and Truth in the Roman de la Rose.” The works of two other critics to whom I shall have no cause to return are also of importance: Susan Stakel, on rhetorical subversion: False Roses: Structures of Duality and Deceit in Jean de Meun’s “Roman de la Rose”; and Patricia Eberle, on structure: “The Lover’s Glass: Nature’s Discourse on Optics and the Optical Design of the Roman de la Rose.” 6. On the relationship between Guillaume’s romance and Jean’s continuation, see David F. Hult, Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: Readership and Authority in the First “Roman de la Rose”; Claire Nouvet, “A Reversing Mirror: Guillaume de Lorris’ Romance of the Rose,” particularly 199–205; and Daniel Heller-Roazen, Fortune’s Faces: The Roman de la Rose and the Poetics of Contingency, 29–62. 7. See Fleming, The “Roman de la Rose,” 191. 8. Sylvia Huot, “Bodily Peril: Sexuality and the Subversion of Order in Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose,” 61. Huot is also author of several definitive studies of the reception of the Rose during the Middle Ages: From Song to Book: The Poetics of Writing In Old French Lyric and Lyrical Narrative Poetry; “The Scribe as Editor: Rubrication as Critical Apparatus in Two Manuscripts of the Roman de la Rose”; “Vignettes marginales comme glose marginale dans un manuscrit du Roman de la Rose au XIVe siècle”; “‘Ci parle l’aucteur’: Rubrication of Voice and Authorship in the Roman de la Rose Manuscripts”; “Medieval Readers of the Roman de la Rose: The Evidence of Marginal Notations”; “Authors, Scribes, Remanieurs: A Note on the Textual History of the Roman de la Rose”; and “Confronting Misogyny: Christine de Pizan and the Roman de la Rose.”

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


with the mysterious ‘rose,’ and the story ends when he gets it. But what is it that he has ‘got’?”9 In an effort—diffident, at this early stage—to answer Kay’s question, let us consider the circumstances in which the lover first encounters the rose with which he falls in love. In the garden of Deduiz, Amant10 comes upon the Miroërs Perilleus, which, according to an inscription located close by, is the fountain in which Narcissus gazed, with tragic consequences, at his own reflection.11 The story of Narcissus is obviously of relevance to the protagonist of the Rose, since he too looks into the fountain, and the narrator states that he too experienced distress as a result.12 What he sees would provisionally seem to suggest that his grief arises from precisely the self-reflexivity to which his classical predecessor fell victim: El miroër entre mil choses choisi rosiers chargiez de roses qui estoient en un destor, d’une haie bien clos entor. (1613–16)

In the mirror, among a thousand things, I espied rosebushes laden with roses that were growing in an isolated spot enclosed all around by a hedge.

9. Sarah Kay, “The Birth of Venus in the Roman de la Rose,” 27. 10. As yet, there appears to be no consensus regarding how to designate the characters of the Rose. I shall follow what seems the most widely respected practice and retain the Old French names in all cases except “Reson,” which I shall translate. 11. For recent studies of Narcissus, see not only Kay, The Romance of the Rose, 78–83, and Nouvet, “A Reversing Mirror,” 189–198, but also: Thomas D. Hill, “Narcissus, Pygmalion, and the Castration of Saturn: Two Mythographical Themes in the Roman de la Rose”; David Hult, “The Allegorical Fountain: Narcissus in the Roman de la Rose”; Martin Thut, “Narcisse versus Pygmalion: Une lecture du Roman de la Rose”; Robert Gregory, “Reading as Narcissism: Le Roman de la Rose”; Armand Strubel, La Rose, Renart et le graal: La littérature allégorique en France au XIIIe Siècle, 208–09; Karl D. Uitti, “Understanding Guillaume de Lorris: The Truth of the Couple in Guillaume’s Romance of the Rose,” and “‘Cele [qui] doit estre Rose clamee’ (Rose, vv. 40–44): Guillaume’s Intentionality”; Jean-Charles Huchet, Littérature médiévale et psychanalyse: Pour une clinique littéraire, 171–77; and Jean Dornbush, “‘Songes est senefiance’: Macrobius and Guillaume de Lorris’ Roman de la Rose,” 109–11. 12. “Mes de fort eure m’i miré. / Las! tant en ai puis soupiré! / Cil miroërs m’a deceü: / se j’eüsse avant coneü / quex ert sa force et sa vertuz, / ne m’i fusse ja enbatuz, / que maintenant ou laz cheï / qui maint home a pris et traï” (1605–12).

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On the bushes Amant sees two types of flower, those that are open and those that are buds. He states his preference for the latter, noting that they are more resilient and durable. One rosebud in particular stands out: Entre les autres en eslui un si tres bel, envers celui nul des autres rien ne prisé puis que celui bien avisé; car une color l’enlumine qui est si vermeille et si fine con Nature le pot plus faire. Des fueilles i a quatre paire, que Nature par grant maistire i ot asisses tire a tire: la tige ere droite con jons, et par desus siet li boutons si qu’i ne cline ne ne pent. (1653–65)

Among the others I selected one that was of such exceptional beauty that, after I inspected it, I saw no value at all in the others. For it was colored with a fine, purple hue that Nature could not improve upon. It had four pairs of leaves that Nature had positioned one by one with great skill. The stem was as straight as a reed and at the end of it sat the bud, in such a way that it neither hung nor drooped.

Amant expresses his especial liking for “un si tres bel.” This in itself need not detain us, since in assigning the masculine gender to the object of his desires Amant is simply respecting the grammatical gender of the category at issue. As the passage progresses, however, masculinity does indeed become of paramount importance. This lover who rejects the feminine rose in favor of the masculine bud does so as a prelude to describing a phenomenon which, as Karl D. Uitti has pointed out, is male rather than female in form and reads as an image of virile potency.13 13. “One cannot conceive of a more phallic, masculine sort of rose, in my judgment, than the rose described here as it reposes, closed in its budlike shape, on its long and stiffly upright stem” (Uitti, “‘Cele [qui] doit estre Rose clamee,’” 40). Uitti is at no point concerned with homoeroticism. Rather, he would appear to be arguing that the “boutons” is a figure for an

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


Seen in the fountain of Narcissus, this male vision of male anatomical characteristics would seem, in the first instance, to imply that Amant’s desire is self-reflexive and to create of the first Roman de la Rose an allegory of frustrated autoeroticism. We must proceed with caution, however. As David F. Hult has argued, even though Amant sees, on the first reflexive plane, his own image on the surface of the water, he also looks beyond it to see, in the twin crystals below, the other who becomes the object of his desire.14 Amant’s experiences at the Miroërs Perilleus do, therefore, entail a movement away from the gaze of self-absorption. With autoeroticism discounted, the most plausible remaining interpretation of the lover’s experiences would appear homoerotic. What Amant falls in love with is anatomically male rather than female in form, and the narrator states that he considers it preferable to the open rose, from which it is identified as a different category not only by the narrator himself but also, with some emphasis, by other characters: Honte was born because Chasteez, the mistress “of roses and buds” (“des roses et des boutons” [2831]), was under siege and could not prevent Venus from stealing, day and night, her “buds and roses” (“boutons et roses” [2836]); Chasteez, Honte, Jalousie, and Peor would allow themselves to be severely beaten in their anxiety to make sure “that no one make off with a bud or a rose” (“que nus bouton ne rouse emport” [2849]); Honte reprimands Dangiers and states that anyone would be crazed to trust him “to guard rose or bud” (“de garder rose ne boton” [3663]); and Jalousie is delighted with the completed tower because she no longer has to fear that lascivious young men “may rob her of rose or bud” (“li emblent rose ne boton” [3916]). Such a distinction appears gratuitous: rosebuds are roses, and they do not need to be specified in their difference unless they are invested with an ulterior significance. Not only do the form of the rosebud and the distinction drawn, quite systematically, between it and an alternative suggest a specific preference; so too does the allegorical figure who guards it. This is Bel Acueil, who personifies the beloved’s favorable response to the lover’s advances. In accordance with the gender of isolated, narcissistic self-love (autoeroticism?) that Amant transcends at the end of Guillaume’s section of the romance; see particularly, 57–58. 14. See Hult, “The Allegorical Fountain,” 144. Also by Hult, on other aspects of the romance: “Closed Quotations: The Speaking Voice in the Roman de la Rose”; “Words and Deeds: Jean de Meun’s Romance of the Rose and the Hermeneutics of Censorship”; and, especially, the excellent “Language and Dismemberment: Abelard, Origen and the Romance of the Rose,” to which I shall frequently return.


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the noun “acueil,” he is male, and, in accordance with the adjective by which the noun is qualified, he is handsome and exceptionally so: Ensi con je me porpensoie s’outre la haie passeroie, je vi vers moi tot droit venant un vallet bel et avenant en cui il n’ot rien que blasmer. Bel Acueil se fessoit clamer. (2771–76)

While I was wondering if I would be able to pass over the hedge [to get to the rosebud], I saw coming straight toward me a handsome, attractive young man, in whom there was nothing to be reproached. He was called Bel Acueil.

For the rest of the romance, Amant addresses his impassioned pleas for physical contact to this male embodiment of irreproachable beauty, and, albeit after an immense hiatus, Bel Acueil eventually accedes, giving him leave to touch and stimulate the “boutons” over which he presides. Despite initial appearances, however, this does not validate the assumption that the Rose is an allegory of homoerotic desire. Certainly, on the literal plane of grammar, the romance is about a relationship between men. But, on the ulterior plane of allegory, such clarity of interpretation is impossible. Since Bel Acueil personifies an emotional response that is common to people of either sex, then there is nothing to demonstrate that he does not represent, by synecdoche, a woman. Indeed, by the end of the text, he comes at intervals to be treated as though he has female anatomical characteristics, with the effect that an exclusively homoerotic interpretation proves untenable. This argument has been made with remarkable lucidity by Simon Gaunt, who, in a revolutionary reading of the romance, has demonstrated the extent to which the text constantly subverts its hetero-normative implications, while also unsettling the homoeroticism through which that subversion is accomplished.15 With regard to erectile vocabulary that punctuates the allegory of 15. Gaunt, “Bel Acueil and the Improper Allegory of the Roman de la Rose.” Critics who precede Gaunt in negotiating this impropriety of gender can be divided into three groups: those who denounce the disjuncture of signified and signifier that Bel Acueil incarnates as an absurd incoherence, most egregiously C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


intercourse through which Amant finally consummates his desire, Gaunt observes: I am not suggesting that the figurative language here necessarily renders the passage homoerotic; I am suggesting rather that it is problematic, that it does not signify straightforwardly, and that it therefore partakes of the play ‘in the sense of space for movement; instability, uncertainty’ that Sarah Kay (Rose, 52) has argued is central to the Rose.16

Like Gaunt, I contend that the Rose must be read as a sustained exercise in sexual indeterminacy. The romance has, of course, been traditionally read in heterosexual terms, and not without reason: in the prologue, the narrator dedicates what follows to his beloved and states that she is worthy of being called Rose (39–44; more on this later), and this inevitably influences how we interpret subsequent narrative developments. However, while I agree that, once made, the association of rose and woman can never be undone, like Tradition, 140–55; those who attribute it to grammatical accident, notably Alan M. F. Gunn, The Mirror of Love: A Reinterpretation of the “Roman de la Rose,” 329, n. 8; Fleming, The “Roman de la Rose,” 43–46; Daniel Poirion, Le Roman de la Rose, 118; and Heather M. Arden, The Romance of the Rose, 113–14 n. 8; and those who recognize its homoerotic implications only to bracket them as ultimately unimportant to the significance of the romance, represented above all by Michel Zink, “Bel-Accueil le travesti: Du «Roman de la Rose» de Guillaume de Lorris et Jean de Meun à «Lucidor» de Hugo de Hofmannsthal,” particularly 34. For further details, see Gaunt, “Bel Acueil,” 65–67. 16. “Bel Acueil,” 72, emphasis Gaunt’s. The work by Kay that Gaunt cites is The Romance of the Rose. In agreement with Gaunt is Joanna Luft in her remarkable Ph.D. dissertation, “Unfixing the Rosebud as a Fixture of the Female Sex in Guillaume de Lorris’s and Jean de Meun’s ‘The Romance of the Rose’” (McMaster University, 2004). Throughout, Luft definitively dismantles “the predominant understanding of the romance as a standard, if somewhat lengthy, tale of courtship and seduction” (2) and, like Gaunt, argues “that the rosebud cannot be limited to a representation of the female beloved—herself, her love, or her genitalia” (2). In an essay that appeared in the same year as Gaunt’s, Ellen L. Friedrich offers a spirited argument for reading Guillaume’s section of the Rose in unequivocally homoerotic terms. Like Uitti, she is attentive to the “phallic” quality of the rose and, lending penile connotations to several of the terms used in its initial description (“boutons,” “jons,” “tige”), concludes: “[T]he murky waters of time and the oppression of same-sex love have muddied the clear reflection of homosexual love in the Roman de la Rose” (37). See “When a Rose is not a Rose: Homoerotic Emblems in the Roman de la Rose.” As will become evident, I am much less inclined to identify the object of Amant’s affections with such clarity.

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Gaunt I consider that the male presence of Bel Acueil must also inform any effort to interpret the object of Amant's desire. As Reason defines it in Jean's continuation, desire is a sustained oxymoron,17 and the terms of her definition are lifted near-verbatim from sentiments expressed, also in verse, by Alain’s Nature.18 This self-contradicting structure also extends to the object of desire, Bel Acueil, who, by manifesting the anatomical characteristics of both male and female, eventually incarnates the “femina vir factus” that Alanus decries at the beginning of the De planctu.19 In emphasizing these hermaphroditic effects and the influence of the Latin text in which they are systematically explored, I find my views diverge from those of Alastair Minnis, who respectfully declines to concur with Gaunt: Amant’s handsomeness, kissable mouth, and sweet breath are indeed praised to encourage Bel Acueil’s receptiveness to his advances, but it is a female figure (Venus) who is doing the praising here, from a female subject position and ultimately for a female recipient, the Rose herself; similarly with La Vielle’s recommendation of Amant to Bel Acueil. The gendering of personifications in this allegory of love is certainly confusing but it is not necessarily subversive of sexual norms.20

Whereas Minnis takes the object of Amant’s desire to be unequivocally female (“the Rose herself ”), Gaunt stresses the difficulties of reaching such clarity of gender identification.21 In this respect I am in complete agreement with Gaunt and will add the following three points with regard to the intercessions of Ve17. 4263–80, quoted below, chapter 8, 176–77. 18. 9.1–18, quoted above, chapter 6, 131. 19. “Flet natura, silent mores, proscribitur omnis / Orphanus a ueteri nobilitate pudor. / Actiui generis sexus se turpitur horret / Sic in passiuum degenerare genus. / Femina uir factus sexus denigrat honorem, / Ars magice Veneris hermaphroditat eum” (1.13–18). 20. Alastair Minnis, Magister Amoris: The “Roman de la Rose” and Vernacular Hermeneutics, 23. Minnis makes similar remarks on 205–7. 21. Drawing upon a comprehensive knowledge of the manuscript tradition, Gaunt also demonstrates that many miniaturists (themselves among the earliest interpreters of the Rose to have left their conclusions for objective analysis today) were sensitive to the sexual ambiguities of Bel Acueil. Some represented him as a man entwined in Amant’s embrace (London, British Library, MS Egerton 881, fol. 23v; cited by Gaunt, “Bel Acueil,” at 83), others as a woman or, perhaps, in drag (for example, Paris, BN, MS fonds français 1565, fol. 20v; at 79). Oxford, Bodleian, MS Douce, 364 displays a particularly extravagant series of illuminations, rendering Bel Acueil variously as a man (fol. 24r) or a woman (fol. 28r). Gaunt’s work is preceded by two earlier studies of medieval depictions of Bel Acueil: Rosamund Tuve, Allegorical Imagery: Some

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nus and La Vielle. The very fact that it is Venus who attempts to bring Amant and Bel Acueil together in Guillaume’s section of the romance and who assures their coitus in Jean’s is itself of paramount importance. In the conjoined text the goddess of love cannot be dissociated from the intertextual presence of Alain’s work and the role of patron deity of “unnatural” sexual inclinations she plays therein. Furthermore, although, as Minnis states, articulated “from a female subject position,” the advice that La Vielle gives Bel Acueil is offered to a character whom La Vielle herself repeatedly identifies in his grammatical alterity to the erotic and anatomical perspectives from which she speaks: he is, in her words, “jennes hom” (12728), “chiers filz, tendre jovente” (12863), “biau tres douz filz” (12971, 13469), “biaus filz” “biau filz” (12525, 12850, 12981, 13007, 13855, 14009, 14413). Finally, while I quite agree with Minnis that the gendering of personifications is confusing, I maintain that it is deliberately so. As early as Guillaume’s poem, another character is introduced whose relationship with gender inevitably draws attention to the bivalence of Bel Acueil. This is Male Bouche, the personification of slander. On its first appearance this category is identified as “Male Bouche, la jangleor” (2819; emphasis added) and, a short time after, its feminine gender is reiterated by Reason as she describes Dangiers and Honte positioning themselves to guard the rosebush: “Avecques ceus est Male Boche, qui ne sueffre que nus i toche. Avant que la chose soit fete, l’a ele en .III. cenz leus retrete.” (3017–20; emphasis added)

“With them is Male Bouche, who will not tolerate anyone touching [the roses]. Before this can be done, she has described it in three hundred places.”

Some five hundred lines later, and on first reading unaccountably, this feminine principle undergoes a gender reassignment and is now not only grammatically masculine but defined as male. Honte to Jalousie: “Por Dieu, dame, ne creez pas Male Bouche le lozengier, Medieval Books and Their Posterity, 323–25, and Fleming, The “Roman de la Rose,” 43–44. See Gaunt, “Bel Acueil,” 74–75, for a critique of their conclusions.

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c’est uns hom qui ment de legier et maint prodome a amusé.” (3550–53; emphasis added)

“By God, my lady, don’t believe that gossip Male Bouche. He’s a man who lies at the slightest pretext and has deceived many a worthy man.”

As its first and primary effect, this reassignment demonstrates that gender of personification and gender of noun do not have to cohere in the Rose22 and that, if Bel Acueil remains masculine (remains so, moreover, only to receive admonitions on how to select clothing that will disguise large breasts23 and how to keep precise particulars of the female body clean),24 it is as part of a wider strategy of hermaphroditic poetics that Jean invites the reader to bring to bear in assessing the totality of his writing. The peripheral presence of the hermaphrodite in Guillaume’s section of the romance was first recognized some twenty-five years ago by Marta Powell Harley, who demonstrated that the Miroërs Perilleus, while primarily and explicitly gesturing toward the fountain of Narcissus, owes some of its most significant properties to the fountain of Salmacis from Metamorphoses 4.25 The relevance of this other paradigm is first suggested by Oiseuse. As Powell 22. Douglas Kelly, Internal Difference and Meanings in the “Roman de la Rose,” 115, argues that this reassignment of gender serves to dissociate Male Bouche from the negatively inflected femininity Jean de Meun refers to as “meurs femenins” (Rose, 15170, 15196, 15199). When later strangled by Faus Semblant and deprived of his tongue, Male Bouche, because now masculine, all the more forcefully signals a definitive change in Amant, who from this point on has recourse to perfidy over candor and aligns himself with what Kelly refers to the “female complex,” a set of morally weak proclivities that Jean associates with women (115–22). While I find this the most persuasive explanation of the reassignment to date, I must emphasize that the change in Amant’s disposition only becomes perceptible some nine thousand lines after Male Bouche ceases to be feminine. When it first takes place, the gender reassignment has a contrastive function. Kelly, 181, n. 75, also makes the illuminating point that the old French “Male Bouche” itself carries a gender equivocation: since preconsonantal “s” was no longer pronounced by the late thirteenth century, “Male Bouche” (“Bad Mouth”) suggests its virtual homophone “Masle Bouche” (“Male Mouth” [as opposed to “female mouth”], modern French “Mâle Bouche”), creating circumstances in which the feminine grammatical gender of the noun is contradicted by the meaning of the adjective, and the sex-change effected in the romance is enacted in the name of the character who undergoes it. 23. 13299–304. 24. 13305–310. 25. Marta Powell Harley, “Narcissus, Hermaphroditus, and Attis: Ovidian Lovers at the Fontaine d’Amors in Guillaume de Lorris’s Roman de la Rose.”

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


Harley points out, Guillaume identifies the mirror and comb as the defining attributes of this vernacular personification of idleness,26 and Ovid does the same in his description of Salmacis, who is criticized by the other naiads for refusing to follow Diana and for devoting herself to, quite precisely, a life of ease.27 Assessed in isolation, similarities of this kind would be of little significance and could be attributed to, at best, unreflecting reminiscence, at worst, accident. Analogies do not stop here, however. To further Powell Harley’s insights, let it be noted that, like Salmacis, who is the tutelary deity of the fountain to which she gives her name, Oiseuse plays a role of guardianship, acting as gatekeeper to the garden of her consort, Deduiz, and exercising sole discretion over who enters. The garden and the fountain placed in its midst are spatially implicated in one another: in each of the crystals located at the bottom of the water Amant sees, in all-inclusive detail, one half of the garden that surrounds it, and the fountain accordingly functions as a specular site for the space by which it is enclosed. Therefore Oiseuse, while not actually guarding a fountain, does nonetheless guard the location that a fountain places en abyme. As one of the two lovers who undergo metamorphosis, Salmacis is of central importance in the Latin, while Oiseuse simply disappears from the Rose once she has allowed Amant entry (522–628) and is briefly glimpsed in the retinue of Deduiz (1249–56). Her introductory presence, however, serves to signal later, ulterior transpositions. As already mentioned, the narrator describes Amant looking into two crystals beneath the water. In a manner that is on first reading baffling, he also on occasion refers to one crystal. Critics have come some way to explaining this by noting that Ovid in Metamorphoses 3 also uses a term that accommodates singular and plural, as he refers to the eyes of Narcissus as “a twin star” (“geminum sidus”).28 But this fails to take account of the fact that Guillaume uses singular and plural with different representational implications. The singular is used a-temporally as a synonym for the fountain and the perilous mirror its reflexive surface is said to be; the plural, on the other hand, signifies only within experiences specific to Amant 26. “En sa main tint un miroër, / si ot d’un riche treçoër / son chief trecié mout richement” (555–57). 27. “solaque naiadum celeri non nota Dianae. / saepe suas illi fama est dixisse sorores / ‘Salmaci, vel iaculum vel pictas sume pharetras / et tua cum duris venatibus otia misce!’ / nec iaculum sumit nec pictas illa pharetras, / nec sua cum duris venatibus otia miscet, / sed modo fonte suo formosos perluit artus, / saepe Cytoriaco deducit pectine crines / et, quid se deceat, spectatas consulit undas” (4.304–12). 28. See, for example, Thut, “Narcissus versus Pygmalion,” 110.


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and represents the site in which his beloved is first perceived.29 Amant, then, sees his own reflection and, simultaneously beyond it, the object of his desire.30 As Powell Harley notes, the superimposition of singular and plural is present also in Metamorphoses 4, although with different functional implications. Ovid likens the two eyes of the nymph to a single mirror reflecting the rays of the sun, and this anticipates the reflexive quality of the two crystals in the Rose, also explicitly activated by sunlight, and does so more closely than the twin star of Narcissus, which does not have the capacity to reflect.31 Furthermore, as Powell Harley also points out, the waters of the vernacular have a very particular power: Maint vaillant home a mis a glaive cil miroërs, car li plus saive, li plus preu, li mieuz afetié i sont tost pris et agaitié.32 (1577–80)

This mirror has put to the sword many a valiant, for the wisest, most noble, and best prepared are quickly caught and trapped there. car Cupido, li filz Venus, sema d’Amors ici la graine qui toute acuevre la fontaine.33 (1586–88)

For Cupid, the son of Venus, here sowed the seed of love, which has covered the whole fountain.

This deleterious, entrapping property finds no equivalent in the fountain of Narcissus, which, in Metamorphoses 3, is never said to have any subsequent 29. These arguments are persuasively laid forth by Hult, “The Allegorical Fountain,” 138. 30. See, again, Hult, “The Allegorical Fountain,” 144. 31. To quote Powell Harley: “For their marvelous reflecting power, the ‘.ii. pierres de crystal’ rely on sunlight” and the fact “that sunlight strikes the crystal and that the crystal functions as a mirror” echoes “Ovid’s simile for Salmacis’s eyes: ‘flagrant quoque lumina nymphae, / non aliter quam cum puro nitidissimus orbe/ opposita specula referitur imagine Phoebus’ (4.347–49). Interestingly, Salmacis’s eyes are likened not to two mirrors but rather to a single sunlit mirror” (“Narcissus, Hermaphroditus, and Attis,” 325–26). 32. In part quoted by Powell Harley, “Narcissus, Hermaphroditus, and Attis,” 326; translation mine. 33. Quoted by Powell Harley, “Narcissus, Hermaphroditus, and Attis,” 326; translation mine.

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


effects on others. It is, however, the salient attribute of the fountain of Salmacis, activated by the man the nymph lures into its waters. That man is Hermaphroditus. The son of Hermes and Aphrodite is caught in the spring and there merges as one with the nymph, subsequently to lend his name to those who display the anatomical characteristics of male and female. He then assures the fountain in the future have an effect on others, asking his parents to make any man who henceforth enters its waters suffer a fate similar to his own: Hermaphroditus ait: “nato date munera vestro, et pater et genetrix, amborum nomen habenti: quiquis in hos fontes vir venerit, exeat inde semivir et tactis subito mollescat in undis!” motus uterque parens nati rata verba biformis fecit et incesto fontem medicamine tinxit. (4.383–88)34

Hermaphroditus said: “Father and Mother, grant this boon to your son who has both your names. Let any man who enters this fountain leave it half-man and at once soften at the touch of the water.” Each parent took heed of the plea of their two-formed son and dyed the pool with that unhallowed property.

There are differences in circumstantial detail. In the Latin, it is Hermes and Aphrodite who taint the waters, in the vernacular, it is Cupid, son of Aphrodite. In the Latin, dire consequences befall any man who should enter the fountain, in the vernacular, any man who should gaze into it. Differences notwithstanding, however, the curse of Hermaphroditus anticipates the role Amant proceeds grammatically to play: by entering a relationship with another man, he becomes, by medieval definition, “homo utriusque sexus.” This applies also to Bel Acueil, and here “hermaphroditism” of orientation is complemented in semiotic and physical terms: as a man who signifies a woman, Bel Acueil is a representational hermaphrodite; and, like the offspring of Hermes and Aphrodite after his conjunction with Salmacis, he is both “biformis” and “semivir,” a man who also bears the anatomical characteristics of a woman and for that reason is only part man. He does not, of course, ever enter the vernacular fountain and there undergo the metamorphosis Hermaphroditus envisages. 34. Quoted by Powell Harley, “Narcissus, Hermaphroditus, and Attis,” 326–27; translation mine.


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However, the crystals located within its waters place the garden of Deduiz en abyme and between them reflect the totality of the environment Bel Acueil inhabits. The bivalence of the gendered roles Amant and Bel Acueil play extends to the other Ovidian paradigm invoked by the fountain, the tale of Narcissus. In a striking amendment of the classical myth, Guillaume offers the moral of the story explicitly to women, whom he enjoins not to be like Narcissus and to give their love when requested to do so.35 Therefore, and appropriately, Bel Acueil, the man who represents a woman (and who, for the greater part of the romance, resists Amant’s advances) is now Narcissus,36 and Amant, despite following Narcissus by gazing into the fountain, plays, for some twenty thousand lines, the role of the rejected Echo (whose story is also told once the perilous mirror is introduced). Also anticipated in the vernacular tale of Narcissus is the grammatical homoeroticism of the relationship between Amant and Bel Acueil: si vit en l’eve clere et nete son vis, son nés et sa bouchete; et cil maintenant s’esbahi, car ses ombres l’avoit traï, qu’il cuida voair la figure d’un esfant bel a desmesure. (1481–86)

[Narcissus] saw in the bright, clear water his face, his nose, and his shapely mouth. And he was astonished. For his reflection had tricked him into believing he saw the face of an exceedingly handsome youth.37

What the narrator reveals to be love for the self, Narcissus believes to be love for another, and the sole object he is ever described desiring in his new 35. “Dames, cest essample aprenez, / qui vers vos amis mesprenez; / car se vos les lessiez morir, / Dex le vos savra bien merir” (1505–08). 36. It can be noted in passing that Bel Acueil (and therefore also the woman he represents) behaves as though he himself (she herself ) has already looked into the fountain. In the Rose, Narcissus never becomes a flower. The same does not hold true for Bel Acueil, who is not only a man who represents a woman but also a man who represents a woman who is also represented by the rose to which the romance owes its name. Unlike the vernacular Narcissus, therefore, Bel Acueil is a flower and is so from the first moment at which the “boutons” is introduced as the object of desire. 37. “Enfes” can, of course, refer to a young person of either sex. The image here, however, is obviously male since that of Narcissus himself.

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


vernacular guise is an imaginary young man.38 However deluded in its assumption of alterity, the love that Narcissus in the Rose thinks he experiences is homoerotic. In sum, Bel Acueil is a masculine character, he oversees a rose that is male in configuration, and he traces part of his literary genealogy back to the son of Hermes and Aphrodite. Clearly, there is a function to such a concerted emphasis upon hermaphroditism. What that function may be in the first Roman de la Rose remains elusive because the ambiguous closure of Guillaume’s poem and the consequent possibility it remains unfinished permit only the most diffident of conclusions. Strikingly characteristic of this section of the romance, nevertheless, is the extent to which Guillaume amplifies the grammatical homoeroticism of Amant and Bel Acueil through systematic recourse to additional male or masculine signifiers to designate the object of the lover’s desire. (This is sporadically taken up again by Jean, although the relative paucity of narrative development attenuates its obtrusive force: until the constantly deferred allegory of intercourse, Jean’s Amant and Bel Acueil primarily seek advice and exhaustively receive it, creating conditions in which the continuation is a romance of speech rather than action.) At every turn, Guillaume’s use of same-sex signifiers as devices of mediation can be rationalized as an allegory of heterosexual desire. Yet the terms of representation are literally displacing, to create the most extraordinary of texts: the story of a man’s love for a woman in which the woman never actually appears. The displacement of the female principle as the object of desire is prepared long before Bel Acueil is introduced. Shortly after entering the garden of Deduiz, Amant encounters young men and women of extraordinary beauty. He briefly joins them as they dance, and the leisured sensuality he observes leads him to exclaim: Dex! com menoient bone vie! Fox est qui n’a de tel envie! Qui autel vie avoir porroit, de meillor bien se soufreroit, qu’il n’est nus graindres paradis d’avoir amie a son devis. (1293–98) 38. In this he differs from the Latin paradigm, who broke the hearts of both men and women and who is cursed at the fountain not by Echo but by one of his rejected male admirers: “Sic hanc, sic alias undis aut montibus ortas / luserat hic nymphas, sic coetus ante viriles; / inde manus aliquis despectus ad aethera tollens, / ‘sic amet ipse licet, sic non potiatur amato’” (3.402–5).


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God! What a fine life they led! Anyone who doesn’t want the same is mad! A man who could have such a life could pass over a greater good, for there is no finer paradise than having a girlfriend at one’s side.

For reasons that remain in context unclear, Amant is ambivalent in tone and observation. He concludes that young women bring incomparable pleasures. Yet he precedes this assertion with the contradictory acknowledgment that a greater good (“meillor bien”) does indeed exist, even though he does not explain what it may be. Moreover, he evokes this context of choreographed heterosexual coupling only to suggest that he himself remains an outsider, to be counted among those who do not have the good fortune to benefit from the comforts of such free and easy eroticism. This ambivalence can, of course, be effortlessly explained. The greater good could be, for example, religious (paradise is mentioned immediately after) and by convention superior to earthly love, and the marginal position Amant occupies could simply be that of a man who for the time being lacks a female companion who would allow him to enjoy the favors he sees granted to others. This last point seems all the more justified in the light of ensuing narrative developments: having extolled the life of sexual license available to other men, Amant leaves Deduiz and his retainers and goes to explore the rest of the garden, quite plausibly to find a young woman who would give him her affection; and, as he does so, he is followed by Amors, who has so far been observing him and now readies his bow to make him fall in love at the appropriate moment. But this end to the lover’s solitude is suggested only to be questioned, since it is shortly after leaving the dancing couples that Amant comes upon the Miroërs Perilleus and sees the “boutons” with which he falls in love. This process of falling in love is itself described in homoerotic terms, with Amors anticipating the role later played by Bel Acueil. After Amant expresses his particular liking for the “boutons,” Amors shoots him with the arrows of Biauté, Simpleice, Cortoisie, Compaignie, and Biau Samblant (1679–878). Amors then approaches Amant, kisses him on the lips, receives his pledge of absolute devotion and complacently observes: “Il est assez sire dou cors / qui a le cuer en sa comande” (“He is quite lord of the body/ who has the heart at his command” [1994–95]). Now, of course, the allegorical significance of this encounter in which one male figure “had his every wish” (“fist sa volenté toute” [2009]) with another is clear: Amant is here falling in love with the woman represented by the rose, and the gestures of homage he pays to the god of love are metaphors of feudal obeisance that signify the stages of this pro-

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


cess.39 This is so. But the systematic disappearance of the woman behind the supplement of the male signifier, whether the rosebud, Amors, or Bel Acueil, pushes the ulterior heterosexuality of the lover’s desire to the very margins of perceptibility, at times to the point of its complete erasure. When Amant gives his heart and body to Amors, he has never even mentioned a woman as the object of his diegetic affections,40 leaving open the possibility of interpreting all of his prior moves as homoerotic in orientation. His comments on the entourage of Deduiz, for example, could be read as a regretful acknowledgment 39. Evelyn Birge Vitz has drawn attention to the homoeroticism of Amant’s encounter with Amors but brackets it as unexceptionable if assessed according to the erotic imagery of medieval mysticism: “That kiss on the mouth and the pleasure that the Lover derives from it are rather disconcerting to modern readers, who are naturally inclined to think in terms of homosexuality. But as one familiarizes oneself with works of 12th century mysticism, one discovers that the image of the self or soul as the Bride of Christ, often desiring to kiss her God on the lips, is not at all an uncommon one. I think that our shock at such passages results from the fact that today the center of consciousness—insofar as there is thought to be such a center—is the self or ego, which are seen as masculine (indeed as male). But in the Middle Ages the soul is that center and it is commonly understood to be feminine” (“Inside/Outside: First-person Narrative in Guillaume de Lorris’ Roman de la Rose,” 157; emphasis Vitz’s). If the homoeroticism of the encounter were isolated, I would concur in adducing an alternative interpretation. Also by Vitz on the narratology of the romance: “The I of the Roman de la Rose.” 40. I emphasize diegetic. As already stated, in the prologue, the narrator mentions a woman, for whom he has undertaken to write and who is of such worth that she should be called Rose: “Et se nule ne nus demande / comant je veil que li romanz / soit apelez que je comanz, / ce est li Romanz de la Rose, / ou l’art d’Amors est tote enclose. / La matire est et bone et nueve, / or doint Dex qu’en gré le receve / cele por qui je l’ai empris: / c’est cele qui tant a de pris / et tant est digne d’estre amee / qu’el doit estre rose clamee” (34–44). Yet the woman in question is unlikely to be the object of desire pursued throughout the romance. When, at the end of the text, the narrator describes his diegetic self finally having intercourse, he looks back on the experience to state that his beloved was almost certainly a virgin (he expresses slight diffidence, even though, some twenty lines earlier, he explains how he broke a barrier that would seem to be the hymen). He also observes that, for all he knows, his former partner in intercourse may, since then, have become accustomed to making “the place receive tolls” (“li leus de recevoir paages” [21629]), that is, may have taken to having many sexual partners. This agnosticism scarcely seems plausible if the girlfriend for whom Amant writes and the recipient of his diegetic affections are the same person (unless he has just reunited with her after an unspecified interval, finds promiscuity of this kind quite acceptable, or is spectacularly inattentive). Rather, I agree with Sarah Kay that mention of she “who should be called Rose” in the prologue “cannot be reduced to an identification of the rose of the dream with an individual woman, real or fictional. Instead, the rose remains a mysterious and eroticized object” (The Romance of the Rose, 18).


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of alienation, as the outsider envies the easy, public domain in which heterosexuality is performed, even as he recognizes that a greater pleasure than the love of a woman exists. It is only after Amant consigns himself to Amors that a female figure is cited, but, even here, circumstances are not straightforward, since this occurs during the lengthy speech in which the god of love defines his commandments for his new acolyte. A woman does indeed enter the text as a direct signified that is unambiguously offered as the hypothetical object of Amant’s desires.41 But she does so only as part of an extended quotation and as a component of a set of stylized conventions: like any true lover, Amors declares, Amant must be ready to travel long distances to see the lady he loves (2287–346), must reconcile himself to the possibility of finding himself speechless when he sees her beauty (2347–64), must know that he will change color if he encounters her (2365–98), must be prepared to weep and tremble as he imagines holding her naked in his arms at night (2399–490). Not only does Amors distance Amant from the sentiments expressed by adopting this citational, prescriptive mode. He goes so far as to displace Amant’s subjectivity altogether by anticipating, in the first person, the impassioned speeches through which the lover will lament how far away his lady lives (2289–305) and respond to his nocturnal torments (2437–90). These distancing effects serve somewhat to attenuate whatever relevance the following advice may have. Again, Amors to Amant: “Cous tes manches, tes cheveus pigne, mes ne te fardes ne te guignes, ce n’apartient s’a dames non ou a cels de mauvés renon, qui amors par male aventure ont recovrees sanz droiture.” (2157–62)

“Sew your sleeves, comb your hair, but don’t use makeup or cosmetics of any kind. That’s for women only, or those men of evil repute who to their misfortune have found love without decency.”

This is the only direct reference to homosexuality in Guillaume’s section of the text. It is monitory, certainly. But it too is citational, and, as the romance progresses, it will prove by antiphrasis prophetic. In Jean’s continuation, La 41. “Amie,” 2288, 2342, 2429, 2450, 2454, 2501, 2548, 2650, 2684, 2692; “bele,” 2359, 2380, 2464, 2513, 2566, 2680; “cele,” 2368, 2426; “compaigne,” 2429; “feme,” 2518.

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


Vielle will teach a particular character how a woman should make artful use of cosmetics in her efforts to seduce: “et s’el reperdoit sa couleur, don mout avroit au queur douleur, procurt qu’el ait ointures moestes en ses chambres, dedanz ses boestes, tourjorz por sai farder repostes.” (13275–79)

“And if she were to lose her color (and that would really cause her heartfelt grief), she should make sure she has jars of moist ointments in her rooms, always available for her to use to make herself up.”

The character who will later receive this advice on how to use makeup is not a woman, but Bel Acueil. Bel Acueil is also the first allegorized category Amant encounters after Amors, his commandments completed, vanishes. This man who later learns to master an activity Amors associates only with women or “men of evil repute” at once allows Amant to approach the rosebud he desires. Although Amant is at first prevented from fulfilling his wishes by the arrival of Dangiers, Venus eventually intervenes and persuades Bel Acueil to comply. Amant, she argues, is a loyal lover (3429); he is handsome and worthy of affection (3430–31); he is affable and young, and any woman who would resist him would not be a lady (3433–39). Nothing about his body should be changed (3440); his breath is sweet, his lips rosy, and his teeth white (3443–48). Therefore: “Bien est, ce m’est avis, mesure que uns beisiers li soit greez. Donez li, se vos m’en creez, car tant con vos plus atendroiz, tant, ce sachiez, de tens pardroiz.” (3450–54)

“It is only right, I think, that a kiss be granted him. If you believe me in this, give him one. You should know that the longer you continue to wait, the more time you are wasting.”

This, Venus’ urgent first appearance in the romance, precipitates one of the most ineluctably homoerotic moments in the Rose, and the female signified of Bel Acueil is almost completely obscured by the imminent embrace of two


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men.42 The sexual implications of the kiss that the male couple prepares to exchange become an objective concern in diegesis itself, since the meeting of Amant and Bel Acueil is observed by one of the other characters and submitted to a scandalized interpretation: Mal Bouche, qui la covine de mainz amanz pense et devine et tot le mal qu’il set retret, se prist garde du bel atret que Bel Acueil me deignoit fere . . . Male Bouche des lors en ça a encuser me comença, et dit que il metroit son oil que entre moi et Bel Acueil a un mauvés acointement. (3493–97, 3503–7)

Male Bouche, who imagines and guesses the private affairs of many lovers and repeats everything bad he knows, took note of the beautiful welcome that Bel Acueil deigned to make me. From that point on Male Bouche began to accuse me in this and said that he would bet his eye that there was something shady going on between me and Bel Acueil.

These words of slander should, of course, be interpreted to concern the incipient heterosexual relationship allegorized in the lovers’ kiss: by granting Amant the favor he desires, the woman has acted with effrontery and is duly criticized for her immodest behavior. However, the grammatical focus of Male Bouche’s accusations is not a woman but Bel Acueil. The object of gossip is, quite literally, physical contact between two men, and the “mal” that is seen to underlie the lovers’ actions, the “mauves acointance” that Male Bouche claims to exist between Amant and Bel Acueil is, quite literally, homoerotic.43 If this emphasis on same-sex contact were uncompromisingly sustained, the text would read as a dramatization of preferences that differ from those 42. For further analysis of the homoerotics of this passage, see Gaunt (“Bel Acueil,” 69–70), who adds that, later in the romance, La Vielle takes corresponding pains to vaunt “Amant’s sexiness to Bel Acueil” (70) and that, from her generous praise of his beauty, the latter emerges as “an irresistible young man” (70). 43. Powell Harley, “Narcissus, Hermaphroditus, and Attis,” 334, and Gaunt “Bel Acueil,” 84, have noted the grammatical implications of Male Bouche’s slander.

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


conventionally codified under the rubric of courtly love. However, the grammatical and representational homoeroticism enforced by the presence of Bel Acueil is periodically erased by a switch to a feminine signifier (and, because so often balanced against the rosebud, a “female” symbol). The following, for example, describes the moment at which Amant finally receives his first kiss: Bel Acueil, qui senti l’eer du brandon, sanz plus deloer m’otroia un bessier en dons, tant fist Venus et ses brandons. N’i ot donques plus demoré, un besier douz et savoré pris de la rose erraument. (3455–61)

Bel Acueil, who felt the warm glow of [Venus’] torch, without further delay granted me the gift of a kiss. Such was the power of Venus and her brand. He hesitated no longer, therefore, and I immediately took a sweet, fragrant kiss from the rose.

The employment of “rose” marks an escape from the mediation of Bel Acueil and has the primary effect of reaffirming the lover’s ulterior heterosexuality and the text’s engagement with socially accepted frames of desire. However, this conventionally reassuring use of the feminine signifier and the clearer evocation of a female signified it facilitates also serve to bring the ambient homoeroticism into contrastive relief. Since, as this passage demonstrates, an appropriately feminine term exists to designate the woman Amant loves, then there is a clear functionality to the repeated employment of male imagery that seems inapposite to heterosexual context and remains in place even at the poem’s ambiguous closure. At its endpoint, Guillaume’s poem does not finally and definitively assert a woman as the final and definitive object of the lover’s longing, and this despite the sporadic citation of “rose” in such a context at earlier junctures. On the contrary, this is how Jalousie explains her resolve to incarcerate Bel Acueil: “Il ne me sera ja parece que ne face une forterece qui les rosiers clora entor. El mileu avra une tor por Bel Acueil mestre em prison,

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car j’ai peor de mesprison. Je cuit si bien garder son cors qu’il n’avra pooir d’eisir hors ne de compaignie tenir as garçons, qui por lui honir de parole le vont chuant.” (3605–15)

“From now on I shall not tire in building a fortress that will surround the rosebushes. In the middle will be a tower in which Bel Acueil will be imprisoned, for I fear mischief. I intend to guard his body so closely that he will not be able to get out and keep those boys company who use their caressing words with an end to dishonoring him.”

In the vocabulary of Jalousie, Bel Acueil has become a promiscuous body, locked away because all too generous with its presence and innocent to the true motives of flattering young men; and, shortly after Bel Acueil is imprisoned to prevent such compromising attentions, that other attractive young man, Amant, addresses his “handsome, sweet friend” (“biau douz amis” [3975]) in impassioned, eminently flattering terms that would seem to justify Jalousie’s suspicions. Thereupon the first Roman de la Rose ends. By omitting to align gendered signifier and signified in this way, Guillaume maintains, even at the end of his poem, a semiotic hermaphroditism: Bel Acueil is masculine in gender and male in characterization, yet he ultimately represents a woman; similarly, “li boutons,” the bud with which Bel Acueil is associated by metonymy, is masculine in gender and male in figuration, yet it is simultaneously and inextricably also “la rose,” feminine in gender and female in metaphorical significance. Before considering Jean de Meun’s response to these hermaphroditic effects, let us briefly assess one aspect of Guillaume’s work alongside theoretical principles elaborated in Alain’s De planctu (this procedure is of course justified by the simple and incontrovertible fact that, while continuing Guillaume’s initiative, Jean transposes parts of Alain’s work into the vernacular and himself interprets the two works alongside and through one another). Because it involves two masculine grammatical categories, the physical contact that Venus in the Rose initiates between Amant and Bel Acueil is an example of precisely the copula Nature denounces under the dismissive rubric of uniformis deformitas.44 This alleged depravity is here, of 44. Nature uses the term while employing the terms of dialectic to render sexual irregularities: “Hoc etaim mei fuit consilii, ut nullius conuersionis retrogradatione pestifera, Veneree

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


course, entirely a thematic phenomenon, and it finds no marked reflection in Guillaume’s clear and relatively sober style, no vernacular equivalent of the falsigraphia displayed by the characters of Alain’s prosimetrum. And there is no reason why it should. As I have already stated, lack of evidence prevents us from arguing that Guillaume is consciously following Alain’s precedent, and the hermaphroditic themes of his writing may quite plausibly be intended to point to a significance that is independent of epistemological concerns, though rendered inscrutable by the ostensibly unfinished state of the romance. This, however, radically changes soon after Jean de Meun assumes authorship.

conplexionis termini analogice predicationis iura seruantes suarum uices sedium alternarent. Et, ne consequentis fallacia ex similium conformatione progenita posset industriam Veneris impedire, terminos specialibus specificaui signaculis, ut familiari libere agnitionis intuitu euidenter agnosceret quos terminos subiectionis gradus inferior, quos uero predicationis apex superior ex sue habitudinis iure deposceret, ne si conplexio terminorum inconsequens proportionatam habitudinem non teneret, inconcinne nugationis uniformis deformitas nasceretur” (10.99–107).

Chapter eight

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose: Unrefined Reason

In Jean’s work, the themes established by Guillaume remain constant, though subject to amplification. Amant still attempts to gain access to the lady he loves; Bel Acueil, masculine gender and male characterization notwithstanding, continues to be the mediating signifier for the object of desire; and a variety of other allegorized principles try either to facilitate or prevent the meeting of the lovers (and the equally allegorical and long-deferred intercourse they eventually have). However, unlike the characters in Guillaume’s romance, those of Jean’s continuation avail themselves of an immense facility of speech. As Maureen Quilligan felicitously remarks, the Rose does not lack “stories, or eager story tellers. Many of its garrulous confabulators are so self-conscious of their charms that they cannot stop talking.” 1 Reason, Amis, La Vielle, Amors, Faus Semblant, Nature, and Genius discourse, often at great length, on such diverse topics as charitable love, male reproductive organs, female perfidy, Sicilian military campaigns, alluring fashions, unseemly table manners, planetary revolution, optics, homosexuality, and paradise. Speech becomes an emphatic concern of the characters and their author, and this speech achieves such importance because, to use Amant’s expression, it is couched “not in Latin, but in French” (“non en latin, mes en françois” [5810]). This obtrusive insistence on the vernacular and its expansive power to represent is accompanied by obtrusive ambiguities in the relationship between Amant and the lady he pursues. “Rose” and “boutons” are no longer invoked as balanced alternatives and, except in one very specific context, the former 1. Quilligan, “Allegory and Allegoresis,” 165.

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


is by far the more frequently used to refer to the flower Amant seeks to possess.2 (The context in question is the allegory of intercourse, to which I shall return.) However, Bel Acueil, the guardian of that flower, continues to occlude the primary female signified, to the point that, while remaining male, he on occasion assumes some of the anatomical characteristics of the woman he represents. As already intimated, this superimposition of the sexes is first introduced in the speech in which La Vielle advises Bel Acueil on how to proceed in order finally to grant Amant his desire. Declarations such as the following circumscribe the ambivalences at issue: “Or me craez et prenez donques cest chapel et si le portez, de tant au mains le confortez, qu’il vos aime, n’en doutez mie, de bone amor sanz vilenie.” (12600–604)

“Now believe me, and take this chaplet and wear it. At least do this much to comfort him, because he loves you, do not doubt it, with a good love and has no base motives.” “Vos iestes oncore en enfance, si ne savez que vos ferez, mes bien sai que vos passerez, quan que ce soit, ou tost ou tart, par mi la flambe qui tout art, 2. “Rose”: 4136 (Amant, here as in subsequent cases used for expediency also to designate the narrative voice), 4573, 6717 (both Reason), 6875, 6895, 7183, 7192 (all four, Amant), 7588 (Amis, general, not necessarily specific to the object of Amant’s attentions), 7602 (Amis, general), 7648, 7660, 8225, 9957 (all Amis), 10022, 10286 (both Amant), 10571 (Amors), 12237 (Male Bouche), 12268, 12278 (both Faus Semblant), 13084, 13090, 14514 (all three, La Vielle), 14779 (Amant), 14837 (Dangiers, Peor, Honte), 14844 (Dangiers, Peor, Honte), 15004 (Dangiers, general), 15389, 15392, 15401, 15406 (all four, Honte), 20715 (Venus, general), 21220 (Amant), 21309 (Courtaisie), 21743, 21749 (both Amant). “Boutons” is employed far less often: 7218 (Amis), 7367 (Amis), 12498 (Faus Semblant), 15415 (Honte). “Boutons et roses” are referred to together three times: 8165 (Amis), 20709 (Venus), 20722 (Venus). There are also the unspecific “fleur du rosier,” 7564 (Amis) and “fleur du biau rosier,” 21748 (Amant). Allusion to “boutons” or “boutonet” is nonetheless consistent throughout the allegory of intercourse: 21642, 21644, 21679, 21691, 21695, 21699 (all Amant). There is also one reference to “roses / ou les ouvertes ou les closes,” also during this part of the romance, at 21649–50 (Amant).


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et vos baignerez en l’estuve ou Venus les dames estuve. Bien sai, le brandon sentiroiz; or vos lo que vos atiroiz, ainz que la vos ailliez baignier, si con vos m’orrez ensaignier, car perilleusement s’i baigne jennes hon qui n’a qui l’ensaigne.” (12716–28)

“You are still a child and you don’t know what you will do, but I know that you will pass, whenever it is, sooner or later through the flame that burns everything and you will bathe in the bath in which Venus bathes women. I well know that you will feel her torch, and so I recommend that, before you go there to bathe, you get yourself ready in the way you hear me teach, because it is with peril that a young man bathes there if he does have anyone to teach him.”

The first of these passages makes it quite explicit that the emotion Amant feels for Bel Acueil is love, and the second anticipates the pedagogical approach La Vielle will adopt as she uses her past experience to teach a young man (“jennes hon”) how to love like a woman, here represented by the process whereby “Venus les dames estuve” (emphasis added). The advice given is not only homoerotic in its prospective effects. It is also at intervals biologically ambivalent in implication, since, among other things, La Vielle teaches Bel Acueil how to respect particulars of presentation and hygiene that are very specific to a woman’s body (13299–310). Ultimately, therefore, La Vielle teaches a man to love like a woman in terms that would be appropriate only if he were anatomically female.3 The grammar of homoeroticism reaches its culmination when Bel Acueil, now instructed in the art of feminine allurement, secretly receives Amant into the tower and the two pledge unconditional devotion to one another:

3. On La Vielle as an empowered—if undermined—female figure of experiential knowledge (and therefore as an embodied contradiction of the Neo-Augustinian view that women were to be associated with the body rather than the mind), see Sarah Kay, “Women’s Body of Knowledge in the Romance of the Rose,” 216–19. In this same essay (219–22), Kay compares the relatively enlightened Nature of the Rose (who is prepared to broach theological questions) with the self-deprecating Nature of the De planctu (who states that theology is beyond her purview).

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


“Et sachez que, s’il vos plesoit, je n’ai riens qui vostre ne soit por fere tout vostre vouloir, qui qu’an deüst rire ou douloir. Tout me veill a vos asservir por vos honorer et servir. S’ous me voulez riens conmander, ou san conmendemant mander, ou s’autremant le puis savoir, g’i metré le cors et l’avoir, voire certes l’ame en balance, sanz nul remors de consciance. Et, que plus certains an saiez, je vos pri que vos l’essaiez; et se j’en faill, ja mes ne joie de cors ne de chose que j’aie.” “Vostre merci,” fet il, “biau sire. Je vos reveill bien ausinc dire que, se j’ai chose qui vos plese, bien veill que vos an aiez ese. Prenez an neïs san congié, par bien et par anneur, con gié.” (14749–70)

“Be sure that, if it were to please you, I have nothing that would not be yours to do with entirely as you wish, whoever may laugh or grieve because of it. I wish to offer myself completely to you, to honor you and serve. If you wish to command me to do anything, or send for me without any command, or if I may know of it in any other way, I shall devote my body, my possessions, even my soul itself, without any remorse of conscience, to your bidding. And, that you may be more certain, I pray you to try it, and, if I fail, never again shall I take pleasure from my body or anything else I possess.” “Thank you, handsome sir,” he said. “I for my part wish to tell you in return that, if I have anything that pleases you, I want you to get satisfaction from it. In fact take it, as I would, as your own and without permission, for your well-being and your honor.”

Once again, an ulterior heterosexuality can be adduced and the relationship rationalized as the reciprocated overtures of a man toward a woman. But, here too and to even more striking effect, no female figure grammatically


Chapter Eight

participates and the mutual assurances are made by two men. What is assured, furthermore, moves considerably beyond the circumspect willingness to exchange a kiss that marks the relationship of Amant and Bel Acueil in Guillaume’s romance. As Jean depicts them, the young lover and the man he has been pursuing grant one another a freedom of physical intimacy that is unqualified and absolute. This freedom eventually leads to intercourse. Amant designates his sexual organs as a staff (“bourdon” [21324]) and a sack (“escharpe” [21324]) containing two hammers (“.II. martelez” [21330]) and renders his attempt to penetrate his beloved as an effort to push the staff in question through an aperture between two pillars and into a sanctuary (21553–60). He finds his way blocked, however: N’i peut antrer por chose nule; car un paliz dedanz trouvai que je bien sant, mes pas nou vai, don l’archiere ert dedanz hourdee des lors qu’el fu primes fondee. (21580–84)

It would not go in under any circumstances, for I discovered a paling inside that I felt but could not see. Through it the opening was internally fortified from the time it was first constructed.

Finally Amant employs a metaphor that is heterosexual in implication, as he describes himself coming up against a barrier that can only be interpreted as the hymen. Finally, therefore, the allegory of coition is revealed to include a woman. Nevertheless, here again, a female principle is asserted only to be obscured. As the description of intercourse progresses, Jean adjusts his metaphor, making Amant not only push the staff through the barrier but actually enter the sanctuary to pluck the rose: Quant g’iere ileuc si anpressiez, tant fui du rosier apressiez qu’a mon vouloir poi les mains tendre au rainseaus por le bouton prendre. Bel Acueill por Dieu me priait que nul outrage fet n’i ait; et je li mis mout en couvant, por ce qu’il m’an priait souvant

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


que ja nule riens ne feroie for sa volanté et la moie. (21665–74)

When I was so far in, I was near enough to the rosebush that I could, as I wished, reach out my hands toward the branches to take the bud. Bel Acueil implored me for God’s sake that no outrage should be committed, and I solemnly swore to him that, since he was imploring so often, I would do nothing except his wishes and mine.

The abrupt reappearance of Bel Acueil can be explained in heterosexual terms, since here as elsewhere he represents the affective responses of a woman. But, again, the textual effect is homoerotic (in this case, indeed, homosexual), since one man is begging another to be careful after penetration has been achieved. Moreover, as earlier in the advice of La Vielle, Bel Acueil assumes anatomically female attributes, since he is advising his lover how to proceed now the hymen has been broken. These homoerotic themes are not an empty effect of allegory. They are purposeful, designed to illuminate the manner in which the romance is written. The reciprocating functions of sexuality and writing become clear in the hyperbolic rejection of male homoeroticism that Jean scripts for Genius during a lengthy speech that occupies the section of the romance immediately preceding Amant’s penetration of his beloved.4 Gay men, Genius states, 4. For an analysis of the distinctions between the speech of Genius in the Rose and the (comparatively extremely brief ) anathema proclaimed by the character of the same name in the De planctu, see Sarah Kay, “Sexual Knowledge: The Once and Future Texts of the Romance of the Rose,” 72–76. Kay’s principal point is that Alain, while (or, indeed, because) ostensibly anxious to proscribe same-sex relationships between men, is also almost entirely indifferent to women and sexual difference: “Alain’s constant suppression of the female or the feminine means that his image of writing is both sexed and a denial of sexual difference. It is ‘homosexual’ in that it allows for the existence of only one sexuality” (74; emphasis Kay’s). Genius in the Rose, on the other hand, lays far greater emphasis on the female category he evokes through metaphor. Moreover: “In superimposing his Genius’ exhortation to reproductive sex on Nature’s attack on non-heterosexual sex in the Plaint, therefore, Jean marks the cultural importance of sexual difference which Alain’s text seeks to evade. His speakers locate themselves in a world which is no longer homogeneous, and the words they utter have no pretensions to being addressed to all, or on behalf of all. The pen may still be phallic, potent and creative; but it is no longer all-subsuming: something different from it is acknowledged as existing. Jean’s text, in accepting sexual difference, is itself sexually different from the text it rewrites” (76). Although here (as later, in the context of the birth of Venus) my concerns are vastly different from Kay’s, I find her argument persuasive and would like to add, by way of agreement, one significant fact


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do not use their styluses on the appropriate tablets (19599–606); following the precedent of Orpheus, they refuse to write, plough, and hammer on the straight forge (19619–23) and, through acts of errant reading, pervert the precepts of Nature (19624–32). At issue here are vernacular variations on metaphors Alain’s Nature and Alanus use to similarly excoriating effect. However, unlike their Latin analogues, they are germane to thematic concerns, since the relationship of Amant and Bel Acueil is homoerotic in its literal formulation. On the level of grammar, Amant is not, to use Genius’ metaphors, writing with his stylus on the tablet Nature designed; rather, he shows himself to be one of those men who follow abnormal exceptions. Indirectly but resoundingly, Genius comes to censure the desire that dominates the romance in which he speaks. Genius censures a desire, moreover, that is in several respects hermaphroditic if evaluated according to the categories that Nature and Alanus adduce. Most obviously, because they are male yet partake in sexual intercourse that should, apparently, involve male and female, Amant and Bel Acueil are examples of the illicit incarnation of subject and predicate Alanus decries and identifies as a hermaphrodite in the opening elegy: Femina uir factus sexus denigrat honorem, Ars magice Veneris hermaphroditat eum. Predicat et subicit, fit duplex terminus idem, Gramatice leges ampliat ille nimis. (1.17–20)

The man who is made into a woman blackens the honor of his sex and the art of magical Venus turns him into a hermaphrodite. He is subject and predicate, he in himself displays a double termination, he amplifies the rules of grammar to excess.

In the case of Bel Acueil, furthermore, this metaphorical hermaphroditism becomes at intervals a grammatical reality: advised by La Vielle on how to keep the vagina clean and how to make large breasts appear smaller and himself advising Amant on the care required in penetration once the hymen has been broken, Bel Acueil at times acts as a man with the body of a woman. that criticism has largely ignored: the De planctu is outwardly the most virulently homophobic text of the Middle Ages, yet it does not a single time countenance (indeed, even intimate) the existence of same-sex relations between women.

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


This ambient hermaphroditism is in part designed to signal, in the vernacular, the type of stylistic experimentation Alain announces through his narrator/protagonist’s dream of gender metamorphosis. Alanus imagines leaving his body to inhabit that of a young woman and live a blissful life “in illa alter ego.” His fantasy serves to illuminate the authorial hermaphroditism assumed by Alain, as the author projects his own persona onto his male surrogate and his female interlocutor, and this projection in turn reflects the hermaphroditic nature of the linguistic exuberance he makes them display in their dialogue. Though different in approach, Jean works to similar effect. Even if the liaison of Amant and Bel Acueil is grammatically homoerotic and therefore by medieval definition hermaphroditic, it is an allegory of a man’s love for a woman and therefore figuratively straight. As in the De planctu, the theme of the hermaphrodite is introduced only in some way to be nuanced, and, here too, it is nuanced in order to point toward a gender duality that manifests itself elsewhere, in the written constitution of the text. Jean closely follows Alain in the way he indicates the textual location of the alternative hermaphrodite, and that is, of course, by using scribal metaphors to designate the alleged vices of the hermaphroditic homosexual. Amant shows figuratively written deviance in his sexuality. Jean shows figuratively sexual deviance in his writing. Jean makes the origin of his figurative depravity quite transparent soon after assuming authorship. In his continuation Reason is the first character to approach Amant as he laments the imprisonment of Bel Acueil. Taking up once more the role she plays in her one brief appearance in Guillaume’s poem, she attempts to convince Amant that sensual love is folly and, by way of prelude, announces her intention to define the deleterious emotion she decries: “Or te demonstreré sanz fable chose qui n’est pas demonstrable, si savras tantost sanz sciance et connoistras sanz connoissance ce qui ne peut estre seü ne demonstré ne conneü.” (4249–54)

“Now I shall demonstrate to you without fable a thing that is not demonstrable, and you shall quickly know without knowledge and recognize without recognition what cannot be demonstrated, known, or recognized.”


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This resolve to negotiate the impossible, with its repeated use of oxymoron, is designed to recall the prelude to that other definition of love, offered in Latin by Alain’s Nature: “Siue certa descriptione describens siue legitima definitione diffiniens, rem indemonstrabilem demonstrabo, inextricabilem extricabo, quamuis ipsa nulli nature obnoxialiter alligata, intellectus indaginem non expectans, nullius descriptionis posset signaculo sigillari.” (8.269–73) “Either by describing through certain description or by defining through appropriate definition, I shall demonstrate the indemonstrable, extricate the inextricable, even though my subject matter is not irrevocably tied to any one nature, does not brook investigation by the intellect, and cannot be imprinted by the seal of any description.”

As she progresses, Reason continues to respect the precedent of the De planctu,5 accumulating contradictions in a manner that recreates, in the vernacular, the Latin demonstration of the indemonstrable that Nature proceeds in Alain’s work to provide:6 “Amors, ce est pez haïneuse, Amors, c’est haïne amoureuse; c’est leautez la desleaus, c’est la desleautez leaus; c’est poor toute asseüree, esperance desesperee; c’est reson toute forsenable, c’est forcenerie resnable; c’est douz perilz a soi noier, griés fes legiers a paumoier; c’est Caribdis la perilleuse, desagraable et gracieuse; c’est langueur toute santeïve, 5. Several critics have noted that Jean rewrites Alain at this juncture of the Rose. None has analyzed his reasons for doing so. See particularly Félix Lecoy’s edition of Le Roman de la Rose, 280; Marc-René Jung, “Jean de Meun et l’allégorie,” 30; Quilligan, “Allegory and Allegoresis,” 172. 6. De planctu Naturae, 9.1–18, quoted above, chapter 6, 131.

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


c’est santé toute maladive; c’est fain saoule en habondance, c’est covoiteuse souffisance; c’est la soif qui toujors est ivre, ivrece qui de soif s’enivre.” (4263–80)

“Love is hateful peace. Love is loving hate. It is disloyal loyalty. It is loyal disloyalty. It is carefree care, hopeless hope. It is mad reason, reasonable madness. It is the sweet peril of drowning, the heavy burden that is light to lift. It is the perilous, threatening, and gracious Charybdis. It is healthy languor, unhealthy health. It is hunger sated on abundance, it is covetous sufficiency. It is thirst that is always drunk, drunkenness that gets drunk on thirst.”

The next twenty lines are of the same self-contradicting structure, and the entire performance represents a spectacular set-piece of vernacular affirmation. As their most obvious effect, these intertextual transpositions would seem designed to demonstrate that French can rival Latin in its semiotic potential and sonorous versatility (and, perhaps, to celebrate Jean as Alain’s equal in the art of versification). That the literary maturation of the French language is at issue here would certainly appear supported by other passages of Reason’s discourse. Consider the presence of sustained paronomasia in Reason’s efforts to persuade Amant to renounce love: “C’est ce qui la peau t’amegraie et qui de toutes vertuz t’oste. Mout receüs doulereus hoste quant onques Amor hostelas: mauvés hoste an ton hostel as. Por ce te lo que hors l’an boutes, qu’i te toust les pensees toutes qui te doivent a preu tourner: ne l’i lesse plus sejourner.” (4576–84)

“This is what makes your skin waste away and robs you of your strength. You admitted a painful guest when you received love into your hostel and now in your hostel you have an unfortunate guest. For this reason I urge you to throw him out, before he takes from you all the thoughts that should be turning you to virtue. Do not allow him to lodge there any longer.”


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The play on “hoste” “hostel” “hosteler” is a vernacular analogue of the variations on “hospes” “hospitaliter” “hospitare” “hospicium” that Alain’s Nature employs in her definition of envy (14.47–54), and it is accompanied by rimes riches of two or three syllables (“oste” “hoste,” “boutes” “toutes,” “tourner” “sejourner,” “hostelas” “hostel as”) and extensive assonance (“toutes,” “mout,” “doulereus,” “boutes,” “toust,” “toutes,” “tourner,” “sejourner”). Linguistic concerns would also seem in part to explain Amant’s emphatic, repeated, and seemingly gratuitous references to the language he and Reason are using. First, Reason reminds Amant that she is a beautiful young woman and argues that her love would be preferable to the one he feels: “Por Dieu, gar que ne me refuses. Trop sunt dolentes et confuses puceles qui sunt refusees, quant de prier ne sunt usees, si con tu meïsmes le prueves par Echo, sanz querre autres prueves.” (5803–8)

“By God, be careful you don’t turn me down. Girls who are unaccustomed to asking are excessively sad and bewildered if they are refused. You yourself can confirm this through Echo, without looking for any other proof.”

To which Amant replies: “Or me dites donques ainceis, non en latin, mes en françois de quoi volez vos que je serve.” (5809–11)

“Right then, tell me, not in Latin, but in French, what you want me to serve.”

Assessed in isolation, Amant’s insistence Reason reply in French seems irrelevant, if not absurd, to the unvarying idiom of the romance. Yet the reference to Latin and the mythological analogy Reason draws are pertinent indeed to the intertextual stratagem that is periodically at work in Reason’s discourse. Obviously, Amant has no need to specify which language Reason speaks, since she, like everyone else, has been speaking French all along. But in the process she has also been using her vernacular to echo precedents that Alain has set

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


in the De planctu, and through her Jean shows what may now be achieved not only in Latin but also in French. Later, Amant returns to linguistic concerns when he assures Reason that he has understood certain words she has employed because “no one who knows French” (“nus qui françois seüst” [7157]) could possibly have missed her point. The context in which he makes this remark is a debate in which he and Reason take opposing stances on questions of referential propriety, specifically with regard to the terms used to designate the male reproductive organs. While arguing that charitable friendship is a higher, more productive form of love than the sensual desire Amant feels, Reason uses the word “coilles” in referring to the castration of Saturn (5507) and this, some time later, provokes an outraged response: “Si ne vos tiegn pas a cortaise quant ci m’avez coilles nomees, qui ne sunt pas bien renomees en bouche a cortaise pucele. Vos, qui tant estes sage et bele, ne sai con nomer les osastes, au mains quant le mot ne glosastes par quelque cortaise parole, si con preude fame en parole.” (6898–906)

“I certainly don’t consider you refined, because you named ‘balls’ to me. They are not at all suitable in the mouth of a refined young woman.7 I don’t know how you dared name them, you, who are so wise and beautiful. At least you could have glossed them with some refined word, as a respectable woman would in speaking of them.”

In using a word he finds a sign of vulgarity, Reason, Amant feels, has revealed herself to be a crass affront to her gender and social standing. Reason, however, disagrees. There is nothing wrong, she points out, in employing the proper words for things created by God, and, she later argues, the very words 7. There is some punning here. These two lines can also mean: “I certainly don’t consider you refined, because you named ‘balls’ to me. They are not well repeated [“renomees,” i.e. “re-named”] in the mouth of a refined young woman.” Simultaneously, therefore, a respectable young woman should not speak of such things and a respectable young woman should not have such things in her mouth.

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themselves are beautiful, because she, the daughter of the Almighty, created them with Divine blessing. Reason’s resolve to allow these words to resonate with the beauty she has assigned them is also tied to the particular idiom she uses. Words such as “coilles,” “coillon” (“ballock” [7087]) and “vit” (“prick” [7087]), all of which Reason cites as singularly pleasing, are beautiful particulars of French, and not of Latin or any other language. Here too, Jean takes pains to stress the particularity of his vernacular, making Reason observe that those women in France who avoid using these words would in reality commit no sin if they did so (7101–6). However, while demonstrably present, Jean’s transpositions from the Latin of the De planctu and the implied emphasis on the signifying power of the vernacular should not be exaggerated. For a start, the transpositions themselves are limited to the speech of Reason (and, even there, are only sporadically present), and they cannot be taken to represent a sustained effort to demonstrate, explore, or vaunt a stylistic variant on Alain’s venereal discourse. Rather they function as a brief affirmation of a potential which, once proffered, recognized, and conceded, needs no further elaboration. I would suggest that these signals of intertextual filiation are intended to point beyond themselves to emphasize other concerns that Jean shares with his Latin predecessor, and that these concerns are referential in nature. Reason explains that she was in fact being figurative when she mentioned “coillons” in her reference to Saturn and remarks that an ulterior significance is often to be retrieved from beneath the obscurity of fable: “Bien l’entendras, se bien repetes les integumanz aus poetes. La verras une grant partie des secrez de philosophie ou mout te vodras deliter, et si porras mout profiter: en delitant profiteras, en profitant deliteras; car en leur geus et en leur fables gisent deliz mout profitables souz cui leur pensees covrirent, quant le voir des fables vestirent.” (7137–48)

“This you will well understand if you carefully think back over the integuments of poets. There you will see a large part of the secrets of philosophy,

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


from which you will want to take great pleasure and be able to gain great profit. From pleasure you will profit and from profit gain pleasure. Beneficial delights lie in the diversions and fables of poets and beneath them they cover their thoughts when they clothe the truth in fables.”

These ideas are congruous with those expressed by Remigius in his defense of Martianus Capella, that playful poet and lucid philosopher who showed his genius in conveying the truth beneath the figment of fable (“vera dic[it] sub ipso figmento fabularum” [2:2; on DN 81.17]) and in dressing the arts in poetic fiction (“adorn[at] artes per fictionem poeticam” [2:2; on DN 81.17]). They also mark a return to Nature’s recognition of the signifying beauty of fable and the pleasure that the reader will derive from moving beyond the false rind of the letter to recuperate the sweeter nucleus of truth. Like Nature before her, Reason conceives of the poetic integument as more than simply a veil that may be lifted to reveal the hidden contours of truth. She presents it as a source of deliz. In Reason’s vocabulary, this is not an innocent term, since she employs this noun and the cognate verb deliter no fewer than fifteen times earlier in her discourse to designate the sexual delight she attempts to persuade Amant to forsake.8 In the words of Reason, then, poetry becomes the only legitimate site for pleasures that others, including Amant himself, associate with the body. In his relationship with women, Reason argues, Amant should aspire to charitable friendship; the gratification of the senses, however, should be reserved for the acts of reading and interpreting the literary text. This shift in the location of deliz will have consequences for the reader’s relationship with Bel Acueil. However, before beginning to delineate what those consequences may be, let us consider a further implication of Reason’s performance. The one aspect of Alain’s commentary on language and sexuality that has not so far found its analogue in Jean’s vernacular is, of course, the fall of language, that transformation of Nature’s orthography into the idiom that is obligatory to all those, including Nature herself, who walk the vulgar whorehouses of the earth. Yet such a fall is indeed present in Jean’s romance, and it too involves Venus. The context is the castration of Saturn. Amant asks Reason to explain if she considers charitable love to be a higher principle than justice. She eventually answers that charitable love is superior, because justice would be unnec8. Deliz: 4367, 4385, 4390, 4394, 4395, 4440, 4441, 4445, 4479, 4527, 4571 (this last qualified as “charnex”); deliter: 4356, 4358, 4386, 4519.


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essary in a world in which all men truly loved one another. Besides, Reason observes early in her reply, justice today has been degraded, no longer held in the high esteem it enjoyed in a former age, “at the time at which Saturn held sway—Saturn, whose balls Jupiter cut off ” (“au tens que Saturnus regne ot, / cui Jupiter coupa les coilles” [5506–7]). This displeases Amant who, after hearing Reason proceed to criticize perversions of justice, criticizes Reason for using bawdy language. Though he begins to explain the linguistic transgression at issue, Reason, who still has other matters to discuss, requests he wait to a later stage fully to engage the pressing issue that preoccupies him (5676–98). Amant complies but does eventually explain himself, and at this point addresses the questions of propriety I mentioned earlier: he rebukes Reason for using the word “coilles” (6898–906); and she defends herself by defending the desirability of the literal (7086–92). By the end of these mutual recriminations, Reason gains the upper hand: Amant claims to find the word displeasing, but, she implies, he is in reality ashamed of the things it signifies,9 and if the organs in question were called “reliques” (“relics”) rather than “coilles,” he would still find the word reprehensible.10 9. As John Fleming points out, Amant’s aversion for words signifying unseemly things and, ultimately, his apparent aversion for the referent rather than the sign, stem from one of the commandments he receives from Amors in Guillaume’s section of the romance: “Aprés gardes que tu ne dies / ces orz moz ne ces ribaudies: / ja por nomer vilainne chose / ne doit ta bouche estre desclouse. / Je ne tien pas a cortois home / qui orde chose et laide nome” (2097–102). “Amors,” Fleming states, “seems to be condemning the use of coarse words (orz moz, ribaudies), but he is actually proscribing the nomination of coarse things. It is forbidden to name a low thing (‘por nomer vilainne chose’) or a low and ugly thing (‘orde chose et laide’). This seems to be a clear linguistic doctrine. The impropriety of dirty words stems from the dirty things they signify” (Reason and the Lover, 102; emphasis Fleming’s). In a lucid analysis of wider themes of castration and mutilation in the poem, David Hult concurs: “Whatever he claims in his illogical defense (‘Even if God did make the things, he did not make the words’), his disapproval of the word necessarily stems from his disapproval of the thing” (“Language and Dismemberment: Abelard, Origen and the Romance of the Rose,” 119). Also in agreement are Quilligan, “Allegory and Allegoresis,” 166; and Fyler, Language and the Declining World, 91. I certainly agree that Amant speaks as though he disapproves of the things in question. However, throughout the allegory of intercourse, his metaphorical behavior radically belies the aversion that his words imply. I shall return to this in chapter 9. 10. The passage, which I shall have cause to consider when addressing the allegory of intercourse (and, in the Conclusion, the epilogue to Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale), reads in full: “Et quant tu d’autre part obices / que lez et vilain sunt li mot, / je te di devant Dieu qui m’ot, / se je, quant mis les nons aus choses / que si reprendre et blasmer oses, / coilles reliques apelasse / et

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


Reason’s defense of the literal marks a return to several of Alain’s preoccupations. Amant criticizes Reason in terms that echo Nature’s stated desire to avoid offending her readers. In both cases the articulation of infelicitous words is presented as oral/genital contact. Nature refuses to allow anything shameful to find a place in her virgin mouth and instead employs “uarii uenustorum dictorum colores” to signify monstrosities of vice; and Amant states that testicles are not suitable in the mouth of a maiden and makes clear his preference for an oblique signifier if the referent is sexual.11 (As narrator, he later puts this into practice, referring to his own reproductive organs as a staff and a sack containing hammers.) The discomfort Amant feels is consistent with the shame of carnal delight that was occasioned by the Fall,12 and he in effect advocates a linguistic repetition of the first post-lapsarian gesture, which covered the sexual organs as objects of guilt. He obliquely acknowledges the Christian teleology of his misgivings by arguing that, contrary to the implications of Reason’s discourse, there is in fact no such thing as linguistic propriety. God, he concedes, did indeed make the things designated by “coilles” and “vit,” but he did not make the words. Any word, therefore, can be used for them provided its meaning is intelligible to context, and accordingly no word is more proper than another. This debate on the desirability of euphemism has become one of the most highly scrutinized parts of the romance, particularly with regard to the role of Reason. John V. Fleming has adopted the most critically eccentric view, arguing that Reason’s defense of Augustinian caritas over all other forms of love and friendship (including the carnal desire that impels Amant) reflects Jean’s espousal of a reasoned altruism as the ideal foundation for human negotiations. 13 The position of his explicit antagonist in this debate, Thomas D. Hill, has proven, nonetheless, to be far more influential. Reason, Hill contends, is herself constrained by Jean’s irony and periodically betrays the inadequacies of the category she personifies: she may be the human will to moderation, but reliques coilles clamasse, / tu, qui si m’en morz et depiques, / me redeïsses de reliques / que ce fust lez moz et vilains” (7076–85). 11. These analogies have been well noted by: Quilligan, “Words and Things,” 197; Huot, The “Romance of the Rose” and its Medieval Readers, 108; and Fyler, Language and the Declining World, 91. 12. See Fleming, The “Roman de la Rose”: A Study in Allegory and Iconography, 134; Reason and the Lover, 108; and Thomas D. Hill, “Narcissus, Pygmalion, and the Castration of Saturn: Two Mythographical Themes in the Roman de la Rose,” particularly 422. 13. Fleming, The “Roman de la Rose” and Reason and the Lover, passim.


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she is limited by the lapsarian status that her own preoccupation with a fall from a Golden Age conspicuously attests.14 With nuance and sophistication, David Hult has addressed similar points and has placed a particular emphasis on Reason’s paradoxical stance toward language: although she argues that words no longer have a consubstantial relationship with things, she also bespeaks a nostalgia for an ontological primacy in language granted by her existence, as the reasoned guide of Adam, in prelapsarian Eden: Reason’s position here is intriguing, for however much her statement that she named things at her pleasure might seem to betoken an admission of arbitrariness in the relation between word and thing, the fact that she is, allegorically speaking, the mythical founder of human language—the language faculty itself—endows her gesture with the same sort of originary status that would have characterized God’s own putative language.15

The ambiguity of Reason’s position has recently been pushed considerably further by John M. Fyler. In an elegantly phrased and rigorously sustained analysis, Fyler argues that, despite Reason’s defense of propriety, her speech stands as the language of a fallen world in which the names she invents are of necessity arbitrary and interchangeable, divorced from the integral relation of word and thing in the Adamic language. She can speak of things by their “proper names” (7103) or “speak properly [proprement] of things,” without gloss (7049–50), or name genitals as she does all other things “properly” (7036, 7105, 7118, 7122), but truly proper names no longer exist, and her invented words are by their very nature a gloss.16

Accordingly, in the post-lapsarian world she now inhabits, Reason is of necessity obliged to use words that are the products of human custom, and propriety is itself a consequence of (and, perhaps also, an obfuscating circumlocution for) the convention she regards as its antithesis: “The proper names for 14. Hill, “Narcissus, Pygmalion, and the Castration of Saturn,” passim. See also Wetherbee, “The Literal and the Allegorical,” 271, and Platonism and Poetry in the Twelfth Century, 258; and Carol V. Kaske, “Getting Around the Parson’s Tale: An Alternative to Allegory and Irony.” 15. Hult, “Language and Dismemberment,” 118. 16. Fyler, Language and the Declining World, 94, emphasis Fyler’s.

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


things are lost, or if they survive, they survive only in Hebrew. ‘Coilles’ is no more the proper name for what it refers to than ‘reliques’ would be—nor is it less proper; the differences between them are differences of decorum, of the ‘proper,’ the human registers of delicacy that are themselves corrupted and fallen” (95). While I find Flyer’s contention forcefully argued, I interpret Reason’s relationship with language to be somewhat less ingenuous. By specifying he is referring to “truly proper names,” Fyler implicitly recognizes an alternative: a propriety contingent upon usage by a collectivity of speakers. And it is this propriety I consider Reason to mean. Throughout the dialogue of Amant and Reason (and nowhere else in the romance) Jean stresses linguistic difference. As already rehearsed, Amant states that anyone who understands French would understand Reason’s meaning (7157); Reason states that women in France use a variety of euphemisms for the male reproductive organs and proceeds to give a list, in French, of the circumlocutions in question (7101–22); and Amant asks Reason to explain, not in Latin but in French, precisely what kind of love she wishes him to feel (5810). Both therefore speak from a postBabelic position. It must be conceded, of course, that neither recognizes as much, still less even mentions Babel. Yet, Fyler’s reading of the dialogue is informed by gradations of diminishing plenitude in medieval linguistic theory, including that signified by Babel. (While on the topic of what is and is not mentioned, let it also be noted that neither Amant nor Reason ever speaks of Adam or his language in the context of linguistic propriety, and this despite Fyler’s allusion to “the integral relation of word and thing in the Adamic language” in his discussion of Reason’s dismissal of euphemism.) Amant’s reference to Latin carries with it an implicit acknowledgment of a linguistic priority that was as well known in the Middle Ages as it is today: viz. Latin, the language of the Romans, is historically anterior to its derivations, including French, which by the High Middle Ages were being designated as romanz. To argue, then, that she considers “coilles” to hold an integral relation with the sexual organs it signifies would require she disregard the thirteen hundred years of linguistic history that are implicit in her defense of the French words she uses. It would, in fine, require she argue that significative primacy be now situated in her vernacular, with the implication that the further one falls through time away from Edenic plenitude, the closer one in fact gets to linguistic presence.17 17. For a lucid discussion of Jean’s anti-Cratylistic view of his vernacular, see Daniel Poirion, who rightly argues that Jean wishes to stress the absence of a “supernatural” plenitude in the


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Reason gestures with particular clarity toward the contingent propriety of the French language in response to Amant’s contention that, although God may have made the things, he did not make the words, with the implication that “coilles” cannot be defended as truly proper to the things it signifies: “Et quant me reveuz opposer tu, qui me requierz de gloser— veuz opposer? ainceis m’opposes que, tout ait Dex fetes les choses, au meins ne fist il pas le non, ci te respoing: espoir que non, au meins celui qu’eles ont ores (si les pot il bien nomer lores quant il prumierement cria tout le monde et quan qu’il i a), mes il vost que nons leur trovasse a mon plesir et les nomasse proprement et conmunement por craistre nostre entendement; et la parole me dona, ou mout tres precious don a.” (7051–66)

“And you, for your part, want to criticize me, requiring that I should use a gloss. Want to criticize? But you are criticizing me when you say that, even though God made the things, at least he didn’t make the name. This I reply to you: maybe not, at least the ones they have now (though he certainly had the power to name them at the point at which he created the entire world and all that is in it). But he wished that I find names for them at my pleasure and name them properly and collectively to increase our understanding. And he gave me speech, and therein is a very fine gift indeed.”

French words he uses, particularly with regard to the more prestigious power of signification still invested in Latin: “Les mots dont on se sert n’ont qu’une valeur pratique; tout est affaire de coutume; les métaphores populaires, pour désigner ces mêmes organes, illustrent d’ailleurs la fantaisie ridicule qui règne dans ce domaine du vocabulaire (v. 7076–122). L’arbitraire des mots enlève toute valeur surnaturelle au langage; du moins convient-il que la littérature en langue «vulgaire», en français, renonce aux prétentions du latin, langue parée d’un prestige artificiel” (“Les mots et les choses selon Jean de Meun,” 9).

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


God, Reason argues, may once have given names to the things of his creation (he was obviously capable of doing so). But, as the contrastive conjunction “mes” makes clear (“mes il vost que nons leur trovasse”), his designations, if they ever existed and whatever form they took, have been lost, superseded by those created by Reason herself. Certainly, these could, in provisional terms, be taken to be the words that Adam, under God’s delegation, gave to things and could therefore be taken to partake of the plenitude of Edenic propriety: Reason’s reference to the gift of speech would seem to imply an originary gesture of this kind. Yet the second of the adverbs Reason uses to modify the precise act of nomination at issue should not be ignored: she named things not only “proprement,” but “conmunement” (7063). “Conmunment” implies a collectivity, a group of speakers that Reason wished to accommodate when she assumed her task of naming as she saw fit. If indeed Reason is here speaking in her former capacity as the reason guiding Adam, the only human being in existence at the time, then she implies that Adam had a consciousness of a plurality of people who would some day benefit from the collective signs his reason guided him to provide. There is no evidence that this is so, either in Reason’s speech or in Genesis. While Reason may indeed hold a memory of once having been guide to Adam, and is perhaps even nostalgic for the role she played before the Fall,18 she, as the language faculty, has also guided the speech of every other reasoned human being and in every language since.19 This being so, she is also well aware of the fact that the signs in question are so far removed from consubstantiality with their referents that they in themselves 18. In admitting the possibility of nostalgia, I am again in agreement with Poirion: “Le clerc du XIIIe siècle n’est pas totalement heureux de faire ces constatations. On dirait qu’il éprouve une certaine angoisse de voir le langage ainsi coupé de la réalité; obsession que pourrait figurer le châtiment infligé à Abélard! Il y a, chez notre poète, une nostalgie de la plénitude, une hantise du vide, du faux, du superficiel, qui interdisent d’en faire un nominaliste impénitent” (“Les mots et les choses selon Jean de Meun,” 9). Cf., however, Gustav Ineichen, who denies Jean holds any belief, even nostalgic, in an integral relation between word and thing: “On voit mal, en effet, «la confusion entre le mot et la chose», vox et res, avec la superstition du pouvoir bénéfique ou maléfique du mot que prétend constater Poirion” (“Le discours linguistique de Jean de Meun,” 249). 19. As Ineichen indicates: “Jean de Meun ne nous dit pas quelle était la première des langues (l’hébreu) ni qui était le premier à nommer les choses (Adam, d’après la tradition, en était l’instrument). Mais il paraît que Jean croyait à des interventions successives et que la langue dans sa phase actuelle est une invention de la raison humaine à la requête de Dieu” (“Le discours linguistique de Jean de Meun,” 247–48).


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have become things, graphemes of a literate culture of supplementarity that is by nature post-lapsarian: no one, she claims, has scarcely ever seen words that are more beautiful (“Coilles est biaus nons et si l’ains,/ si sunt par foi coillon et vit,/ onc nus plus biaus guieres ne vit” [7086–88]).20 Reason, therefore, concedes that God may not have made the names that the male reproductive organs have now (“ores”), in the post-lapsarian, written francophone world she inhabits almost thirteen hundred years after the birth of Christ, and this concession, evaluated alongside her reference to a collective usage that is designed to increase our understanding (“por craistre nostre entendement”), must be interpreted to refer only to the contingent propriety of “coilles,” “coillons,” and “vit” as signifiers from the contemporary French language (and not to the “true” propriety of hypothetical semiotic predecessors viewed to have an integral relationship with the things they signified). This propriety must be understood in terms of the very convention that Reason herself cites as the context in which a plurality of speakers comes to accept a given word as an apposite sign: “Je fis les moz, et sui certaine qu’onques ne fis chose vilaine; et Dex, qui est sages et fis, tient a bien fet quan que je fis. Conment, por le cors seint Homer! n’oseré je mie nomer proprement les euvres mon pere? Convient il que je le conpere? Nons convenoit il qu’els eüssent, ou genz nomer ne les seüssent; et por ce tels nons leur meïsmes qu’en les nomast par cels meïsmes. Se fames nes noment en France, ce n’est fors desacoutumance, 20. One wonders if this aesthete of written signification has ever actually seen the things the beautiful signs in question signify. Would anyone (allegorical or otherwise) with a first-hand experience of “coillons”/”coilles” and “vit” really be likely to use “andoille” in a simile for the former rather than the latter (“cui Jupiter coupa les coilles, / ses filz, con se fussent andoilles” [5507–8])? Is Reason in fact confusing body parts and in the process further undermining her qualifications in the unreasoning realms of physical passion she attempts to persuade Amant to abandon?

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


car li propres nons leur pleüst, qui acoutumé leur eüst; et se proprement les nomassent, ja certes de riens n’i pechassent. Acoutumance est trop poissanz, et se bien le sui connoissanz, mainte chose desplest novele, qui par acoustumance est bele.” (7089–110)

“I made the words, and I am certain that I never made an ugly thing. And God, who is wise and worthy of our faith, considers whatever I made to be a job well done. How, by the body of St. Omer, will I dare not properly name the works of my father? Is it suitable that I set myself up as his rival? It was necessary that they have names, otherwise people would not know how to name them. And this is the reason for the names at issue, that one may use these same words to name them. If women in France do not name them, it is only because it is not their custom to do so. The proper name would please them if only they were accustomed to it, and, if they were to name them properly, they would in no way be committing a sin in doing so. Custom is exceedingly powerful, and, if I am in any way knowledgeable on this matter, many a thing displeases when it is novel that becomes beautiful through custom.”

As Reason states, “acoutumance est trop poissanz,” and it is precisely this social habit that determines how people (“genz,” “en,” and, most pertinently, those contemporary “femes en France” who would certainly never have experienced the semiotic plenitude of Eden) name things “proprement” and thereby make themselves understood: “Nons convenoit il qu’els eüssent, / ou genz nomer ne les seüssent” (7097–98). Far from proceeding as though all words are not glosses in the modern world of social contingency, Reason envisages the possibility that many a novel thing (“mainte chose novele”), including, by the contextual force of her own concern with words, neologisms, will in the future become beautiful by custom (“par acoustumance bele”) and thereby be accepted as proper. It is in fact Reason’s antagonist in this debate, Amant, who, in the specific context of words he considers obscene, does indeed behave as if signs still hold an essential relation with their referents: even though he states that God made the things but did not make the word, he rejects “coilles” ( just as, Reason argues, he would reject “reliques”) because


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he perceives it to be contaminated by the things it signifies. It is precisely this selective Cratylism that Reason ridicules.21 When, therefore, Fyler remarks that the names Reason “invents are of necessity arbitrary and interchangeable, divorced from the integral relation of word and thing,” I am quite sure Reason herself would agree. 21. While Alastair Minnis and I have very different views of the erotic tensions of the romance, we are fully in agreement in interpreting Reason’s linguistic position to be antiCratylistic. See Minnis, Magister Amoris, 142–43.

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Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose: Bele a coilles

In speaking of propriety, therefore, Reason is defending her right to avoid circumlocution and implicitly contrasts herself with those “fames en France” who, in referring to the male reproductive organs, will use anything but the conventionally proper term: “purses” (“borses”), “harnesses” (“harnais”), “things” (“riens”), “spades,” “pine cones,” thorns” (“piches,” “pines,” “espines” [7113–4]).1 However, as she herself goes on to reveal, Reason will also, in a different context, use language with a displaced sense should the apposite circumstances arise: “Si dit l’en bien en noz escoles maintes choses par paraboles, qui mout sunt beles a entendre; si ne doit l’en mie tout prendre a la letre quan que l’en ot. En ma parole autre sen ot, au mains quant des coillons parloie, don si briefment parler voloie, que celui que tu i veuz metre; et qui bien entendroit la letre, le sen verroit en l’escriture, qui esclarcist la fable occure. 1. For the meaning “piches,” see Hult, “Language and Dismemberment,” 119 and 129, n. 29.


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La verité dedenz reposte seroit clere, s’el iert esposte; bien l’entendras, se bien repetes les integumanz aus poetes.” (7123–38)

“In our schools, certainly, many things are said in parables, which are very beautiful to hear. Therefore, one should not take everything one hears literally. In my speech there was another sense, at least when I was speaking of ballocks, than the one you want to give, and it was on this that I wanted briefly to comment. He who fully understands the written word will see the significance in writing that clarifies the obscure fable. The truth secreted therein would be clear if it were explained. This you will well understand if you carefully think back over the integuments of poets.”

Apparently, Reason was being figurative when she first spoke of “coillons,” but literal, she shortly after explains (7151–54), when she later used two such words (presumably “coillons” for a second time, along with “vit,” both of which she went on to cite as particularly beautiful). Reason, then, takes Amant doubly to task: he requests a displaced signifier when he should not, protesting that “coilles” be designated as something else; and he fails to recognize a displaced signifier when he should, unaware that “coillons” did indeed designate something else when Reason first mentioned them. Reason identifies the second of Amant’s shortcomings as an error of interpretation, and, through her references to pedagogy and literacy, Jean invites his own readers to interpret the sense underlying the “fable occure” of Saturn that he has made her recount. As already observed, Reason introduces the fable as an aside to her discussion of justice and its merits relative to charitable love, and, in this, its primary context, it hardly seems obscure in significance. However, it is indeed relevant to the debate on words and things, since, like the remarks Amant and Reason make on God’s implication in semiotics, it addresses the transition from one era to another and complements the wider concern with the proper way to signify in the wake of the Fall. Jean at a later stage gives the lapsarian themes of this fable greater resonance, making Genius return to the castration of Saturn, here too initially as an aside, this time to some remarks on the natural duty to procreate and the barbarity of any physical mutilation that would prevent it from being fulfilled. In this case, however, the parenthetical reference leads to a commentary on the new age that Jupiter inaugurated on mutilating his father:

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


“Briefment Jupiter n’antandi, quant a terre tenir tandi, for muer l’estat de l’ampire de bien an mal, de mal an pire. Mout ot an lui mol jousticier. Cil fist printans apeticier et mist l’an en .IIII. parties si conme el sunt ores parties, estez, printans, autompne, ivers, ce sunt li .IIII. tans divers que tout printans tenir souloit; mes Jupiter plus nou vouloit, qui, quant au regne s’adreça, les aages d’or depeça et fist les aages d’argent, qui puis furent d’arain, car gent ne finerent puis d’ampirer, tant se voldrent mal atirer. Or sunt d’arain en fer changié, tant ont leur estat estrangié.” (20155–74)

“In short, when he set out to take control of the world, Jupiter had no other intention than to change the state of the empire from good to bad and from bad to worse. He was a very lax governor. He reduced the duration of spring and divided the year into four parts, just as they are now separated— summer, spring, autumn, and winter. These are the four seasons that once used to be embraced in a single spring. But Jupiter no longer wished it that way. When he rose up to rule, he fragmented the ages of gold and created the ages of silver, which then became those of brass, for people did not cease to become worse, so great was their desire to align themselves with evil. Now the ages of brass have become those of iron, so greatly have they estranged their estate.”

Genius presents this fall from a golden plenitude as the moment at which historical time came into being and nature, as a pristine domain of harmony that formerly lay outside man’s jurisdiction, became irrevocably altered by human artifice: Jupiter named and numbered the stars; he divided the land into allotments to be possessed by individuals; he had trees felled; he made snakes


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venomous; he taught wolves to pillage; he trained dogs and birds of prey to hunt; he extinguished all fires and forced mankind to make flames from flint; and he decreed that the pursuit of pleasure should motivate all human activity: “Onc autremant ne sarmona, conmunaument habandona que chascuns androit soi feïst quan que delitable veïst, car deliz, si conme il disoit, c’est la meilleur chose qui soit et li souverains biens en vie don chascuns doit avoir anvie. Et por ce que tuit l’ansivissent et qu’il a ses euvres preïssent example de vivre, fesoit a son cors quan qu’il li plesoit dan Jupiter li ranvoisiez, par cui deliz iert tant proisiez.” (20071–84)

“He never preached anything else. He gave communal license that everyone should do whatever they personally considered pleasurable, for pleasure, he said, is the greatest thing there is and the sovereign good in life that everyone should wish for. And in order that all should follow him and take the example of how to live from his acts, the carefree Lord Jupiter, by whom pleasure was so highly prized, did to his body whatever pleased him.”

The deliz at issue is, of course, precisely the carnal pleasure of the voluptuary that Amant refuses to forsake in favor of charitable altruism. But it is also the chaste principle of intellectual gratification that Reason associates with the act of reading. Indeed, the literary context from which this satisfaction is to be derived is itself contingent upon the reign of Jupiter: “Ainsinc sunt arz avant venues, car toutes choses sunt vaincues, par travaill, par povreté dure, par quoi les genz sunt en grant cure; car li mal les angins esmeuvent par les angoisses qu’il i trevent. Ausinc le dit Ovides, qui

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


ot assez, tant con il vesqui, de bien, de mal, d’anneur, de honte, si conme il meïsmes raconte.” (20145–54)

“Thus did the arts arrive, for all things are overcome by labor, by the harsh indigence through which people live in great suffering. For adversity, by the anguish found therein, moves ingenuity. So says Ovid, who, as long as he lived, had plenty of good and ill, of honor and shame, as he himself recounts.”

By having Genius name Ovid as witness to and participant in mankind’s ingenious response to hardship, Jean places himself into a glorious tradition of post-lapsarian artistry. Jean and Ovid are, of course, love poets and, in the Rose itself, Amors associates them with one another for being so, naming both, alongside Guillaume, in the tradition of literary accomplishment that extends from the classical past to the present.2 Produced of the verbal arts within a continuum of glorious creativity, the very text we read is a consequence of and reaction to the fall Genius narrates.3 It is also an instance of writing that, according to Reason, at times does not yield its immediate sense: the very fact that “coilles,” when first mentioned, are not to be taken literally locates meaning elsewhere. In this way the romance also participates in the parabolic discourse from which, Reason states, hidden significance is to be retrieved and the deliz of interpretation gained. One of the meanings that is to be recuperated from the present context is, of course, the figurative sense that Reason tantalizingly states she has attached to “coilles.” In this respect, it will be noted that the narrative and semiotic positions of the testicles in question reflect one another: as physical objects the “coilles” were excised from an original unity at the moment of the fall; and as a word “coilles” has been separated from its literal significance. However, just as, in narrative terms, the castration of Saturn had the positive effect of 2. 10477–572. 3. As Brownlee and Huot have indicated in their introductory summary of Hult’s “Language and Dismemberment,” it also leads to the creation of figurative discourse itself: “[I]f the primal act of castration is to be associated with the fall from the Golden Age, and the imperfect relation of word and thing with censorship, repression, and a disorder at once linguistic and erotic, nonetheless, as Hult points out, the castration of Abelard and that of Origen both had as result the furtherance of scholarship. Also, the dissolution of words and things opens up new possibilities for linguistic figuration. In a very real way, the birth of erotic desire and of figurative discourse is what makes poetry possible” (Rethinking the “Romance of the Rose,” 9).


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fostering artistic creativity, on the plane of interpretation the displacement of sense has the positive effect of fostering the delight and profit that come from the act of reading. The truth that is veiled in the story of Saturn is ultimately a self-reflexive commentary on the loss of linguistic transparency and the supplementing gain of literary interpretation, and the displaced significance to be lent to “coilles” is the semiotic function of the word itself, as Reason uses this story of severance to dramatize the process of its performance. Like Jupiter, Reason severs “coilles.” Unlike Jupiter, however, she does so with an acknowledgment of the benefits that accrue from her action. To put these benefits in context, let us briefly pause to summarize the plot developments that precede the allegory of intercourse. Having joined the army of Amors, Venus stands before the tower in which Bel Acueil is imprisoned and sees a narrow opening, at which she aims her bow (20755–66); immediately afterwards, Jean changes figuration and begins to render the body of Amant’s beloved as a statue (20767–86); the arrow Venus shoots sets fire to the inside of the tower, forcing Dangiers, Peor, and Honte to flee (21221– 46); Courtaisie, Pitié, and Franchise approach Bel Acueil, and Courtaisie reasons that he should now give Amant the gift of the rose (21247–309); Bel Acueil accedes (21310–15); Amant kisses and then tries to penetrate the statue (21553–76), but finds his way blocked by a paling (21577–88). (The preceding concerns the plot only and does not take account of digressions: the story of Pygmalion [20787–1184]; information about Amant’s staff, sack, and hammers and how he has used them [21316–404]; getting rich quickly by having relationships with old women [21405–508]; the desirability of giving everything in life a try [21509–52].) Involving the goddess Venus, a statue, sexual intercourse, and an invisible barrier to consummation, Jean’s story of initially frustrated passion mobilizes thematic props that are also found in William of Malmesbury’s “The Statue and the Ring.” Functional components of the tales are of course distributed differently, particularly the role of Venus, who in William’s work is the animated statue and obstacle to intercourse but in Jean’s the abettor who herself animates a statue to ensure intercourse be achieved. There are certain indices that could be taken to suggest an intertextual filiation here. Consider, for example, the unannounced and initially unaccountable nature of Jean’s switch in metaphors: with no prior warning and with no overt explanation, the beloved, previously a rose, a rosebud, or a rosebush, figuratively becomes a statue immediately after Venus joins the army of Amors, and the change in metaphor can only be assessed as a function of the goddess’s presence. Certainly, this can be explained as a necessary prelude

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


to the story of Pygmalion, in which Venus too plays a role. Yet the classical tale cannot be used to account for the terms in which Jean has Amant describe himself coming up against the barrier to consummation: as he attempts fully to penetrate his beloved and finally and metaphorically to touch the rose, Amant encounters a paling, “that I can certainly feel, but do not see” (“que je bien sant, mes pas nou vai” [21582]) and this reads as a vernacular variation on the Roman bridegroom, as he attempts to touch his wife and consummate his marriage, feeling an obstacle “that can be felt but cannot be seen” (“quod posset sentiri nec posset videri” [2.205]). But let us not stretch these points, since, analogies notwithstanding,4 it is unnecessary to argue that Jean’s story is a direct transposition of William’s (or, in context more plausibly, of one of the several later Latin versions of the paradigm).5 It is enough merely to say that the two authors employ tales of similar configuration in order to allegorize the pleasures of reading. In the Gesta regum, Venus is metonymic of the fiction by which she is resurrected, and her deleterious influence bespeaks a longstanding, ultimately Augustinian distrust for classical letters (a distrust that is magisterially overcome by that pioneer necromancer of post-classical fiction, William himself ). In the Rose, on the other hand, she plays a doubly positive role. Her more obvious function is, of course, diegetic, since she is the goddess of the carnal love that Amant and his partner enjoy and the dynamic catalyst to its consummation. Less obviously, however, she is also implicated in the reception of the text. Venus was born of the castration of Saturn and is the tutelary deity of the pleasure that Jupiter, on acceding to power, advocated as the primary goal to be pursued by humanity. The pleasure at issue is primarily achieved through 4. The one component of “The Statue and the Ring” that is absent from this part of the Rose is, of course, the ring itself. But, in a significant departure from the Ovidian paradigm, Jean introduces a ring (and the marriage to inanimate statuary it at this stage signifies) into his version of the Pygmalion myth (20982–87). Still for whatever it is worth, there exist also similarities between Jean’s treatment of Venus and William’s account of Gerbert of Aurillac entering the vaults of the Campus Martius. In the Rose Venus shoots an arrow to set light to the sanctuary enclosing the statue; in the Gesta regum an archer shoots an arrow to extinguish the lights illuminating the chamber enclosing the statues. In the Rose, as a consequence of the arrow hitting its mark, the guardians of the statue are forced to flee and, shortly thereafter, the statue is animated to speak with the voice of Bel Acueil; in the Gesta regum, as a consequence of the arrow hitting its mark, Gerbert and his servant are forced to flee as the statues are animated to repel those who would enter their protected sanctuary. 5. On other Latin versions of the tale, see William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum, ed. Stubbs, 1:xciii.


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the flesh, as Jean laconically suggests in his observation that Jupiter, leading by hedonistic example, “did to his body whatever pleased him” (“fesoit / a son cors quan qu’il li plesoit” [20081–82]). Yet it also finds an intellectual manifestation through the artistic endeavors that were also contingent on the fall from the golden age, most pertinently to present context in the deliz that Reason encourages Amant (and, indirectly, any reader) to gain from interpreting “les integumanz aus poetes” (7138). This venereal delight of literary engagement is, of course, potentially to be gained from the Rose itself. Consider in full Reason’s account of the birth of Venus: “Joutice, qui jadis regnot, au tens que Saturnus regne ot, cui Jupiter coupa les coilles, ses filz, con se fussent andoilles, (mout ot ci dur filz et amer) puis les gita dedanz la mer, donc Venus la deesse issi, car li livres le dit issi.” (5505–12)

“Justice formerly reigned, at the time at which Saturn held sway—Saturn, whose balls his son Jupiter cut off as if they were sausages (he certainly had a hard and bitter son) and then threw into the sea, from which the goddess Venus emerged, for the book tells it this way.”

Of importance here is the allusion to “li livres.” Obviously, Reason is in the first instance stating that she has told the story of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus as she has read it in a bibliographic source (possibly the compendium we today attribute to the First Vatican Mythographer).6 But, as is often the case with indeterminate romance references to “the book,” there is an ambiguity of perspective here, and “li livres” in question could just as easily be interpreted as the material artifact that encloses the very text we read. In the words of Reason, therefore, the Rose itself bears witness to the birth of Venus (and the reader 6. For Jean’s possible sources here, see Thomas D. Hill, “Narcissus, Pygmalion, and the Castration of Saturn,” 418–19, and, more recently, Sarah Kay, “The Birth of Venus,” 29–37. Written with characteristic brio, Kay’s article concentrates upon Venus as an irreverent but salvific force that operates against the patriarchal order while also questioning the very notion of sexual difference on which that order, and, indeed, the female sexuality she incarnates, are predicated. Kay’s preoccupations and my own are, therefore, radically different, though by no means mutually exclusive.

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


has, in turn, just witnessed it do so in the immediately preceding lines). This birth is more than simply a narreme realized on the plane of grammar. Reason, we recall, later claims she used “coilles” figuratively when she recounted the castration of Saturn, and her own semiotic severance of the word participates in the poetics of displacement Jean suggests to be contingent on the fall from the golden age that Jupiter’s mutilation of his father occasioned. As such, it is also a literary device (to use Reason’s term, “geus” [7145]), that will yield “most profitable delights” (“deliz mout profitables” [7146]) to the attentive reader. In grammatically witnessing the birth of Venus, therefore, the reader is also the recipient of the pleasure that is to be derived from interpreting the events by which it was caused. In this way two forms of deliz become coterminous, as the book, in this case the Rose itself, in telling the birth of Venus, also bespeaks her figurative birth in the intellectual satisfaction that interpreting her tale will yield: “donc Venus la deesse issi / car li livres le dit issi” (5510–12). Although rendered with self-reflexive clarity in Reason’s words, the deliz that interpretation may give is available to the reader at every turn, and it marks a vernacular manifestation of the fallen pleasures of discourse that Alain’s Nature identifies as an inevitable and not necessarily regrettable consequence of inhabiting the vulgar whorehouses of the earth and therein employing the language of Venus. Shortly after her comments on profit and pleasure, Reason finds herself rejected in her efforts to persuade Amant to abandon his fidelity to Amors, and, though several times mentioned, she does not reappear as a character for the remaining fourteen thousand lines of the romance. However, although Reason is summarily dismissed, her creative precedent is not. That she is the first character to speak to Amant in Jean’s continuation is significant. Her speech functions as a prelude to the rest of the text,7 since through it Jean demonstrates the versatility of his romance and asserts the principles that must be brought to bear in its interpretation. While Amant repudiates Reason as an authority in the art of love, Jean uses Reason as an authority in the art of hermeneutics. As Sylvia Huot has succinctly stated in her analysis of the discourse of Genius, “the sexual or bodily and the linguistic or hermeneutic are explored 7. In this regard I concur with Fleming, “The long dialogue between Reason and the Lover is as it were the proemium to Jean’s poem” (Reason and the Lover, 67). For reasons that will by now be clear, I am not fully in agreement with his immediately following remarks that “it contains also his denouement, when, with fifteen thousand lines yet to go, the two characters part company forever.”


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throughout the Rose as mutually defining and complementary categories,” 8 and the romance is in effect the tale of two delights. The more obvious of the two is that of Amant, finally gained from sexual intercourse. The other is that of the reader, who follows Amant’s narrative to its closure and submits it to interpretation. His or her success in this undertaking is, nevertheless, not assured, at least according to Jean, who at one juncture anticipates difficulties that may arise and states his willingness to grant an interpretative epiphany to anyone who should require assistance: Notez ce que ci vois disant, d’amors avrez art souffisant. Et se vos i trovez riens trouble, g’esclarcirai ce qui vos trouble quant le songe m’orrez espondre. Bien savrez lors d’amors respondre, s’il est qui an sache opposer, quant le texte m’orrez gloser; et savrez lors par cel escrit quant que j’avrai devant escrit et quant que je bé a escrire. (15113–23)

Note what I am saying here and you will have sufficient expertise in love. And if you find anything perplexing, I shall clarify what troubles you when you hear me expound the dream. If anyone should presume to bear opposing testimony about it, you will then be well aware of how to reply about love when you hear me gloss the text. And by this text you will know what I will have written before and what I still intend to write.

There exists no independent gloss through which Jean clarifies the import of the romance in the way he here suggests. But, one could argue, this is perhaps not what Jean means: he first professes his intent to expound the dream (“le songe espondre”) and not the written rendition of the dream that we today call the Roman de la Rose; under these circumstances, the romance itself could be the gloss through which the dream is expounded, and we, the readers, must simply peruse its unfolding to understand Jean’s clarification of his message. But this argument hardly stands: after stating he will expound the dream, Jean mentions glossing the text (“le texte gloser”) and does so with reference 8. Huot, “Bodily Peril,” 43.

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


to the same expository act; the romance we read, therefore, will be explained, and, through it, the dream it describes. The provocative assurance of an interpretative intervention that is never made must, therefore, signify in another way. The confident hyperbole of Jean’s stated intent to elucidate serves primarily to foster receptive expectation: the frustrations occasioned by this persistently challenging text will, one is invited to believe, ultimately be assuaged by the clarifying ministrations of its author. Nevertheless, just as, some three hundred lines earlier, Amant reaches out to touch the rose only to be frustrated by the arrival of Dangier, Peor, and Honte (14787–811), the reader—though he or she at this stage does not know it—will await understanding only to be frustrated by the author’s resistant lack of cooperation. The analogy between lover and reader stops here, moreover: while Amant, albeit after an immense hiatus, does eventually pluck the rose, the reader is never made privy to the gloss the author claims to be forthcoming. As a result, through the very fact of frustration, hermeneutic desire is exacerbated. Exacerbation in turn leads to a heightened resolve on the reader’s part to palliate what can ultimately only be read as a calculated authorial lacuna and to arrive at the “profiz et delectacion” Jean at a slightly later stage claims to motivate the writing of poets (15210–12). On the most straightforward level of thematic understanding, one particular area of difficulty—“riens trouble,” to use Jean’s term (15115)—that the reader encounters in completing this treatise on love is the very scene in which the lover is at last able to make love with the object of his desire. In order to put this final act of intercourse into perspective, let us briefly return to the earlier juncture of the romance at which Amant gains access to the tower in which Bel Acueil is imprisoned and the two men grant one another absolute freedom. As Simon Gaunt has argued, their physical intimacy is in figurative effect already accomplished. To put himself in a position to pledge his body in its entirety to the man he elsewhere calls his “handsome, sweet friend” (“biau douz amis” [3975]), Amant has entered through “the back door” (“l’uis darriere” [14676]), and, Gaunt rightly contends, this means of rear access must be assessed in the light of the metaphor that La Vielle uses to designate her vagina. This too is a figurative door, one which, in its former availability, “often remained open, and worked day and night,” but now, with the onset of old age, finds itself “left to rest.”9 In fine, even in this early scene, 9. Gaunt, “Bel Acueil,” 72–73. La Vielle’s description of her “huis” and the effects of aging (for her, a cause of immense shame) reads in full: “Ce fu trop tart, lasse dolente! / G’iere ja hors de ma jovante; / mes huis, qui ja souvent ovroit, / car par jour et par nuit ovroit, / se tint adés


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Amant does indeed penetrate the body for whom Bel Acueil speaks, and he does so in a manner that is more to be associated with intercourse between men than intercourse between a man and a woman. Yet the very fact that the means of penetration is possible in both sexes coheres with the systematic ambivalence of Jeans’ choice of sexual signifier (and, for that matter, with his unrepentant proclivity to outrage), and it leaves the reader still unsure of the gender Bel Acueil signifies. What is clear, however, is an unusual but consistent metaphor for intercourse. In penetrating his beloved, Amant has his entire body enter an architectural space, and this same configuration obtains in the extended allegory that ends the romance. After Amant and Bel Acueil grant one another complete intimacy in the earlier scene, Dangiers once again intercedes and Amant is forced to flee before he can reach out to grasp the rosebud. Nonetheless, some six thousand lines later, he gets a second chance: Tout mon hernois, tel con jou port, se porter le puis jusqu’ou port, voudrai au reliques touchier, se je l’an puis tant aprouchier. Lors ai tant fet et tant erré a tout mon bourdon defferré qu’entre les .II. biaus pilerez, con viguereus et legerez, m’agenoilloi san demourer, car mout oi grant fain d’aourer le biau saintuaire honorable de queur devost et piteable; car tout iert ja tumbé par terre, qu’au feu ne peut riens tenir guerre que tout par terre mis n’eüst, san ce que de riens i neüst. Trés an sus un po la courtine qui les reliques ancourtine; de l’ymage lors apressai que du saintuaire pres sai; pres du lintier: / «Nus n’i vient hui ne n’i vint hier, / pensaie je, lasse chetive! / En tristeur estuet que je vive.» / De duel me dut li queurs partir; / lors me vols du païs partir / quant vi mon huis en tel repos, / et je meïsmes me repos, / car ne poi la honte endurer” (12801–13).

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


mout la besai devostemant; et por estuier sauvemant vos mon bourdon metre en l’archiere, ou l’escharpe pendoit darriere.10 (21553–76)

My whole harness, just as I carry it, I wished to bring into contact with the relics provided I could deliver it to its final destination and bring it into sufficient proximity. I did so much and wandered so widely with the end of my staff completely uncovered by its iron sheath that, vigorously and gracefully, I knelt without delay between the two beautiful pillars, for I greatly hungered to adore the beautiful and noble sanctuary with a devout and humble heart. Everything had already fallen to the ground, razed by the fire that nothing can wage war against, except for this sanctuary that remained untouched. I lifted the curtain a little that covers the relics. I then approached the statue in order to gain a more intimate knowledge of the sanctuary. I frequently kissed it with devotion and, to penetrate safely, I tried to put my staff inside the opening, where the sack could hang behind.

As a recess located between two pillars, the sanctuary would seem to render the beloved’s genital area, with the statue it contains perhaps representing the sexual organ. However, because already by this stage compared with the explicitly anthropomorphic statue crafted by Pygmalion,11 the statue Amant kisses would logically also be a representation of a woman, with the result that what at first appears to be the vagina abruptly becomes a human body that itself displays a sexual organ in the aperture. Indeterminacy of metaphor does not stop here, however. David Hult has made a crucial comment with regard to this passage, which I should like slightly to adjust. The “reliques” that Amant mentions are open to the semiotic association introduced earlier: in rebuking Amant, Reason states that if “coilles” were called “reliques” and “reliques” were called “coilles,” Amant would find the word “reliques” offensive. This hypothetical substitution creates conditions in which, when “reliques” are again mentioned in a sexual 10. The first three lines of the passage I quote here, expressing Amant’s hope he arrives at his sexual destination (“Tout mon hernois, tel con jou port / se porter le puis jusqu’ou port / voudrai au reliques touchier”) entail the nautical term “port.” Precisely this metaphor is used earlier, when Amant enters through “l’uis darriere”: “je m’an revois de l’autre part, / par l’uis darriés, ou dit m’avoit, / priant Dieu qu’a droit port m’avoit” (14690–92; emphasis added). 11. 20781–86, 21185–97.


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context, the other term is inevitably also invoked. Hult has noted this slippage, although he interprets the “reliques” that Amant adores to be “a faintly veiled metaphor for the female genitals”12 and argues that, presumably at the moment at which Amant satisfies his desire, the “chasmus ‘coilles reliques/reliques coilles,’ a favored rhetorical figure of Jean’s, further suggests in its verbal intertwining either an image of copulation, the two members being poetically joined, or even of androgyny—a being possessing two sets of genitals.” 13 I find this latter point absolutely convincing, although I would submit that, rather than androgynous, the effect is hermaphroditic and, therefore, also and simultaneously homoerotic: Amant not only wishes to bring his own sexual organs (“tout mon hernois” (21553]) into contact with these “reliques”; he proceeds to kneel “between the two beautiful pillars” (“entre les .II. biaus pilerez . . . m’agenoilloi” [21559, 61]), lifts the curtain by which the relics are covered (“trés an sus un po la courtine / qui les reliques ancourtine” [21569–70]) and devoutly kisses “l’ymage” he finds revealed (“l’ymage . . . besai devostemant” [21571, 73]). At this stage, the force of sexual figuration again necessitates a reappraisal of “l’ymage.” Now unveiled alongside the “reliques,” which would be two in number if read in the light of the association earlier made by Reason, this third, supervening object of loving veneration also assumes a male significance, and “l’ymage” itself, signifying a sign that signifies something else, comes to enact its own substitutive function.14 Scarcely suggested, however, oral sex between male lovers is erased, since, immediately after the passage I quote above, Amant encounters the hymen and female anatomical imagery is reasserted. After some effort, Amant succeeds in pushing his staff through this barrier, but is distressed because 12. Hult, “Language and Dismemberment,” 117. 13. Ibid. 14. In this regard, it should be recalled that Reason views “vit”—the systematic pendant to “coilles”/“coillons” in her speech—as, quite specifically, a semiotic phenomenon, a verbal image that is a signifying substitute for the thing it signifies but that has no consubstantiality with that thing and could easily therefore be replaced by any other signifier. Joanna Luft has also suggested a potentially homoerotic reading of Amant’s sexual pilgrimage, although not in terms of fellatio: “If the pillars stand for legs, what prevents them from being masculine legs? The lover’s longing to enter the sanctuary and touch the relics with his harness may be read as a desire for anal intercourse and sexual contact with the genitalia of the young man Fair Welcoming. What I am attempting to do here is not so much re-locate the statue, relics and sanctuary as signifiers of the male sex, but to interrogate their monolithic status as signifiers of the female” (“Unfixing the Rosebud as a Fixture of the Female Sex,” 39).

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


“the sack remained outside, with the pounding hammers that were dangling behind” (“l’escharpe dehors demeure / o les martelez rebillanz / qui dehors ierent pendillanz” [21618–20]). Amant, then, wishes that more than simply his staff enter and accordingly pushes his entire body through the opening. The superimposition of architectural and anatomical imagery is identical to that which obtains earlier, when Amant in the same action entered the tower and penetrated his beloved, and, as earlier, Bel Acueil speaks for the body Amant penetrates: Quant g’iere iluec si anpressiez, tant fui du rosier apressiez qu’a mon vouloir poi les mains tendre au rainseus por le bouton prendre. Bel Acuiell por Dieu me priait que nul outrage fet n’i ait; et je li mis mout en couvant, por ce qu’il m’an priait souvant, que ja nule riens ne feroie for sa volanté et la moie. (21665–74)

When I was so far in, I was near enough to the rosebush that I could, as I wished, reach out my hands toward the branches to take the bud. Bel Acueil implored me for God’s sake that no outrage should be committed and I solemnly swore to him that, since he was imploring so often, I would do nothing except his wishes and mine.

The return of Bel Acueil also marks a return to homoeroticism, itself further amplified by the consistent use of “boutons” “boutonet” over “rose” throughout the encounter to designate the flower Amant wishes to pluck:15 Par les rains saisi le rosier, qui plus sunt franc que nul osier; et quant a .II. mains m’i poi joindre, tretout soavet, san moi poindre, le bouton pris a elloichier, qu’anviz l’eüsse san hoichier. 15. 21642, 21644, 21668, 21679, 21691, 21695, 21699.


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Toutes an fis par estovoir les branches croller et mouvoir, san ja nul des rains depecier, car n’i vouloie riens blecier; et si m’an convint il a force entamer un po de l’escorce, qu’autrement avoir ne savoie ce don si grant desir avoie. A la parfin, tant vos an di, un po de greine i espandi, quant j’oi le bouton elloichié. (21675–91)

I seized the rosebush by its branches, which are more pleasing than any willow, and, when I was able to take it in both hands, I took to shaking the bud, very gently and without pricking myself, for I had wanted to exert little force. It was necessary, nonetheless, for me to make all the branches shake and move, but without tearing any of them since I did not wish to cause any injury. It was unavoidable, however, that I cut a little into the bark, because I knew no other way to have what I so greatly desired. In the end, I tell you, I scattered a little seed there, when I shook the bud.

One male character assures another of his good intentions, takes hold of a bud, and shakes it until seed is emitted. Amant, it would appear, finally touches and stimulates the “boutons” he first encountered at the tip of an erect stem some twenty thousand lines earlier (1653–65). However, just as same-sex fellatio is suggested only to be complicated by a barrier that is most plausibly the hymen, the homoerotic valences of Amant shaking the “boutons” are intimated only immediately to be nuanced: Ce fu quant dedanz l’oi toichié por les fueilletes reverchier, car je vouloie tout cerchier jusques au fonz du boutonet, si con moi samble que bon et. Si fis lors si meller les greines qu’el se desmellassent a peines, si que tout le boutonet tandre an fis ellargir et estandre. (21692–700)

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


It was when I touched it inside to explore the little leaves—for I wished to make myself acquainted with everything, right to the base of the bud, so fine did it seem to me. I then mixed the seeds so well that they could scarcely be separated, with the result that I made the whole tender bud increase in width and length.

Erectile images still obtain (“le boutonet,” “le boutonet tandre / an fis ellargir et estandre”), yet they are juxtaposed with a renewed emphasis on penetration (“dedans l’oi toichié”) that proves to involve precisely the bud that appears male in form (“je vouloie tout cerchier / jusques au fonz du boutonet”). Indeed, the syntax of the first line I quote above (“ce fut quant dedans l’oi toichié”) refers back to Amant’s immediately preceding declaration that he scattered seeds: ejaculation takes place “when [he] touched it inside” (“quant dedans [l’a] toichié”), and the result seems to be the insemination of the womb that the mixing of seed would imply (“si fis lor si meller les greines”). The prima facie reference to male arousal (“tout le boutonet tandre / an fis ellargir et estandre”) must now be read differently, therefore. Though the mixing of male seed is of course quite possible, it would require erection as its prerequisite and not its consequence. Besides, what is aroused here is aroused quite precisely because it has been penetrated. What, then, at first appears male in imagery ultimately also accommodates the female.16 Here too, however, Amant’s actions provoke yet another change in emphasis, and as soon as the female is implied, the male voice reasserts itself: Vez ci tout quan que g’i forfis. Mes de tant fui je bien lor fis c’onques nul mau gré ne m’an sot li douz, qui nul mal n’i pansot, ainz me consant et seuffre a fere quan qu’il set qui me doie plere. 16. It is with specific respect to this passage of the allegory that Gaunt makes his crucial insight: “I am not suggesting that the figurative language here necessarily renders the passage homoerotic; I am suggesting rather that it is problematic, that it does not signify straightforwardly, and that it therefore partakes of the play ‘in the sense of space for movement; instability, uncertainty’ that Sarah Kay (Rose, 52) has argued is central to the Rose” (“Bel Acueil,” 72). I may add that the oscillating presence of female imagery is necessary to this instability. Luft concurs, arguing “not that the rose aptly figures male genitalia, but that reading it as male is no more or less farfetched than reading it as female” (“Unfixing the Rosebud,” 23).


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Si m’apele il de couvenant, et li faz grant desavenant, et suis trop outrageus, ce dit. Mes il n’i met nul contredit que ne preigne et debaille et cueille rosier et rains et fleur et fueille. (21701–12)

These, then were the liberties I took. Yet at the time I was sure that the sweet boy, who thought nothing negative of what I was doing and never thought ill of me for it, would consent to me and tolerate me doing whatever he knew should please me. He reminded me of our covenant, told me that I had gone much farther with him than I should have and that I was too inconsiderate. However, he did not forbid me to take hold of, stroke, and pluck the rosebush, the branches, the flower, and the leaf.

Once “the sweet boy” (“li douz”) allows the sexual encounter to continue, Amant thanks Amors and Venus for their aid, curses his antagonists Reason, Richesce, and Jalousie, and plucks the rose from the bush (at which point the dream ends and, with it, the romance [21750]). The allegory that draws the work to a close is, therefore, complex in its erotic imagery. What at first appears to be the genital arousal of one man by another seamlessly elides into the penetration and arousal of a woman, which then themselves swerve back to masculinity through the voice of Bel Acueil. Furthermore, the significance of plucking the rose is not immediately clear. It does not signify penetration, which by this stage has taken place. Nor does it signify the beloved’s loss of virginity, since the breaking of the hymen precedes. At best, one can diffidently suggest that it perhaps signals the onset of orgasm, presumably for both partners. Yet, even here, the gendered identity of the beloved who undergoes this ambiguous experience remains equivocal. The verb that designates the act of plucking is “cueiller” (21711), and this, David Hult has demonstrated, takes its place in a systematically imposed chain of signifiers designed to echo one another. As Hult indicates, Amors, when summarizing the remaining action of the narrative close to the midpoint of the text, states that the romance will continue “jusqu’a tant qu’il avra coillie, seur la branche vert et foillie la tres bele rose vermeille et qu’il soit jorz et qu’il s’eveille.” (10569–72)

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


“until he [Amant] will have plucked, from the green, leafy branch, the most beautiful purple-red rose and it will be day and he awakens.”

There is a slight shift here in the spelling of the initial verb, “coillie” replacing “cueillie.” Although not of particular functional significance at the juncture at which this substitution is made, it does demonstrate that, by the late thirteenth century, “-oi-” and “-uei-” were extremely close in sound (and may have achieved near homophony by the fourteenth century and the shift to Middle French),17 and it creates what Hult calls “the verbal nexus coille— coillir—cueillir—Acueil.”18 Hult recognizes that this produces a suture between two highly charged semantic fields: “The scribal mark suggests another unexpected extension of the verbal play: Bel Acueil—that character who, as a masculine allegory of female presence, embodies the work’s sexual enigma.”19 Although Hult analyzes this nexus as part of a dazzling study of castration and dismemberment (particularly Nero’s order his mother be dismembered so he could examine his place of origin), I would like to emphasize the pertinence of his argument to the erotic ambiguities that are in play throughout the sexual allegory. As Hult argues, Jean uses the word “coilles” as a privileged locus for metaphorical substitution and wordplay, both of which are consequences of the fall from Edenic presence and rehabilitating symptoms of “a poetics of dismemberment” through which figuration and interpretation can be applied and valorized. I would suggest that “coilles” is also functional in one of Jean’s most audacious, if implicit, plays on words, operative in the very name of the young man who guards the rosebud: Bel Acueil—bele a coille—bele a coilles.20 The difficulties of sexually interpreting a body that at intervals does indeed read as that of beautiful woman with balls are not innocent to a text in which interpretation itself becomes a figuratively sexual activity. Consider the anath17. To all appearances, this process was already under way in the early thirteenth century. Guillaume de Lorris, for example, uses “oil” and “-ueil” as rhymes for one another: “Male Bouche des lors en ça / a encuser me comença, / et dit que il metroit son oil / que entre moi et Bel Acueil / a un mauvés acointement” (3503–7). 18. Hult, “Language and Dismemberment,” 120. 19. Ibid.; emphasis Hult’s. 20. Ellen Friedrich (“When a Rose is not a Rose,” 35) too has suggested wordplay here, although in different terms, reading Bel Acueil as “bel a co(u)il(le)” (which Friedrich glosses as “nice ball[s] he has”) or “bel a cul” (for Friedrich, “nice ass he has” or “nice in the ass”). Although neither reading can be discounted, my concern with the hermaphrodite leads me to find “bele a coilles” more convincing.


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ema Genius casts upon all those who pursue sex as a source of pleasure, not as a means of procreation: “Et conferment leur regles males par excepcions anormales, quant Orpheüs veulent ansivre, qui ne sot arer ne escrivre ne forgier en la droite forge. Panduz soit il par mi la gorge! Quant tex regles leur controva, ver nature mau se prova. Cil qui tel metresse despisent quant a rebours ses regles lisent, et qui, por le droit san antandre par le bon chief nes veulent prandre, ainz pervertissent l’escriture quant il viennent a la lecture.” (19619–32)

“And they confirm their vicious rules through abnormal exceptions when they wish to follow Orpheus, who did not know how to plough or write or hammer on the straight forge. May he be hanged by the throat! When he invented such rules for them he proved himself to be ill-disposed toward Nature. [May they be damned] who despise such a mistress when, reading her rules backward and refusing to take them in the right way in order to understand their true sense, they pervert the written word when they come to its reading.”

Reading as a trope for sex is Jean’s addition to three of the favored metaphors— ploughing, forging, and writing—that Alain employs in the De planctu, the text in which the sentiments Genius expresses find their precedent. At issue here, furthermore, is not just any act of reading: it is the act of reading the rules of Nature. Evidently, in the light of all that has preceded, the one component of the Rose that persistently calls for explication is Bel Acueil—he speaks as the object of Amant’s desire and also, by the logic of Jean’s sexualized trope, becomes the object of interpretative desire: in order to understand the Rose, we must first believe we gain a clear understanding of what the lover seeks. Now, on the most straightforward level, it is quite possible with no lack of clarity or confidence to state (as I have several times already) that Bel Acueil is an

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


allegorized principle that represents a woman’s favorable response to a man’s erotic overtures. Less clearly explicable, however, is Jean’s resolve to allow his allegory of desire to oscillate between hetero- and homoerotic configurations. It could be argued, for example, that, although somewhat different in valence, a number of other, feminine principles lend themselves to a role similar to that played by Bel Acueil—to mention but three that are introduced as early as Guillaume’s section of the romance, Pitié, Franchise, and Bel Acueil’s mother, Courtaisie (the three of whom eventually sway Bel Acueil to grant Amant his wishes) could all have been made to function as the personification of a woman’s willingness to proceed. But let us reject this line of argument as resting upon no more than unexplored possibility and counter that Jean selected “bel acueil” because it, and nothing else, precisely signified what he intended. In this case, however, we must negotiate the fact that gender assignment in the Rose can be altered: as already rehearsed, Male Bouche is correctly feminine and starts out as such in the romance, yet she becomes he (and is defined as “uns hom”) a few hundred lines later. I will now make an additional point in this regard: these questions of correct gender assignment cannot be dissociated from what Genius refers to as the rules of Nature, rules that must be understood as those codified in the De planctu, the Latin palimpsest to this part of Genius’ speech. These rules are clearly stated by Alanus and Nature, and they are easily applied to Bel Acueil. The results, however, escape satisfying univocality. In Bel Acueil Jean has deliberately created a category that Alain’s Nature would characterize as an anathema. Because Bel Acueil is masculine in grammatical gender and male in characterization, yet female in significance, he incarnates the error of faulty assignment that Nature expressly attempted to prohibit when she first appointed Venus as her amanuensis: “Ad officium etiam scripture calamum prepotentem eidem fueram elargita, ut in competentibus cedulis eiusdem calami scripturam poscentibus quarum mee largitionis beneficio fuerat conpotita iuxta mee orthographie normulam rerum genera figuraret, ne a proprie descriptionis semita in falsigraphie deuia eumdem deuagari minime sustineret.” (De planctu 10.30–34) “I gave her an extremely potent pen that she was to use in her duties as scribe. This gift I so generously presented to her was to be applied to sheets of specifically designed parchment. On them I instructed her to draw the genders of things according to the rules of my orthography and I warned


Chapter Nine

her not to tolerate her pen wandering in the slightest from the path of correct delineation and to stray instead into falsigraphy.”

To follow Nature’s orthography is correctly to assign gender to each thing. The thing Bel Acueil signifies, though grammatically masculine, is an affective disposition that acts as a synecdoche for a woman. This in itself is not remarkable, a simple consequence of French grammar: things pertaining to women do not have to be grammatically feminine, any more than things pertaining to men have to be masculine. Allegory, however, complicates matters, since grammatical convention extends into gendered characterization, and a synecdoche for a woman assumes corporeality as a man. Assessed according to Nature’s stipulations, Bel Acueil is a semiotic solecism, his male sex misassigned to the woman it is intended to represent. He is falsigraphia personified. Complexities do not stop here, however. If an attempt were made to undo this error by granting Bel Acueil the representationally apposite alternative of being feminine and female, and therefore allowing him to have the type of gender reassignment Male Bouche undergoes, the result would still be contrary to the rules of Nature. If “il” were to become “ele,” Bel Acueil would be an example of the men Alanus describes Venus depriving of their masculinity when she turns “hes” into “shes”: “Venus in Venerem pugnans illos facit illas / Cumque sui magica deuirat arte uiros” (1.5–6). He would, in fine, still be a solecism, though here of a grammatical variety, and, as a man made into a woman, he would exemplify the hermaphrodite of dual genders Alanus mentions later in the inaugural elegy as an affront to the male sex: “Femina uir factus sexus denigrat honorem / Ars magice Veneris hermaphroditat eum” (1.17–18). Here too we encounter the incarnation of falsigraphia. Therefore, if we read Bel Acueil according to the rules of Alain’s Nature, as the obtrusive intertextuality of Genius’ speech suggests we must, we encounter an object of interpretation that is ineluctably deviant, a hermaphroditic body that cannot be anything but hermaphroditic. Simultaneously, since by the logic of Genius’ trope we, through reading, are brought into sexual intimacy with the ambiguous Bel Acueil, we participate in the metaphorical deviance of erotic contact with a body that incarnates everything Nature rejects as an anathema. We become, in fine, hermaphroditic readers. We become hermaphroditic readers, moreover, who enjoy being so. For it is his very duality that makes Bel Acueil an object of interpretative fascination. Because he resists the dichotomy of masculine/feminine and, ultimately, male/female, Bel Acueil calls upon the reader to interpret the significance of his dual nature and to endeavor to explain its function in the wider frames of

Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose


the text. Moreover, since the act of interpretation is itself a source of deliz, the sensual delight Reason denounces in sexuality yet celebrates in reading, then, through engaging the bivalence of Bel Acueil, we actively take pleasure from our hermaphroditic contact. Under these circumstances, the profit we finally gain from our reading is not the satisfying clarity of understanding Jean proclaims he will provide to any who should be troubled by his work (15113–23). It is a perspective of antinomies brought indivisibly together which also, because mutually exclusive, work to cancel one another out. Male, female, and therefore not completely either, Bel Acueil resists univocal categorization and by so doing takes his place among the programmatic instabilities that Daniel Heller-Roazen has demonstrated to inform the poetics of the Rose.21 But Bel Acueil also does more. He represents the confident terminus of the creative trajectory diffidently initiated some four hundred years earlier by Remigius of Auxerre. Remigius, we recall, hypothesizes an offspring of sensuality and language that would be adequate to philosophical inquiry while also appealing to the senses. This discursive category achieves self-conscious maturity in that Latin conversation of hermaphroditic doubles, Alain’s De planctu. Yet in Jean’s work Remigius’ hypothesis finds an analogue that transcends the limitations of philosophy itself. For Bel Acueil represents a textuality that is not necessarily bound to the requirements of speculative thought and that can, if required, function as an insubordinate medium for nothing more and nothing less than deliz. While the revelation of truth can potentially stand as the profitable end of any act of interpretation, in the Rose Jean subordinates the pleasure of univocal significance to the delight of attempting to locate its presence and of recognizing, if necessary, the impossibility of doing so. This adds a further sense to role of the hermaphroditic reader: while Genius configures sexual irregularity as a perverse misreading of Nature’s rules, Jean leads his readers to suspect that they too on occasion are perverting the sense he has secreted within the multiform folds of his allegory. But he does so only to make them countenance the extent to which depravity of this kind may itself be a source of pleasure, and to conclude that the pleasure at issue should be enjoyed as an end in itself and not as a debased corollary to a higher conception. 21. See Heller-Roazen, Fortunes Faces, passim.


Never Mind the Relics

Without direct allusion or unambiguous rewriting, it is impossible to declare with absolute assurance that a given author, medieval or otherwise, was acquainted with the work of a particular predecessor. In the present case, it is at least permissible to state that all the later authors I consider almost certainly knew the De nuptiis, which has been referred to as “one of the most popular books of Western Europe for nearly a thousand years”1 and “the most successful textbook ever written.”2 Although these comments entail some exaggeration, they testify to the immense influence Martianus exerted over the pedagogical practices of the era and to the wide and enduring diffusion of the allegory that came to offer a liberating alternative to Augustinian conservatism. More tantalizing is the possible relationship of Remigius’ Commentum to Alain’s De planctu. The glossator’s use of Hermaphroditus as a figure for the pleasures of poetry so strikingly anticipates the central metaphor of the De planctu that it is difficult not to assume direct influence. Such an assumption, however, is unnecessary: both authors demonstrably knew the De nuptiis, and they may have arrived at their analogous definitions of “hermaphroditic” language through inferences drawn from Martianus’ work. Under whatever 1. Stahl, Johnson, and Burge, Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts, 1:21. Stahl et al., 1:22, also point out that, if only to question the validity of the assessment, Charles Homer Haskins cites Martianus alongside the scribes of the Bible and Virgil as the most widely read author during the Middle Ages. See Haskins, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, 81. 2. P. R. Cole, A History of Educational Thought, 78. Quoted by Stahl et al., 1:23.



circumstances, Remigius and Alain conceived of Venus and the son she bore Mercury in new linguistic or epistemological terms, and the later of the two established a nexus of metaphorical correspondences that Jean de Meun subsequently adopted and enriched. Through Jean’s agency, by the end of the High Middle Ages hermaphroditism and the homosexuality with which it was associated had come to be employed as signs of creative freedom. To suggest that Jean owes to Alain the positive significance he lends homosexuality would seem, perhaps, counterintuitive, since the De planctu is a sustained grammatical exercise in homophobia. There is, nonetheless, something unapologetic in Alain’s stylistic choices, and I consider it central to the text’s message. By this I by no means reject as unimportant the elaborate denunciation of male homoeroticism that Alain scripts for his characters. On the contrary, in this text in which sodomy is metaphorically rendered as metaphor, figurative style and moral substance cannot be dissociated. Yet it is exactly this mutual implication that necessitates a reappraisal of Alain’s attitude toward the purportedly unnatural preferences he makes his first-person surrogate and Nature deplore. While I would not go so far as Guy Raynaud de Lage and state that the De planctu must be a work of Alain’s youth,3 I would stress that it stands alone as a formal exception, unique to the author’s work, because conveying, in its style itself, a covert message that did not have to be expressed again. And that message is unrepentant. Although vitriolic in denouncing homosexuality, Alain aligns himself with precisely the deviance he decries, subverting the grammar of homophobia through his chosen means of rhetorical expression. For this reason I am in agreement with William Burgwinkle, who suggests that the De planctu is the work of a gay man.4 This provides a way of accounting for the colophon found in one group of French manuscripts: “Explicit Alanus pereat sodomita prophanus.”5 Precisely who 3. Raynaud de Lage, Alain de Lille, poète du XIIe siècle, 20, 95. 4. Burgwinkle, Sodomy, Masculinity, and Law, 193. Burgwinkle gives the chapter devoted to the De planctu the title “Writing the Self: Alain de Lille’s De planctu Naturae.” 5. On the colophon, see d’Alverny, Alain de Lille: Textes inédits, 33 and Häring’s edition of the De planctu Naturae, 802. A grammatically denied yet rhetorically celebrated sexuality on Alain’s part would also explain one of the more curious aspects of what, according to Nature herself, is the primal, natural response among men to participating in apparently unnatural erotic practices. As Elizabeth Keiser indicates, there is something not a little odd about Nature’s initial efforts to teach Venus how to oversee intercourse: “What is puzzling is why Nature assumes that so ‘outlandish and unpardonable’ an impropriety as the ‘bond and union’ of the same genders can exert such a compelling attraction for Venus, requiring repeated and stern exhortations against it (157). Nature addresses her student with ‘secret warnings and mighty,

Never Mind the Relics


is meant by “sodomita profanus” is ambiguous. The term may be a general category, in which case the coda is intended as an extrapolation of the grammatical import of the preceding text: “Explicit Alanus. May any man who is a profane sodomite perish.” The verb “pereat,” however, is directly juxtaposed with the nominative “Alanus,” and this yields a far more specific meaning: “Explicit Alanus. May he, the profane sodomite, perish.” Interpreted in this light, the colophon suggests that, for some medieval readers at least, this most overtly homophobic of texts was, at first glance paradoxically, written by a man identified as “sodomita.” Certainly Alain is, by the standards of Alanus and Natura, “deviant” in his stylistic choices; but style hardly accounts for so absolute a punishment as death itself. A literal reading of the anathema is more plausible, the scribe making explicit—and damning—the implicit message of the text just completed. The colophon demonstrates the risk of Alain’s enterprise: even if understood to identify as natural a sexual preference condemned in conservative circles as “contra naturam,” the De planctu could still be enlisted to the cause of extirpating the preference in question and of consigning to perdition any man who should have engaged in acts that were condemned by an increasingly regulatory Church.6 In a manner eloquent to reactionary cultural context, similar quasireligious acts of damnation draw the other two texts I consider to a close. In “The Statue and the Ring,” Palumbus makes himself the object of anathema, confessing ungodly crimes and attempting to atone for his sins through bodily mutilation. The members that are completely lopped off may, of course, be the arms and legs. But, if this is so, then Palumbus must have had someone else participate in this gruesome butchery (no one else is mentioned) and would have had to have himself carried or wheeled into the curia to make his confession (nowhere is it said he did so). There is, however, another explanation, under which Palumbus needs no help in excising the body parts in question and is still able to walk before the pope. The crimes Palumbus acknowledges thunderous threats’ lest Venus permit same-sex unions; the teacher obviously fears that without harsh external sanctions, her assistant cannot ‘concentrate exclusively in her connections on the natural union of the masculine and feminine gender’ (157). Apparently, same-sex union is thought to be so desirable that only the severest threats and combinations can deter the human male from finding it preferable to heterosexual intercourse” (Courtly Desire & Male Homophobia, 75). 6. See, again, Larry Scanlon’s exceptional “Unspeakable Pleasures,” passim. On homophobia in the Anglo-Norman/-Angevin domains and France during the first half of the twelfth century, consult once more Burgwinkle, Sodomy, Masculinity, and Law, part 1: “Locating Sodomy” (19–85).



are “flagitia,” and, in William’s usage, this term often has sexual connotations (for example, the witch/prostitute of Berkeley, whose story immediately precedes, is “petulantiae arbitra flagitiis non ponens modum”). This, on first reading, seems inappropriate, since the only sin the suburban priest commits is magic. Yet, throughout the tale, magic has a further significance, rendering William’s control of the pagan legacy and his mature appreciation of the venereal pleasures it brings. Palumbus in effect inflicts upon himself a punishment that could be seen, with grotesque hyperbole, to fit the crime of Augustinian fornication perpetrated by the author: “omnibus membris ultro tuncatis,” William obliquely casts himself into the role of a twelfth-century Origen and facetiously stages his own castration to atone for the voluptuary fictions he has no regrets producing. What is subtly suggested in the work of William of Malmesbury is an emphatically reiterated motif in that of Jean de Meun. At the end of the initial metrum of the De planctu, Alanus excommunicates from the temple of Genius any man who should fail metaphorically to forge or plough according to Nature’s precepts. In the Rose, Genius himself adds to these metaphors and amplifies the terms of punishment, announcing castration as the fitting penalty for any man who should misread. Genius is, of course, referring to the primordial script of Nature and is not suggesting the reader of the Rose be in any way implicated in the erroneous interpretation he decries. Yet, by the simple fact of having one of his characters warn, however metaphorically, against misreading and propose so dire a measure to assure it be discouraged, Jean does indeed invite the reader to pause in order fleetingly to contemplate his or her competence and assess the consequences. No doubt most readers (and particularly those who choose to put their interpretations into writing) will think their efforts at the very least adequate. Others, just as undoubtedly, will disagree and may commit their dissenting views to the written word. Under these circumstances, any author of a reading of the Rose (including the present study and all that precede it) that is deemed deficient stands figuratively to undergo the punishment Jean has Genius advocate. Since such deficiency is inevitable, all critics of the Rose, their differences of interpretation (and, perhaps, personal animosities) notwithstanding, are brought together in the fellowship afforded by the shared condition of being metaphorically “escoilliez.” It would be difficult to imagine a context in which Jean, the creator of this all-accommodating collective of castrates, could be more himself, except, perhaps, his suggestion we derive delight from submitting severed testicles to intellectual scrutiny. In his inclination to irony, Geoffrey Chaucer stands as something of a spiri-

Never Mind the Relics


tual heir to Jean. By his own account, he translated the Rose,7 and its influence is clear in two of the most widely analyzed of his works, The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale. It is to the latter that I shall briefly turn by way of closure in order to demonstrate that Chaucer for one was sensitive to the homoeroticism that is periodically made manifest in Jean’s allegory of intercourse. But first I shall take the contextually apposite course of addressing the composite Middle English translation of the Rose, which, while not of Chaucer’s authorship (or, at least, not in its entirety),8 presents a strikingly unorthodox view of love that coheres with certain aspects of the French original. From the evidence of the one extant manuscript, three translators produced independent, partial works, represented by fragment A (in the London dialect and consistent with the early style of Chaucer), B (in a Northern dialect and diverging from A and C in prosodic convention) and C (closer to A than B in prosody, but less faithful to the original); one of the three translators or a fourth party then combined the fragments.9 Despite his unifying interventions, however, this final, editorial presence did not complete the poem: B ends with the speech of Reason (much shorter than the original, with no mention of the castration of Saturn or linguistic propriety); C then begins at the point at which the God of Love marshals his forces to storm the castle of Jealously, and, some two thousand lines later, it abruptly comes to a halt just before, in the French, Faus Semblant strangles Male Bouche. Fragment B begins immediately after the Lover sees the rosebud: the God of Love fires five arrows in quick succession and the Lover receives into his body Beaute, Symplesse, Curtesy, Company, and Fayr-Semblaunt; he commits himself to his new master’s commandments and is granted as a reward 7. It is one of the transgressions leveled against him by the God of Love in the prologue to The Legend of Good Women: “For thow,” quod he, “art therto nothing able. / Yt is my relyke, digne and delytable, / And thow my foo, and al my folk werreyest, / And of myn olde servauntes thow mysseyest, / And hynderest hem with thy translacioun, / And lettest folk from hire devocioun / To serve me, and holdest it folye / To serve Love. Thou maist yt nat denye, / For in pleyn text, withouten nede of glose, / Thou hast translated the Romaunce of the Rose” (Text F, 320–29). See also 441, spoken by Alceste. 8. For the conjectured history of the text, consult Ronald Sutherland’s introduction to “The Romaunt of the Rose” and “Le Roman de la Rose”: A Parallel-Text Edition, and Alfred David’s Explanatory and Textual Notes in The Riverside Chaucer, respectively 1103–4 and 1198–99. By critical consensus, Fragment A is the only part of the surviving translation that Chaucer could plausibly have composed. 9. On the probability of three translators, see Sutherland, “The Romaunt of the Rose,” ix–xv, and David, Explanatory Notes, 1103.



the gifts of Swete-Thought, Swete-Speche, and Swete-Lokyng; and, once the God of Love has left him, he begins to contemplate ways to gain access to the rosebushes. At this, another character intervenes who soon after agrees to help him fulfill his desire, despite the words of slander this will draw from Wikkid-Tunge: But at the last, as I bethought Whether I shulde passe or nought, I saw come with a glad cher To me, a lusty bacheler, Of good stature and of good highte, And Bialacoil forsothe he highte, Sone he was to Curtesy, And he me grauntide full gladly The passage to the outter hay. (2979–87)

Like the Gallicisms, Beaute, Symplesse, Curtesy, Company, and Semblaunt, Bialacoil is French in provenance. Unlike them, however, he does not already occupy a naturalized place in the English lexicon. Like the Germanic composites, Swete-Thought, Swete-Speche, Swete-Lokyng, and Wikkid-Tunge, Bialacoil is English in poetic context. But, unlike them, he has not been translated, has not become Fayr-Welcomyng (or any other apposite rendering of Bel Acueil). As a character in an English translation most plausibly written in the first instance for readers or listeners who cannot understand the French original, Bialacoil finds himself divorced from the noun and adjective that gave him his ulterior significance and is now no more than the man to whom the Lover addresses his pleas for physical contact. The author of fragment B evidently had no difficulty with the French language, and it remains to be explained why he should have omitted to translate the young man’s name and have instead systematically called him a distorted version of the French.10 Even if we, for the time being at least, conjecture that 10. He is mentioned by name (with the occasional spelling variant “Bealacoil”) forty-nine times: 2984, 2999, 3011, 3067, 3081, 3084, 3113, 3139, 3151, 3167, 3357, 3563, 3568, 3573, 3589, 3591, 3606, 3609, 3623, 3650, 3724, 3755, 3806, 3817, 3824, 3853, 3874, 3883, 3888, 3908, 3945, 3991, 3998, 4017, 4027, 4052, 4108, 4295, 4302, 4347, 4367, 4377, 4417, 4488, 4511, 4551, 4601, 4605, 4612. The text is that of The Riverside Chaucer, ed. David, who follows the surviving manuscript, V.3.7, Hunterian, Glasgow. Sutherland reproduces Thynne’s 1532 edition.

Never Mind the Relics


he was somehow (and highly improbably) ignorant of what “acueil” means, we cannot ignore the fact that he had no doubts whatsoever over “bel.” To take two salient examples, “bele robe” (2131) is “fair clothyng” (2257), and “Biau Semblant” (1840), the other compound in which the adjective appears, is “Faire-Semblaunt” (1880). Moreover, when first describing the guardian of the rosebud, the translator starkly juxtaposes a rendering of “bel” that is faithful to the sense of the original with the “bial” that he leaves as the beginning the name: Je vi vers moi tot droit venant un vallet bel et avenant en cui il n’ot rien que blasmer. Bel Acueil se fessoit clamer.11 (2773–76) I saw come with a glad cher To me, a lusty bacheler, Of good stature, and of good highte, And Bialacoil forsothe he highte. (2981–84)

Since the translator demonstrably knew that “bel” is an adjective and demonstrably knew what it means, 12 he could not possibly have failed to recognize that “acueil” is a noun and, if ignorant of its meaning, duly to enlighten himself. Only one conclusion is permissible: the author of fragment B chose not to translate the name of the young man and thereby deprived him of any allegori11. I continue to use the Lecoy edition. The French of Sutherland’s parallel text is derived from a variety of manuscripts, each selected to reflect the codex filiation the editor found the most likely paradigm (the H tradition for fragment A, Ri for fragments B and C, with G also used as a corrective by the scribe who combined the fragments). Sutherland’s text does not differ significantly from Lecoy’s in any of the passages I cite. 12. The adjective had sufficient currency among English speakers of the time that Chaucer finds no implausibility in making its meaning clear to the Wife of Bath, who uses it as part of a euphemism for the vagina, and to the Host, who uses it when addressing the Pardoner. Respectively: “But in oure bed he was so fressh and gay, / And therwithal so wel koude he me glose, / Whan that he wolde han my bele chose; / That thogh he hadde me bete on every bon, / He koude wynne agayn my love anon” (III [D] 508–12). And: “By corpus bones! but I have triacle, / Or elles a draughte of moyste and corny ale, / Or but I heere anon a myrie tale, / Myn herte is lost for pitee of this mayde. / Thou beel ami, thou Pardoner,” he sayde, / “Telle us som myrthe or japes right anon” (VI [C] 314–19).



cal significance. Bialacoil, and not Fayr-Welcomyng, he no longer represents the beloved’s favorable response to the Lover’s advances. More pertinently, he bears no metonymic relationship whatsoever with a woman. He is, quite simply, a male object of male desire. Bialacoil is, furthermore, a male object who does not even have to be male. The gender reassignment that Male Bouche undergoes in the French serves to draw attention to Bel Acueil’s consistently maintained masculinity. In the English of fragment B, the distribution of gender is even more fluid and appears determined by no more than the translator’s conviction that certain categories are more plausibly male and others female. Like Franchise and Honte in the original, Fraunchise and Shame are women.13 However, unlike Jalousie and Peor, Jelousy and Drede are male,14 as is Nature when rendered as Kynde.15 (Wikkid-Tunge, for his part, is a man from the beginning and does not undergo the sex-change of the French.)16 This is of course a consequence of the English language, which, in lacking grammatical gender, permits such liberties. But it also underscores the extent to which Bialacoil’s masculinity, like his name, is a specific choice, made despite the freedom of reassignment that has been applied to some of the personifications with whom he interacts. Bialacoil’s loss of allegorical significance profoundly alters the erotic tensions of the poem. As in the paradigm, the Lover’s efforts to kiss the rosebud (in fragment B “botoun,” from the Old French “boutons”) are at first thwarted by the beloved’s reluctance, personified by Daunger. Venus, however, intercedes: the Lover, she explains to Bialacoil, is “semely,” “fair,” “free,” “swoote,” “debonair,” “yong,” and “lusty” (3735–38); no woman could resist 13. “First, of hir grace, dame Fraunchise / Hath taken word of this emprise. / She seide, ‘Daunger, gret wrong ye do, / To worche this man so myche woo’” (3507–10). And: “Thanne Shame cam forth full symply / (She wende have trespaced full gretly) / Humble of hir port, and made it symple, / Weryng a vayle in stide of wymple” (3861–64). 14. “He spak therof so folily / That he awakide Jelousy, / Which, all afrayde in his risyng, / Whanne that he herde janglyng, / He ran anoon, as he were wood, / To Bialacoil, there that he stod” (3819–24). And: “And with that word came Drede avaunt, / Which was abasshed and in gret fere, / Whanne he wiste Jelousie was there. / He was for drede in sich affray / That not a word durste he say” (3958–62). 15. “For it so well was enlumyned / With colour reed, and as well fyned / As nature couthe it make faire. / And it hath leves wel foure paire / That Kynde hath sett, thorough his knowyng, / Aboute the rede roses spryngyng” (1695–70). 16. “Wikkid-Tonge—God yeve hym sorwe!— / For neither at eve ne at morwe, / He can of no man good speke; / On many a just man doth he wreke” (3027–30).

Never Mind the Relics


him (3739–42); his breath is sweet (3743), his teeth white (3747), and his “lippis rody, and mete / oonly to pleyen and to kisse” (3744–45); therefore “Me thinkith wrong, withouten wene, If ye now werne hym, trustith me, To graunte that a kis have he. The lasse to helpe hym that ye haste, The more tyme shul ye waste.” Whanne the flawme of the verry brond That Venus brought in hir right hond, Hadde Bialacoil with hete smete, Anoon he bad, withouten lette, Graunte to me the rose kisse. Thanne of my peyne I gan to lysse, And to the rose anoon wente I, And kisside it full feithfully. (3748–60)

The rose that Venus encourages Bialacoil to make available has already been described in some detail by this stage of the poem, at the end of fragment A: Among the knoppes I ches oon, So fair that of the remenaunt noon Ne preise I half so well as it, Whanne I avise it in my wit. For it so well was enlumyned With colour reed, and as well fyned As nature couthe it make faire. And it hath leves wel foure paire That Kynde hath sett, thorough his knowyng, Aboute the rede roses spryngyng. The stalke was as rishe right, And theron stod the knoppe upright That it ne bowide upon no side. (1691–703)

What Bialacoil allows the Lover to kiss is a “knoppe” (here signifying “bud,” but primarily meaning “knob”)17 that is shot through with a vivid red (“en17. The Middle English Dictionary, ed. Hans Kurath and Sherman M. Kuhn, s.v. “knoppe”: “(OE. cnop): 1. (a) knob of a cup, spoon, dish, etc. 2. a bud of a plant or tree.” Cf. “knobbe”:



lumyned / with colour reed”) and stands upright and undrooping (“stod . . . upright / that it ne bowide upon no side”) at the end of a stem as straight as a rush (“as rishe right”). In the original, the suggestion of homoerotic contact is at first nuanced by the ensuing dialogue, in which Amors makes negative reference to homosexuality while informing Amant of his commandments. Once again: “Cous tes manches, tes cheveus pigne, mes ne te fardes ne te guignes, ce n’apartient s’a dames non ou a cels de mauvés renon, qui amors par male aventure ont recovrees sanz droiture.” (2157–62)

“Sew your sleeves, comb your hair, but don’t use makeup or cosmetics of any kind. That’s for women only, or those men of evil repute who to their misfortune have found love without decency.”

This admonition anticipates later developments, since, implicitly contradicting Amors’ stricture, La Vielle goes on to recommend the use of cosmetics to Bel Acueil and thereby associates him with an activity already identified as a characteristic of “men of evil repute” (an association that is shortly thereafter amplified, though with none of the God of Love’s opprobrium, when Amant gains entry through “l’uis darriere” and he and Bel Acueil promise one another an unconditional freedom of physical intimacy). In the English, the sense of the passage is altogether different: “And kembe thyn heed right jolily, Fard not thi visage in no wise, For that of love is not th’emprise; For love doth haten, as I fynde, A beaute that cometh not of kynde.” (2284–88)

What in the French reads as an warning against “unnatural” love in the translation becomes advice against trying to improve upon natural “(MLG; cf. Flem. knobbe): 1 (a) a knot, knob. (b) a knot in a tree.” This last is also the term Chaucer uses for the pustules on the Summoners’s face in the General Prologue. See The Canterbury Tales I (A) 633.

Never Mind the Relics


beauty.18 The English erases the one criticism of homosexuality that would complicate an exclusively homoerotic reading of the Lover’s incipient desire, and the translated Rose loses the hermaphroditic ambivalence of the original. It is now, quite simply, the story of one man’s love for another. The poem’s fragmented and truncated state precludes any conclusive analysis of this shift towards an unequivocal homoeroticism. Absent are the sermon of Genius and the allegory of intercourse, either of which could have given cause to reappraise the relationship between the Lover and the object of his desire. Nevertheless, the very fact that someone at some stage attempted to create a unified whole could be used as evidence to suggest that homoerotic themes are deliberately maintained. In becoming the text we know today, the poem evidently received a degree of editorial scrutiny, and it emerged from the process still very much the tale of a relationship between men. Certainly, in fragment C the relationship more closely follows the French, since the figure locked in the tower is now the translated Fayr-Welcomyng (5856, 7522, 7527, 7565, 7639). He remains a man, nevertheless, and, although reinvested with an ulterior significance, he functions in sequential effect to personify the favorable response not of a woman but of Bialacoil, who by this stage has been established as the sole and unambiguous object of the Lover’s longing. As a curious consequence of the poem’s composite state, Bel Acueil has become two characters, one a personified attribute of the other. Homoerotic desire also survived the text’s first and definitive imprint, made by William Thynne as part of his 1532 edition of Chaucer’s complete works. It was long held that Thynne had at his disposal a version of the trans18. In an incisive and theoretically informed analysis of Chaucer’s Pardoner, Robert S. Sturges discusses this shift in the Middle English Romaunt in terms of altered cultural perspective and its effect on gender performance: “A condemnation of effeminacy and its concomitant ‘unnatural’ love in one text has become merely a condemnation of cosmetics, for both sexes, in another. Although the fragment of the Romaunt is not a genuine work of Chaucer’s, it is contemporary with him and demonstrates that what appeared to be both effeminate and a sign of sodomical desire in Guillaume de Lorris’ period and culture might not have been either in Chaucer’s. Gender, like sodomy in Foucault’s famous phrase, is an ‘utterly confused category’ both now and in the Middle Ages, and I would argue that the Pardoner can be read as a figure for this confusion, just as he is for confusions about bodies and acts” (Chaucer’s Pardoner and Gender Theory: Bodies of Discourse, 14). This, Sturges argues, demonstrates the difficulty of assuming a transhistorical equation between sexual orientation and the performance of gender (in this case, the use of makeup, presumed “feminine”), and this difficulty must, in turn, render problematic any effort to read the Pardoner. Since my concern is the significance of the omission to the Romaunt as a whole, my interpretation and that of Sturges differ in emphasis. They are not, however, mutually exclusive.



lation that differed, if only in minor detail, from the sole manuscript to have come down to us today.19 Recent study has demonstrated, however, that he used precisely the manuscript that survives and subjected the text to a further stage of editorial clarification.20 His interventions were many (enough to convince early critics that he employed another version of the poem), but they did not include any change in the orientation of the Lover’s desire. Like the anonymous scribe responsible for the composite text, Thynne did not alter the translation to create a normalized vision of “natural” love. As already stated, critics no longer share Thynne’s view that Chaucer was author of the Middle English Rose (although some editors follow him in including it in Chaucer’s complete works):21 fragment A is perhaps the beginning of the translation that the God of Love refers to in the prologue to The Legend of Good Women; but fragments B and C are almost certainly the work of others. We do find in Chaucer’s work, however, a return to specific preoccupations of the Rose. The context is The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale, and testicles and relics are again at issue. Having told a story about greed and its consequences, the Pardoner encourages his fellow travelers to seek absolution for their sins: “But, sires, o word forgat I in my tale: I have relikes and pardoun in my male, As faire as any man in Engelond, Whiche were me yeven by the popes hond. If any of yow wole, of devocioun, Offren, and han myn absolucioun, Com forth anon, and kneleth heere adoun, And mekely receyveth my pardoun; Or elles taketh pardoun as ye wende, Al newe and fressh at every miles ende, So that ye offren, alwey newe and newe, Nobles or pens, whiche that be goode and trewe.” (VI [C] 919–30)

19. Sutherland, in his edition of The Romaunt of the Rose, ix, is representative of the view that Thynne probably employed a different manuscript. 20. See J. E. Blodgett, “Some Printer’s Copy for William Thynne’s 1532 Edition of Chaucer.” 21. It appears in not only The Riverside Chaucer but also the other widely used modern edition, John H. Fisher’s The Complete Poetry and Prose of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Never Mind the Relics


“I rede that oure Hoost heere shal bigynne, For he is moost envoluped in synne. Com forth, sire Hoost, and offre first anon, And thou shalt kisse the relikes everychon, Ye, for a grote! Unbokele anon thy purs.” (VI [C] 941–45)

Not only does the Host refuse the Pardoner’s invitation to kiss his relics. He states that the Pardoner would go so far as to pass off his excrement-besmirched breeches as genuine objects of religious devotion and adds “I wolde I hadde thy coillons in myn hond In stide of relikes or of seintuarie. Lat kutte hem of, I wol thee help hem carie; They shul be shryned in an hogges toord.” (VI [C] 951–55)

As several critics have observed, the Host’s substitution of “coillons” for “relikes” recalls the semiotic shift that Reason effects in the Rose when, accusing Amant of allowing his discomfort with the referent to influence his response to the sign, she states that he would hate the word “reliques” if it were the conventional signifier for testicles.22 I would argue that the allegory of foreplay and intercourse is also relevant to this scene in which one man invites another to kiss his relics: late in the Rose, Amant kneels “between the two beautiful pillars” (“entre les .II. biaus pilerez . . . m’agenoilloi” [21559, 61]), lifts the curtain by which the relics are covered (“trés an sus un po la courtine / qui les reliques ancourtine” [21569–70]), and devoutly kisses the “ymage” he finds revealed (“l’ymage . . . besai devostemant” [21571, 73]). Chaucer emphasizes these intertextual transpositions by making the Host refer to testicles as “coillons,” one of the two French synonyms that receive so much attention in the Rose (rather than, for example, “ballokes” or any other English term that would, perhaps, be more plausible to context).23 He also intimates “coillons” in the Pardoner’s “relikes” by figurative means. The “male” “walet” contain22. For example: Carolyn Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics, 169; Marijane Osborn, “Transgressive Word and Image in Chaucer’s Enshrined ‘Coillons’ Passage,” 370–72; Fyler, Language and the Declining World, 92; Alastair Minnis, Fallible Authors: Chaucer’s Pardoner and Wife of Bath, 301, and Minnis, Translations of Authority in Medieval English Literature: Valuing the Vernacular, 131. 23. It is Harry Bailly who is speaking here, and let us slightly adjust, in the interrogative, a statement that Amant makes in the Rose: Are “coillons” in fact suitable in the mouth of an innkeeper? The earliest attestation for “ballok” given by the Middle English Dictionary is ca. 1350:



ing the objects the Pardoner invites the Host to kiss finds its analogue in the “nether purse” the Wife of Bath employs as a metaphor for a man’s breeches when she congratulates herself for having selected husbands who provided the sexual satisfaction and financial security she required: “Yblessed be God that I have wedded fyve! / Of whiche I have pyked out the beste, / Bothe of here nether purs and of here cheste” (III [D] 43–44b).24 This same sense subtends the terms in which the Pardoner himself requests the Host respond to his offer: he will disclose the “relikes” he carries in his “walet”25 and the Host will reciprocate by unbuckling his own “purs” (“unbokele anon thy purs” [VI (C) 945]).26 s.v. “ballok”: “(OE. bealluc): 1. A testicle.” By the fourteenth century, “bal” was also being used with this meaning: ibid., s.v. “bal”: “1325: . . . 8. A testicle.” 24. It is difficult to agree with Osborn, “Transgressive Word,” 368, who interprets the Pardoner’s “male”/“walet” to mean “scrotum.” “Male” more convincingly implies “breeches” (or any other garment covering the male genital area), since, unlike the scrotum, it can be opened. Moreover, as the Pardoner prepares to urge others to kiss his “relics” (an offer made in terms that many critics, myself included, consider marked by sexual tension), he states that his “male” contains something other than figurative testicles: “I have relikes and pardoun in my male” (VI [C] 920; emphasis added). The “male,” I shall argue, also contains another (third) category with a potential for figurative meaning. Left to itself, what is meant by “nether purs” in The Wife of Bath’s Prologue is unclear, and could be either “scrotum” or an article of clothing. The contextual inference of the Pardoner’s usage, however, implies the Wife may plausibly also be referring to the latter (it can also be noted that the Wife mentions “nether purs” alongside “chest,” a container which, unlike the scrotum, can be opened and its contents displayed). 25. Here I am largely in agreement with Sturges: “The Host appears to be responding to the unwelcome erotic possibilities implied in the Pardoner’s invitation to unbuckle his purse and kiss his relics. . . . The use of the purse as a double entendre for male sex organs is established by the Wife of Bath. . . . The double reference to purse and relics requires a sodomical reading, and that is how the Host understands it, hence his furious refusal” (Chaucer’s Pardoner and Gender Theory, 10). Later, Sturges returns to the Pardoner’s bag, but does so, it would seem, to interpret “walet” as “scrotum”: “And while ‘male’ itself is an unambiguous noun meaning ‘bag’ here, it may also carry overtones of the modern noun or adjective ‘male’ (as opposed to ‘female’): the Oxford English Dictionary (s.v. ‘male’) lists a number of occurrences contemporary with Chaucer for this sense of the term (the Middle English Dictionary, s.v. ‘male,’ gives 1382 as its earliest occurrence in this sense), and several critics have also pointed out the common metaphorical link drawn in the Middle Ages between the traveler’s bag and the testicles” (69). 26. The erotic implications of “unbuckling” are also noted by Monica E. McAlpine in “The Pardoner’s Homosexuality and How it Matters”: “The latent aggression in the Pardoner’s statement that Harry ‘shalt kisse the relikes everychon’ (l. 944) and the latent sexual implication in his command to Harry to ‘Unbokele anon thy purs’ (l. 945) turn the scene into one of implied seduction or even rape; the Pardoner uses his homosexuality as a weapon” (17). As will

Never Mind the Relics


The Pardoner’s association with a metaphorical homosexuality has already, of course, been anticipated in the General Prologue. Having commented upon the Pardoner’s eccentricities of hairstyle and clothing, his apparent lack of facial hair and his high-pitched voice, the narrator concludes “I trowe he were a geldying or a mare” (I [A] 691) and amplifies the resonance of remarks he makes a few lines earlier, after his description of the Summoner: With hym ther rood a gentil Pardoner Of Rouncivale, his freend and his compeer, That streight was comen fro the court of Rome. Ful loude he soong “Com hider, love, to me!” This Somonour bar to hym a stif burdoun. (I [A] 669–73)

Because qualified by the adjective “stif ” and applied in response to a character who defies normative categorizations of gender and sexuality, the “burdoun” that the Summoner brings to bear has generally been interpreted in erectile terms. This reading, I would add, is also supported by the Rose, since the “burdoun” at issue is a virtual homophone of the “bourdon” that Amant uses to represent his aroused member (21324, 21351, 21362, 21575), including the moment at which he kneels “between the two beautiful pillars” to kiss the “relics.”27 become clear, I consider there are difficulties in assuming that the Pardoner’s homosexuality can be demonstrated: the Pardoner’s participation in same-sex eroticism is only ever rendered in metaphorical terms. The erotic implications of this passage have also been noted by H. Marshall Leicester, Jr., who refers to “the hints of perverse sexuality in the obscene invitation ‘Unbokele anon thy purs’” (The Disenchanted Self: Representing the Subject in the Canterbury Tales, 56–57). Consider also Dinshaw, who, prudently, considers the invitation in the light not of the Pardoner’s questionable homosexuality but of his unquestionable queerness: “In the context of the Pardoner’s performance, this is sexualized language: those relics constitute a substitute masculinity for the Pardoner; and though the Pardoner is not soliciting the Host, the latter nonetheless responds as if he is, in his anal fantasy of shit-stained breeches and of a relic made of the Pardoner’s balls” (“Chaucer’s Queer Touches/A Queer Touches Chaucer,” 89). 27. “Tout mon hernois, tel con jou port, / se porter le puis jusqu’ou port, / voudrai au reliques touchier, / se je l’an puis tant aprouchier. / Lors ai tant fet et tant erré / a tout mon bourdon defferré / qu’entre les .II. biaus pilerez, / con viguereus et legerez, / m’agenoilloi san demourer” (21553–61). “Bourdon roide,” even more closely anticipating “stif burdoun,” is found at 21324. Also pertinent to the pilgrimage that the Pardoner and Summoner undertake is the fact that, throughout the allegory of intercourse, Amant presents himself as a metaphorical pilgrim traveling to worship at a shrine of sexual relics.



Now, obviously, the literal sense of the exchange between Pardoner and Host is clear: absolution is made available at a price and disrespectfully declined. Chaucer, however, has orchestrated the dialogue in such a way that the literal accommodates a scabrous (ultimately, provocative) secondary significance. Lest this figurative urgency pass unnoticed, he makes the immediately preceding Pardoner’s tale serve two primary functions. It is, more obviously, a moralizing anecdote against greed. But it also demonstrates that words must be interpreted with due attention to their potential for figurative meaning: the three revelers take death literally to be a person, and with disastrous consequences. In the present instance, the oral/genital contact suggested through the transpositions from the Rose necessitates an ulterior reading of the pardon itself. In late fourteenth-century usage, “pardoun” can be either singular or plural, and this creates an ambiguity on each occasion the Pardoner mentions this, his identifying attribute. Certainly, he comes from Rome with his “walet” brimming with pardons (“His walet, biforn hym in his lappe, / Bretful of pardoun comen from Rome al hoot” [I (A) 686–87]). But also, and inescapably, he is in possession of a singular “pardoun” of such size that it alone practically fills the “walet” in question. By his own account, he has pardons which, like the relics he carries alongside them, are as fine as any in the land (“I have relikes and pardoun in my male, / As faire as any man in Engelond” [VI (C) 920–21]). But he also states that he has a singularity that is as fair as that of any of his countrymen, and it is this “pardoun” that he invites the pilgrims to kneel and receive (“Com forth anon, and kneleth heere adoun, / And mekely receyveth my pardoun” [VI (C) 925–26]) or, should they prefer, to take at each mile’s end (“Or elles taketh pardoun as ye wende, / Al newe and fressh at every miles ende” [VI (C) 927–28]).28 Interpreted in these terms, the “pardoun” that the Pardoner carries alongside his “relikes” is the equivalent 28. With different metaphorical emphasis, John Fleming also reads the contents of the Pardoner’s bag in sexual terms: “The Pardoner’s purse is stuffed nearly to bursting with the instruments of his dubious multiplication, his ‘holy bull,’ parchment entrails, tubular scrolls from which dangle leaden pendants, the ‘bullae’ themselves, as much a coarse double-entendre in Medieval Latin as in modern English” (“Gospel Asceticism: Some Chaucerian Images of Perfection,” 188). At least as pronounced as any “double-entendre” in Latin would be the English play on “bulles” and “balles.” See, too, Dinshaw: “We are told in the General Prologue that he carries his pardons in his lap: ‘His walet, birorn hym in his lappe, / Bretful of pardoun comen from Rome al hoot’ (1: 686–87). As rolled-up parchments with seals dangling from them, the Pardoner’s documents and bulls, placed conspicuously in his bulging ‘male’ (6: 920), present an iconographic substitute for his own lacking masculinity” (Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics, 164).

Never Mind the Relics


of the “l’ymage” that Amant in the Rose adores after he has knelt to kiss the “reliques,” and the “male” by which it is enclosed finds its figurative precedent in “la courtine” by which “l’ymage” is covered.29 Urging another man to kiss his relics, and, by plausible contextual inference, to kneel in order to do so, the Pardoner enters a relationship of intertextual analogy with Bel Acueil,30 the allegorized principle who speaks for the beloved after Amant has knelt in adoration at the sexual reliquary.31 The similarities between the two extend beyond the ambiguities of the relics they possess, since the Pardoner, like Bel Acueil, resists unequivocal classifications of sexuality, sex, and gender. In metaphor, he seeks erotic contact with men, receiving the Summoner’s “stif burdoun” and offering his “relikes” to the Host to kiss;32 yet, by his own account, he is promiscuously drawn to women, stating that he wishes to have “a joly wenche in every toun” (VI [C] 453) 29. This is not the only part of the Rose invoked here. Though with no reference to the sexual metaphoricity of the “pardoun,” Michael A. Calabrese notes that Jean’s Genius also gives his pardon, offering complete absolution to any man provided he from now on unstintingly participate in the perpetuation of humanity (“Ne perdez pas cest bon pardon: / tretouz voz pechiez vos pardon, / por tant que bien i travailliez” [19663–65]); see “Make a Mark that Shows: Orphean Song, Orphean Sexuality, and the Exile of Chaucer’s Pardoner,” 279. Genius, therefore, trades his literal pardon in order to encourage others literally to engage in sex, while the Pardoner offers his metaphorical pardon in order to receive money for the metaphorically sexual services he provides. 30. While the Pardoner’s relationship with Bel Acueil remains fully to be explored, that linking him with another of Jean’s characters, Faus Semblant, has been long established. Consider, among fairly recent examples: Fleming, “Gospel Asceticism,” 186; Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics, 173–75; Osborn, “Transgressive Word,” 370; Calabrese, “Make a Mark that Shows,” 270. 31. In this regard I suspect that it is not coincidental that Chaucer has the Host address the Pardoner as “beel ami” when first encouraging him to tell a tale (VI [C] 318). 32. The most celebrated argument for the Pardoner’s homosexuality remains McAlpine, “The Pardoner’s Homosexuality,” passim. McAlpine’s predecessors are: Muriel Bowden, A Commentary on the General prologue to the Canterbury Tales, 274–76; Gordon Hall Gerould, Chaucerian Essays, 58–60; Beryl Rowland, “Animal Imagery and the Pardoner’s Abnormality”; Jill Mann, Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire: The Literature of Social Classes and the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, 145–52; John Gardner, The Poetry of Chaucer, 54–70. Attentive to the Pardoner’s ambiguities, more recent critics have rightly moved away from totalizing definitions of this kind. Those who continue to theorize a gay Pardoner do so in a spirit of diffidence, exploring not so much an avenue of inquiry they judge to be conclusive but rather one hypothesis among several. Consult, in particular, Steven F. Kruger, “Claiming the Pardoner: Toward a Gay Reading of Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale”; and Minnis’s account of the current state of Pardoner criticism in Fallible Authors, 147–64.



and interrupting the Wife of Bath to explain that he has considered getting married but now has second thoughts after the stories of marital strife she has told (III [D] 163–68).33 If the narrator is to be believed, he may be a eunuch;34 however, in the opinion of the Host, he suffers no deficiencies of this kind, possessing testicles that should be cut off and enshrined in a hog’s turd. In clothing, appearance, and voice, the narrator finds him effeminate; but he figuratively bears the most conventional sign of hyperbolic masculinity, having a “pardoun” as fair as that of any man in England, sufficient in proportion that it almost fills his “walet,” and of such fantastical vigor that he can make it available, “al newe and fressh,” after each mile he travels.35 In the Rose, ambiguities of gender remove Bel Acueil from conclusive interpretation and leave him a constantly shifting enigma. While categorically not straightforward, the Pardoner signifies differently. The Host’s substitution of “coillons” for “relikes” and his wish he held the Pardoner’s severed testicles in his hand mark a return to the castration of Saturn and the debate on linguistic propriety it provokes. Assessed according to the dichotomy between literal and figurative that is central to both the discourse of Reason and the 33. These comments have given rise to analyses that cast the Pardoner as straight: for some medieval authorities, “effeminacy” was viewed as a sign not of an allegedly flawed masculinity but of unusually vigorous heterosexual desire (though not necessarily its successful consummation). See: C. David Benson, “Chaucer’s Pardoner: His Sexuality and Modern Critics”; Richard Firth Green, “The Sexual Normality of Chaucer’s Pardoner”; and, for a general summary of this line of argument, Minnis, Fallible Authors, 150–51. 34. The most incisive analysis of the Pardoner’s as a eunuch is, of course, that of Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics, 158–84. With none of Dinshaw’s critical verve, the argument for the Pardoner’s eunuchry was previously made by, most notably, Walter Clyde Curry, “The Secret of the Chaucer’s Pardoner”; and Robert P. Miller, “Chaucer’s Pardoner, the Scriptural Eunuch, and the Pardoner’s Tale.” 35. Although my aim is, in the present context, primarily to draw attention to Chaucer’s sensitivity to the homoerotics of the Rose, I would suggest that the Pardoner is liable to a multiplicity of interpretations, which would include the figurative hermaphroditism that Jean de Meun adapted from the De planctu. Working from an entirely different direction, but recognizing the Pardoner’s accommodation of multiple readings, is Glenn Burger in the remarkable “Kissing the Pardoner”: “Neither some unnatural monster absolutely other than we nor some symbolic entity of nonmeaning, ‘he,’ the Pardoner, is rather both these things and more, a nexus of intermingling discourses about the subject and its meaning that cannot settle into a reassuring ordered hierarchy but must work in conjunction, even in competition, with one another” (1145). Other critics who read the Pardoner’s sex, sexuality, and gender from a variety of perspectives are Minnis, Fallible Authors, 147–69, and Sturges, Chaucer’s Pardoner, passim, but particularly part 1, “The Pardoner’s Genders, Sexes, Erotic Practices.”

Never Mind the Relics


Pardoner’s own tale, the Pardoner exhibits a pronounced split in significance. It is only in metaphor that he prostitutes himself, urging the host to kiss his scrotum, encouraging the pilgrims to kneel and receive his ministrations, and expecting to be paid in return. On the plane of grammar, on the other hand, he is engaged in the considerably more innocuous activities of urging the Host to kiss the relics he carries in his bag, encouraging the pilgrims to receive absolution, and asking them to pay for the services he offers. In fine, the Pardoner’s deviance is exclusively figurative, and this extends to “stif burdoun,” “geldyng,” and “mare,” those paratextual metaphors through which his relationship with normative masculinity is first questioned.36 It is not, however, exclusively homoerotic. Since it involves women as well as men, it is sodomical in the widest sense. Certainly, through metaphor the Pardoner engages in same-sex activities with the Summoner and the Host. Yet he also urges all the pilgrims, necessarily including the Wife of Bath, the Prioress, and the Second Nun, to kneel and meekly receive his pardon or to take it at the end of each mile, with all the implications of scabrous sexuality each of these invitations suggests. As these last metaphors make clear, in the very act of administering his absolution, the Pardoner is prepared to engage in figurative sodomy.37 His 36. The fact that the Pardoner is only ever “deviant” in metaphor accounts for the impossibility of proving his homosexuality. 37. By means that vastly differ from those I have brought to bear, Lee Patterson arrives at this same conclusion. Through analysis of contemporary reformist tracts, Patterson demonstrates that the sins of simony (specifically in this case the selling of pardons) and sodomy were repeatedly cited as related abominations in the late fourteenth century: “In sum, then, we can see that Chaucer’s Pardoner embodies a whole range of issues that are both central to the reformist piety of Chaucer’s time and logically interdependent. He is a simoniac who sells spiritual goods; a false preacher who performs only for money and who relies on exempla rather than biblical exegesis; an exploiter of the poor, including widows; and a man who offers pardon a poena et a culpa while ignoring the need for contrition. In sum, he is a spiritual sodomite sunk in the gross commercialism and materialism that perverts religious truth” (Temporal Circumstance: Form and History in the Canterbury Tales, 88). With less amplitude of evidence, Eugene Vance makes a similar argument: “However, the Pardoner may be neither a eunuch (a ‘geldyng’), nor womanly (a ‘mare’), but rather a sodomist, as his relationship with the Summoner suggests. If the Pardoner is indeed a sodomist, this would be a perfect sign of his ‘character’ as a simoniac. In his De simonia, written in 1379–80, Wyclif defines simony as spiritual sodomy: ‘For just as in sodomy of the body, where the seed is wasted against nature by which human beings are formed, so too, in that other sodomy the seed of the word of God is cast away by which spiritual generation in Jesus Christ is created. And just as sodomy during the time of the law of nature was one of the gravest sins against nature itself, so too, simony in the time of the law of grace is



relics are, of course, fake, and his pardon, even if genuinely a sign of empowerment bestowed by the pope, has been perverted to the satisfaction of personal greed. Chaucer, therefore, does not explicitly condemn the purchase of absolution. Rather, he warns of the extent to which it can be corrupted by the unscrupulous.38 And this is the sense of the sexual metaphors he uses to render the devices through which the Pardoner plies his trade. Figuratively offered as objects of sexual pleasure, relics and pardon are comparably obscene signs of moral deviance, venal perversions of a covenant between pope and people that bespeak the very adage the Pardoner uses as he preaches, “radix malorum est cupiditas.”

one of the gravest sins against grace’” (“Relics, Discourse, and Frames of Propriety,” 736–37, emphasis Vance’s). 38. Here I find myself in agreement with Alastair Minnis, who has warned against “a generally negative view of indulgences which may derive in at least some measure from the hegemony of the Protestant version of English history (particularly with regard to the Reformation); this is hardly conducive to a comprehensive investigation of the consequences of a dogma concerning the heavenly treasury of merit” (Fallible Authors, 163). I consider it permissible in this regard to state only that Chaucer is responding to what Minnis proceeds to call a “considerable anxiety and debate” over the rationalization of indulgences that existed “not only between orthodox and heterodox theologians, but also among the orthodox theologians themselves, who produced the doctrine that was promulgated in Church councils and imposed (with mixed results) on the Christian populace at large” (Fallible Authors, 163–64).


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Achilles, cross dressing and, 83, 100 Alain de Lille: Anticlaudianus, 105, 128; De planctu Naturae, 3–4, 5, 7, 8–9, 11, 50, 78–142, 145–46, 151–52, 153, 166, 174, 175–79, 180, 181, 199, 210, 213, 215–17, 218; as sodomita, 216–17 Alanus (narrator/protagonist of De planctu Naturae), 8–9, 78–79, 89–97, 98–106, 114, 119, 126, 130, 132, 133, 135, 136, 174, 175, 211, 218; and autogamy, 99–106; enraptured by Nature, 89–93; and incest, 93–98, 104–5; as writer of Nature’s discourse, 130–33 Amant (character in Roman de la Rose), 9–11, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151, 155, 157, 158, 159–67, 168, 169, 170–73, 174, 175, 177–90, 192, 196, 197, 198, 199, 200, 201–13, 224, 231; and autoeroticism, 149; Narcissus and, 147–49, 156, 158–59; and homoeroticism, 149–67, 170–73, 201–8; and referential propriety, 179–80, 182, 183, 185, 190, 191–92; as worshipper at sexual reliquary, 202–4 Amors (character in Roman de la Rose), 160–63, 168, 195, 196, 199, 208, 224; and homoeroticism, 160–61; against homosexuality, 162–63

Anticlaudianus (Alain de Lille), 128, 205 Augustine, Saint: attitude to pagan fiction, 7, 57–64, 197, 215; Confessions, 60–63; Contra academicos, 60; De civitate Dei, 63–64, 68; De doctrina Christiana, 57–60, 66–67, 71; De ordine, 60 Babel, Tower of, 185 Bacchus (as character in De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii), 6, 23–25, 29, 31, 34 bag, as erotic metaphor, 227–28, 230–31 Bel Acueil (character in Roman de la Rose), 9–11, 149–50, 151, 152, 153, 154, 157–59, 160, 161, 163–64, 165–67, 168, 169–73, 174, 175, 196, 201–8, 209, 210–11, 220, 222, 224, 225, 231; and cosmetics, 162–63; as guardian of the rosebud, 149–50; as hermaphrodite, 154, 169–70, 174, 202–8, 209; and Hermaphroditus, 157–58; as object of hermeneutic desire, 210–23; as object of homoerotic desire, 149–54, 157–59, 163–64, 166–67, 170–73, 201–8; as promiscuous body, 165–66 bel acueil (as term), pun, 208–9



Bialacoil (character in The Romaunt of the Rose), 220–25 bourdon, as sexual metaphor, 172, 183, 203, 229. See also burdoun boutons, as object of desire, 148–50, 160, 166, 168, 205–8, 222–24 brothel, as metaphor, 88–89, 122. See also Nature; prostitution; Venus burdoun, as sexual metaphor, 229. See also bourdon Burgwinkle, William, 88, 115, 119, 216 Canterbury Tales, The (Geoffrey Chaucer): General Prologue, 229; The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale, 219, 226–34; The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale, 219 castration: of Pardoner, 227, 232; in The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale, 227, 232; as punishment for misreading, 210, 218; in Roman de la Rose, 10, 179, 181–84, 192, 197, 198, 218; of Saturn, 10, 179, 181–84, 192, 197, 198 199, 219, 232; self-inflicted, 217–18; in “The Statue and the Ring,” 217–18. See also coilles; coillons; Host; Jupiter; Pardoner; testicles Chaucer, Geoffrey, 3, 5; General Prologue, 229; The Legend of Good Women, 226; The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale, 219, 226–34; The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale, 219 “Chaucer, Geoffrey,” The Romaunt of the Rose, 219–26 coilles: as beautiful word, 180, 188; and displaced sense, 195–96; and relics, 182, 203–4. See also coillons; Reason; testicles coillons: as beautiful word, 180, 188, 192; Pardoner’s, 227, 232. See also coilles; Host; Reason; testicles coloration, rhetorical, 126–28, 133–39, 216–17. See also gender, grammatical; trope; writing

Commentum in Martianum Capellam (Remigius of Auxerre), 4, 6–7, 17, 38–50, 51–52, 77–78, 123, 181, 213, 215–16 conception, autogamic, 100–105 Confessions (Saint Augustine), 60–63 Contra academicos (Saint Augustine), 60 Cupid: in De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, 24–25, 29, 31, 32, 47, 77; in De planctu Naturae, 107, 130–31; in Roman de la Rose, 157. See also desire De civitate Dei (Saint Augustine), 63–64, 68 De doctrina Christiana (Saint Augustine), 57–60, 66–67, 71 Deduiz, garden of, 147, 159 De institutione clericorum (Hrabanus Maurus), 64–67, 68–71 De mirabilibus urbis Romae (Gregorius), 55–57 De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii (Martianus Capella), 4–7, 15–50, 77, 78, 181, 215–16 De ordine (Saint Augustine), 60 De planctu Naturae (Alain de Lille), 3–4, 5, 7, 8–9, 11, 50, 78–142, 145–46, 151–52, 153, 166, 174, 175–79, 180, 181, 199, 210, 213, 215–17, 218 desire: heterosexual, 89–93; homoerotic, 17, 82, 83–86, 98, 100, 109–11, 112–15, 117, 147–50, 161–67, 170–75, 201–10, 216–17, 222–26; as illecebra, 26, 52–53, 77; as oxymoron, 130–32, 151–52, 175–77. See also Cupid Echo (mythological character), 158, 178 Eriugena, Johannes Scotus, 6, 17 fall: the Fall, 77–78, 183; linguistic, 111–14, 127, 132, 134, 141, 185–90; mythological, 182, 192–95, 198; sexual, 79, 88–89, 106–9, 141. See


also Genius; Jupiter; Reason; Saturn, castration of Fayr-Welcomyng (character in The Romaunt of the Rose), 220, 221, 225 fellatio: heterosexual, 82, 125, 183; homosexual, 82, 204, 206, 227–28, 230–31 First Vatican Mythographer, 198 Fleming, John V., 183 forging, as metaphor for sex, 86, 107, 117, 129, 174, 210, 218 French language, vaunted, 168, 177–80 Fyler, John M., 184–85, 190 Ganymede, 117, 139–40 Gaunt, Simon, 150–51, 152–53, 201 gender, grammatical, as metaphor for sex, 79–81, 111–15, 129. See also coloration, rhetorical; trope; writing General Prologue (Geoffrey Chaucer), 229 Genius: in De planctu Naturae, 79, 218; on fall from the Golden Age, 192–95; on homosexuality, 173–74, 209–10; in Roman de la Rose, 10, 145, 168, 173–74, 192–95, 199, 210, 211, 212, 213, 218, 225 Geometry, personified, 29–30 Gerbert of Aurillac, 57–59, 70–71 Gesta regum Anglorum, 1–3, 7–8, 50, 53–74. 196–97, 217–18. See also William of Malmesbury God of Love: in The Legend of Good Women, 226; in The Romaunt of the Rose, 219, 210 grammar: as hermeneutic, 65–67; as principle of boredom, 24 Gregorius (author of De mirabilibus urbis Romae), 55–57 Gregory VI (pope), 54–55, 71 Gregory VII (pope), 54 Guillaume de Lorris, 10, 146–67, 168, 172, 175, 195, 211. See also Roman de la Rose Guynn, Noah D., 99, 117


Harmony (as character in De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii), 6, 7, 35–37 Heller-Roazen, Daniel, 213 hermaphroditism, 9, 10–11, 83–86, 101, 102–5, 118, 120, 153–54, 157–59, 169–70, 174–75, 204–13, 215–16 Hermaphroditus: in Commentum in Martianum Capellam, 40, 44–45, 46, 49, 78, 87, 215; curse of, 156–58; in De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, 26, 29, 31; as discursive figure, 44–46, 49, 215–16; in Metamorphoses, 157–58 Hill, Thomas D., 183–84 homoeroticism: in De planctu Naturae, 82, 83–86, 98, 100, 109–11, 112–15, 117, 216–17; as natural, 109–11; in Roman de la Rose, 147–50, 161–67, 170–75, 201–10; in The Romaunt of the Rose, 222–26 Host (character in The Canterbury Tales), 226–28, 230, 232, 233. See also castration; coillons; Pardoner Hult, David F., 149, 184, 203–4, 208–9 Huot, Sylvia, 146, 199–200 idolatry, fiction and, 1–3, 65–75 incest, 81–82, 93–95, 98, 105, 109, 111, 128 intercourse, 91, 93, 172–73, 201–8; anal, 201–2 Isidore of Seville, 116 Jalousie (character in Roman de la Rose), 149, 165–66 Jean de Meun, 5, 7, 9–11, 145–46, 151, 154, 159, 162, 166–67, 168–213, 216, 218. See also Roman de la Rose Jerome, Saint, 64, 72 Jordan, Mark D., 107, 119 Jupiter: as castrator of Saturn, 192, 197–98; in De planctu Naturae, 117, 128, 139–40; and fall from the Golden Age, 192–95; as hedonist, 194; in Roman de la Rose, 182, 192–95, 196, 197, 198, 199

248 Index

Kay, Sarah, 146–47, 151 knoppe, as object of desire, 223–24 Latin grammar, as deviant, 113–15 Lenaz, Luciano, 16 Leupin, Alexandre, 88 liberal arts: and pedagogy, 4, 6, 49; personified, 6–7, 16, 18, 28 Lover (character in The Romaunt of the Rose), 219, 222–23, 225 “l’uis darriere” (“The Back Door”), as sexual metaphor, 201–2, 224 MacCormack, Sabine, 60, 63–64 magic, as trope for literacy, 73–74 Male Bouche (character in Roman de la Rose), 153–54, 164, 211, 219, 222; gender reassignment of, 153–54, 211, 212; responding to kiss of Amant and Bel Acueil, 163 Martianus Capella: De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, 4–7, 15–50, 77, 78, 181, 215–16; and medieval pedagogy, 4, 6, 49–50, 215 Martin of Laon, 6, 17 Maurus, Hrabanus, 7, 64–67, 68–71, 72, 74; William of Malmesbury’s criticism of, 68–71. See also De institutione clericorum Mercury (as character in De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii), 15–50, 51, 77, 78, 87; deceit, 40; eloquence, 17, 39–40; as personification of probata lingua, 19, 22, 26, 28; verbal excess, 43–46 Metamorphoses, The (Ovid), 154–59 Minnis, Alastair, 152–53 Myrrha, as paradigm for incest, 81, 82, 85, 96–97, 98, 128 Narcissus: in De planctu Naturae, 82, 128, 130; fountain of, 147–49, 154–59; in Metamorphoses, 154–56; in Roman de la Rose, 147, 155–59

Nature: as autogamic reproduction, 99–106; as beautiful young woman, 89–93; as character in De planctu Naturae, 8–9, 78–142, 152, 166, 174, 176, 178, 181, 199, 211–12, 213, 218; as character in Roman de la Rose, 145, 168, 174; and/as fiction, 140–42; as flora and fauna, 118–21; on grammatical gender and sex, 111–15; as hermaphroditic monstrosity, 100–104; as object of incestuous desire, 93–97, 104–5; as principle responsible for homosexuality, 106–11; as prostitute, 124–25; stylistic embellishment and, 124–40; as trope, 118–23; on tropes, 115–18 nus mentis, personified by Philology, 18–19, 21–22, 28 Oiseuse (character in Roman de la Rose), 154–55 Orpheus, 80, 174, 210 Ovid, 11, 68, 104, 155, 195 Pallas: in Commentum in Martianum Capellam, 46, 47–48; in De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, 19–20, 22–23, 33, 35, 77 Palumbus (character in “The Statue and the Ring”), 72–74, 217–18. See also castration; magic pardon, as metaphor, 230–31, 232, 233–34. See also Pardoner Pardoner, 226–34. See also castration; coillons; hermaphroditism; Host; pardon; Summoner Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale, The, 219, 226–34 Philology (as character in De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii), 6–7, 15–32, 77, 78, 87; as personification of nus mentis, 17–19, 28, 31, 35; as personification of reason, 17, 39–50 Phronesis (character in De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii), 26–27


Pittenger, Elizabeth, 117 pleasure: aesthetic, 56–57, 140–41; bodily, 35, 51–53, 81–82, 85, 197–98, 199–200; as deliz, 10, 181, 194–95, 198–99, 213; intellectual, 53, 74, 141–42, 197–98, 199–200, 212–13; as voluptas, 30–31, 51, 53, 77 Powell Harley, Marta, 154–56 Préaux, Jean, 16, 21–22 probata lingua, personified by Mercury, 19, 22, 26, 28 propriety, linguistic, 179–80, 181–90 prostitution, 95, 122, 125, 140–41, 142, 233–34; male, 86–87; and Venus, 76. See also brothel Pygmalion, 196, 197, 203 Quilligan, Maureen, 168 Raynaud de Lage, Guy, 127–28, 216 reading, as metaphor for sex, 210, 212–13 Reason (as character in Roman de la Rose), 10, 145, 151–52, 153, 168, 175–90, 191–92, 194, 195–96, 198, 199, 203, 204, 208, 213, 232; on the birth of Venus, 197–99; on desire, 175–78, 181, 194; on poetic integuments, 180–81, 191–92, 195–96; on referential propriety, 179–80, 182–90, 191–92 relics, 182, 185, 189, 203–4, 226–28, 229, 230–31, 232; as objects of veneration, 203–4. See also coilles; testicles Remigius of Auxerre, Commentum in Martianum Capellam, 4, 6–7, 17, 38–50, 51–52, 77–78, 123, 181, 213, 215–16 reproduction: autogamic, 101–5; homosexual, 100 Roman de la Rose, 9–11, 145–213, 227, 229, 230, 231, 232. See also Guillaume de Lorris; Jean de Meun Salmacis, 155, 157; the fountain of, 154–58; and Oiseuse, 155


Satura (character in De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii), 15, 32–34, 48–49, 78 Saturn, castration of, 10, 179, 181–84, 192, 197, 198 199, 219, 232. See also castration; coilles; coillons Satyra, 48–49. See Satura Scanlon, Larry, 116 sex, nonreproductive, 8–9, 79, 81–86, 109–11, 112–14, 117, 128–30, 135. See also fellatio; homoeroticism; “l’uis darriere” Shanzer, Danuta, 16–17 Silenus (as character in De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii), 24, 31, 32 Silvester II (pope). See Gerbert of Aurillac “Statue and the Ring, The” 1–3, 7–8, 53–74. 196–97, 217–18 Summoner, 229, 231, 233. See also burdoun; Pardoner testicles, 232; as coilles, 179, 180, 182, 185–90, 195–96, 199, 203–4, 209; as coillons, 180, 192, 227; and relikes, 226–28, 230–31, 232; and reliques, 182, 185, 189, 203–4, 227, 229, 231 theurgy, in De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, 16–17 Thynne, William, 225–26 Tiresias, 80, 104 trope, as deviance, 8–9, 115–17, 12021, 217. See also coloration, rhetorical; gender, grammatical; writing Uitti, Karl D., 148 Venus: birth of, 197–99; in Commentum in Martianum Capellam, 7, 40, 44–45, 46, 47, 48–49, 51, 77–78, 87; in De mirabilibus urbis Romae, 55–56; in De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, 6, 24–26, 29–31, 34–35, 37, 51, 77; in De planctu Naturae, 8–9, 78–81,



Venus (Continued) 83, 96–97, 98, 100, 106–9, 110, 111, 112, 113, 115, 116, 122, 123, 126, 127, 129, 136, 140, 141, 153, 199, 211; as detractor of scholarly disquisitions, 24–25; as figure for written pleasure, 59, 71–74, 197–99; as marble statue, 55; as mediator between Amant and Bel Acueil, 163, 165; as mother of Hermaphroditus, 26, 40, 49, 78, 87; as Nature’s amanuensis, 79–81, 106–9, 111; in Roman de la Rose, 153, 163, 165, 166, 181, 196–99, 208; in The Romaunt of the Rose, 222–23; as Satyra Cypris, 48–49; in “The Statue and the Ring,” 2–3, 54, 55–60, 196–97; as whore, 73 Vielle, La (character in Roman de la Rose), 9–10, 153, 162–63, 168, 169–70, 173, 174, 201, 224; on cosmetics, 162–63; cross-gendered pedagogy

of, 169–70; and “l’uis darriere,” 201–2 Virgil, 61–64, 105 vit, as beautiful word, 180, 188, 192 Voluptas (as character in De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii), 6, 24–25, 29–30, 46, 47–48 voluptas (as carnal delight), 51–52 Wife of Bath, 228, 232, 233 Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale, The, 219 William of Malmesbury: Abbreviatio Amalarii, 69–70; “The Statue and the Ring,” 1–2, 4, 7–8, 50, 53–74. 196–97, 217–18 Witch of Berkeley, 52–53, 218 writing, as metaphor for sex, 79–86, 98, 106–9, 110, 114, 117, 122, 129–30, 134, 135, 139, 173–75, 211–12. See also coloration, rhetorical; gender, grammatical; trope