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A modern prose translation of the great medieval allegory of courtly love
on 5 August 2012
The Romance of the Rose was a medieval `bestseller': over 200 manuscripts of it have come down to us (compared to, for example, about 80 of The Canterbury Tales). The first part (c. 4000 lines) was composed by Guillaume de Lorris in c.1225, and there is an ongoing debate as to whether this was completed or left unfinished.
About forty years later, Jean de Meun wrote a much longer continuation of the poem taking a far more scholastic approach and using the text as a site for academic and philosophical debate. One way, then, of reading the de Meun section is as an `anti-Guillaume' poem, critiquing the very concept of `courtly love'.
Horgan's translation is into free and flexible modern prose, making this poem eminently readable and accessible. The introduction, however, and notes are both fairly brief and confine themselves to scene-setting, and source notes.
This is worth reading on its own merits, but is also important as a cultural resource for later medieval romance such as Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, and Elizabethan chivalric romance such as Spenser's The Faerie Queene. It's also an important context for court revels and pageants throughout the sixteenth century: the Siege of Love motif, especially, is one which is played out at various tournaments and masques at the courts of both Henry VIII and Elizabeth.