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Jean Clopinel de Meun

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French poet, b. c. 1260 in the little city of Meung-sur-Loire; d. at Paris between 1305 and 1320. He took the name of his native city, but received from his contemporaries the nickname Clopinel ( clopiner , to limp) because he was lame. Such nicknames were very common in the Middle Ages and were used in lieu of patronymics, the custom of which was not yet established. Jean de Meun's social condition has been a much debated question. It seems certain today that he was born of well-to-do parents, received a very good education, and, about 1300, was a wealthy burgess of Paris, a steady and pious man who enjoyed the esteem of his fellow citizens and the friendship of many a noble lord. He translated the "De re militari" of Vegetius, the "De consolatione philosophiae" of Boethius and composed in French verses a Testament in which he reproves women and the friars. His fame rests on a work of his earlier years, the completion of the "Roman de la Rose", which had been left unfinished by Guillaume de Lorris. As it stood, the latter's work was a sort of didactic poem in which he used allegorical characters to describe the forms, the phases, and the progress of love. His aim seemed to have been to compose a treatise on the art of loving for the use of the noble lords and ladies of the thirteenth century. To the 4669 verses of his predecessor, Jean de Meun added more than 18,000 and made the poem a sort of cyclopedia of all the knowledge of the time. He quoted, translated, and imitated all the writers then known: Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Virgil, Ovid, Augustine, Juvenal, Livy, Abelard, Roger Bacon. Of the 18,000 verses which he has written, it has been possible to assign 12,000 to their authors. All the characters became so many pedants who discoursed on all sorts of topics, however remote they might be from the subject: the origin of the state, the origin of the royal power, instinct, justice, the nature of evil, marriage, property, the conflict between the regular and the secular clergy, between the friars and the university, etc. The book is full of attacks on all classes and duties of society : the magistrates, the soldiers, the nobles, the monks, tithes, feudal rights, property. De Meun's talent is vigorous, but his style is often cynical and reminds the reader of the worst pages of Rabelais.

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