The Roman de la Rose (Romance of the Rose) is a thirteenth-century allegorical poem in Old French about the art of love. Written in octosyllabic couplets, the Roman was begun by Guillaume de Lorris around 1230 but broke off after around 4,000 verses, apparently because the poet died prematurely.
A veritable Manual of Courtly Love
The poem is narrated in the first person. The Lover recounts a dream he had about entering a walled garden and falling in love with a rose that grew there. In the garden, he meets many allegorical characters who represent feelings, virtues and vices: some try to help him attain his desire, others to stop him.
Eventually, with the help of the God of Love and Venus, he prevails over the rose's guardians and kisses the flower, only to see it imprisoned by Jealousy in a tower.
The Subsequent Work of Jean de Meun
This story has inspired many generations of lovers, poets and artists. In 1280, Jean de Meun, or Meung (1250-1305) completed the poem by adding another 18,000 lines. The style is quite different from Lorris's.
The story of the quest for the rose is continuously interrupted by digressions in which Reason (personified by a lady) discourses with the Lover about nature, marriage, wealth, freedom, and other matters discussed in those days.
In this veritable encyclopedia of medieval knowledge, de Meun does not hesitate to take issue with the negative aspects of life and love. He lambastes women, mocks men, questions power, clergymen, and monks, and praises nature, which for him prevails over any convention. It's very clear that he enjoys bawdiness and double entendres.
Shortly after 1400, a fierce debate about the Roman broke out in the literary world. This was the first great literary dispute in the western world about what was the most famous erotic book of the time.