Jean de Meung (or Mehun) (ca. 1250–ca.
1305)
French poet who owes his celebrity to his continuation of the
Roman de la Rose of Guillaume de Saint-Amour. De Meung also
wrote a rhyming treatise on alchemy. He was born Jean Clopinel
(or Chopinel) at Meun-sur-Loire and flourished through
the reigns of Louis X, Philip the Long, Charles IV, and Philip
de Valois. He appears to have possessed a light and railing wit
and a keen appreciation of a jest, and it may well be doubted
whether he was altogether sincere in his praises of alchemy.
The poet composed a strongly stigmatic quatrain on womankind
and the ladies of Charles IV’s court resolved to revenge
their affronted honor. Surrounding him in the royal antechamber,
they ordered the courtiers present to strip de Meung before
they gave him a sound flogging. Jean begged to be heard
before he was condemned and punished. Having obtained an
interval of grace, the poet admitted—with fluent eloquence—
that he was certainly the author of the calumnious verses, but
that they were not intended to disparage all women. He referred
only to the vicious and debased, he insisted, and not to
such models of purity as he saw around him. Nevertheless, if
any lady present felt that the verses really applied to her, he
would submit to a well-deserved chastisement! None, of course,
accepted.
Like most of the medieval poets, Jean de Meung was a bitter
enemy of the priesthood, and he contrived with great ingenuity
a posthumous satire upon their inordinate greed. He bequeathed
in his will, as a gift to the Cordeliers (friars), a chest
of immense weight. Since his fame as an alchemist was widespread,
the brotherhood accepted the legacy in the belief that
the chest contained the golden results of his quest for the philosophers’
stone. But when they opened it, their dismayed eyes
rested only on a pile of slates covered with the most unintelligible
hieroglyphics and kabalistic characters. The perpetrator of
this practical joke was hardly, it seems, a sincere believer in the
wonders of alchemy.
Jean de Meung’s book on alchemy was published as Le
Miroir d’alchymie (1557) and in German as Der Spiegel der Alchymie
(1771), but some critics believe it is spurious. Also doubtfully
attributed to de Meung are the poetical treatises Les Remonstrances
de Nature à l’Alchimiste errant and La Reponse de
l’Alchimiste à Nature.