This paper, a tentative approach by someone who is not an expert in this area or on this text, argues that Guillaume de Lorris offers a veiled description of a male to male love relationship. Jean de Meun then redescribes Guillaume's text, extending it with debates and digressions that focus, among other matters, on the issue of natural and unnatural love, and supplying a heterosexual ending while nevertheless remaining ambivalent with regard to the female sex. Although there are other interpretive paths that provide entrees into the homosexual concerns in the text, the path that I would like to pursue begins with John Boswell's argument that homosexual behavior was reinterpreted in late twelfth and early thirteenth century Europe as unnatural and even horrific.
Canon law and ecclesiastical councils had, by the end of the twelfth century, effectively stigmatized homosexuality. As early as 1120 an ecclesiastical council in Jerusalem (Nablus) prescribed burning for sodomy. Third Lateran (1179) recommended, however, confinement to a monastery for penance for clerics (and excommunication for laity), and this recommendation was incorporated into the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX in 1234. A spate of local synods, many from northern France (Paris, 1196 and 1212; Rouen, 1214 and 1235; Bezier, 1246; Le Mans 1247; Clermont 1268) followed with similar legislation against sodomy. Further ecclesiastical restrictions can be found in monastic regulations; the Dominicans, Carthusians and Cistercians all focused on building prisons for sodomites by the beginning of the thirteenth century.
The Church could not, of course, mandate capital punishment. But in the thirteenth century a growing number of secular authorities, particularly in northern France, did. Justinian's Institutes, that elementary introduction to Roman private law which became increasingly well-known with the rediscovery of the Digest, the revival of Roman law and the institution of legal teaching at the universities, must be partially responsible for the punitive legislation directed at homosexuals. The Institutes record the lex Julia de adulteriis which punished with death those who give themselves up to works of lewdness with their own sex. ("eos, qui cum masculis infandam libidinem exercere audent.") By the thirteenth century draconian laws were being passed in Spain, laws such as those of Alfonso IX that decreed castration followed by hanging by the legs until dead. Portugal followed suit. In Italy, the city of Bologna in 1288 called for death by burning, as did the city of Siena. In France, Louis IX (1226-1270) decreed death by burning for "bougerie", following upon a similar law from Touraine-Anjou. By 1283 these laws were incorporated into the Coutumes de Beauvaisis of Philippe de Beaumanoir. At Orleans, in particular, new thirteenth-century laws (dated c. 1260) prescribed castration for punishment of a first offense for sodomy and with subsequent offenses "il doit perdre membre. Et se il le fet la tierce fois, it doit estre ars." One is reminded that both Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun came from near Orleans.
Also suggestive are the number of theological treatises and penitential books from the turn of the thirteenth century and from northern France that redefine sodomy as unnatural . Alan de Lille's Liber Poenitentales as well as his De planctu naturae, Pierre de Poitier's Summa de confessione, Gilles de Corbeil's satire Hierapigra, and, a litle later, the writings of Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas--all attacked sodomy. This 'uncompromising homophobia', as John Baldwin describes it, was characteristic of the circle around Peter the Chanterc. 1200. Peter's Verbum abbreviatum, in both its long and its short version, constituted "the most extensive discussion of the subject for its time". Peter equated sodomy with murder in its seriousness, warranting the death penalty. Thomas of Chobham, one of Peter's circle, classified homosexuality as most shameful and only short of diabolical. Another particularly important homophobic voice was that of William of Auvergne, the Bishop of Paris from 1229-1249 who, in his Summa de poenitatia, likened homosexuality to paganism and idolatry, asserting that it led to leprosy and insanity. In addition to the increased attention of theologians to this issue, the romances and fabliaux of the age expressed an aversive, albeit reticent, attitude toward homoeroticism.
Clearly, the atmosphere of northern France, particularly around Paris, was tightening up with regard to homophilia. Beginning c. 1200 with claustration, by the 1260s penalties for homosexual activity ranged from confinement and imprisonment to the more severe secular punishments of castration, dismemberment and burning. It is therefore interesting to note that, in Guillaume's Rose, Fair Welcoming is bound or shut up in a tower (v. 3524-26) "In the middle it will have a tower where Fair Welcoming will be imprisoned...I plan to guard his body so well that he will not have the power to go outside nor to keep company with rascal boys who, in order to bring him to shame, go around flattering him with pretty speeches." (vv. 3608-15). Guillaume, with his portrayal of a narcissistic and very phallic rose, his introduction of the masculine Fair Welcoming who is imprisoned and inaccessible to the Lover amid rumors of an evil relationship, is emblematically describing a homosexual love, for which the Lover takes no responsibility, since he has been wounded by the God of Love. Perhaps Guillaume's stated intention of supplying the whole art of love ("ou l'art d'Amors est tote enclose", v. 38) should be taken more literally.
By the time Jean de Meun begins his continuation, the language has become more violent and the punishments more punitive. Imagining that Jealousy will find Fair Welcoming alone in the prison with the Lover, he says, "I will, if you remember her cruelty, be completely dismembered alive." (vv. 14629-31) Indeed, Jean de Meun's text is replete with a remarkable number of references to castration and bodily dismemberment, leading David Hult to call it an 'unrelenting fascination' with these subjects. Most notably, the castration of Saturn by Jupiter [the same Jupiter who was the bisexual lover and raper of Ganeymede] which is referenced by Reason raises the issue of the relationship between Love and Justice. Jean de Meun concludes what is essentially an embedded text on rulership with a scathing attack on Jupiter (read perhaps Louis IX) as ruler (and perhaps as castrator).
Jean de Meun evokes Abelard in Ami's speech as well as Origen. He adds a number of examples of beheadings by rulers and, in one case, by a father (Virginus of Virginia) where the French 'la teste' resonates with the Latin 'testiculum'. In addition, Nero dismembers his mother (vv. 6164-69) and Hercules wishes to dismember Cacus (v. 21592). I would suggest that there are echoes here of punitive laws and unjust rulers. In a final referent to the punishments for homosexuality, one notes that in the concluding assault on the castle, Fair Welcoming comes close to being burned in a conflagration that destroys the prison castle. He is rescued by his mother Courtesy and by Pity and by Openness.
There are additional contexts within which the Roman de la rose should be placed. From the time of the Gregorian reform and into the thirteenth century there continued to be a keenly-felt debate with regard to celibacy and the clergy. The group surrounding Peter the Chanter, particularly Raoul Ardent, Robert of Courson, Gerald of Wales and Thomas Chobham, wanted a general council to re-consider the limits on clerical celibacy, a concern that Peter the Chanter himself seemed to share. Much of this debate centered on the naturalness of marriage, with accusations that many of the reformers were practicing unnatural sex and were therefore more willing to listen to what were perceived as novel ideas of the need for ritual purity, the unhealthy demands of family life, and the unwanted problem of sons inheriting benefices. Emerging from this controversy was the further criticism that the clergy were constituting themselves into a spiritual elite where Christian values undercut family values and Mother Nature herself. In this context, as John Boswell notes, the figure of Natura became somewhat neutral ground upon which this debate could be conducted. Not a pagan symbol, but not Christian either, she could carry the weight of those arguing for marriage, against homosexuality, or even, sometimes, in favor of homosexuality as natural. Further complicating the conversation were concerns that arose because of the spread of Catharism and the positive value it placed on non-procreation. Reactivity also heightened with rumors of widespread Muslim addiction to sodomy and legends that Mohammed had practiced and promoted sodomy.
The Roman de la rose fits into this context. Guillaume describes a narcissistic and very phallic rose, a "bouton", according to Karl Uitti, "Closed in its budlike shape, on its long and stiffly upright stem." The masculine gender of Fair Welcoming clearly has sexual undertones. Guillaume might well have chosen another, feminine, name for this novel, personified aspect of the Lover's attention. As Jan Ziolkowski has shown, grammatico-sexual metaphors are common in cultures where grammar and sex share the same terminology, and they were particularly "common in central and northern France [at the turn of the thirteenth century]...they appeared in satires against disapproved practices, of which homosexuality was one." Alan de Lille, whose writings influenced both Guillaume and Jean, identified grammatical and sexual genders and filled his diatribe against homosexuality with grammatical word plays with sexual connotations. The contemporaneous poem on Ganeymede and Helen, translated by John Boswell, expresses an opposition grammatical-sexual point: "Disparity divides things; it is rather like things that are rightly joined together; For a man to be linked to a man is a more elegant coupling. In case you had not noticed, there are certain rules of grammar by which articles of the same gender must be coupled together." Michel Zink, in his article "Bel-Accueil le Travesti", notes that "Le sexe masculin de Bel-Accueil n'est pas seulement impose par la grammaire. It est necessaire a l'argument meme du roman." Zink, however, sees the necessity as being one of an innocent and licit friendship through which the narrator can approach the rose.
Other suggestive aspects of Guillaume's text include the link between the God of Love and Sweet Looks or between Sweet Looks and Fair Welcoming, the advice the God of Love gives the Lover, "not [to] rouge or paint your face, for such a custom belongs only to ladies or to men of bad repute, who have had the misfortune to find a love contrary to nature (sanz droiture)" (vv. 2153-62), the sexual suggestiveness of the relationship between the God of Love and the Lover, the two maidens who kiss, the figure of Oiseuse who recalls the relationship between leisure and homosexuality that some of the theologians posited, and the "homoerotic relationship that Guillaume establishes between Amant and Bel Accueil" Since, in the end, Jealousy catches the Lover and Fair Welcoming with full proof ("pris ovec moi tot prove"), one could argue that the romance has indeed ended with the relationship consummated, Fair Welcoming imprisoned and the Lover bereft.
Jean de Meun, more scholastic in background, his text resonating with classical allusions, intensely interested in wordplay and linguistic cover-ups, mixes grammatical gender with sexual proclivities as he gradually weans his lover from homosexual to heterosexual intercourse. Jean de Meun rewrites Guillaume's romance, focusing attention on the kiss between the Lover and the Rose, rather than the "evil relationship" between the Lover and Fair Welcoming, and informing the reader that Guillaume's work was unfinished and the romance unconsummated. It was a consummate trick.
The rewriting was subtle. Looking first at Guillaume's Roman, one notes that the original charge Foul Mouth makes against the Lover and Fair Welcoming ["That there was an evil relationship between me and Fair Welcoming" says Guillaume] gets transmuted by Jean de Meun into kissing the rose. To use an image suggested by David Hult, Jean de Meun treats Guillaume's romance as a palimpsest, rubbing out the original accusation and covering it over with another story. In Jean de Meun's version, Foul Mouth claims that he had heard the truth and is willing to trumpet it some more, saying that "that fellow kissed the rose,"  while the Old Woman says that she has forgotten the slander little by little. "I don't even remember the statements, except that they were false and wild and that the thief invented them and proved none of them." The success of the rewritten accusation depends upon 1) an improved memory on the part of Foul Mouth and 2) a more legal defense on the part of the Old Woman, although, in the end, they are somewhat contradictory, leaving one with the impression that Foul Mouth cannot be trusted or his accusations proved, whatever he said. But whatever he said has gotten lost in the elaboration of his untrustworthiness, and in the silence of his early death.
A further rewriting of the scraped parchment is the shift from determinism to free will between the two authors. While Guillaume de Lorris is clear that the Lover is compelled to love, both Genius and Nature, in Jean de Meun's Roman, stress free will so strongly that one can hardly help juxtaposing (and perhaps overriding) Guillaume's earlier declarations of being vanquished by the God of Love. Similarly, Jean de Meun has rewritten the fountain, transforming it from the contextually Narcissistic (and hence unnatural, perhaps deadly) earlier fountain to a generative fountain (of life?). The Pygmalion episode may even work as a palinode to the Narcissism of Guillaume and appears to be another kind of conclusion to the entire work (for some readers, perhaps a more satisfactory conclusion than the rape of the rose, for Jean perhaps a better solution than what he saw in Guillaume). The myth of Pygmalion can be seen as emblematic of the transition from an unnatural love to a miraculous, natural male-female love.