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  • The Rose and Geryon: The Poetics of Fraud and Violence in Jean de Meun and Dante by Gabriella I. Baika
  • Jonathan Morton
The Rose and Geryon: The Poetics of Fraud and Violence in Jean de Meun and Dante. By Gabriella I. Baika. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2014. xii + 288 pp.

Gabriella Baika’s book aims to interpret the works of Jean de Meun (primarily the Roman de la rose) and Dante (primarily the Inferno canticle of the Divina commedia) in the light of the literature of pastoral care, particularly the Summa vitiorum of William Peraldus and the chapters in it that draw on the sins of the tongue (peccata linguae). Such a comparison between the two most influential works of vernacular medieval literature is to be welcomed. There is much still to be said about how Dante drew scenes, themes, and ideas from the Roman de la rose and more generally about the relationship between the Rose and the Commedia. While Dante indisputably takes more than a passing interest in the understanding of sin, Baika’s approach highlights the extent to which the Roman de la rose is, in fact, concerned with the ethics of speech. Chapter 1 outlines Peraldus’ account of the sins of the tongue, with brief discussion of Laurent d’Orléans’s La Somme le roi, Domenico Cavalca’s Pungilingua, and Aquinas’s discussion of verbal sins in the Summa theologiae. The following three chapters are considerably longer and are all structured so that the first half of the chapter discusses Jean de Meun’s continuation of the Roman de la rose and the second focuses on the cantos in the Inferno that take place in Malebolge. Chapter 2 offers accounts of ‘a moral theory of speech in Jean and Dante’ (p. 7). Chapters 3 and 4 discuss fraud and blasphemy respectively as exemplary verbal sins that structure the works. Critics of the Roman de la rose will find a highly original take on the poem that identifies Jean de Meun as far more didactic than even D. W. Robertson and John Fleming made him. This is a bold critical intervention, but while there is certainly a good case to be made for the Rose as having an ethical project concerning language, Baika’s account is problematic. Aside from factual errors — such as the incorrect claim that Male Bouche never speaks (p. 134) — she argues with unwarranted certainty that the didactic Testament Maistre Jehan de Meun was definitely by Jean and that the Italian reworking of the Rose, Il Fiore, was by Dante. On the basis of the moralizing Testament, Baika reads a pastoral project back into the earlier Roman de la rose, while furnishing no argument that the text draws significantly on Peraldus or other pastoral authors. As for Dante, Baika claims that he takes Peraldus’s schema of verbal sins and ‘applies it like a psychoanalytical grid’ (p. 171) onto his contemporaries and onto figures of classical myth. Peraldus becomes ‘the necessary key’ (p. 203) to interpreting the link between words, money, forgery, and treason in Inferno. Unfortunately there is no comparison of Faux Semblant in the Rose with Geryon in the Commedia, the two characters most clearly related thematically, which would have shed light both on Jean’s and Dante’s poetic projects with respect to fraud and violence. [End Page 232]

Jonathan Morton
New College, Oxford


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