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The Conflict between Spring and Winter: A Pseudo-Vergilian Bucolic Poem

Fabian Zogg

The shepherds all gather from the high mountains to celebrate the happy Muses. The young Dafnis is there, old
Palemon too. All are ready to sing and praise the cuckoo. What sounds at first like the beginning of a song
contest between two shepherds develops into a conflict between Spring and Winter – the two personified seasons
have suddenly appeared on stage and dispute the pros and cons of the cuckoo. Winter tries hard, but he fails.
Palemon adjudicates the contest and Spring’s arguments are far more convincing. The Latin poem, consisting of
55 hexameters, ends with Palemon’s detailed description of the blessings of Spring and an encomium of the
When, some time in the early 11th  century, the French monk Ademar of Chabannes copied this bucolic poem
into his manuscript (Leiden, Voss. lat. O. 15-V. f. 21v), he added the title Virgilius de vere et hyeme  – “Vergil on
spring and winter” (cf. Munk Olsen 1985, 728; Landes 1995, 353-362; Ziolkowski/Putnam 2008, 26). Although
the poem usually bears the title Conflictus veris et hiemis , and is transmitted anonymously, Ademar attributed it
to the very founder of Latin bucolic poetry, to Vergil himself. In this paper, I offer a detailed examination of how
the Conflictus  adapts the Latin bucolic tradition. The poem is, in fact, more Vergilian than many eclogues
written after Vergil. But, as it combines different Vergilian pretexts and enriches them with material not found in
Vergil, the poem cannot simply be classified a ‘cento’ (cf. McGill 2005 on Vergilian centos). The Conflictus  is a
unique document of Vergilian reception, probably from the beginning of medieval bucolic poetry (on which cf.
Klopsch 1985, Hubbard 1998, 213-246 and Schwitter 2009).
Modern research about the Conflictus  has mainly focused on the question of its authorship. Alexander Riese
included the poem in his first edition of the Anthologia Latina  (1 1870, 145-8), but left it out in his second edition
(2 1906, 161). He decided, instead, simply to mention Dümmler’s new publication of the text among the Alcuini
carmina  (1881, 270-2). A hundred years later, McEnerney (1981) produced a new edition of the text and argued
at length for the authorship of Alcuin. As the transmitted text offers questionable Latin passages, McEnerney
suggests quite a few “emendations” supposedly restoring Alcuin’s Latin proper. Rather more convincingly,
Castillo (not known to McEnerney) argues for an author other than Alcuin exactly because  of these
ungrammatical sentences. It might, indeed, have been written by one of his students (Castillo 1973, 61). A
second focus of modern scholarship about the Conflictus  is its connection to the medieval poetical debate (cf.
e.g. Walther 1920, 34-7; Hedberg 1944; Cooper 1977, 8-24; Green 1980, 37-8).
Although some references in the Conflictus  to Vergil’s poems have been observed, there remains a need for a
detailed analysis of the intertextual relation. The poem has indeed numerous ‘system references’ (on this term cf.
Broich/Pfister/Suerbaum 1985; Edmunds 2001, 143-150; Zogg 2014, 15) and apparently quite specific allusions
to all three Vergilian poems (cf. e.g. l. 8 with Ecl. 7.16, l. 1 with G. 4.112 and l. 24 with Aen. 3.354). There are
no clear references to Calpurnius, on the other hand, as has often been asserted (e.g. Dümmler 1881, 270-2;
Effe/Binder 2 2001, 162), and the allusions to Horace (at l. 50 and, probably, 55) and Ovid (ll. 6-7 and 13) are to
passages that might easily have been known from a florilegium (on Horace cf. Cooper 1977, 215 Anm. 14 and
McEnerney 1981, 41). In contrast to other Carolingian bucolic poems, furthermore, there is no allusion to
contemporary politics, no recognizable allegory, no exceptional paraenetic message, no panegyric and not a
single Christian element. The poet of the Conflictus  seems, therefore, to have practised l’art pour l’art . In this
was he, perhaps, even more Vergilian than Vergil himself. Ademar’s unexpected attribution thus becomes
somewhat more understandable.
Session/Panel Title:

The Bucolic Challenge: Continuity and Change in Later Latin Pastoral Poetry

Session/Paper Number


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