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The Concilium Romarici Montis is an account in Latin verse of a mock church council said to have been held at Remiremont (Romarici Mons), not far from Nancy and Strasbourg in eastern France. The Council was convened by the nuns of the royal abbey of Remiremont, a religious community whose members were recruited from the nobility. The abbey had already been in existence for about five hundred years when the poem was composed in the twelfth century.

The subject of the Council is Love; accordingly the opening ceremonies include a reading from Ovid's Ars Amatoria. A Lady Cardinal (Cardinalis Domina), decked in spring flowers, presides over the deliberations, which quickly turn into a formal debate on the relative merits of the knight (miles) and the clerk (clericus) as lovers. Representatives of the two factions of ladies extol their candidates and disparage the opposition (at quite unequal length; the women who favor the clerici are given much more than their fair share of time). Finally a vote is taken, and the Cardinalis Domina declares the unsurprising result: henceforth only clerks are to be eligible as lovers for the ladies of Remiremont. Whoever fails to honor this decision is solemnly excommunicated.

Several of the women who participate in the Council are named in the poem, resulting in a heightened appearance of reality. The keeper of the gate is Sibilia (line 19), whose name suggests pagan associations with Apollo. Eva de Danubrio (line 29; Deneuvre in modern French) is the reader of the "Gospel" of Ovid. Two girls named Elizabet (line 33) sing hymns of love to inaugurate the Council. Several more are named only in subheads that are provided in the manuscripts of the poem: before line 61, Elizabet de Granges and before line 67, Elizabet de Falcon (these two being perhaps identical with the singers); before lines 94, 100, 115, and 121, Agnes, Berta, Elizabet Popona, and Adeleyt. Most of these names can be at least tentatively identified with those of real women who were members of the religious community of Remiremont, according to surviving documents of the period.[1]

The poem is, of course, anonymous. Most likely it is by a local clerk, perhaps one from Toul (see lines 10-15); but the possibility should not be excluded that it was written by one (or more?) of the women of Remiremont. It would be useful to know the precise date of the poem in order to place it accurately in the history of the theme of courtly love. Paleographical and stylistic evidence, and such evidence as that of the proper names, all suggest a date in approximately the middle of the twelfth century.

The motif of a formal debate is a common one in literature, occurring as early as Greek tragedy and in the agon of Aristophanic comedy. In the medieval period we find poetic debates, both serious and satirical, between spring and summer, the violet and the rose, wool and linen, wine and water, body and soul, and many others. The particular theme of the debate in the Concilium Romarici Montis, the merits of various types of men as lovers, has roots that can plausibly be traced as far back as the legends of the Trojan War. In classical Latin literature, a close analogy to the relative merits of "knight" and "clerk" as lover can be found in Ovid, Amores III.8. The Altercatio Phyllidis et Florae, an elegant long Latin poem in the Goliardic meter nearly contemporary with the Concilium Romarici Montis, deals with the same theme.[2]

Until the Cardinalis Domina begins her final impassioned speech of excommunication (line 205), the Concilium Romarici Montis is organized into three-line stanzas. The lines in each stanza are linked not by rhyme, but as clear sense-units; so clear that where the pattern seems to fail, emendation is almost certainly called for. The rhythm is trochaic and is based on word accent. There are many displacements of the trochaic beat. The lines contain fourteen syllables and break in the middle so that every half-line contains three and a half trochees. Each line almost without exception constitutes a grammatical unit in itself, with no interlocking or carryover between lines.[3] In fact, there is not often any grammatical carryover even between half-lines. A two-syllable internal rhyme marks the middle and end of each line.[4]

The Concilium Romarici Montis is preserved for us in two manuscripts, both currently in libraries located near where the events of the poem are supposed to have taken place. The earlier manuscript is in Trier (Stadtbibliothek 1081, hereafter T). It appears to have been written about the middle of the twelfth century, although the precise dating is still a matter of discussion. The other manuscript was originally from Rommersdorf, and is now preserved in Koblenz (Landeshauptarchiv 162, 1401, hereafter R). The consensus of paleographers is that it was written in the thirteenth century. There is no indication of stanza division in T, while R is laid out not as verse, but as prose paragraphs. The manuscripts appear to be independent of each other, as each has corruptions and omissions peculiar to itself. R omits lines 131-62 altogether; also lines 27-28, 67-69, and 124-26, as well as parts of several others. Where the two manuscripts differ, sometimes one and sometimes the other appears to preserve the correct text. When all other means of choosing between variant readings fail, as a last resort the reading of T, the earlier and more complete manuscript, is adopted into the present text.

In punctuation and spelling, the principal criteria for this edition have been clarity and the convenience of the student. The punctuation of the manuscripts has been ignored; all punctuation has been provided by the editor. Such spellings in the manuscripts as moncium and senciunt for montium and sentiunt, and -e for -ae or -oe, have been consistently standardized to the classical form. Variant readings and emendations are not discussed in the Commentary except in a few particularly interesting cases. Accordingly, students should remain aware that for spelling and for most textual matters they must turn to critical editions. (For this purpose, Lee will be found the most useful.)

A few textual matters call for brief discussion here. The title, IDUS APRILIS HABITUM EST CONCILIUM HOC IN MONTE ROMARICI, appears only in T; R gives no title. The poem in T ends with a single line, Ad confirmationem omnes dicimus Amen, spoken by the women in unison to ratify the anathemas of the Cardinalis Domina. The line is more or less in the trochaic meter of the rest of the poem; rather exceptionally it displays imperfect rhyme (see footnote 4 above). It is not included in R, which ends with a single quantitative dactylic hexameter, at variance with the accentual trochaic meter of the body of the poem: MILITIBUS VICTIS, CESSIT VICTORIA CLERO. It may be that either, both, or neither of these two concluding lines belong to the original poem.

The subheads that appear sporadically in the body of the text in the manuscripts indicate a change of speaker, or in a few cases serve to set off sections of one speech.[5] Before line 215, where T has Excommunicatio Rebellarum, R has simply Excommunicatio. (See Commentary on line 215.) I have inserted subheads or indications of subheads which are in neither manuscript, but where changes of speaker must occur, before lines 49, 133, 154, and 157; also before the single concluding line in T.

The most interesting textual question in the Concilium Romarici Montis has to do with the division of the poem into three-line stanzas. From its beginning to the concluding speech of the Cardinalis Domina (lines 1-204), this division can be detected clearly, despite the absenceof stanza division in T and the prose layout of R. Every three-line group constitutes an independent sense unit, ending in a full stop. Individual speeches are in multiples of three lines. The very few apparent exceptions stand out in such a manner as to invite critical intervention. The pattern can be made perfectly regular by moving one line, and by assuming four lacunas totaling five lines. Previous editors have suggested various specific remedies to implement this. The line that is moved in the present edition (convocavit singulas, magnas atque parvulas) follows line 30 in the manuscripts, where it makes no sense. There is obviously something missing after line 43; moving the line in question to that position fills the gap appropriately and restores the three-line pattern at both points. The lacunas assumed here are marked as lines 16, 58, 97-98, and 189.

The Concilium Romarici Montis was forgotten for centuries until 1849 when it was first edited by Georg Waitz, who knew only the Trier manuscript. Wilhelm Meyer reedited the text in 1914 using both T and R. The most recent (1981) and most thorough study of the work, complete with an English translation and detailed critical apparatus, is by Reuben R. Lee.[6]

No one is likely to claim a place for the Concilium Romarici Montis as a masterpiece of Medieval Latin verse. It would be easy to compile from it a long list of grammatical and stylistic infelicities. Still it deserves to be read as an early example in Latin of a poem dealing with elements of the theme of courtly love, which becomes an important one in the vernacular literatures. It also has the special interest of giving prominence to the role of several outspoken medieval women. Finally, most readers will find it delightful and amusing, and at the same time tantalizing, as it presents a vivid satirical picture of some novel aspects of medieval life and thought.