A few pieces from the Idyllia of Ausonius appear in some of the bucolic collections, but they cannot strictly be regarded as coming within the range of pastoral poetry.
Events conspired to make Vergil the model for later writers of eclogues. The fame of the poet was a potent cause among many. Another reason why Theocritus found no direct imitators may be sought in the respective methods of the two poets. Work of the nature of the Idyls has to depend for its value and interest upon the artistic qualities of the poetry alone. Such work may spring up spontaneously under almost any conditions; it is seldom produced through imitation. On the other hand, any scholar with a gift for easy versification could achieve a certain distinction as a follower of Vergil. His verse depended for its interest not on its poetic qualities but upon the importance of the themes it treated. Accidental conditions, too, told in favour of the Roman poet. During the middle ages Latin was a universal language among the lettered classes, while the knowledge of Greek, though at no time so completely lost as is sometimes supposed, was a far rarer accomplishment, and was restricted for the most part to a few linguistic scholars. Thus before the revival of learning had made Greek a possible source of literary inspiration, the Vergilian tradition, through the instrumentality of Petrarch and Boccaccio, had already made itself supreme in pastoral.
During the middle ages the stream of pastoral production, though it nowhere actually disappears, is reduced to the merest trickle. Notices of such isolated poems as survive have been carefully collected by Macri-Leone in the introduction to his elaborate but as yet unfinished work on the Latin eclogue in the Italian literature of the fourteenth century. As early as the end of the fourth or beginning of the fifth century we find a poem by Severus Sanctus Endelechius, variously entitled ‘Carmen bucolicum de virtute signi crucis domini’ or ‘de mortibus boum.’ It is a hymn to the saint cross, and in it for the first time the pastoral suffered violence from the tyranny of the religious idea. The ’Ecloga Theoduli’ alluded to by Chaucer in the House of Fame appears to be the work of an Athenian writer, and is ascribed to various dates ranging from the fifth to the eighth centuries. While preserving as its main characteristic a close subservience to its Vergilian model, the eclogue participated in the general rise of allegory which marked the later middle ages. Pastoral colouring of no very definite order had shown itself in the elegies of Alcuin in the eighth century, as also in the ’Conflictus veris et hiemis,’ traditionally ascribed to the Venerable Bede, but more probably the work of one Dodus, a disciple of Alcuin. Of the tenth century we possess an allegorical religious lament entitled ’Ecloga duarum sanctimonialium.’ About 1160 a Benedictine monk named Metellus composed twelve poems under the title of Bucolica Quirinalium, in honour of St. Quirinus and in obvious imitation of Vergil. Reminiscences and paraphrases of the Roman poet are scattered throughout the monk’s own barbarous hexameters, as in the opening verses: