BMCR 2014.01.55

Sedulius, The Paschal Song and Hymns. Writings from the Greco-Roman world, 35

, Sedulius, The Paschal Song and Hymns. Writings from the Greco-Roman world, 35. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013. xliii, 279. ISBN 9781589837430. $36.95 (pb).

After an important work about the Paschale Carmen and a book analysing Sedulius’s manuscripts,1 both addressed to scholars, Carl Springer has written a new mainstream volume about this Late Latin author. The book begins with an introduction dealing with the poet and his works, some observations on the texts and translation, and a critical analysis of Sedulian poetics. The book comprises the Latin text of Sedulius’s Paschale Carmen and two hymns, along with the first complete translation into English, accompanied by notes on items of linguistic, historical and literary interest, very useful for non-specialists. In addition, there are three appendices: a) Sedulius’s letters to Macedonius; b) excerpts from the Paschale opus; c) miscellaneous poems connected with Sedulius found in manuscripts and early printed editions, i.e. the song of Turcius Rufus Asterius, verses of Liberatus, and some epigrams. All have been translated into English. An ample and updated bibliography, especially for secondary literature about Sedulius, precedes the index of biblical references and the index of names cited in the notes.

For the Latin text Springer accepts Huemer’s critical edition of Sedulius’s works,2 with few alterations. He does not intend to present here a new critical edition of Sedulius’s works: there is no apparatus, and the revisions to Huemer’s text are few in number.3The differences largely concern orthographical regularization and punctuation (more than 180 changes), which often make the text clearer, especially in the definition of direct speeches. The reader will also find the same paragraph divisions (except in Pasch. Carm. III 152 and III 332) and book partitions.

Springer’s aim is to offer the first complete English translation of the Paschal song and hymns. The translation, in fluent modern English, is quite faithful to the original, so that it is easy to compare the translation with the original text.4

At the end of each book of the Paschal Song or hymn, Springer includes some notes. In this commentary section, among a substantial amount of information suitable for non-specialists (i.e. the explication of some names, such as Cecrops on p. 25), the author explains his choices in matters of translation, often in comparison with previous solutions. In the same section the reader will find more detailed information about lectiones of the manuscript tradition and conjectural emendations of the text.5 The author always considers the scriptural source followed by Sedulius in paraphrasing each episode and cites precise biblical references which could have influenced the poet. Further, the author ponders in the notes the relationship between the Vulgate and the so-called Vetus Latina as basis of Sedulius’s works. For more details he offers specific bibliography.

Springer’s also considers some passages of previous pagan and Christian Latin poets that could be formal models for Sedulius. As the author says in the introduction, expressions borrowed from Virgil, Ovid, Lucan, Juvencus and others are quoted only in the case of possible deliberate allusions to these poets. Since Sedulius introduces in his texts biblical interpretations developed by the Fathers, Springer analyses in his notes this feature as well, often by referring to specialised commentaries and studies because of the complexity of the problem. For the most intricate theological issues, he suggests consulting specific works cited in the bibliography.6

The reader will find all these features in a commentary that pays constant attention to stylistic and rhetoric structures and tries to illuminate some poetical images and the historical background, while including commendable references to paintings, mosaic representations, inscriptions, and sculptures going back to early Christian art.

In Appendix A, Springer presents the text and the translation of the two letters to Macedonius that precede the Paschale Carmen in the manuscript tradition. These letters are very important because they help the modern reader understand the historical context and show that Sedulius was completely aware of what he was doing in selecting and paraphrasing the episodes of the Bible, and its import. The footnotes may not be enough to clarify such important aspects: a commentary similar to the notes following the books of the Paschal song might have been more useful, especially for non-specialists. Appendix B is dedicated to two passages of the Paschale opus reported in Springer’s translation, the Nativity and the raising of Lazarus. In this case too, some notes would have helped the reader in analysing the differences between the poetry and the difficult style of this prose. Appendix C is a sort of evidence for Sedulius’s fortune, even soon after his death.

Springer’s book is a rich and valuable work: the clear and concise introduction, the Latin text with a precise translation, the notes that cover almost all the aspects of Sedulius’s works, the very complete and useful bibliography, the indices at the end of the volume are all elements suggesting that this work will become the scholarly point of departure in approaching Sedulius and his poems.


1. Springer, Carl, The Gospel as Epic in Late Antiquity: The Paschale Carmen of Sedulius, Leiden 1988; id., The Manuscripts of Sedulius: A Provisional Handlist, Philadelphia 1995. See also his work about the hymn A solis ortus cardine cited in the bibliography.

2. Huemer, Johann, Sedulii Opera omnia, Vindobonae 1885.

3. Revisions include Pasch. carm. I 74 rabida instead of rapida; I 281 tales potius instead of potius tales; I 310 assolet, not adforet; II 284 ducet, not ducit; III ala instead of mala; IV 240 proprio instead of proprie; V 6 ista, not istac.

4. The author knows the previous translations – into English or other modern languages – of Sedulian passages that appear in more general monographs about this poet or the biblical epos; however, he has not consulted Wójtowicz’s translation into Polish, as he notes in the introduction on page xxvii.

5. Springer’s discussion about each point is very interesting. That said, a short list of those lines in which he does not follow Huemer’s edition, printed before the Latin text at the end of the introduction, would have offered a useful guide at the outset.

6. There are several commentaries cited in the notes. Springer refers to them for some peculiar problems or when he does not agree with their authors. Among these, we mention the medieval commentary of Remigius of Auxerre, whose portions are printed in Huemer’s edition, and the modern works of Scheps, Mazzega, van der Laan and Deerberg. ​