The Medieval Review 11.07.01

Dyson, R.W., ed. and trans. Sedulius Scottus: "De Rectoribus Christianis," On Christian Rulers. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2010. Pp. 202. $95. 9781843835660. . .

Reviewed by:

John J. Contreni
Purdue University

Sedulius Scottus was one among many multi-talented ninth- century Irish scholars who relocated to continental centers and to patrons who supported their work. Sedulius's life in Carolingian Europe centered on the episcopal city of Liège during the time of Bishops Hartgarius (840-855) and Franco (855-901). He also knew and cultivated other bishops, emperors, kings, queens, and counts, as well as compatriots. Biographical details are sparse. The last datable reference in his work confirms activity into the 860s. The evidence of his scholarship is impressive. In addition to poems celebrating patrons, royals, the weather, flora, fauna, and victories over Norsemen, he commented on Donatus, Priscian, and Eutyches, expounded the Bible (especially Matthew and Paul), all the while compiling from his wide reading a massive vade mecum of notes and excerpts known as the Collectaneum Miscellaneum (ed. Dean Simpson, CCCM 67 [1988]). Modern interests have drawn most attention to On Christian Rulers, Sedulius's contribution to a large body of Carolingian writing that sought to guide proper behavior of monarchs. Sedulius addressed his work to a king, but which one? He wrote poems for all the surviving sons of Louis the Pious and some of his grandsons. R.W. Dyson in the introduction to his new translation reported that Charles the Bald (843-877) and Lothar II (855-869) have most often been identified as Sedulius's intended audience, with Charles the more likely candidate (19). Edward Gerard Doyle, who translated On Christian Rulers in 1983, favored Lothar II. [1]

Along with other authors of so-called "mirrors of princes," Sedulius encouraged his king to rule according to Christian principles. This meant that the very first act of a new king should be to offer thanks to God and to honor God and his churches. Next, the king must learn to rule himself and then to place his trust in the mercy of God and not in "the arms and clashes of war" (65). God's grace is enduring, the fortunes of war fickle. The king should care for his wife, family, and household, and select good advisors and friends. History teaches that wicked kings bring ruin on their kingdoms and themselves. Good kings support the church, listen to their bishops, and put their trust in the Lord. They avoid pride and "conserve and augment" (185) the privileges of the church. One wonders how Sedulius's message, delivered both in prose and in verse that recapitulated each chapter's lesson, was heard by its intended king. It would be tempting to dismiss Sedulius's vision of rulership as the hopelessly naïve view of a cleric and bookman. But, there is strong evidence that Carolingians, especially in the age of Louis the Pious and after, took to heart that political fortune depended on God's granting and withholding of favor. Given that lens, specific instructions on how to gain and maintain God's favor coming from a highly respected cleric probably made sense and were worth considering.

R. W. Dyson offered a second modern English translation of On Christian Rulers because he thought Doyle's "often unduly free, and not always accurate...Also, Dr Doyle is a Celticist. He has some acquaintance with Carolingian politics, but he is not a historian of medieval political thought. His Introduction conveys little in the way of context, and he habitually translates res publica as 'state,' which is, of course, significantly erroneous in relation to the politics of the ninth century" (21). Whether Dyson's "commonwealth" is a better choice for res publica than Doyle's "state" is open to discussion. Res publica is a tricky term. It is challenging to know what this classical concept meant to ninth- century Carolingian minds. Lewis and Short suggest "commonwealth" immediately before "state." [2] Perhaps it might be better to leave it untranslated and let readers imagine what is meant, perhaps something along the lines of "political community" or "political society" in Sedulius's context. Dyson's introduction sets On Christian Rulers within the context of "the 'problem' of caesaropapism" (27), a context that begins with Constantine and anticipates Gregory VII and Giles of Rome (22-42). Doyle's still-useful introduction, on the other hand, focuses on "Carolingian political literature" and cites Sedulius copiously to situate him within his ninth- century context (ed. Doyle, 18-26). As for the translations, they both read well and are not so far apart as Dyson suggests. Here are two comparative selections.

Chapter 1 (trans. Doyle, 52): "As soon as a Christian ruler has received the royal sceptre and the government of the kingdom, it is fitting that he first return acts of thanksgiving and suitable honors to God and to Holy Church. In fact, from the very beginning the state is most gloriously consecrated when royal solicitude and sacred devotion are aroused with both holy fear and love of the Heavenly King and when care is taken for the glorious benefit of the Church by prudent counsel..."

Chapter 1 (trans. Dyson, 51): "After the Christian ruler has received the royal sceptre and the insignia of the government of the kingdom, it is fitting that he should first of all perform acts of thanksgiving and make worthy offerings in recompense to the Almighty and to Holy Church. For the commonwealth is most handsomely consecrated at its beginning when royal solicitude and sacred devotion are kindled with holy fear together with love of the Supernal King, and when prudent counsel is taken for the glorious advantage of the Church..."

Aside from the choices of "state" and "commonwealth" in the second sentences of each passage, Dyson has rendered Sedulius's words more literally, translating Omnipotenti in the first sentence as "Almighty" for Doyle's bland "God." For Superni Regis Dyson translated in the second sentence "Supernal King" where Doyle preferred "Heavenly King." The most significant difference comes in the opening words. They both have the king receiving the royal sceptre, while Dyson also found "the insignia" in Sedulius's "Postquam regale sceptrum regnique gubernacula rector Christianus susceperit" (ed. Dyson, 50).

Chapter 20 (trans. Doyle, 94): "It is fitting for you, O lord king, with utmost effort always to cherish, ponder, and imitate their examples and noteworthy deeds, as well as their prosperous life on earth and, above all, their glory of eternal reward. Then surely the Almighty Lord will be your guardian and defender against all your adversaries, whom with his magnificent might He will crush under your feet or subdue by the power of either war or peace."

Chapter 20 (trans. Dyson, 195 and 197): "It is fitting for you, O Lord King, with all your might always to love, study and imitate their examples and distinguished deeds, and their fortunate condition during this transitory life and, above all, the glory of their eternal reward. For thus will the Almighty Lord be your guardian and defender against all your adversaries, whom with His excellent power He will crush beneath your feet, or subdue by war or by the law of peace."

Here Dyson's "transitory life" in the first sentence for Sedulius's "transitoriae vitae" is preferable to Doyle's "life on earth," especially since the transitory nature of earthly life is a major theme of Sedulius's message. In Sedulius's last phrase, "vel bellico seu pacis jure subjiciet," Dyson rendered jure as "by the law of peace" where Doyle has "by the power of either war or peace." Something more adverbial, perhaps "rightly subdue," would seem more appropriate.

Facing Latin pages complement Dyson's translation. The Latin text essentially is that of Siegmund Hellmann, Sedulius Scottus: Liber de rectoribus Christianis (1906), which Dyson compared with Luc D'Achery's seventeenth-century edition printed in volume 103 of Migne's Patrologia Latina. Differences, relatively minor, are noted at the foot of Dyson's pages. He also "emended by conjecture certain of Hellmann's readings that seem to me plainly wrong" (21). Readers can easily check Dyson's choices. One wonders, for example, why he struck mention of biblical David from Sedulius's rendition of 1 Kings 3:14 against the readings of both Hellmann and D'Achery, but included David in his translation of the same passage? (72- 73) In chapter eight Sedulius painted a powerful portrait of what happened to ungodly kings. His catalogue of wicked rulers includes "Nero, Aegea and the most ungodly Julian" ("Quid dicam de Nerone, Aegea et impiissimo Juliano...?") (97-99). A footnote informs readers that the reference to Aegea, sandwiched between notorious Nero and Julian the Apostate, "seems meaningless." Dyson repeated Hellmann's suggestion that Sedulius got his list of persecutors from Augustine, a list that includes Getam: " 'Aegeā' or 'Egeā' is not inconceivable as a scribal error for 'Getā': i.e. Publius Septimius Geta (imp. 209-211) " (97, n. 62). Doyle registered Aegea as "Unknown" (ed. Doyle, 95, n. 12). But, surely, Aegea is the proconsul of Achaia who martyred St. Andrew at Patras. Andrew's cult had an interesting history in the early medieval West and Sedulius Scottus knew of it. In a poem he composed for Bishop Hartgarius as he headed to Rome, Sedulius entrusted the bishop to the care of Andrew, whom, he prayed, would accompany Hartgarius safely to his brother, Peter, in Rome (Poem 5, trans. Doyle, 103).



1. Sedulius Scottus: On Christian Rulers and the Poems, trans. Edward Gerard Doyle, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 17 (Binghamton: State University of New York at Binghamton, 1983), 18.

2. Charlton T. Lewis, A Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879), 1576 (II K).