SEDULIUS SCOTTUS (Medieval Ireland)

Few dates can be assigned with any reliability to this important figure, who, during the Renaissance and even afterwards was conflated with the late Roman poet (Caelius) Sedulius, author of the Carmen pas-chale. Sedulius Scottus flourished in the middle of the ninth century at Liege, where he was the nominal head of a circle of Irish scholars. His special patron was Bishop Hartgar of Liege to whom Sedulius dedicated a number of poems, including a lament on his death. He also addressed poems to King Louis, King Charles (the Bald), and to Emperor Lothar and Empress Ermingard. Beyond these he mentions a number of his Irish friends, some of whose names appear in ninth-century manuscripts as contributors of glosses or scholia, notably Fergus and (Bishop?) Marcus.

As with John Scottus Eriugena, we do not know a great deal about Sedulius’s early education in Ireland. Traces of Irish influence can be seen in his use of material found also in the Collectio canonum hibern-ensis, and the use of Pelagius. It is also possible that Sedulius gained a rudimentary knowledge of Greek in his homeland. However, his command of a variety of classical metres was almost certainly not acquired at home, nor was his exceptional knowledge of classical Latin literature (which far exceeded that of John Scottus).

Sedulius’s activities as a writer and scholar were richly diverse. He wrote biblical commentaries, commentaries on three grammarians (Priscian, Eutyches, and Donatus’s Ars minor and maior), numerous poems, and a long treatise entitled De rectoribus christianis ("On Christian Rulers"). He was also responsible for the Collectaneum, a large anthology of selections from classical and patristic writers that affords a glimpse into the state of learning during the third generation of the Carolingians. Sedulius also wrote scholia on classical poets.

Two major works of scriptural scholarship are the work of Sedulius: Collectaneum in omnes beati Pauli epistolas, based prominently but not exclusively on Pelagius and Jerome, and the Collectaneum in Mattheum, a miscellany of commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Shorter works include a commentary on the Eusebian Canons, Expositio in epistolam Hieronimi ad Damasam papam and the Expositio argumenti Hieron-imi in decem canones, as well as the Explanatiuncula in argumentum secundum Matthaeum, Marcum, Lucam. Another significant contribution to biblical studies is his autograph copy of the Greek psalter (not glossed or translated, Paris, Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal, MS 8407).

Sedulius’s Collectaneum on Paul has been especially valuable to modern scholars interested in reconstructing Pelagius’s commentary on the Apostle’s writings; it further demonstrates the enduring interest of the Irish in Pelagius’s work. Sedulius’s text of Paul was probably not Pelagius’s own version, as once thought, but a variant of the type of biblical text transmitted in Ireland. In the prologue he outlines the subject of the Epistles according to the seven circumstantiae (persona, res, causa, tempus, locus, modus, materia sive facultas), a type of accessus found in several other ninth-century Irish commentaries.

The grammatical commentaries, now in modern editions, tell us much about Sedulius’s reading and erudition. In commenting on Donatus’s Ars maior, for example, Sedulius cites the opinions of other grammarians on the use of grammatical terms, or other grammatical questions. He often seizes the opportunity to explain a lemma with a Greek equivalent, or to expand a mythological reference, even to give full argumenta of literary works cited. Biblical passages are cited alongside secular ones. The commentary on Priscian’s Institutiones is another testament to ninth-century Irish interest in that grammarian. In addition to the commentary by John Scottus Eriugena (as yet unprinted), there are several glossed manuscripts of the Institutiones from the ninth century written in Irish hands, of which the most famous is St. Gall (904, recently edited). An interesting feature of the commentary on Eutyches is evidence for the continuing use of Virgilius Maro Grammaticus, whose text tradition originated in Ireland.

The De rectoribus christianis is an example of a Furstenspiegel ("mirror of princes," i.e., treatises that give advice to rulers). Several of these were written in the Carolingian period (by Smaragdus of St. Mihiel, Jonas of Orleans, Dhuoda, and Hincmar of Reims). Sedulius’s De rectoribus is unusual in that it is a pro-simetrum, the metrical forms being almost as diverse as those found in Boethius’s Consolatio, which doubtless served as its formal model. The work is more a showpiece of erudition than a political tract. Many of the texts cited in the work were also used in Sedulius’s other Collectaneum (to be distinguished from the biblical commentaries with the same title). This last is a collection of excerpts from classical and patristic writers. The selection of works seems clearly to have been based on their relevance to moral questions and practical wisdom; some of the excerpts also appear in the Collectio canonum hibernensis. Examples of secular works include the so-called Proverbia Graecorum and the Sententia Ciceronis de virtutibus et vitiis (drawn from De inventione), excerpts from Cicero’s orations and his works on rhetoric, and passages from Vegetius, Valerius Maximus, Frontinus, and the Scriptores His-toriae Augustae. Patristic works include Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, Lactantius, and Cassiodorus.

Sedulius’s poems, more than any other of his writings, have attracted the most attention in modern times. His mastery of a variety of meters set him apart from his Irish contemporaries, the Sapphic being particularly favoured next to the heroic and elegiac; examples of rhythmical verses are few. Most of the poems are panegyrics to rulers and influential clergy, especially Hartgar, but two poems have attracted attention for their charm and wit: the De certamine liliae et rosae ("Debate between the Lily and the Rose") and an amusing poem, De quodam verbece a cane discerpto ("On a Wether Mangled by a Dog"). Sedulius’s glosses on classical poets in the miscellany found in Bern 363 are identifiable—a hint that they may have been drawn from lost full commentaries, or at least scholia collections.

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