Springer’s unprecedented translations of Latin poet published by the Society of Biblical Literature

Professor Carl Springer reads from his book, “Sedulius, The Paschal Song and Hymns.”

According to English professor Carl Springer, the poetry of Sedulius, a fifth-century author who turned biblical stories into Latin verse “has never been translated into English before in its entirety.”

Springer’s book, “Sedulius, The Paschal Song and Hymns,” includes not only a translation of all of Sedulius’ poetry but also the Latin text of the originals and notes. It was published by the Society of Biblical Literature in July of this year.

Springer said he was thrilled about the publication.

“I’m so pleased that it has come out,” Springer said. “It was a great honor to do this…and with really great editors.”

Springer started studying the poetry of Sedulius in 1984 when he was a doctoral student in classics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has written a number of books and articles on Sedulius, but did not finish his translation until last year.

Springer said he considered how he could turn Sedulius’ poetry “into another form that makes sense to readers today.”

“Every translator tries to take language from another culture or time and make it accessible to today while at the same time remaining faithful to the original,” Springer said.

According to Springer, the “lovely Latin poetry” of Sedulius is vivid and elaborate, but doesn’t rhyme. Latin is also a language that uses fewer words than English.

“That’s a trick,” Springer said. “How can you reflect this quality of language that doesn’t use as many words as English and still get an accurate translation?”

A few lines of Springer’s translation of Sedulius’ description of Jesus’ changing of water into wine (John 1:1-11) include the following:


The Lord deigned to attend a wedding and there gave the first

Evidence of his power. As a guest he came to the feast

To feed, not to be fed. How amazing! The liquids rejoiced to lose

Their pale color, and the happy wave changed its own flavor,

Producing pure wine, and on all the tables

The sweet cups blushed, filled with new, unnatural, wine.


Springer said Sedulius’ significance was that he was widely read in the Middle Ages and early modern period and had a huge impact on later Latin poetry. He was read in schools, sung in churches, even though he’s “not so nearly well-known today.”

Sedulius’ indirect influence on English poets like John Milton has yet to be fully considered, according to Springer. Springer said he hopes his translations can advance further scholarly work devoted to understanding this important poet better.

He is interested in the interaction between paganism and Christianity in late antiquity— the period when the Roman Empire became mostly Christian, Springer said. According Springer, he believes the two viewpoints, paganism and Christianity, are “closer than a lot of people think.”

“Sedulius was very pious, but immersed in the pagan educational system,” Springer said. “He wrote in the exact same meter of Virgil in ‘The Aeneid’ the poetic account of the founding of Rome.”

Some of Springer’s students-Jenelle Kypta, Nancy Staples and Michael Toje-through the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) program, assisted Springer in the translations.

Springer is fluent in Hebrew, Greek, Latin and German. He lived in Germany for several years where he “tracked down” Sedulius’ manuscripts in person. He can also read French, Italian and Dutch.

Springer plans to write his next book studying Cicero, the Roman orator, and his impact on the Reformation.

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