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The Letters and Poems of Apollinaris Sidonius
Apollinaris Sidonius: edited and translated by Grégoire and Collombet (3 vols., Lyons and Paris, 1836). The notes are full, but both in them and the translation the editors have a disagreeable habit of evading the real difficulties of their author.
A somewhat more scholarly edition, but without notes, has recently been put forth by C. Baret (Paris, 1878).
The edition by Christian Luetjohann, which forms the eighth volume of 'Auctores Antiquissimi' in the 'Monumenta Germaniae Historica' (1887), must now be considered as superseding all others, at least as far as the text is concerned.
Dr. Fertig's 'Apollinaris Sidonius und seine Zeit' (Würzburg and Passau, 1845, 6 and 8) is an interesting and helpful sketch. 'Saint Sidoine Apollinaire et son Siècle' (2 vols.)º by Abbé Chaix (Clermont-Ferrand, 1866) has some useful information, especially as to ecclesiastical affairs, and is pervaded by a healthy local patriotism, but is too diffuse. The use which Guizot makes of the works of Sidonius in his 'Histoire de la Civilisation en France,' is known to every student.
455‑476 Eight Emperors, and a space of twenty‑one years, separate the capture of Rome by Gaiseric from the familiar date of the fall of the Empire of the West. p298 It is worth while to do more than enumerate the mere names of these shadowy Emperors, of whom only one, Majorian, has anything of the dignity of manhood, and who might all, with that one exception, share the title of the last of them, Augustulus, 'The Little Emperor'. Is not Avitus as Severus, and Glycerius as Nepos? May we not take for granted all this history of monotonous feebleness, these sham elections and involuntary abdications, this burlesque of the awful tragedy of the early Caesars, and planting ourselves at once in the year 476, learn amid what accompaniments the twelve centuries of Roman dominion expired?
Reasons for not leaving the story of the last twenty-one years of the Empire untold. Such is naturally one's first thought, but it may well be modified on further reflection. If physiologists have found the study of the humblest forms of life useful, as illustrating the connection between the animal and vegetable worlds, and if some of them have descended into the lowest zones of organic existence in the hope of bringing up from thence some further light on the great problem of Life itself, it may well be, in like manner, that from the study of these, the lowest types of an Emperor which Rome has to set before us, we may learn something as to that inextinguishable idea of the Caesar which not all the storms of the Middle Ages were able utterly to destroy. We shall observe how, even in his deepest degradation, there was something which marked off the Roman Imperator from the Barbarian King. Above all, we shall see how reluctantly even the world of the Northern Invaders parted from the idea of Caesarian rule; how willingly they would have kept the pageant Augustus in his place, if he had been simply able to sit upright in his world-too‑wide throne; how, notwithstanding all the p299 rude blows of Goth, and Hun, and Vandal, the Roman Empire rather died of internal decline than was slain by the sword of an enemy.
Unsatisfactory character of our materials. Unfortunately the materials out of which we have to reconstruct the history of this quarter of a century are singularly meagre and unsatisfactory. Had the genius of a Tacitus, or even the clear, calm intellect of a Sallust, thrown its light over this troublous time, much more had it been possible for a De Tocqueville to have analysed the causes, and a Carlyle to have painted the scenes of this revolution, we might have learned from it many a lesson, useful even in our own day to those who labour to preserve an aged empire from falling. But what can we do when the only really trustworthy authorities for the events of the time are the Annalists, that is to say, some six or seven men, who having the whole history of the world from Belus and Nimrod downwards to relate, can spare only a line or two, at the outside a paragraph of moderate length, for the occurrences of the most eventful years in their own lives. The history of modern Europe, if told by Annalists of this type, would run into some such mould as this —
'A.D. 1851. The Queen reigning in England, and Louis Bonaparte being President of the French Republic, there was opened in a certain park near to London, a great market-place for all the wares of the world. That was the Palace of Crystal. The queen of England gave birth to a son, who was named Arthur. Bishops, in obedience to the see of the Holy Peter, had been sent to England. Whom the adherents of the other Church, which is called the Protestant Church, being unwilling to receive, passed a law forbidding p300 any man to say "God speed" unto them, or to salute them by the names of their dioceses. That was called the Ecclesiastical Titles Act. In Paris, the President of the Republic bade many persons to be shot.
'A.D. 1852. The Republic of France was changed into an Empire, Louis Buonaparte being declared Emperor. He was nephew of the Emperor Napoleon.
'A.D. 1853. The Emperor of Russia sent a proud man, named Menschikoff, as an ambassador, to the Sultan of the Ottomans. There was much dissension between the Emperors of Russia and France touching a certain silver star in the sanctuary at Bethlehem.
'A.D. 1854. It was fought most bloodily between the nation of the Russians on the one side, and those of France, England, and Turkey on the other, in the peninsula which is called the Chersonesus Taurica.
'A.D. 1855. After much slaughter the August City (Sebastopolis) in the Chersonesus Taurica was taken by the armies of France and England, whom the island of Sardinia had also joined.
'A.D. 1856. Peace was made in Paris between the nations which were at war. That was called the Peace of Paris. The treaty was signed by all the ambassadors, using a feather which had been plucked from the wings of a certain eagle. Now the eagle is the emblem of power in France and in Russia, but not in England, for in England the lion is the National emblem. That feather had a silver handle fastened to it, beautiful and costly, and it was given to the wife of the Emperor Napoleon. She was a very beautiful woman, and was named Eugenia.'
Mingled meagerness and prolixity of the Annalists. No one who has read the chronicles of Idatius, of p301 Prosper, and of Marcellinus will consider this an unfair specimen of their mode of writing annals. After all, the most important events are there, and we are grateful to the patient scribes who have preserved even so much for us from the sea of oblivion which was rising high around them, but from such scanty chronicles as these it is impossible to deduce with certainty the true proportions of those events or their exact relation to one another. We can excuse the brevity of the Annalists, but it is much harder to excuse their occasional prolixity. When we find one of the best of them (Marcellinus) devoting only four lines to the capture of Rome by Alaric, and fifty-four to an idle legend about the discovery at Emesa of the head of John the Baptist, it is difficult not to grumble at the want of appreciation of the relative importance of things which must have existed in the mind of the writer, though he was no monkish recluse but a layman and a governor of a Province.
Why History was not written in the fifth century. It is perhaps not surprising that in Italy itself there should have been this utter absence of the instinct which leads men to record the events which are going on around them for the benefit of posterity. When History was making itself at such breathless speed and in such terrible fashion, the leisure, the inclination, the presence of mind, necessary for writing History, might well be wanting. He who would under happier circumstances have filled up the interval between the bath and the tennis court by reclining on the couch in the winter portico of his villa, and there languidly dictating to his slave the true story of the abdication of Avitus or the death of Anthemius, was himself now a slave keeping sheep in the wilderness under the hot Numidian sun, or p302 shrinking under the blows of one of the rough soldiers of Gaiseric.
We find it much more difficult to understand why the learned and leisurely Provincials of Greece, whose country for more than a century (396‑517) escaped the horrors of hostile invasion,1 and who had the grandest literary traditions in the world to inspire them, should have left the story of the downfall of Rome unwritten. But so it was. Zosimus, seeing and foreseeing the inevitable decay, commenced the lamentable history, but none of his compatriots (if we except the slight references of Procopius) seems to have had the spirit or the inclination to finish it.
Intellect of the age wasted on theological squabbles. The fact seems to be that at this time all that was left of literary instinct and historiographic power in the world had concentrated itself on theological, we cannot call it religious, controversy. And what tons of worthless material the ecclesiastical historians and controversialists of the time have left us! Blind, most of them,2 to the meaning of the mighty drama which was being enacted on the stage of the world, without faith enough in a living God to believe that he could evolve a fairer and better order out of all the chaos around them, the speedy return of Christ and the end of the world, they have left us scarcely a hint as to the inner history of the vast revolution which settled the Teuton in the lands of the Latin; while they force upon us details, endless and wearisome, as to the squabbles of self-seeking monks p303 and prelates over the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon. They describe to us how with stealthy step Timothy the Weasel crept into the Patriarchate of Alexandria; his brawls, his banishments, and his death. They are anxious to inform us that Peter the Stammerer succeeded Timothy the Weasel in the Egyptian see, and that Peter the Fuller, his contemporary at Antioch, obtained his episcopate by bloodshed, and signalised it by adding four words to a hymn.3 Who really cares now for the vulgar bickerings which the ecclesiastical historians relate to us with such exasperating minuteness? The Weasels, the Fullers, and the Stammerers, are all deep in mummy-dust. To the non‑Christian the subject of their controversies is imaginary; to the Christian the pretensions of these men of violence and blood to settle anything concerning the nature of the spotless Son of Man are a blasphemy.
To sum up then; from the Annalists we get some grains of fine gold, from the Literati of Greece we get nothing, from the Ecclesiastical Historians we get chiefly rubbish, concerning the history of these eventful years. One man alone, he whose name stands at the head of this chapter, gives us that more detailed information concerning the thoughts, characters, persons of the actors in the great drama which can make the dry bones of the chronologers live. This is Caius Sollius Apollinaris Sidonius, man of letters, Imperial functionary, country-gentleman and bishop, who, notwithstanding much weakness of character, and a sort of epigrammatic dulness of style, is still the most interesting literary figure of the fifth century.
p304 His birth and ancestors. Sidonius was born at Lyons about the year 430. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had each held the high office of Praetorian Prefect in Gaul. Upon the whole they had been faithful to the line of Theodosius, though one of them, the grandfather, had derived his office from the usurper Constantine. Such high honours, enjoyed for three generations without any serious reverses, would alone have carried the family of Apollinaris high among the noble houses of Gaul at a time when the hierarchy of office, reaching from the Emperor to the Notary, was incomparably the most important factor in the social system of the provinces. But besides this official position, the wealth, the culture, and the respectable, if not heroic, character of most of the near ancestors of Sidonius placed him at the outset of life on a vantage-ground, from which, whatever he had of literary ability could soon make itself recognised. A man thus situated, born near the centre of the national affairs, and surrounded from his cradle with influential and hereditary friends, knows nothing of that difficulty of 'emerging' which is so forcibly described in the well-known lines of a Roman poet.4
His education. Sidonius received at Lyons as good an education probably as a young Roman noble of the fifth century could have met with anywhere in the Empire. It was an education however in words rather than things. Men had ceased to believe in the Olympian gods; so the schoolmasters taught their scholars the name of every Nymph and every Muse. All earnest thought about the nature of the world and the mind of man ran in Christian channels; so they taught elaborately the p305 speculations of every Greek philosopher from Thales to Chrysippus. The sword of the barbarian was carrying everything before it in the world of politics; so they went on teaching all the arts of rhetoric by which brilliant orators had won honour for themselves or exile for their adversaries from the sovereign multitude in the cities of free Greece. But though it is easy for us to see how little the teaching of these schools can have done in helping the student to face any of the real difficulties of his after-life, we must, on the other hand, do justice to the vast amount of intellectual activity which still remained in the Empire and which this teaching both denoted and fostered. Sometimes we think of the hundred years between Theodosius and Theodoric as wholly filled with rapine and bloodshed. Sometimes we carry back into the fifth century the thick darkness which hung over the intellectual life of Merovingian France or Lombard Italy. In both these estimates we are mistaken. A careful perusal of the three volumes of the Letters and Poems of Sidonius reveals to us the fact that in Gaul at any rate the air still teemed with intellectual life, that authors were still writing, amanuenses transcribing, friends complimenting or criticising, and all the cares and pleasures of literature filling the minds of large classes of men just as though no Empires were sinking and no strange nationalities were suddenly rising around them. We need not believe, upon the authority of the highly-wrought panegyrics of Sidonius, that he had a score of friends all more eloquent than Cicero, more subtle than Plato, and diviner poets than Homer or Virgil; but the interesting fact for us is that such forgotten philosophers and poets did exist in that age, and that their works, produced in p306 lavish abundance, seem to have had no lack of eager students.
Impulse towards rhetoric from the oration of Nicetius. The impulse towards rhetoric, which was conspicuous in every part of the career of Sidonius, may very likely have been communicated by an oratorical display which he witnessed, in early adolescence, at Arles the Roman capital of Gaul. There, at the commencement of the year 449, the general Asturius was to assume the office of Consul. A crowd of Roman dignitaries assembled to witness the ceremony. In the centre, on a curule chair, sat Apollinaris, Praetorian Prefect of Gaul, and by his side stood his son, the young Sidonius. As one after another of the great persons of the State, consulares, praesides, masters of horse, and masters of foot, tribunes, bishops, notates, advanced to kiss the purple robe of the representative of the Emperor, each one doubtless spared a less formal salutation for the bright, highly-cultured lad who was watching the scene with eager interest, and with a mind keenly conscious, as it ever was, of the great difference between those who have rank and position and those who have them not. The new Consul was proclaimed, the slave, who was always forthcoming on these occasions, received the buffet from his hand which bestowed freedom,5 the largesse (sportula) and the ivory tablets, upon which the names of the two new magistrates had been inscribed, were distributed to the people. Then stood forth Flavius Nicetius, and in brilliant, well-chosen words, pronounced the customary panegyric on the virtues and capacities of Consul p307 Asturius. The pompous periods, the applause which followed, the compliments paid and received by the smooth-tongued orator, produced a profound impression on the boyish imagination of Sidonius, and we may perhaps conjecture that he secretly resolved he too would one day be a Prefect like his father, an orator like Nicetius, and a Consul like Asturius. The first two of his aspirations were realised.
'The rest the gods dispersed in empty air.'
Attila's invasion. 451 Sidonius was probably about twenty‑one years of age when the blast of Attila's invasion swept over Belgic Gaul. Sheltered behind the walls of Lyons he felt, in all likelihood, not even the outskirts of the storm. But he may have conversed with Lupus, Anianus, and others of the chief actors in the defence of Gaul, and no doubt his imagination was powerfully impressed by all that he saw and heard of that 'horde of many-nationed spoilers' who, according to the lines which have been already quoted from him,6 hewed down the trees of the Thuringer Wald to bridge with their rafts the bosom of the Rhine. There was even a possibility that Sidonius might have been the historian of that eventful campaign. His friend Prosper, successor of Anianus in the see of Orleans, urged him to undertake the task. He began to write, apparently in prose, and occupied himself with the origin of the barbarians who composed the host of Attila. But his genius was all for epigram or pompous panegyric. Plain historical narrative wearied him, and moreover the duties of his episcopate (for the work was commenced in the later period of his life) seemed to call him to other occupations. Even the p308 fragment which he wrote has perished, and we regret its loss, for though he was not well-fitted by nature or education to be the historian of such a war, he would assuredly have preserved for us some interesting details with reference to that year of terror.
Marriage of Sidonius. About the time of the Hunnish invasion, or soon after, Sidonius married. His wife, Papianilla, was the daughter of the most powerful citizen of Auvergne, of that Avitus whom we have already met at the court of Theodoric, cementing the alliance between the Romans and the Visigoths against Attila, and whom we are shortly to meet again in a more exalted station. Sidonius was related by descent to the family of Avitus, and this new tie linked him very closely to the mountainous land of the Arverni (the modern Auvergne) with which henceforward his life became more nearly associated than was own foggy city of Lyons. His marriage also brought him more decisively forward on the broad stage of Imperial politics, and during the years which intervene between 455 and 469 we shall have frequently to rely on his letters and poems for our sole information as to the events which occurred at the court of the Western Emperors.
He retires to Avitacum. In the year 469 he finally retired from public life and from the court of the Caesars, and took up his abode at the charming villa of Avitacum in Auvergne, part of his wife's dowry, a place of which he has given us evidently in imitation of the younger Pliny, a description which, though prolix and too much laboured, is not devoid of interest. In this description, notwithstanding one or two minor discrepancies, which may be easily accounted for by the changes in the configuration of land and water wrought during the course of fourteen centuries, p309 we can still recognise the characteristic features of the shores of the Lac d'Aydat. This little lake, which is •about twelve miles to the south-west of Clermont-Ferrand, lies near the junction of the two great volcanic ranges of the Monts Dôme and the Monts Dore. From two summits of the former range (the Puy de la Vache and the Puy de Lassolas) descended, in that far distant age when the volcanoes of Auvergne were still glowing against the midnight sky, a great stream of molten lava, which has left a wilderness of rock •five miles long and in some places •a mile wide, sprawling over the once fruitful valley. This stony cataract, with its significant Celtic name, La Cheyre,7 though ugly and desolate itself, has been the cause of beauty to the landscape, for the little stream of Pontava coming down from some other mountains on the west, and finding its course impeded by this barrier of lava, has formed the lovely little lake of Aydat, at the south-western corner of which (if this identification be correct) once stood the villa of Sidonius. There is, of course, no trace of that stately dwelling now. A few humble cottages cluster round the little Romanesque Church, which dates from the twelfth century, and has three round buttress-towers on each side, built apparently only for strength not for ornament. Inside the church, high up on the north wall of the chancel, is a long flat stone coffer built into the wall, and bearing on its front the words
hic st̅ [sunt] dvo in̅ocentes ⊕ et S. Sidonivs
There is a mystery about 'the two Innocents,' nor is it probable that this is the actual burying-place of the poet-bishop, but it may very probably contain some p310 relic of the saint, to whom in fact the church appears to be dedicated. There is a deep well in an adjoining house said to be of Roman excavation, and a few strokes of the pickaxe in the soil of the little village street bring to light pieces of undoubtedly Roman cement, an evidence probably of a once existing pavement.
But leaving these faint archaeological traces of a past which almost eludes our research, it is pleasant to climb the most easterly of the two hills which Aydat nestles, and there with the unchanged, or but slightly changed, face of Nature before us, to read the description of his villa given by the Gallo-Roman nobleman. He writes to his friend Domitius, and says:—8
'We are now at Avitacum: that is the name of this property, which having come to me in right of my wife, is even sweeter than a paternal inheritance. A mountain on the west, steep though not rocky,9 sends forth lower hills, as if from a double focus, which are about four acres apart. But while the ground broadens out sufficiently to afford a fitting vestibule for the house, the sides of the hills hold straight on their course through the valley up to the margin of the villa, which has two fronts, one to the north and the other to the south.'10
Sidonius then goes on to describe with much detail the bath-house, the fish-pond, the women's apartment (triclinium matronale), the pillared portico overlooking p311 the lake, winter-parlour (hiemale triclinium), the little dining-room (coenatiuncula), and the summer-parlour (diversorium aestivum), looking towards the north.
'This room,' he says, 'lets in the daylight, but not the sun, a narrow closet being interposed' (apparently between it and the south face) 'where the drowsy grooms of the chamber sit nodding, though they may not lie down to sleep.11 How pleasant it is here to let the chirp of the cicalas beat upon one's ear at noon, the croak of the frogs in the twilight, the swans and geese calling upon their mates at night, the cocks with their augural voice, three times repeated, saluting the ruddy face of rising Aurora, and at daybreak Philomela trilling among the fruit-trees, or Progne (the swallow) twittering upon the palings. To this concert you may join the pastoral Muse, goddess of the seven-holed reed, for oftentimes in their nightly rivalry of song the sleepless Tityri of our mountains make their notes heard in the meadows above the tinkling bells of their flocks. And yet, believe me, all this strife of varied sounds only plunges one into deeper slumber.
'Below us lies the lake, winding down towards the east, and sometimes when the winds ruffle it, it moistens the stones of the villa, whose foundations are laid in its sandy shores. Its right bank is abrupt, winding and wooded, its left open, grassy, and level. By nautical measurement it is seventeen furlongs in length. A stream enters it which has foamed over the rugged rocks that seek to bar its passage, but which has a short period of tranquillity before it mingles with the p312 lake. Its exit is through hidden subterranean channels, which afford a passage to the water, but not to the fish, and these latter, forced back into the lake's slothful tranquillity, grow fat in their prison, and daily swell out a greater extent of pink flesh under their gleaming bellies. Sometimes from the villa we see the fisherman launching forth into the deep, spreading out his nets with their corks floating on the water, or arranging his hook-armed cords at certain well-marked intervals, in order that the greedy trout in their nightly prowlings through the waters may fall into the snares which are laid for their cannibal tastes. For surely it is a fitting stratagem that fish should be tempted by fish to rush upon their own destruction. Sometimes, when the winds have fallen, the surface of the fickle deep is cloven by a whole fleet of pleasure-boats. In the middle of the lake is a little island, where, upon a natural heap of stones, rises a goal often worn by the blades of the rowers' oars in their nautical contests. For this is the point round which they must steer when they would imitate the Sicilian boat-races of our Trojan ancestors, and many a comic shipwreck takes place here as one boat dashes into another.'
Such, greatly abbreviated and freely translated (for it is hardly possible to translate Sidonius literally), is the description, the not unpleasing description, of the home of a great Gaulish noble under the Empire.12
p313 Sidonius elected Bishop of Arverni 471 or 472. After a year or two of seclusion Sidonius re‑entered public life in a new capacity. He was elected Bishop of the chief city of the Arverni (now called Clermont-Ferrand), and he continued in the same see for the remaining eighteen years of his life.13 This election seems to have been a voluntary tribute of respect on the part of his fellow-citizens to an unstained private character, and to the memory of an official career which, if not signalised by any brilliant services to the State, had at least not been abused to sordid and ignoble ends. His position in the literature of the age was both a recommendation and a stumbling-block. It was an honour for a rural diocese in the mountains to have as its president a man who had recited amid the applause of the multitude the panegyrics of three Emperors, whose statue in brass stood between the Greek and the Latin Libraries in the Forum of Trajan, whose letters were humbly prayed for and treasured up as invaluable literary possessions by all the rhetoricians and philosophers of Gaul. Yet, on the other hand, his very panegyrics were crammed full of the conceits of Pagan mythology; his Epithalamia, though morally pure, turned, according to the fashion in such compositions, on the voluptuous splendours of the dwelling of Venus , p314 on the charms of the bride, surpassing those of all the heroines of classical antiquity, and on the success of Cupid in piercing with his arrows the bridegroom's heart. This was not exactly the kind of composition which it was considered safe or decorous for a Christian Bishop to indulge in, so soon after the great struggle between the new and the old faiths, and while the religion of the Olympian gods, though prostrate and wounded to the death, still, by a few convulsive spasms, showed signs of a vitality not yet wholly extinct. Sidonius felt the incongruity as strongly as any one, and as, unlike the Cardinal de Retz,14 he was determined to bring his private life into conformity with the sacred character which he had assumed, he broke off abruptly and finally from the service of the Muses. He could not indeed bring himself to suppress poems which were in his view so charming as his Panegyrics and Epithalamia, but he wrote no more verses of this description. Invocations to the Holy Spirit take the place of invocations to Apollo, and the names of the Martyrs meet us p315 instead of those of the Argonauts. The result is not a happy one, and to a taste formed by the Christian hymnology of subsequent ages, the later poems of Sidonius are rather less attractive than his earlier ones.
Sidonius appears to have made an excellent Bishop, according to the notions of his day, which scarcely expected every prelate to rise to the saintliness of a Polycarp, but would not have tolerated his sinking to the infamy of a Borgia. He applied himself with earnestness to the study of the Scriptures, in which he had probably not been well instructed as a child. He steered through the theological controversies of a difficult time with an unimpeached reputation for orthodoxy. His experience as a Roman official helped him to govern his diocese with the right apportionment of firmness and suavity. His unfailing good-nature joined to a certain ingredient in his character, which can only be described as fussiness, made him the willing counsellor and confidant of his people even in their business difficulties, in the law‑suit, and the family quarrel. Above all, his hearty sympathies with the Romanised population of Gaul, and his antipathies, national and religious, to their Arian and barbarian conquerors, made him willing to risk life and fortune, and even his dearly-loved social position, on behalf of the liberties of Auvergne. During the years while the struggle between the Arverni and the Visigoths was going on, the courtier and the rhetorician were lost in the patron, and his life rose into real grandeur. At the close of the struggle (475) Sidonius had to feel the full weight of the displeasure of the Visigothic king, Euric, who was now undisputed master of Auvergne. He was banished from his diocese, and kept, probably for about a year, in captivity in the p316 fortress of Livia, not far from Carcassonne.15 His confinement was not of the most rigorous description; he was allowed to employ himself, if he wished, in literary labour, and his quarters for the night seem to have been appointed him in a private dwelling-house. But his days were occupied with harassing duties, and both study and sleep were driven away from his evening hours by the clamours of two Gothic hags, whose window looked upon the court-yard of his lodging, and whose life was passed in one perpetual round of scolding, intoxication and gluttony. The fastidious Roman noble, forced into hourly companionship with these scenes of barbarian vulgarity, passed his nights in sighing for the seclusion of his mountainous Auvergne, for the baths, the lake, and the fish-ponds, the airy summer apartment, and the chorus of rural voices of his own beloved Avitacum.
His return from exile. At length, by the mediation of his friend Leo, a Roman, a lover of literature,16 and the chief minister at p317 the court of Euric, he was restored to his home and diocese; and the remaining years of his life were passed in comparative tranquillity, but probably with an impaired fortune, and certainly with an ever-present pang of humiliation at the enforced subjection of his high-spirited Arverni to the degrading yoke of the barbarians. and death. He had probably not reached his sixtieth year when (about 489)17 he was carried off by a fever. He died with Christian calmness and hope. When he felt his end approaching he desired his attendants to carry him to the church where he had been wont to officiate, and lay him before the altar. A multitude of men, women, and children crowded into the church after his bearers, and filled it with their passionate lamentations. 'Why art thou deserting us,' they cried, 'O good shepherd? Who will take care of us, thy orphans, when thou art gone? Who will feed us with the salt of the true wisdom? Who will guide us into the fear of the Lord as thou hast done.' He gently rebuked their want of faith, and said, 'Fear not, my people. My brother Aprunculus still lives, and he will be your Bishop.' Then with a prayer to the Creator he yielded up his life. His dying words were verified by the election of Aprunculus (a fugitive for the sake of the Catholic faith from the wrath of the Burgundian king) to fill the vacant see.18
p318 Conflict of the Bishop and the Poet in the character of Sidonius. The end of Sidonius was in harmony with the dignified thoughtfulness which had marked his whole episcopal life. He played his part as a Christian Bishop well; and yet, without imputing to him any shade of conscious insincerity or hypocrisy, it is difficult when reading his letters and pre‑eminently his letters to his brother Bishops, to resist the conviction that he was, in a certain sense, playing a part throughout; that he was essentially an author or a courtier, and only accidentally a divine. That strong bias of the mind towards the Invisible which impelled St. Augustine, through all his immoralities, though all his years of Manicheanism, to ponder continually on the relation of his soul to the God of the Universe; that keen intellectual interest in the Scriptures which drew St. Jerome into Palestine, and supported him through all the heroic toil of his translations and his commentaries; these are qualities which it would be absurd to mention in connection with the character of Sidonius. But though his taste probably preferred the mythology of Greece, his reason accepted the doctrines of Christianity. The career of secular office was closed to him by the hard circumstances of those stormy times. The Church offered him a safe and honourable retreat from war and revolution. The voices of his fellow-citizens called him to a post of dignity in that Church; and he therefore accepted the retreat and the dignity, and made his life harmonise fairly well with his new vocation. If some sprays of the poet's laurel were still seen under the mitre of the bishop, if his thoughts were sometimes running on Helicon and Parnassus when he was celebrating the Divine mysteries in the basilica of Arverni, at least he kept his secret well, and made his actions p319 congruous to his character as a shepherd of the Christian flock.
Canonized. He was by the general voice of his people recognised as a saint after his death, and the Church of Clermont still, upon the 21st of August, the day of his death, celebrates the festival of Saint Sidonius. The only reason for any hesitation about canonising him would appear to be that he had never claimed any power of working miracles, that he was not, as a biographer19 says, 'one of those great thaumaturgic pontiffs whose glory was made common property, and whose virtues were immortalised by the generous instincts of Gaul;' but the entire absence of all pretentions of this kind will not be accounted a demerit by the present age. In his attitude towards men of other faiths than his own, he showed a tolerance of spirit more like the eighteenth century than the fifth. He could not but deplore and condemn the fury of the Arian persecutors, but he speaks with some kindliness of the Jews. 'Gozolas is the bearer of these letters of mine, a Jew by nation, and a man for whose person I should feel a cordial regard if he did not belong to a sect which I despise.'20 And again, 'This letter commends a Jew to your notice. Not that I am pleased with the error in which that nation is involved, and which leads them to perdition, but because it becomes us not to call any one of them sure of damnation21 while he yet lives, for there is still a hope that he may turn and be forgiven.'22 This is the language of an orthodox Catholic, but certainly not of a man who is by nature a persecutor.
Of the literary style of Sidonius it is difficult to speak p320 with fairness. His obscurity, his long and uncouth words, often clumsily coined from the Greek, his constantly-recurring epigrams, which, when examined, generally turn out to have as much point in them as the clever things which a man utters in his dreams, his preposterous and monotonous adulation of his correspondents, evidently dictated by the desire to receive their adulation in return, his frigid conceits, his childish display of classical learning, which after all was neither deep nor thorough,23 — all these qualities make much study of the works of this author emphatically a weariness to the flesh. But it is doubtful how far he is to be blamed individually, and how far his age is responsible for the faults of his style. Latin poetry had fallen during the fourth century into the hands of elegant triflers, of the composers of triple and quintuple acrostics,24 and the manufacturers of vapid centoes.25 Claudian had snatched the Latian lyre out of the hands of these feeble poetasters, and made it give forth some manlier harmonies; but even Claudian, with his court-like exaggerations, and his creaking mythological machinery, was not a very safe guide to follow. Suffice it to say, without attempting further to apportion the blame of a most miserable style between the author and his age, that in his poems, Sidonius bears the same relation p221 to Claudian that Claudian bears to Virgil, and that in his letters he is as far from attaining the purity of style of the younger Pliny as the latter is from rivalling the easy grace of Cicero. It remains to reproduce from the pages of Sidonius some of his most striking pictures of social life among the Romans and Barbarians.
'Sidonius wishes health to his friend Eriphius.
'You wish me to send you the verses which I made to please that most respectable man your father-in‑law. I will do so; but as, in order to understand this trifle, you wish to know the scene and the cause of its composition, must not complain if the preface is more long-winded than the work itself.
'We had assembled at the Sepulchre of St. Justus [at Lyons]; there was a procession before dawn, to celebrate the yearly festival of the saint, and a great multitude had assembled, larger than the basilica could hold, though it was surrounded with spacious arcades. When the office of Vigils was ended (chanted by monks and clergy in alternate choruses) we parted from one another, but did not go far, that we might be in readiness for Tierce, when the priests should return to celebrate it. The crowd in the church, the many lights, and the closeness of the weather (for it was summer, though just passing into autumn) had made us feel as p322 if we were being stewed, and we longed for the fresh air. So when the various ranks of citizens dispersed, we who belonged to the first families of Lyons, decided to make our rendezvous at the tomb of Syagrius, which was scarce a bowshot from the church. Here some reclined under the shade of a trellis-work covered with the leaves and clusters of a vine; others, of whom I was one, sat on the green sward, which was fragrant with flowers. The conversation was full of light fun and banter; and what was best of all, there was no talk about great people or the incidence of taxation, not a word to compromise anybody, not a person whom anybody else thought of compromising. Any one who could tell a good story, and adorn it with proper sentiments, was listened to most eagerly. But really there was such general merriment that it was not easy to hear any story distinctly to the end. At length we got tired of idleness, and discussed what we should do. The young men voted for tennis, the elder ones for the tables [backgammon]. I was prime champion of the ball, of which, as you know, I am as fond as of my books. On the other side, my brother27 Domnicius, a man full of wit and courtesy, shook the counters about in the tables, and thus, as with the sound of a trumpet, summoned his party to the dice‑box. I played for a long time with a troop of students till my limbs, which had grown numb, were made supple again by the healthful exercise. Then the illustrious Philimatius, as Virgil says,28
'He too adventuring to the task
That matches younger years,'
p323 boldly joined the group of tennis-players. He had once played the game well, but that was when his years were fewer. Poor man! he was often forced from the place where he was stationed, by the mid‑current of eager players; then, when he had to keep the middle of the ground, he could neither ward off nor dodge the quickly-flying ball. Moreover he often met with a catastrophe and fell flat on the ground, from which he raised himself slowly and laboriously. So that the upshot of the matter was that he was the first to retire from the rush of the game, which he did with deep sighs and a fearful stitch in his side. Very soon I left off to, out of kindness to him, that he might not be mortified at so soon showing signs of distress. So, when we were seated again, the sweat running down his face obliged him to ask for a basin of water. It was brought him, and with it a thick cloth which, cleaned from yesterday's dirt, happened to be hanging on a pulley behind the door of the porter's lodge. While he was slowly drying his cheeks he said, "How I should like you to dictate four lines of poetry on the cloth which does me this service." "It shall be done," said I. "But so as to bring in my name in the metre?" "What you ask for is possible."a "Dictate them, then." To which I answered, smiling, "You know the Muses will not like it if there are any by‑standers when I commune with their holy band." He said, very politely, but with that jocosely passionate manner of his, "Take care, Mr. Sollius, that you don't much more exasperate Apollo if you ask for secret interviews with his young ladies." Imagine the applause which greeted this sally, as sudden as it was happily conceived. Then, without more delay, I called to my side his amanuensis, who was p324 standing near with his tablets in hand, and dictated the following epigram:
'Oh Towel! in the early morn, when the bath has made him glow,
Or when with heated brow he comes at noontide from the chase,
Into thy thirsty reservoirs let the big sweat-drops flow,
When Philimatius shall wipe on thee his handsome face.'
'Scarcely had our friend Epiphanius read over what had been written, when word was brought us that the time was come for the bishop to leave his private apartment, and we all rose up. Pray pardon the verses which you asked for. Farewell.'
'Sidonius wishes health to his friend Donidius.
'You ask me why, though I set out for Nismes some time ago, I have not yet returned home I will tell you the agreeable cause of my delay, since I know that the things which please me please you too.
'The fact is that I have been spending some days in a very pleasant country with two most delightful men, my hereditary friend Tonantius Ferreolus, and my cousin Apollinaris. Their estates adjoin one another and their houses are not far apart, a long walk but a short ride. The hills which rise behind are covered with vineyards and oliveyards. The view from each house is equally charming; the one looks upon woods, and the other over a wide expanse of plain. So much for the dwellings; now for the hospitality shown to us there.
'As soon as they found out that I was on my return p325 journey, they stationed skilful scouts to watch not only the high-road but every little track and sheep-walk into which I could possibly turn aside, that I might not by any chance escape from their friendly snares. When I had fallen into their hands, not very reluctantly I must confess, they at once administered to me a solemn oath not to entertain one thought of continuing my journey till seven days were over. Then, every morning a friendly strife arose between my hosts whose kitchen should first have the honour of preparing my repast, a strife which I could not adjust by a precisely equal alternation of my visits, although I was bound to one house by friendship and to the other by relationship, because Ferreolus, as a man who had held the office of Prefect, derived from his age and dignity a claim beyond that of mere friendship to take precedence in entertaining me. So we were hurried from pleasure to pleasure. Scarce had we entered the vestibule of either house when lo! on one side the pairs of tennis-players stood up to oppose one another in the ring;30 on the other, amid the shouts of the dicers, was heard the frequent rattle of the boxes and the boards. Here too were books in plenty; you might fancy you were looking at the breast-high book-shelves of the grammarians, or the wedge-shaped cases of the Athenaeum, or the well-filled cupboards of the book-sellers.31 I observed however that if one found a manuscript beside the chair of one of the ladies of the house, it was sure to be on a religious p326 subject, while those which lay by the seats of the fathers of the family were full of the loftiest strains of Latin eloquence. In making this distinction, I do not forget that there are some writings of equal literary excellence in both branches, that Augustine may be paired off against Varro, and Prudentius against Horace. Among these books Origen, 'the Adamantine,' translated into Latin by Turranius Rufinus, was frequently perused by readers holding our faith. I cannot understand why some of our Arch-divines should stigmatise him as a dangerous and heterodox author.
'While we were engaged, according to our various inclinations, in studies of this nature, punctually as the water-clock32 marked 5 [11 A.M.], there would come into the room a messenger from the chief cook to warn us that the time for refreshment had arrived. At dinner we made a full and rapid meal, after the manner of senators, whose custom it is to set forth a large banquet with few dishes, though variety is produced by sometimes cooking the meat dry and sometimes with gravy. While we were drinking we had merry stories told, which at once amused and instructed us. To be brief, the style of the repast was decorous, handsome, and abundant.
'Then rising from table, if we were at Voroangus (the estate of Apollinaris) we walked back to the inn where was our baggage, and there took our siesta);33 if at Prusianum (the name of the other property) we had p327 to turn Tonantius and his brothers — nobles as they were, and our equals in age — out of their couches, as we could not easily carry our sleeping-apparatus about with us.
'When we had shaken off our noontide torpor, we rode on horseback for a little while to sharpen our appetites for supper. Both of my hosts had baths in their houses, but neither of them happened to be in working order. However, when my attendants and the crowd of their revellers, whose brains were too often under the influence of the hospitable wine‑cup, had made a short pause in their potations, they would hurriedly dig a trench near to the fountain or the river. Into this they tossed a heap of burnt stones, and over it they would weave a hemisphere of hazel-twigs. Upon this framework were stretched sheets of coarse Cilician canvas, which at once shut out the light, and beat back the steam rising from the hot flints sprinkled with water. Here we often passed hours in present and witty talk, while our limbs, wrapped in the fizzing steam, gave forth a wholesome sweat. When we had spent as long as we chose in this rude sudatorium, we plunged into the heated waters to wash away the perspiration; and, having so worked off all tendency to indigestion, we then braced our bodies with the cold waters of the well, the fountain, or the river. For I should have mentioned that midway between the two houses flows the river Vuardo,34 red with its tawny gravel, except when the melting snow makes pale its waters, gliding tranquilly over its pebbly bed, and well-stocked with delicate fish.
'I would also describe the luxurious suppers which p328 we used to sit down to, if my talkative vein, which knows no check from modesty, were not summarily stopped by the end of my paper. And yet it would be pleasant to tell over again their delights if I did not blush to carry my scrawl over to the back of the sheet. But now, as we are really in act to depart, and as you, with Christ's help, are going to be good enough to pay us an immediate visit, it will be easier to talk over our friends' suppers when you and I are taking our own; only let the end of this week of feasting restore to me as soon as possible my vanished appetite, since no refinements of cookery can so effectually soothe an overcharged stomach as the remedy of abstinence. Farewell.'
The Bishop Patiens, an earnest and liberal-handed man, raised in his city of Lyons a magnificent church, which was dedicated to the popular Gallic saint, Justus. Sidonius and two other poets, the most eminent of their age and nation, were requested to write three inscriptions which were to be engraven on tablets at the west end of the building. The church itself, after witnessing some interesting passages of mediaeval history, was destroyed in the religious wars of the sixteenth century; and these lines written by Sidonius, and by him transcribed at the request of a youthful admirer, alone remain to testify of its departed glories. The chief reason for quoting them is the proof which they afford that the use of mosaics on the walls and of golden decorations on the ceiling was not p329 confined, as we may have been inclined to suppose, to those places where Byzantine taste was predominant. Many touches in the following inscription would suit some of the still surviving churches of Ravenna. The Atrium or oblong porch in front of the church, the triple doorway from the Atrium into the nave, and from the outside of the building into the Atrium, the 'forest of columns' within, and the slabs of marble in the windows, are all also characteristic of the ecclesiastical architecture of Constantine and his successors.36
Sidonius uses the metre called hendecasyllabic
to which he was very partial, and which has been employed in the following translation:b
'Stranger! come and admire this temple's beauty,
Know, 'twas reared by the zeal of Bishop Patient.
Here put up the request that earns an answer:
Here shall all of thy heart's desires be granted.
See how shines from afar the lofty building
Which, square‑set, nor to left nor right deflected,
Looks straight on to the equinoctial sunrise.
Inly gleams there a light: the golden ceiling
Glows so fair that the sunbeams love to wander
Slowly over the sun‑like burnished metal.
Marbles varied in hue, with slabs resplendent,
Line the vault and the floor, and frame the windows.37
And, in glass on the walls, the green of spring-tide
Bounds the blue of the lake with winding margent.38
Here a portico, three-arched, fronts the gazer,
Reared on pillars from Aquitanian quarries.c
There its counterpart stands, an inner portal,
At the Atrium's end, three-arched and stately;
While within, and around the floor of worship
Rise the stems of a slender marble forest.
Fair it rises, between the Road and River;
Here it echoes the horseman's clanging footfall
And the shout of the slave who guides the chariot,
There, the chorus of bending, hauling bargemen,
As they pace by the turgid Arar's waters
Send to heaven the joyful Alleluia!
Sing thus! Wayfarers sing by land or water,
Sing at sight of the house which all may enter,
Where all learn of the road that leads to safety.'
Evodius had asked Sidonius to furnish him with twelve verses to be engraved on the inside of a large shell-shaped silver basin which he was about to present to Ragnahild the Visigothic queen. Sidonius replies as follows:—
'Sidonius wishes health to his friend Evodius.
p331 'When the messenger brought me your letter, informing me that you were about soon to visit Toulouse at the command of the king, we too were leaving the town for a place in the country some way off. From early morning I had been detained by one cause or another, and the arrival of your letter only just gave me an excuse to shake off the crowd of attendants and try to satisfy your request while I was either walking or riding. At the very break of day my family had gone forward, meaning to pitch the tent when they had accomplished •eighteen miles of the journey. The spot which they would then reach was one which many reasons combined to make desirable for the purpose of a halt; a cool spring in a shady grove, a level lawn with plenty of grass, a river just before our eyes well stocked with fish, and a favourite haunt of water-birds; and besides all this, close to the river's bank stood the new house of an old friend, so immensely kind that neither by accepting nor by refusing can you ever get to the end of his civilities.
'Hither then my people had gone before me and here I stopped for your sake, that I might send your slave back by the shortest way from the chief town in the district. By this time it was four hours and more after sunrise; already the sun which was now high in the heavens had sucked up the night-dews with his increasing rays; we were growing hot and thirsty, and in the deep serenity of the day a cloud of dust raised by our horses' feet was our only protection against the heat. Then the length of the road stretching out before us over the green and sea‑like plain made us groan when we thought how long it would be before we could get our dinner. All these things, my dear Sir, I have p332 mentioned to you that you may understand how adverse the circumstances of my body, my mind, and my time were to the fulfilment of your commission.'
Sidonius then gives the verses, twelve in number, which were to be engraved in twelve grooves, reaching from the centre to the circumference of Queen Ragnahild's silver basin. The heat and the remoteness of the prospect of dinner might have been unfavourable to his courtship of the Muse, for the verses are vapid, and there is scarcely a thought in them which would survive translation.40
In the early days of the Episcopate of Sidonius a certain Amantius asked him for letters of introduction to Marseilles. With his usual good-nature Sidonius gave him a letter to Graecus, Bishop of that city, describing him as a poor but honest man, who transacted what we should call a commission-business in the purchase of cargoes arriving at the seaports of Gaul. He p333 had been lately appointed a Reader in the Church — a post which was not incompatible with his transactions in business — and this gave him an additional claim on the good offices of the two Bishops.42 The letter concluded with the expression of a hope that Amantius might meet with splendid success as a merchant, and might not regret exchanging the cold springs of Auvergne for the fountain of wealth flowing at Marseilles.43
Not long after, Sidonius discovered that he had been imposed upon by a swindler, that the modest young man who desired an introduction to Marseilles was in fact too well known at Marseilles already, and that the honest broker was an impudent and mendacious fortune-hunter. Having occasion to write again to Graecus, who had asked him for 'one of his long and amusing letters,' he thought that he could not do better than send him the history of Amantius, though the Bishop of Marseilles must have been already in good part acquainted with it, and the Bishop of Arverni must have been conscious that the part which he had played did not reflect great credit on his shrewdness. After a complimentary preface, the letter proceeds thus:
'His native country is Auvergne; his parents are persons in a somewhat humble position in life, but free and unencumbered with debt; their duties have been in connection with the service of the Church rather than of the State. The father is a man of extreme frugality, more intent on saving up money for his children than on pleasing them. This lad accordingly left his home p334 and came to your city with a very slender equipment in all respects. Notwithstanding this hindrance to his ambitious projects he made a fairly successful start among you. Saint Eustachius, your predecessor, welcomed him with deeds and words of kindness, and put him in the way of quickly obtaining comfortable quarters. He at once began to cultivate assiduously the acquaintance of his neighbours, and his civilities were well received. He adapted himself with great tact to their different ages, showing deference to the old, making himself useful to his coëvals, and always exhibiting a modesty and sobriety in his moral conduct which are as praiseworthy as they are rare in young men. At length, by well-timed and frequent calls, he became known to and familiar with the leading personages of your city, and finally even with the Count himself. Thus the assiduous court which he paid to greatness was rewarded with ever-increasing success; worthy men vied in helping him with their advice and good wishes; he received presents from the wealthy, favours of one kind or another from all, and thus his fortune and his hopes advanced "by leaps and bounds."44
'It happened by chance that near the inn where he was lodging there dwelt a lady of some fortune and high character, whose daughter had passed the years of childhood, yet had scarcely reached the marriageable age. He showed himself very kind to this girl, and made, as her youth allowed him to do, trifling presents to her of toys and trash that would divert a girl, and thus, at a very trifling expense, obtained a firm hold on her affections. Years passed on; she became old enough p335 to be a bride. To make a long story short, you have on the one side a young man, alone, poorly off, a stranger, a son who had skulked away from home not only without the consent, but even without the knowledge of his father; on the other, a girl not inferior to him in birth, and superior to him in fortune; and this fellow, through the introduction of the Bishop because he was a Reader, by favour of the Count because he had danced attendance in his hall, without any investigation as to his circumstances by the mother-in‑law because his person was not displeasing to her daughter, woos and wins and marries that young lady. The marriage articles are signed, and in them some beggarly little plot of ground which he happened to possess near our borough is set forth with truly comic pomposity. When the solemn swindle was accomplished, the poor beloved one carried off his wealthy spouse, after diligently hunting up all the possessions of his late father-in‑law, and converting them into money, besides adding to them a handsome gratuity drawn from the easy generosity of his credulous mother-in‑law, and then, unrivalled humbug that he was, he beat a retreat to his own native place.
'Some time after he had gone, the girl's mother discovered the fraud, and had to mourn over the dwindling proportions of the estates comprised in her daughter's settlement, at the very time when she should have been rejoicing over the augmented number of her grandchildren. She wanted to institute a suit for recovery of her money, on the ground that he had fraudulently overstated his property; and it was in fact in order to soothe her wrath that our new Hippolytus45 set forth for p336 Marseilles, when he first brought you my letter of introduction.
'Now, then, you have the whole story of this excellent young man, a story, I think, worthy of the Milesian Fables or an Attic comedy. It remains for you to show yourself a worthy successor of Bishop Eustachius by discharging the duties of patronage to the dear youth whom he took under his protection. You asked me for a lengthy letter, and therefore if it is rather wordy than eloquent you must not take it amiss. Condescend to keep me in your remembrance, my lord Pope.'46
What was the issue of the quarrel between the amatory Amantius and his mother-in‑law we are not informed, but as he acted twice after this as letter-carrier47 between Sidonius and Graecus, we may conjecture that the affair of the settlement took some time to arrange.
'Sidonius wishes health to his friend Lupus.
'I have just heard of the murder of the orator Lampridius, whose death, even if it had been in the course of nature, would have filled me with sorrow on account of our ancient friendship. Long ago he used, by way of joke, to call me Phoebus, and I gave him the name of the Odrysian bard [Orpheus]. Once, when I was going to visit him at Bordeaux, I sent forward to him p337 a poem, like a soldier's billet, claiming his hospitality for Apollo.'
Then follows the poem in hendecasyllables. Phoebus directs his favourite Muse, Thalia, to go before him to Bordeaux, to knock at the door of one Orpheus whom she will find there, charming all nature by his minstrelsy, and to tell him that Phoebus has left his home, that already his oars are splashing in the rapid Garonne, that he will soon be at the house of his friend. The remembrance of these long-past, merry days draws from Sidonius a sentence in prose, which comes nearer to poetry than anything else written by him. 'O necessitas abjecta nascendi, vivendi misera, dura moriendi!'49 He proceeds —
'See whither the fickle wheel of Fortune leads us. I confess I loved the man, though in his character there were mingled some traits unworthy of his real virtues. He was of a hasty temper, easily moved to anger by slight offences, and there was a taint of cruelty in his nature, though I used to seek to extenuate it by calling it severity. . . .
'The worst and most fatal fault which he committed was in resorting to astrologers in order to learn what the end of his life should be. They were natives of some of the cities of Africa, men whose dispositions were as burning as their sun. They concurred in naming to him the year, the month, and the day which, in their jargon, would be "climacteric" for him; and when they had cast his nativity they predicted for him a bloody fate, because all the planets which had risen prosperously upon his birth set in sinister aspects and p338 with lurid fires. However false and deceptive the predictions of these mathematicians as a rule may be, in the case of our friend they were strictly correct both as to the time and manner of his death. For having been held down in his own house, and strangled by his own slaves, he died by the same death as Lentulus, Jugurtha, Sejanus, and even Scipio of Numantia. The least melancholy part of the business is that the parricidal deed was discovered as soon as morning dawned. For no one could be so dull as not to see the signs of foul play on first inspection of the corpse. The livid skin, the staring eyes, the yet lingering traces of anger and pain in the face told their own tale. The earth too was wet with his blood, because after the deed was done the villains had laid him face downwards on the pavement to make it seem as if he had died of haemorrhage. The chief agent in the crime was taken, tortured, and confessed his guilt. Would that I could say that our friend was altogether undeserving of his fate. But he who thus pries into forbidden mysteries, deviates from the safe rule of the Catholic faith, and while he is using unlawful arts must not complain if he is answered by some great calamity.'
Sidonius wishes health to his friend Pannychius.
'If you have not already heard that Seronatus is returning from Toulouse, let this letter inform you of the fact. Already Evanthius51 is on his way to Clausetia, and is forcing people to clear away the rubbish p339 from the works that have been let out on contract, and to remove the fallen leaves from his path.52 Poor man! if there is an uneven surface anywhere, he himself, with trembling hand, brings earth to fill up the trenches, going before the beast whom he is escorting from the valley of Tarmis, like the little mussels who pioneer the mighty body of the whole through the shallow places and rocky channels of the sea.
'Seronatus, however, as quick to wrath as he is unwieldy in bulk, like a dragon just rolled forth from his cave, comes towards us from the district of Gabala, whose inhabitants he leaves half dead with fright. This population, scattered into the country from their towns, he is now exhausting with unheard‑of imposts;53 now entangling them in the winding meshes of false accusations, and scarcely permitting the labourers at length to return home, when they have paid him a year's tribute in advance. The sure and certain sign of his approaching advent is the gangs of unhappy prisoners who are dragged in chains to meet him. Their anguish is his joy, their hunger is his food, and he seems to think it an especially fine thing to degrade before he punishes them, making the men grow their hair long, and the women cut theirs. If any here and there meet with a chance pardon, it will be due to a bribe, or to his flattered vanity, but never to compassion.
'But to set forth all the proceedings of such a beast would exhaust the rhetoric of a Cicero and the poetry of a Virgil. Therefore, since it is said that this pest is approaching us, (whose ravages may God guard us from!) do you forestall the disease by the counsels of p340 prudence; compromise your lawsuits if you have any; get security for your arrears of tribute; do not let the wicked man have any opportunity of hurting the good, or of laying them under an obligation. In fine, do you wish to hear what I think of Seronatus? Others fear his fines and his punishments: to me the so‑called benefits of the robber seem even more to be dreaded.'
We do not know what was the subsequent history of this oppressive governor, nor how long the crushed provincials had to endure his yoke. In another letter54 Sidonius speaks of him as 'the Catiline of our age, fawning on the barbarians, trampling on the Romans, joking in Church, preaching at the banquet, passing sentence in bed, sleeping on the judgment-seat; every day crowding the woods with fugitives, the villas with barbarians, the altars with criminals, the prisons with clergymen; insulting prefects, and conniving at the frauds of revenue-officers, treading under foot the laws of Theodosius, and exalting those of Theodoric' [the Visigoth], 'every day bringing forth old accusations and new exactions.' And he states in conclusion that if Anthemius, the then reigning Emperor, affords them no assistance against the tyranny of Seronatus, 'the nobility of Auvergne have resolved to sacrifice either their country or their hair,' that is, to retire either into exile or into monasteries.
'Sidonius wishes health to his friend Industrius.
'I have just been visiting the Right Honourable Vectius,56 and have studied his actions at my leisure, and p341 from close quarters. I think the result of my investigations is worth recording. In the first place I will mention what I consider the highest praise of all; the house and its master both exist in an atmosphere of unsullied purity. His slaves are useful; his rural57 labourers well-mannered, courteous, friendly, obedient, and contented with their patron. His table is as ready to welcome the guest as the retainer; his civility is great, and yet greater his sobriety.
'Another and less important matter is that he of whom I speak is inferior to none in the arts of breaking horses, training dogs, and managing falcons. There is the utmost neatness in his raiment, elegance in his girdles, and splendour in his accoutrements. His walk is dignified, his disposition serious: the former well maintains his private dignity, the latter is set upon preserving public faith. He is equally removed from spoiling indulgence and from bloody punishments, and there is a certain austerity in his character, which is stern without being gloomy.58 Moreover he is a diligent reader of the sacred volumes, with which he often refreshes his mind while in the act of taking food for the body. He frequently peruses the Psalms, and yet more frequently chants them, and thus, in a novel fashion, acts the monk, not under the habit of a recluse, but under the uniform of a general.59 He abstains from game, though he consents to hunt, and thus, with a delicate and unobtrusive religiousness, he p342 uses the processes of the chase but denies himself the produce.
'One only daughter was left to him on her mother's death as the solace of his widowerhood, and her he cherishes with the tenderness of a grandfather, the assiduity of a mother, and the kindness of a father. As to his relations towards his household, when he is giving orders he "forbeareth threatening;" when he receives their advice he does not spurn it from him as valueless; when he discovers a fault he is not too persistent in tracing it; and thus he rules the state and condition of those who are subject to him, more as a judge than as a master; you would think that he rather administered his house as a trust than owned it as an absolute possession.
'When I perceived all this industry and moderation in such a man, I thought it would be for the common good that the knowledge of it should be thoroughly and widely spread abroad. To follow such a life, and not merely to don a particular [monastic] habit, whereby the present age is often grievously imposed upon, would be a useful incitement for all the men of our profession' [the clerical]. 'For — let me say it without offending my own order — when a private individual shows such excellent qualities as these, I admire a priest-like layman more than a priest himself. Farewell.'
[This letter is addressed to the subject of the preceding one.]
'Sidonius wishes health to his friend Vectius.
p343 'Lately, at the request of the Hon.61 Germanicus, I inspected the church of Cantilla.
'He himself is certainly one of the most noteworthy men of the district, for although he has already put sixty years behind him, every day, in dress and manners, he becomes, I will not say more like a young man, but actually more boyish. His robe is closely girt around him, his buskin tight-laced, his hair is cut so as to make it look like a wheel, his beard is cropped close to the chin by pincers which pierce to the bottom of each fold of his skin. Moreover, by the blessing of Providence, his limbs are still strongly knit, his sight is perfect, he has a firm and rapid gait, in his gums there is an untouched array of milk-white teeth. With no weakness in his stomach, no tendency to inflammation in his veins, no perturbation of his heart, no distress in breathing, no stiffness in his loins, no congestion of his liver, no flabbiness in his hand, no bending of his spine, but endowed with all the health of youth, he claims nothing that belongs to age but reverence.
'In consideration of all these peculiar benefits which he has received from God, I beg you, as his friend and neighbour, and one whose example justly exerts a great influence over him, to persuade him not to trust too much in these uncertain possessions, nor to cherish an overweening confidence in his own immunity from disease; but rather to make a decided profession of religion, and so become strong in the might of renewed innocence. Let him thus, while old in years, be new in merit; and since there is scarcely any one who is devoid of hidden faults, let him openly show his penitence and give satisfaction for those wrong things p344 which he has committed in secret. For a man in his position, the father of a priest and the son of a bishop, unless he lead a holy life himself, is like a briar, rough, prickly and unlovely in the midst of roses, from which it has sprung, and which it has itself produced.'
'Sidonius wishes health to his friends Simplicius and Apollinaris.
'Good God!63 how do the emotions of our minds resemble a sea strewn with shipwrecks, the tempests which sweep over them being the evil tidings which messengers sometimes bring to us. A little while ago I was, together with your son,64 Simplicius! revelling in the delicate wit of the Hecyra of Terence. I sat beside the young student forgetting my clerical profession in the delight which the human nature of the play afforded me. In order that I might help him to follow the flow of the comic verses more easily, I kept before me a story with a similar plot, the Epitrepontes of Menander. We read at the same pace, we praised our authors, we laughed over their jokes, and, according to p345 our respective tastes, he was captivated by the reading, and I by his intelligence.
'Suddenly there stood by many side a slave of my household, pulling a very long face. "What is the matter?" said I. "I have just seen," said he, "at the gate the reader65 Constans, returning from my lords Simplicius and Apollinaris; he says that he delivered your letters to them, but has lost the replies which were entrusted to his care." When I heard this the calm, bright sky of my gladness was overspread with a cloud of sorrow, and so much was my bile stirred by the untoward intelligence thus brought me, that for many days I inexorably forbade that most stupid Mercury to venture into my presence. For I should have been vexed if he had lost any ordinary letters entrusted to him by anybody, but how much more, yours, which, so long as my mind retains its vigour, will always be deemed least common and most desirable.
'However, after my anger had gradually abated with the lapse of time, I enquired of him whether he had brought me any verbal message from you. Trembling and prostrate before me, stammering and half-blind with the consciousness of his offence, he answered that all those thoughts of yours, by which I had hoped to be charmed and instructed, were committed to those unlucky letters which had disappeared on the way.
'Go back, therefore, dear friends, to your tablets,66 unfold your parchments and write over again what you wrote before. For I cannot bear with equanimity p346 this unlucky failure of my hopes unless I know that you are assured that your written speech has never reached me. Fare you well.'
'Sidonius wishes health to his wife Papianilla.
'The quaestor Licinianus, who has just arrived from Ravenna, as soon as he had crossed the Alps and touched the soil of Gaul, sent letters forward to announce his arrival, stating that he was the bearer of an imperial ordinance, bestowing the honour of the Patriciate on your brother and mine Ecdicius,68 whose titles will rejoice you as much as mine. This honour comes very early if you consider his age, though very late if you look to his merits. For he has long ago paid the price for his new dignity, not with gold but with steel, and though a private individual, has enriched the treasury, not with money, but with trophies of war.
'This debt, however, under which your brother, by his noble labours, laid the Emperor Anthemius, has now been honourably discharged by his successor Julius Nepos, a man whose character, no less than the success of his arms, entitles us to hail him as Supreme Augustus. The promptitude of the act makes it all the more praiseworthy, for one Emperor has at once done what the other a hundred times promised to do. Henceforward, therefore, our best men may with joyful certainty spend their strength in the service of the p347 Commonwealth, knowing that even if the Emperor dies, the Imperial Dignity will faithfully perform every promise by which their devotion has been quickened.
'Meanwhile you, if I rightly read your affectionate heart, will derive, even in these gloomy times, great solace from these tidings, and will not be diverted from sharing in our common joy even by the terrors of the siege which is going on so near you. For I know right well that not even my honours, which you legally share, will bring so much gladness as this intelligence; since though you are a good wife you are also the best of sisters. Wherefore I have made haste to inform you in this congratulatory letter, of the augmented dignity which, through the favour of Christ our God,69 has been bestowed upon your line, and thus I have at the same time satisfied your anxiety and your brother's modesty, to which, and not to any want of affection on his part, you must attribute his silence respecting this promotion.
'For myself, great as is my rejoicing at the added honours of your family for which you have hitherto sighed impatiently, I rejoice even more at the harmony which reigns between Ecdicius and me. And I pray that this harmony may continue as the heritage of our children, from whom I put up this prayer in common, that even as we two have, by God's favour, added the Patrician dignity to the Praefectorial rank which we inherited from our fathers, so they may yet further enhance it by the office of Consul.70
'Roscia,71 our common charge, salutes you. Favoured p348 above most other grand-children, she is fondled in the kindest embraces of her grandmother and aunts, while at the same time she is being strictly trained, and thereby her tender age is not rendered infirm while her mind is healthily informed.72 Farewell.'
'Sidonius wishes health to his friend Turnus.
'Well indeed with your name, and with your present business, harmonises that passage of the Mantuan poet —
'Turnus! what never god would dare
To promise to his suppliant's prayer,
Lo, here, the lapse of time has brought
E'en to your hands, unasked, unsought.'74
Long ago, if you remember, your [late] father Turpio, a man of tribunician rank, obtained a loan of money from an officer of the palace named Maximus. He deposited no security either in plate or in mortgage on land; but as appears by the written instrument prepared at the time, he covenanted to pay twelve75 per cent to the lender, by which interest, as the loan has lasted for ten years, the debt is more than doubled. But your father fell sick, and was at the point of death: in his feeble state the law came down p349 upon him harshly to compel him to refund the debt: he could not bear the annoyance caused by the Collectors,76 and therefore, as I was about to travel to Toulouse, he being now past hope of recovery, wrote asking me to obtain from the creditor, at least, some moderate delay. I gladly acceded to his request, as Maximus was not only an acquaintance of mine, but bound to me by old ties of hospitality. I therefore willingly went out of my way to my friend's villa, though it was situated several miles from the high-road. As soon as I arrived he himself came to meet me. When I had known him in times past he was erect in his bearing, quick in his gait, with cheery voice and open countenance. Now how greatly he was changed from his old self! His dress, his step, his bashfulness, his colour, his speech, all had a religious cast: besides, his hair was short, his beard flowing: the furniture of his room consisted of three-legged stools, curtains of goat's hair77 canvas hung before his doors: his couch had no feathers, his table no ornament; even his hospitality, though kind, was frugal, and there was pulse rather than meat upon his board. Certainly, if any delicacies were admitted, they were not by way of indulgence to himself, but to his guests. When he rose from table I privily enquired of his attendants what manner of life was this that he was leading, a monk's, a clergyman's, or a penitent's. They said that he was filling the office of priest which had been lately laid upon him by the goodwill of his fellow-citizens, notwithstanding his protests.
'When day returned, while our slaves and followers p350 were occupied in catching our beasts of burden, I asked for an opportunity for a secret conversation with our host. He afforded it: I gave him an unexpected embrace, and congratulated him on his new dignity: then with my congratulations I blended entreaties. I set forth the petition of my friend Turpio, I urged his necessitous condition, I deplored the extremities to which he was reduced, extremities which seemed all the harder to his sorrowing friends because the chain of usury was tightening, while the hold of the body upon the soul was loosening. Then I begged him to remember his new profession and our old friendship, to moderate, at least, by a short respite the barbarous insistance of the bailiffs barking round the sick man's bed; if he died, to give his heirs one year in which to indulge their grief without molestation; but if, as I hoped, Turpio should recover his former health, to allow him to restore his exhausted energies by a period of repose.
'I was still pleading, when suddenly the kind-hearted man burst into a flood of tears, caused not by the delay in recovering his debt, but by the peril of his debtor. Then suppressing his sobs, "God forbid," said he, "that I as a clergyman should claim that from a sick man which I should scarcely have insisted upon as a soldier from a man in robust health. For his children's sake too, who are also objects of my pity, if anything should happen to our friend, I will not ask anything more from them than the character of my sacred calling allows. Write then to allay their anxiety, and that your letters may obtain the more credit, add a letter from me in which I will engage that whatever be the result of this illness (which we will still hope p351 may turn out favourably for our brother) I will grant a year's delay for the payment of the money, and will forego all that moiety which has accrued by right of interest, being satisfied with the simple repayment of the principal."
'Hereupon I poured out my chief thanks to God, but great thanks also to my host who showed such care for his own conscience and good name: and I assured my friend that whatsoever he relinquished to you he was sending on before him into heaven, and that by refraining from selling up your father's farms, he was buying for himself a kingdom above.
'Now, for what remains, do you bestir yourself to repay forthwith the principal at least of the loan, and thus take the best means of expressing the gratitude of those who, linked to you by the tie of brotherhood, haply by reason of their tender years, scarcely yet understand what a boon has been granted them. Do not begin to say, "I have joint-heirs in the estate: the division is not yet accomplished: all the world knows that I have been more shabbily treated than they: my brother and sister are still under age: she has not yet a husband, nor a •curator, nor is a surety found for the acts and defaults of that curator." All these pretexts are alleged to creditors, and to unreasonable creditors they are not alleged amiss. But when you have to deal with a person of this kind who foregoes the half when he might press for the whole, if you practise any of these delays you give him a right to re‑demand as an injured man the concessions which he made as a good-natured one. Farewell.'
From these glimpses of the social life of the Roman p352 Provincials in the middle of the fifth century, we turn to consider what light of a similar kind the correspondence of Sidonius throws on the internal history of the Barbarians with whom he was brought in contact. His first description is kindly and appreciative: so much so, that it has been conjectured that it was meant to be shown to the gratified subject of the portrait. In his other character-sketches of the Barbarians, as we shall find, the shallow contempt of the heir of civilisation for the untutored children of Nature is more distinctly visible.
'Sidonius wishes health to [his brother-in‑law] Agricola.
'You have many times asked me to write to you a letter describing the bodily appearance and manner of life of Theodoric,79 king of the Goths, whose love for our civilisation is justly reported by common fame. I willingly accede to your request, so far as the limits of my paper will allow, and I praise the noble and delicate anxiety for information which you have thus exhibited.
'Theodoric is "a noticeable man," one who would at once attract attention even from those who casually beheld him, so richly have the will of God and the plan of nature endowed his person with gifts corresponding p353 to his completed prosperity. His character is such that not even the detraction which waits on kings can lessen the praises bestowed upon it.80 If you enquire as to his bodily shape, he has a well-knit frame, shorter than the very tallest, but rising above men of middle stature. His head is round and dome-like, his curling hair retreats a little from the forehead towards the top. He is not bull-necked.81 A shaggy arch of eyebrows crowns his eyes; but if he droops his eye‑lids the lashes seem to fall well-nigh to the middle of his cheeks.82 The lobes of his ears, after the fashion of his nation, are covered by wisps of over-lying hair. His nose is most beautifully curved; his lips are thin, and are not enlarged when the angles of his mouth are dilated:83 if by chance they open a regular, but rather prominent set of teeth, they at once remind you of the colour of milk. He cuts every day the hairs which grow at the bottom of his nostrils. At his temples, which are somewhat hollowed out, begins a shaggy beard, which in the lower part of his face is plucked out by the roots by the assiduous care of his barber. His chin, his throat, his neck, all fleshy without obesity, are covered with a milk‑white skin, which when more closely inspected, is covered with a youthful glow. For it is modesty, not anger, which so often brings this colour into his face.
p354 'His shoulders are well-turned, his arms powerful, his fore-arms hard, his hands wide-spread: he is a well set‑up man, with chest prominent and stomach drawn in. You can trace on the surface of his back the points where the ribs terminate in the deeply recessed spine. His sides are swollen out with prominent muscles. Strength reigns in his well-girded loins. His thigh is hard as horn: the leg joints have a very masculine appearance: his knee, which shows but few wrinkles, is especially comely. The legs rest upon full round calves, and two feet of very moderate size support these mighty limbs.84
'You will ask, perhaps, what is the manner of his daily life in public. It is this. Before dawn he attends the celebration of divine service by his [Arian] priests, attended by a very small retinue. He shows great assiduity in this practice, though if you are admitted to his confidence you may perceive that it is with him rather a matter of habit than of religious feeling. The rest of the morning is devoted to the care of the administration of his kingdom. Armed nobles85 stand round his chair: the crowd of skin-clothed guards are admitted to the palace in order to ensure their being on duty; they are kept aloof from the royal presence that their noise may not disturb him, and so their p355 growling talk goes on before the doors, shut out as they are by the curtain, though shut in by the railings.86 Within the enclosure are admitted the ambassadors of foreign powers: he hears them at great length, he answers in few words. In negotiation his tendency is to delay, in action to promptitude.
'It is now the second hour after sunrise: he rises from his throne and spends his leisure in inspecting his treasury or his stables. If a hunting day is announced, he rides forth, not carrying his bow by his side — that would be beneath his kingly dignity — but if in the chase, or on the road, you point out to him beast or bird within shooting distance, his hand is at once stretched out behind him and the slave puts into it the bow with its string floating in the air, for he deems it a womanish thing to have your bow strung for you by another, and a childish thing to carry it in a case. When he has received it, sometimes he bends the two ends towards one another in his hand, sometimes he lets the unknotted end drop to his heel, and then with quickly moving fingers tightens the loose knot of the wandering string.87 Then he takes the arrows, fits them in, sends them forth, first desiring you to tell him what mark you wish him to aim at. You choose what he has to hit, and he hits it. If there is a mistake made by either party, it is more often the sight of the chooser than the aim of the archer that is at fault.
p356 'If you are asked to join him in the banquet, which, however, on non‑festal days, is like the entertainment of a private person, you will not see there the panting servants laying on the groaning table a tasteless heap of discoloured silver. The weight then is to be found in the conversation rather than in the plate since all the guests, if they talk of anything at all, talk of serious matters. The tapestry88 and curtains are sometimes of purple [cloth], sometimes of cotton. The meats on the table please you, not by their high price, but by the skill with which they are cooked, the silver by its brightness, not by its weight. The cups and goblets are so seldom replenished that you are more likely to complain of thirst than to be accused of drunkenness. In short, you may see there Greek elegance, Gallic abundance, Italian quickness, the pomp of a public personage, the assiduity of a private citizen, the discipline of a king's household. Of the luxury which is displayed on high-days and holidays89 I need not give you any account, because it cannot be unknown even to the most unknown persons. Let me return to my task.
'The noontide slumber, when the meal is ended, is never long, and is frequently omitted altogether. Often at this time he takes a fancy to play at backgammon:90 then he collects the counters quickly, views them anxiously, decides on his moves skilfully, makes them promptly, talks to the counters jocularly, waits his turn patiently. At a good throw he says nothing, at a p357 bad one he laughs; neither good nor bad makes him lose his temper nor his philosophical equanimity. He does not like a speculative game either on the part of his adversary or himself, dislikes a lucky chance offered to himself, and will not reckon on its being offered to his opponent. You get your men out of his table without unnecessary trouble, he gets his out of yours without collusion.91 You would fancy that even in moving his counters he was planning a campaign. His sole anxiety is to conquer.
'When a game is on hand, he drops for a little time the severity of royal etiquette, and invites his companions in play, to free and social intercourse. To tell you what I think, he fears to be feared. At the end he is delighted to see the vexation of a conquered rival, and takes credit to himself for having really won the game, when his opponent's ill‑temper shows that he has not yielded out of courtesy. And here notice a strange thing: often that very complacency of his, arising from such a trifling cause, ensures the successful carriage of serious business. Then petitions, which have well-nigh been shipwrecked by the injudiciousness of those who favoured them, suddenly find a harbour of safety. In this way, I myself, when I have had somewhat to ask of him, have been fortunate enough to be beaten, and have seen my table ruined with a light heart, because I knew that my cause would triumph.
'About the ninth hour [3 o'clock] comes back again all that weary turmoil of kingship. The suitors return, the guards return whose business it is to remove them. Everywhere you hear the hum of claimants, and this is protracted till nightfall, and only ceases when it is cut p358 short by the royal supper. Then the petitioners, following their various patrons, are dispersed throughout the palace, where they keep watch till bedtime arrives. At the supper sometimes, though rarely, comic actors are introduced who utter their satiric pleasantries: in such fashion, however, that none of the guests shall be wounded by their biting tongues. At these repasts no hydraulic organs blow, no band of vocalists under the guidance of a singing-master intone together their premeditated harmony. No harpist, no flute-player, no choir-master, no female player on the tambourine or the cithara, makes melody. The king is charmed only by those instruments under whose influence virtue soothes the soul as much as sweet sounds soothe the ear. When he rises from table the royal treasury receives its sentinels for the night, and armed men stand at all the entrances to the palace, by whom the hours of his first sleep will be watched over.
'But what has all this to do with my promise, which was to tell you a little about the king, not a great deal about his manner of reigning? I really must bid my pen to stop, for you did not ask to be made acquainted with anything more than the personal appearance and favourite pursuits of Theodoric: and I sat down to write a letter, not a history. Farewell.'
'Sidonius wishes health to his friend Syagrius.
'As you are grandson of a Consul, and that on the p359 paternal side, as you are sprung (which is more to our present purpose) from a poetic stock, descended from men who would have earned statues by their poems if they had not earned them by their services to the state, all which is shown by those verses of your ancestors which the present generation studies with unimpaired interest, — as these are your antecedents, I cannot describe my astonishment at the ease with which you have mastered the German tongue. I remember that in your boyhood you were well trained in liberal studies, and I am informed that you often declaimed before a professional orator with force and eloquence. But since this is the case, pray tell me whence your soul has suddenly imbibed the oratory of an alien race, so you who had the phraseology of Virgil flogged into you at school, you who sweated over the long and stately sentences of Cicero, now swoop down upon us like a young falcon from the German language as though that were your old eyrie.
'You cannot imagine how I and all your other friends laugh when we hear that even the barbarian is afraid to talk his own language before you lest he should make a slip in his grammar.93 When you are interpreting their letters, the old men of Germany, bent with age, stand in open-mouthed wonder, and in their transactions with one another they voluntarily choose you for arbitrator and judge. A new Solon when you have to discuss the laws of the Burgundians, a new p360 Amphion when you have to evoke music from their three-stringed lyre, you are loved and courted, you please, you decree, you are obeyed. And though the barbarians are equally stiff and lumpish in body and mind, yet in you they learn and love the speech of their fathers, the disposition of a Roman.
'It only now remains for you, oh most brilliant of wits, to bestow any spare time which may still be yours on reading [Latin], and so to retain that elegance of style which you now possess. Thus while you preserve your Latin that we may not laugh at you, you will practise your German that you may be able to laugh at us. Farewell.'
A young kinsman of Sidonius, also named Apollinaris, had been brought into some danger through the calumnies of informers who represented to the Burgundian prince Chilperic that he was secretly plotting for the surrender of Vaison, a border fortress,d to 'the new Emperor,' Julius Nepos.
Sidonius writes concerning these informers to Thaumastus, the brother of the calumniated man, with sympathetic indignation.
'These are the men, as you have often heard me say, under whose villainies our country groans, longing for the more merciful barbarians. These are the men before whom even the great tremble. These are they whose peculiar province it appears to be to bring calumnious accusations, to carry off men from their p361 homes, to frighten them with threats, to pillage their substance. These are the men who in idleness boast of their business, in peace of their plunder, in war of their clever escapes, in their cups of victories. These are they who procrastinate your lawsuit if you engage them, who get it postponed if you pass them by, who are annoyed if you remind them of their engagement, and forget it — after taking your fee — if you do not. . . . . These are the men who envy quiet citizens their tranquillity, soldiers their pay, post-masters their tariffs, merchants their markets, ambassadors their functions, tax‑farmers their tolls, the provincials their farms, the burgesses their guild-dinners,95 the cashiers their weights, the registrars their measures, the scribes their salaries, the accountants their fees, the guards their largesse, the cities their repose, the publicans their taxes, the clergy their reverence, the nobles their birth, their betters their precedence, their equals their equality, the officials their power, the ex‑officials their privileges, the learners their schools, the teachers their stipends, the taught their knowledge.
'These are the men drunken with new wealth, who by the vulgar display of their possessions show how little they are accustomed to ownership, the men who go in full armour to a banquet, in white robes to a funeral, in hides to church, in black to a wedding, in beaver-skin to the litany. No set of men suits them, no time seems to hit their humour. In the market they are very Scythians, in the bed‑chamber they are vipers, at the banquet buffoons, in confiscations harpies, p362 in conversation statues, in argument brute-beasts, in business snails, in enforcing a contract usurers. They are stone if you want them to understand, fire if they have to judge, quick to wrath, slow to pardon, panthers in their friendship, bears in their fun, foxes in their deceit, bulls in their pride, Minotaurs in their rapacity.
'Their firmest hopes are founded on the uncertainties of the times; they love to fish in troubled waters; yet fearful both from natural cowardice and from an uneasy conscience, while they are lions at court they are hares in the camp, and are afraid of a truce lest they should be made to disgorge, of war lest they should have to fight.'
The good bishop's invective rolls on still through some sentences, which need not be inflicted on the reader. Though well-nigh out of breath with following Sidonius' headlong rhetoric, he may still have gathered from it the important fact that the chief instruments of such oppression as was practised by the barbarian invaders upon the provincials were men who were themselves of Roman origin.
While our poet was residing at Lyons (apparently) he was asked by one of his friends, an ex‑consul named Catulinus, to compose an epithalamium, perhaps for his daughter's marriage.
In a short, humorous poem of apology Sidonius incidentally touches off some of the physical characteristics of the Burgundians, by whom he was surrounded, and who, it is important to observe, troubled him, not by p363 their hostility, but by their too hearty and demonstrative friendship.96
'Ah me! my friend, why bid me, e'en if I had the power,
To write the light Fescennine verse, fit for the nuptial bower?
Do you forget that I am set amongst long-haired hordes,
That daily I am bound to hear the stream of German words,
That I must hear, and then must praise with sorrowful grimace
(Disgust and approbation both contending in my face),
Whate'er the gormandising sons of Burgundy may sing,
While they upon their yellow hair the rancid butter fling?
Now let me tell you what it is that makes my lyre be dumb:
It cannot sound when all around barbarian lyres do hum.
The sight of all those patrons tall (each one is •seven foot high),
From my poor Muse makes every thought of six‑foot metres fly.
Oh! happy are thine eyes, my friend: thine ears, how happy those!
And oh! thrice happy I would call thine undisgusted nose.
'Tis not round thee that every morn ten talkative machines
Exhale the smell of onions, leeks, and all their vulgar greens.
There do not seek thy house, as mine, before the dawn of day,
So many giants and so tall, so fond of trencher-play
That scarce Alcinous himself, that hospitable king,
Would find his kitchen large enough for the desires they bring.
They do not, those effusive souls, declare they look on thee
As father's friend or foster-sire — but, alas! they do on me.
But stop, my Muse! pull up! be still! or else some fool will say
"Sidonius writes lampoons again."97 Don't you believe them, pray!'
'Round me the hails of the Goths, their skapjam and matjam and drinkam,
Harshly resound: in such din who could fit verses indite?
Calliopê, sweet Muse, from the wine‑wet embraces of Bacchus
Shrinks, lest her wavering feet bear her no longer aright.'
'Sidonius wishes health to his friend Domnitius.
'You are fond of inspecting armour and armed men. What a pleasure it would be for you could you see the royal youth Sigismer, decked out like a suitor or a bridegroom, in all the bravery of his tribe, visiting the palace of his father-in‑law, his own horse gorgeously caparisoned, other horses, laden with blazing gems, going before or following after him; and then, with a touch of modesty which was especially suitable to his circumstances, in the midst of his outriders and rear-guard, he himself walked on foot, in crimson robe with burnished golden ornaments and white silken mantle, his ruddy cheeks, his golden hair, his milk-white skin repeating in his person those three colours of his dress. Of all the petty kings and confederates who accompanied him, the appearance was terrible p365 even in their peaceful garb; they had the lower part of the foot down to the heel bound about with boots of bristly ox‑leather, while their knees and their calves were without covering. Above, they had garments coming high up the neck, tight-girdled, woven of various colours, scarcely approaching their bare legs; their sleeves draped only the beginning of their arms, they had green cloaks adorned with purple fringes; their swords, depending from their shoulders by baldrics, pressed in to their sides the reindeer's skins,100 which were fastened by a round clasp. As for that part of their adornments which was also a defence, their right hands held hooked lances and battle-axes for throwing, their left sides were overshadowed by round shields whose lustre, silvery at the outer circumference and golden at the central boss, declared the wealth as well as the taste of the wearers. All was so ordered that this wedding procession suggested the thought of Mars not less emphatically than of Venus.
'But why spend so many words on the subject? All that was wanting to the show was your presence. For when I remembered that you were not looking upon a sight which it would have so delighted you to behold, I translated your feelings into my own, and longed for you as impatiently as you would have longed for the spectacle. Farewell.'
It is interesting, but somewhat perplexing, to observe that some of the details of the dress of these undoubtedly Teutonic warriors would fit equally well with the Celtic Highlanders of Scotland.
At the end of a long letter, written by Sidonius to his friend Nammatius, after dull compliments and duller banter, we suddenly find flashed upon us this life-like picture, by a contemporary hand, of the brothers and cousins of the men, if not of the very men themselves who had fought at Aylesford under Hengest and Horsa, or who were slowly winning the kingdom of the South Saxons.
'Behold, when I was on the point of concluding this epistle in which I have already chattered on too long, a messenger suddenly arrived from Saintonge with whom I have spent some hours in conversing about you and your doings, and who constantly affirms that you have just sounded your trumpet on board the fleet, and that, combining the duties of a sailor and a soldier, you are roaming along the winding shores of the Ocean, looking out for the curved pinnaces of the Saxons.102 When you see the rowers of that nation you may at once make up your mind that every one of them is an arch-pirate; with such wonderful unanimity do all at once command, obey, teach, and learn their one chosen business of brigandage. For this reason I ought to warn you to be more than ever on your guard in this warfare. Your enemy is the most truculent of all enemies. Unexpectedly he attacks, when expected he escapes, he despises those who seek to block his path, he overthrows those who are off their guard, he p367 always succeeds in cutting off the enemy whom he follows, while he never fails when he desires to effect his own escape. More, to these men a shipwreck is capital practice rather than an object of terror. The dangers of the deep are to them, not casual acquaintances, but intimate friends. For since a tempest throws the invaded off their guard, and prevents the invaders from being descried from afar, they hail with joy the crash of waves on the rocks, which gives them their best chance of escaping from other enemies than the elements.
'Then again, before they raise the deep-biting anchor from the hostile soil, and set sail from the Continent for their own country, their custom is to collect the crowd of their prisoners together, by a mockery of equity to make them cast lots which of them shall undergo the iniquitous sentence of death, and then at the moment of departure to slay every tenth man so selected by crucifixion, a practice is the more lamentable because it arises from a superstitious notion that they will thus ensure for themselves a safe return.103 Purifying themselves as they consider by such sacrifices, polluting themselves as we deem by such deeds of sacrilege, they think the foul murders which they thus commit are acts of worship to their gods, and they glory in extorting cries of agony instead of ransoms from these doomed victims.
'Wherefore I am on your behalf distraught with many fears and various forebodings; though on the other hand I have immense incitements to hope, first, p368 because you are fighting under the banner of a victorious nation; secondly, because I hold that the power of chance is limited over wise men, among whom you are rightly reckoned; thirdly, because it is often when our friends at a distance are the safest that our hearts are filled with the most sinister presentiments regarding them. . . . .
'I send you the Libri Logistorici104 of Varro, and the Chronology of Eusebius, a kind of literary file with which, if you have any leisure amidst the cares of your camp, you may rub off some of the rust from your style after you have wiped the blood from your armour. Farewell.'
The following account of the captivity and bondage of a poor woman of Auvergne incidentally illustrates the troubled condition of Gaul, while it astonishes us by the legal doctrine contained in it. Apparently the maxim with which our own courts are familiar, that 'a bonâ-fide purchaser of stolen property, without notice of the theft, may justify his holding,' even applied to the most outrageous of all thefts, that of liberty; and a woman wrongfully enslaved, but in the hands of a bonâ-fide purchaser, could not claim her freedom.
'Sidonius wishes health to "Pope" Lupus.105
'After that expression of homage which is endlessly p369 due, though it be unceasingly paid, to your incomparably eminent Apostleship, I take advantage of our old friendship to set before you the new calamities of the humble bearers of this letter, who, after having undertaken a long journey, and at this time of the year, into the heart of Auvergne, have returned with no fruit of their labour. A woman who was nearly related to them was by chance carried off by an inroad of the Vargi106 — a name borne by some local banditti — and was taken some years ago into your district and there sold. This they ascertained on indubitable evidence, and followed tardily but surely the indications which they had received. But in the meantime, before they arrived upon the scene, she, having been sold in market overt, was living as a household slave in the family of our friend the merchant.107 A certain Prudens who, they say, is now living at Troyes, appeared to vouch for the contract of her sale, which was effected by men unknown to me, and his subscription, as that of a fit and proper witness,108 is now shown attached to the deed of sale. You who are present on the spot will, from your exalted position, be easily able to test each link in this chain of wrongful acts. The affair is all the more criminal because, as I am informed by the bearers of this letter, one of the woman's fellow-travellers was actually killed when she was carried off.
p370 'But since the relations, who brood over this criminal affair, desire that your judgment should apply the remedy, I think it will be befitting both to your office and your character to devise some compromise whereby you may at the same time assist the grief of one party and the peril of the other. By some wise and well-considered sentence you may thus make the former less distressed, the latter less guilty, and both more secure; lest otherwise, such is the disturbed state of the times and the district, the affair go on to an end as fatal as was its beginning. Condescend to remember me, my lord Pope.'
Another illustration of the sufferings of the poorer inhabitants from the storms of barbarian conquest, is afforded by the following letter of intercession on behalf of a man of 'the Levitical order.' By this term Sidonius probably means to indicate a person who, though married, and working for his livelihood, filled (like Amantius the fortune-hunter) the office of Lector (reader) in the church.
'Sidonius wishes health to Pope Censorius [Bishop of Auxerre].
'The bearer of this letter is dignified by an office which raises him into the Levitical order. He with his family in avoiding the whirlpool of Gothic depredation, was swept, so to say, by the very weight of the stream of fugitives, into your territory; and there, on the possessions of the church over which your holiness presides, the hungry stranger threw into the half- p371 ploughed sods his scanty seeds, the produce of which he now begs that he may be allowed to reap without deductions. If you should be inclined to grant him as a servant of the faith this favour, namely, that he shall not be required to pay the quota which is due to the glebe, the poor man, whose notions are as bounded as his fortune, will think himself as well‑off as if was again tilling his native fields. If, therefore, you can let him off the lawful and customary rent, payable out of his very trifling harvest, he will return from your country as thankful as if he had been splendidly entertained. If you will also by his hands bestow upon me with your wonted courtesy a reply to this letter, I and my brethren living here will receive that written page as if it had come straight down from heaven. Condescend to remember me, my lord Pope.'
With this notice of the poor expatriated 'Levite' we finish our study of the social life of the falling Empire as pourtrayed from the works of Apollinaris Sidonius. But little effort is required to draw the necessary inferences from the condition of the Gallo-Romans to that of the Italians. From the shores of Como or Maggiore, as from the mountains of Auvergne, may many a needy tiller of the soil have been 'swept away by the tide of flight from the conquering Visigoths.' Many a Neapolitan or Tarentine woman of Greek descent and Italian nationality may have been carried away like the poor Gaulish woman by wild marauders following in the track of the invading armies, sold as a slave, and not even the place of her bondage discovered for years by her friends. The habits of the Saxon freebooters may help us to understand the life of bold piratical adventure led by the p372 Vandals, though we must not attribute the harsher features of heathen savagery to the Arian followers of Gaiseric. And in the pictures of the court and retinue of Theodoric and Sigismer we have probably some strokes which will be equally applicable to every Teuton chief who led his men over the Alpine passes into Italy, from Alaric to Alboin.
It is impossible not to think with regret of the wasted opportunities of Apollinaris Sidonius. Here is a man who evidently hungered and thirsted for literary distinction even more than for consular dignity or saintly canonisation. Yet he has achieved nothing beyond a fifth-rate position as a 'post-classical' author, and with difficulty do a few historical inquirers, like Gibbon, Guizot, Thierry, keep his name from being absolutely forgotten by the world. Had he faced the new and strange nationalities which were swarming forth from Germany, in the simple, enquiring, child-like attitude of the Father of History, he might have been the Herodotus of Mediaeval and Modern Europe. From him we might have learned the songs which were sung by the actual contemporaries of Attila and Gundahar, and which formed the kernel of the Niebelungen-Lied; from him we might have received a true and authentic picture of the laws and customs of the Goths, the Franks, and the Burgundians, a picture which would have in turn illustrated and been illustrated by the poetry of Tacitus' Germania, and the prose of the Black-letter commentators on English Common Law. He might have transmitted to us the full portraiture of the great Apostle of the Germanic races, Ulfilas, the secret causes of his and their devotion to the Arian form of Christianity, the Gothic p373 equivalents of the mythological tales of the Scandinavian Edda, the story of the old Runes and their relation to the Moeso-Gothic Alphabet. All these details and a hundred more, full of interest to Science, to Art, to Literature, Sidonius might have preserved for us, had his mind been as open as was that of Herodotus to the manifold impressions made by picturesque and strange nationalities. But he turned away with disgust from the seven-foot high barbarians, smelling of leeks and onions, and by preference told over again for the hundredth time and worse than any of his predecessors, the vapid and worn‑out stories of Greek mythology. Most truly has our own Wordsworth said,
'We live by Admiration, Hope, and Love,
And even as these are well and wisely fixed
In dignity of being we ascend.'110
For want of the first two qualities and others which spring up around them, Sidonius has missed one of the grandest opportunities ever offered in literature.
1 Except in so far as the plundering raids of Gaiseric might be termed invasions.
2 I except from this condemnation Salvian, the author of the treatise 'De Gubernatione Dei.'
3 He added, 'Who was crucified for us' to the 'Holy! Holy! Holy!'
'Haud facile emergunt quorum virtutibus obstat
Res angusta domi.' Juvenal, III.164‑5.
5 This curious custom, which seems to have been peculiar to the last ages of the Empire, is mentioned by Claudian (De Quarto Consulatu Honorii, 615, and In Eutropium, I.310), also by Sidonius himself (Panegyric of Anthemius, 545).
7 Crégut refers this name to the Celtic word Car = Stone.
8 Epist. II.2.
9 'Quanquam terrenus, arduus tamen.'
10 'Sed donec domicilio competens vestibuli campus aperitur, mediam vallem rectis tractibus prosequuntur latera clivorum usque in marginem villae, quae in Boream Austrumque conversis frontibus tenditur.' This obscure sentence is one of the difficulties in the identification of Avitacum. But the real difficulty is in the Latin of Sidonius rather than in the configuration of the country round Aydat.
11 A guess at the meaning of 'interjecto consistorio perangusto, ubi somnolentiae dormitandi potius quam dormiendi locus est.'
12 It will be seen that I have adopted the theory that the Avitacum of Sidonius is the modern Aydat. The only other site whose claims are worth considering is the lake of Chambon, •about twenty-five miles south-west of Clermont, and immediately under the range of Mont Dore. Having only seen Lac d'Aydat and not Lake Chambon, I have no right to express any opinion of my own as to the respective claims of the two sites, but certainly the arguments of Abbé Crégut in his Essay on Avitacum (Clermont-Ferrand, 1890), statement very convincing on behalf of Aydat. The similarity of name (the earlier form of Aydat is Aydac) and the persistent local cultus of St. Sidonius are both of them arguments of weight, but the strongest point is, in my judgment, the character of the exit of the river from the lake. Owing to the nature of the wild jumble of rocks (la Cheyre) which form the eastern end of the lake, the Pontava does escape from it 'per colla subterranea,' a feature of the landscape which we are told is entirely wanting at Chambon.
13 His wife Papianilla was still alive at the time of his elevation to the episcopate.
14 These are De Retz's words with reference to his appointment as Coadjutor-Archbishop of Paris: 'I was not ignorant of the necessity there is for a Bishop to live regularly. . . . But at the same time I found that it was not in my power to live in that manner, and that all the reasons which conscience or honour could suggest to me against an irregular life would prove but insignificant and weak. After six days' deliberation, I chose to act ill, designedly, which as to God is beyond comparison the most criminal, but which is without doubt the wisest as to the world. The reason is, that when you act in that manner you always take some previous measures that will cover part of the ill action, and that you avoid besides the most dangerous sort of ridicule that persons of our profession can be exposed to, which is mixing preposterously sin with devotion. . . . . However, I had fully resolved to discharge exactly all the outward duties of my profession, and to take as much care of other people's souls as I took little of my own' (Memoirs, book II).
15 His biographers seem generally to treat this as an ordinary imprisonment, but there are some indications that Sidonius was entrusted with some difficult and disagreeable commission at Livia, no doubt with the intention of taking him away from his faithful Arverni. Compare especially Ep. IX.3, 'Nam per officii imaginem vel, quod est verius, necessitatem solo patrio exactus, hic relegor variis quaquaversum fragoribus, quia patior hic incommoda peregrini, illic damna proscripti.'
16 Partly as an act of friendship, and partly by way of ransom, Sidonius translated for Leo the life of Apollonius of Tyana, the Paracelsus-Cagliostro of the first century, whose marvellous career was by some of the opponents of Christianity claimed as a counterpoise to the Gospel-history of Jesus. Sidonius does not seem to be aware of this polemical use of the biography: at least, he speaks of Apollonius in terms of unqualified praise, and pays court to Leo by drawing a very strange parallel between the philosopher and the minister.
17 This is Tillemont's date, but it is possibly too late. Mommsen (in the Introduction prefixed to Sidonius' letters in the 'Monumenta,' p. xlix) argues strongly for 479, but this seems hardly to leave time enough for that part of his life which followed his imprisonment at Livia. And several of the expressions used by Sidonius seem to point to a more advanced period of life than his fiftieth year.
18 The particulars of the death of Sidonius are given us by Gregory of Tours, II.23.
19 Abbé Chaix, II.401.
20 Ep. III.4.
21 'Ex asse damnabilem.'
22 Ep. VI.11.
23 Sidonius is guilty of such false quantities as Euripīdes, phīlosophus, and diastĕma (διάστημα). He puts Babylon on the Tigris and the rocks of the Symplegades hard by Corinth.
24 Like Optatian's Panegyrics on Constantine, things distracting even to look at.
25 Like Faltonia Proba's, telling, after a fashion, the story of the Fall and Redemption of Man in a poem of some 650 lines entirely drawn from the Aeneid of Virgil, and laboriously twisted from their original meaning.
26 Ep. V.17. This letter is quoted by Guizot (Hist. de la Civilisation en France, Leçon III). He is probably in error in treating it as a scene in the life of a Bishop of the fifth century, for everything seems to show that the letter was written several years before Sidonius' elevation to the episcopate.
27 Apparently, this is a title of courtesy. Domnicius was not probably the actual brother of Sidonius.
29 Ep. II.9.
30 'Et ecce huc sphaeristarum contra stantium paria inter rotatiles catastropharum gyros duplicabantur.' Perhaps some future researches into the tennis of the Romans may elucidate these mysterious words.
31 The three words used in this sentence, plutei, cunei, and armaria, were all technical terms in Roman libraries.
33 It may be observed that the very word 'siesta' (at the sixth hour) marks the permanence of Roman customs in the lands bordering on the Mediterranean. As the 'prandium' was at the fifth hour, the repose would naturally be at the sixth.
34 The Gard of the celebrated 'Pont du Gard.'
35 Ep. II.10.
36 All these points occur in the description of Constantine's 'Church of the Saviour' at Jerusalem, and Justinian's Church of St. Sophia at Constantinople, given in Smith's Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, art. Church.
'Distinctum vario nitore marmor
Percurrit cameram, solum, fenestras.'
'The windows (of St. Sophia) are filled with slabs of marble, pierced with square openings filled with thick pieces of cast glass' (Smith's Dict. of Christ. Antt. l.c.)
'Ac sub versicoloribus figuris
Vernans herbida crusta sapphiratos
Flectit per prasinum vitrum lapillos.'
As the meaning of these lines is not very clear, I have ventured to interpolate a memory of Ravenna. In the vaulted roof above the tomb of Galla Placidia, one sees a bright mosaic picture of two stags drinking, and the pool between them is blue, lined with emerald-green glass ('sapphirati ' surrounded with 'prasinum vitrum').
39 Ep. IV.8.
40 These are the verses in the original —
'Pistigero quae concha vehit Tritone Cytheren
Hac sibi collata cedere non dubitet.
Poscimus, inclina paulisper culmen herile,
Et munus parvum, magna patrona, cape:
Evodiumque libens non aspernare clientem,
Quem faciens grandem tu quoque major eris.
Sic tibi cui rex est genitor, socer atque maritus,
Natus rex quoque sit cum patre postque patrem.
Felices lymphae, clausae quae luce metalli,
Ora tamen dominae lucidiora fovent!
Nam cum dignatur regina hinc tingere vultus,
Candor in argentum mittitur e facie.'
41 Ep. VII.2.
42 As a lector he was entitled to receive 'literae formatae' from the Bishop, a certificate which was given to no one who was not in some sense clericus.
43 Ep. VI.8.
44 'Raptim saltuatimque.'
45 Referring to the affair of Hippolytus and his step-mother Phaedra.
46 Papa was the common form of address used towards all Bishops at this time.
47 Nugi-gerulus is the curious term used by Sidonius.
48 Ep. VIII.11 (much abridged in translation).
49 Oh humiliating necessity of birth, sad necessity of living, hard necessity of dying!
50 Ep. V.13.
51 Some subordinate official under Seronatus.
52 Translation doubtful.
54 Ep. II.1.
55 Ep. IV.9.
56 'Vectio illustri viro.'
57 Rustici. These are evidently the coloni, free-born, yet dependent on their patronus, the precursors of the villeins 'adscripti glebae' of later centuries.
58 'Quae non sit tetra sed tetrica,' an untranslateable pun.
59 'Non sub palliolo sed sub paludamento.'
60 Ep. IV.13.
61 'Spectabilis viri.'
62 Ep. IV.12.
63 'Deus bone!' Sidonius is very fond of this exclamation. If it was especially affected by the Christians of Gaul, it may help to explain the frequency of the French 'Bon Dieu!'
64 This is how I understand the expression 'ego filiusque communis.' We know from one of Sidonius' letters (V.4) that the sons of Simplicius studied as pupils with him. He complains that on account of his too great kindness to them at first, they did not treat him with proper respect.
65 The slave who was called Lector was apparently also the letter-carrier.
66 Pugillares, the little wax‑covered tablets, meant to hold in the hand, upon which hasty memoranda were inscribed.
67 Ep. V.16. This letter was written in 475. Sidonius was probably at Lyons; his wife at Auvergne.
68 Ecdicius had done good service in defending Auvergne against the Visigoths.
69 'Propitio Deo Christo.'
70 This gradation of ranks, Familia Praefectoria, Patritia, Consularis, is worth noticing.
71 His daughter.
72 'Tenerum non infirmatur aevum sed informatur ingenium.'
73 Ep. IV.24. It will be seen that Sidonius plays upon the name of his correspondent, which recalls the antagonist of Aeneas.
75 'Cauta centesima est foeneratori.' Interest, by the Romans, was reckoned monthly; and this expression, therefore, means one per cent per month, or twelve per annum.
76 'Exsecutorum;' as we should say, 'the sheriff's officers.'
77 'Cilicium,' the kind of fabric that St. Paul used to manufacture.
78 Ep. I.2.
79 Theodoric II, son of the veteran who fell at the battle in the Mauriac plains, ascended the throne in 453, having won the crown by the murder of his brother Thorismund, and was himself slain by order of his brother and successor Euric, 466. The letter is a difficult one, and I have therefore translated it more literally than usual.
80 Did Sidonius not believe in Theodoric's participation in the conspiracy against Thorismund, or had he forgotten, or did he deliberately ignore it?
81 (?) 'Cervix non sedet nervis.'
82 'Si vero cilia flectantur, ad malas medias palpebrarum margo prope pervenit.' (!)
83 This is questionable sense, but what is the meaning of the Latin 'Labra subtilia, nec dilatatis oris angulis ampliata'?
84 Gibbon points out that this curiously minute appraisement of the bodily frame of Theodoric was composed by an author and perused by readers who had probably frequented the markets where naked slaves were exposed for sale. It is such a singular indication of the kind of flattery which a Roman provincial thought it prudent to bring to a barbarian king, that I have not thought it desirable to curtail it.
85 'Circumsistit sellam comes armiger.' The term 'circumsistit' seems to require the plural meaning. It is impossible to render the exact force of comes, not yet fully developed into the feudal 'Count,' but certainly more than 'Companion.'
86 'Cancelli,' the lattice-work partition which marked off the royal precincts, whence 'cancellarius,' the door-keeper, and our Lord High Chancellor: also the chancel of a church.
87 'Igitur acceptum modo insinuatis e regione capitibus intendit, modo ad talum pendulum, nodi parte conversâ, languentem chordae laqueum vagantis digito superlabente prosequitur.' I cannot pretend to translate this obscure passage quite literally.
88 'Toreuma;' literally, 'work executed in relief,' 'embossed with the needle.' Perhaps it should be rendered 'cushions.'
89 'De luxu sabbatario,' opposed to 'diebus profestis.'
91 'Sine motu evaditur, sine colludio evadit.'
92 Ep. V.5. The Syagrius, into whose relations to his German neighbours this strange side-light is thrown by a letter from Sidonius, is apparently the same person as the son of Aegidius, the so‑called 'Roman King of Soissons,' whose defeat in 486 was one of the first steps in the upward career of Clovis.
93 'Te praesente formidet facere linguae suae barbarus barbarismum.'
94 Ep. V.7.
95 Flaminia, literally 'their priesthoods.' But probably these old heathen dignities were only kept up for the sake of some convivial practices connected with them.
'Inter hails Goticum, skapjam jam matjam jad driggkam,
Non audet quisquam dignos educere versus.
Calliope madido trepidat se jungere Baccho
Ne pedibus non stet ebria Musa suis.'
This epigram is quoted from the Anthologia Latina by Massmann and other editors of Ulfilas. It is valuable as containing four Gothic words — hails, 'your health' (the drinking shout, also found in 'wassail'); skapjan, 'to make or frame;' matjan, 'to eat;' drinkan, 'to drink,' together with jah, the Gothic 'and,' which takes at the end by assimilation the letter of the following word.
99 Ep. IV.20. The assignment of a Frankish nationality to Sigismer is only a probable conjecture. Domnitius or Domnicius, the correspondent to whom this letter is addressed, is the enthusiastic dice-player of the first letter. (See p322.)
100 The 'rheno,' or reindeer's skin, seems to have answered the same purpose as the 'waterproof' of modern civilisation, and, like it, when not actually in use, would be rolled up and slung over the shoulder.
102 'Contra Saxonum pandos myoparones.'
103 Compare with this statement the classical legend concerning the sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis to procure favourable winds for the Grecian fleet.
104 A lost work, satirising the manners of the time.
106 Apparently these were Teutonic depredators. Vargs is found in Old High German with the signification 'an outlaw,' and vargitha in the Gothic translation of the Bible by Ulfilas = 'condemnation' (Romans xiii.2).
107 'Negotiatoris nostri,' apparently an allusion to some merchant known both to Sidonius and Lupus.
108 Or guarantor, 'adstipulator.'
109 Ep. VI.10.
110 Excursion, book IV.
a The rules of Greco-Latin prosody, which hinge on patterns of short and long syllables, make certain words impossible to include in a given species of verse. Sidonius' comment, thus, is not a bit of courteous chat but a statement of technical fact. (For an amusing example of the contortions required, see the attractive uncial inscription on the church of S. Maria in Pietralunga, Umbria.)
b The rendering is rather free, as must be inevitable with a verse translation. In spots it seems to matter, so here's Sidonius' Latin original (Ep. II.10.4):
Quisquis pontificis patrisque nostri
Collaudas Patientis hic laborem,
Voti compote supplicatione
Concessum experiere quod rogabis.
Aedes celsa nitet, nec in sinistrum
Aut dextrum trahitur, sed arce frontis
Ortum prospicit aequinoctialem.
Intus lux micat, atque bracteatum
Sol sic sollicitatur ad lacunar,
Fulvo ut concolor erret in metallo.
Distinctum vario nitore marmor,
Percurrit cameram, solum, fenestras:
Ac sub versicoloribus figuris
Vernans herbida crusta sapphiratos
Flecti per prasinum vitrum lapillos.
Hinc est porticus applicata triplex
Fulmentis Aquitanicis superba:
Ad cujus specimen remotiora
Claudunt atria porticus secundae:
Et campum medium procul locatas
Vestis saxea silva per columnas.
Hinc agger sonat, hinc Arar resultat.
Hinc sese pedes atque eques reflectit,
Stridentum et moderator essedorum:
Curvorum hinc chorus helciariorum,
Responsantibus alleluia ripis,
Ad Christum levat amnicum celeusma.
Sic, sic psallite, nauta, vel viator:
Namque iste est locus omnibus petendus,
Omnes quo via ducit ad salutem.
Another English translation (Dalton, 1915), prose and thus more literal, can be found at Tertullian.Org.
c Since Aquitania is a very long way from Lyon, the reason for this expensive stone must be unusual beauty combined with strength. A prime candidate to fit the bill would be what is now called St-Béat marble, from the area of the town by that name in the central French Pyrenees, not far from the Roman town of Lugdunum Convenarum (today's St‑Bertrand-de‑Comminges), marble from which was prized enough in recent centuries to be used in the Louvre and at Versailles, and more to the point, was used in Antiquity, a bit earlier than Sidonius' time, for Cassian's sarcophagus in Marseille.
d Vasio Vocontiorum, now Vaison-la‑Romaine; on the southern edge of the Burgundian territory of Lyon, towards Provence.
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Page updated: 17 Jun 20