captive among Burgundians, Sidonius too sad to sing marriage

Living in the Gaulish city of Lyon in the early 460s, the Roman public official and poet Sidonius Apollinaris quartered Germanic Burgundians in his house. The Burgundians could serve as allies in Roman imperial intrigues and against invading Vandals and Visigoths. Sidonius apparently imagined that he had entered with the Burgundians a contubernium, a Roman quasi-marital relationship between a free citizen and a slave.[1] He was the slave and the woman to the Burgundian man. In that condition of exile from his Roman culture and Roman manhood, Sidonius lacked the strength to write a wedding song for his eminent Roman friend Catullinus. Sidonius imagined himself as being like the Jews, God’s chosen bride in Jewish understanding, living in exile in Babylon as represented in Psalm 137.

Why, as if I had the strength, do you order me
to compose a playful song honoring Venus?
I am among long-haired tentfuls
and enduring German words while
praising repeatedly with cringing face
what the gluttonous Burgundian sings,
he pouring upon his hair rancid butter!
Do you wish that I tell you what destroys poetry?
From this barbarian plucking is driven
my Thalia who has spurned the six-foot meter
since she saw these seven-foot patrons.
Happy are your eyes and ears,
happy too, one is pleased to call the nose
to which no garlic bulbs and foul onions
are belched out in the new morning from ten breakfasts,
and one not being as a little old grandfather or
a wet-nursing man, whom from the rise of dawn
men all so big as to be like giants attack,
such as not even Alcinous’s kitchen could endure.

{ Quid me, etsi valeam, parare carmen
Fescenninicolae iubes Diones
inter crinigeras situm catervas
et Germanica verba sustinentem,
laudantem tetrico subinde vultu
quod Burgundio cantat esculentus,
infundens acido comam butyro?
vis dicam tibi, quid poema frangat?
ex hoc barbaricis abacta plectris
spernit senipedem stilum Thalia,
ex quo septipedes videt patronos.
felices oculos tuos et aures
felicemque libet vocare nasum,
cui non allia sordidumque cepe
ructant mane novo decem apparatus,
quem non ut vetulum patris parentem
nutricisque virum die nec orto
tot tantique petunt simul Gigantes,
quot vix Alcinoi culina ferret. }[2]

Sidonius Apollinaris writing

Sidonius laments his inability to sing a wedding song with poignant gender contrasts. The ancient Mediterranean world admired long hair in women, but not in men.[3] The long-haired Burgundian men, however, are tall, a manly attribute attractive to women. Sidonius figures himself being as weak as a “little old grandfather {vetulus patris parens}” and as feminine as a “wet-nursing man {nutricis vir}.” The crude Burgundian men devour food as do those engaged in physically demanding, male-gendered work such as plowing, heavy construction, and fighting. Moreover, the Burgundian men have no sense for the luxurious cosmetics that women typically prize much more than do men. Human societies, and primate social groups more generally, usually are centered on women. “Uncivilized” behavior, in contrast, tends to be associated with men. Sidonius’s classical Roman muse Thalia, a woman, flees from the Burgundian men. They are perhaps obtusely singing hexameter songs of epic violence against men.[4]

Sidonius apparently knew the experience of being gender-subordinate within the home. Gregory of Tours reported:

Without his wife knowing, Sidonius would remove almost all the silver vessels from their home and disburse them to the poor. When his wife became aware, she was scandalized by it. But then he would give the value to the needy in money and restore the wares to their home.

{ plerumque nesciente coniuge vasa argentea auferebat a domo et pauperibus erogabat. Quod illa cum cognosceret, scandalizabatur in eum, sed tamen, dato egenis pretio, species domi restituebat. }[5]

A Roman husband nominally had higher status than his wife. But she ruled their home just as the Burgundians ruled Sidonius’s home.

Sidonius’s reference to Alcinous’s kitchen is best understood to refer to Alcinous hosting Jason, Medea, and the Argonauts, and then the pursuing Colchians. The Colchians, whom the Greeks regarded as barbarians, demanded that the Argonauts give the Colchian woman Medea to them. The host Alcinous declared that Medea would go with the Colchians if she hadn’t consummated a marriage with Jason. Swayed by Medea’s pleading, Alcinous’s shrewd wife arranged for Medea and Jason to consummate immediately their marriage. Thus a consummated marriage served as an excuse for Alcinous to dismiss the barbarian Cochians’ demand. Since the marriage of his friend Catullinus was still pending, Sidonius had no such excuse for turning away the barbarian Burgundians.[6]

Having imagined himself as old and female in relation to the Burgundians, Sidonius tellingly provided them with law. A shrewd, flexible mind and cultural authority have wide-ranging value. Writing about the year 474 to his friend Syagrius, Sidonius declared:

How inexpressibly amazed I am that you have seized knowledge of the German tongue with such ease. And yet I remember that your boyhood included good schooling in liberal Roman studies. I know for certain that you often declaimed with spirit and eloquence before your professor of oratory. This being so, I would like you to tell me how you have managed to absorb so swiftly into your inner being the exact sounds of an alien race. After reading Virgil under the schoolmaster’s cane and toiling through the rich fluency of the varicose man Cicero from Arpinum, now you have burst forth before my eyes like a young falcon from an old nest.

{ quantum stupeam sermonis te Germanici notitiam tanta facilitate rapuisse. atqui pueritiam tuam competenter scholis liberalibus memini imbutam et saepenumero acriter eloquenterque declamasse coram oratore satis habeo compertum. atque haec cum ita sint, velim dicas, unde subito hauserunt pectora tua euphoniam gentis alienae, ut modo mihi post ferulas lectionis Maronianae postque desudatam varicosi Arpinatis opuentiam loquacitatemque quasi de harilao vetere novus falco prorumpas? }[7]

Defensively deploying wit like Cato the Elder confronting demands for more men teachers in elementary schools, Sidonius explained:

You have no idea what amusement it gives me, and others too, when I hear that in your presence the barbarian is afraid to perpetrate a barbarism in his own language. The bent elders of the Germans are astounded at you when you translate letters, and they adopt you as umpire and arbitrator in their mutual dealings. You are a new Solon of the Burgundians in discussing the laws, a new Amphion in tuning the lyre, but a three-stringed lyre. You are loved, your company is sought, you are much visited, you delight, you are picked out, you are invited, you decide issues and are heeded. Although these people are stiff and uncouth in body and mind alike, they welcome from you and learn from you their native speech combined with Roman wisdom.

{ aestimari minime potest, quanto mihi ceterisque sit risui, quotiens audio, quod te praesente formidet linguae suae facere barbarus barbarismum. adstupet tibi epistulas interpretanti curva Germanorum senectus et negotiis mutuis arbitrum te disceptatoremque desumit. novus Burgundionum Solon in legibus disserendis, novus Amphion in citharis, sed trichordibus, temperandis, amaris frequentaris, expeteris oblectas, eligeris adhiberis, decernis audiris. et quamquam aeque corporibus ac sensu rigidi sint indolatilesque, amplectuntur in te pariter et discunt sermonem patrium, cor Latinum. }

Sidonius wryly counseled Syagrius:

Only one thing remains, most clever of men: continue with undiminished zeal, even in your hours of ease, to devote some attention to reading. Like the most refined man that you are, observe a just balance between the two languages. Retain grasp of your Latin tongue, lest you be laughed at, and practice the other, in order to have a laugh at them.

{ restat hoc unum, vir facetissime, ut nihilo segnius, vel cum vacabit, aliquid lectioni operis impendas custodiasque hoc, prout es elegantissimus, temperamentum, ut ista tibi lingua teneatur, ne ridearis, illa exerceatur, ut rideas. }

Sidonius apparently followed such advice himself. The epitaph for him praised him for giving law to barbarians:

A leader of troops and a judge in the forum,
calm amid the swelling waves of the world,
constantly moderating the motions of cases,
he gave laws to the barbarian fury.
He brought back peace with considerable
counsel to kingdoms at war.

{ Rector militie forique iudex,
Mundi inter tumidas quietus undas,
Causarum moderans subinde motus
Leges barbarico dedit furori;
Discordantibus inter arma regnis
Pacem consilio reduxit amplo. }[8]

Like the Jewish Joseph rising to become vizier to the Egyptian pharaoh, Sidonius with his mind overcame the crude masculine strength of the Burgundians to become a judge for them.

Jews in captivity in Babylon

In the middle of the twentieth century, the brilliant medievalist Helen Waddell poetically recognized the relationship of Sidonius’s lament to Psalm 137. She began her English adaptation of Sidonius’s poem with:

How should I, even if I could
write you Epithalamium [9]

Those two tetrameter verses are metrically close to a transposed beginning of the King James Version of Psalm 137:

There we sat down, yea we wept,
by the rivers of Babylon [10]

Sidonius all but weeps in his description of the Burgundians occupying his house. His lament for the muse Thalia in Waddell’s adaptation is similarly telling:

How can she write a six-foot line
with seven feet of patron?

That seems to correspond to the Psalm 137 verses:

How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a strange land?

Waddell’s translation adds an extra foot to the line associated with seven feet. That change, like Sidonius’s original poem, invokes wry laughter. As a Roman facing non-Romans invading Gaul, Sidonius would have pondered the pain of Jews driven from their beloved Jerusalem and lamenting in Babylonian captivity. The humor of Sidonius’s poem shouldn’t be allowed to obscure the question of exile that it presents.

Jewish family in Babylonian exile

Sidonius attempting to compose a wedding song with Burgundians in his house coincides with him beginning to engage more extensively with Christianity. Soon after 461, Sidonius:

occupied himself with Christian concerns in Gaul, attending services at Lyons and sophisticated theological seminars at Vienne, reporting on the activities of bishops, and putting his poetic talents at their service. [11]

Pprobably in the 460s, Sidonius wrote his poem “Thanksgiving to Bishop Faustus of Riez {Eucharisticon ad Faustum Regensem episcopum}.” That poem deeply engages with Hebrew scripture.[12] In a letter securely dated to 468, Sidonius credited Christ as much as his literary style for his recent promotion to the top imperial administrative office, Praefect of Rome {Praefectus Urbi}:

I have atttained to the Praefect office under Christ’s help by the exercise of my literary style.

{ ad praefecturam sub ope Christi stili occasione pervenerim }[13]

Sidonius in 470 was elected Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand. When he died about 489, his epitaph declared:

You who will call on God with tears,
pour out your prayers over his fortunate tomb.
Known to all and read throughout the world,
there by you Sidonius is invoked.

{ Quisque hic cum lacrimis deum rogabis,
Dextrum funde preces super sepulchrum:
Nulli incognitus et legendus orbi
Illic Sidonius tibi invocetur }[14]

This epitaph suggest that Sidonius was invoked as a saint. Gregory of Tours called him “saintly {sanctus}.”[15] Sidonius in fact acquired a feast day as a saint in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar.

Sidonius’s refusal to sing a wedding song with Burgundians in his house retreats into silence for fear of being called satire. The satirical problem in its deepest sense concerns exclusiveness in the relations of persons and peoples. A scholar recently characterized Sidonius’s poem as a “xenophobic portrait of the Burgundians.” In less anachronistic terms, Christians understand all to be children of God — whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female — through faith in Christ.[16] Christians thus shouldn’t feel themselves to be exiled because of differences in language, food, and other aspects of human culture. Christians, however, honor in marriage special, exclusive love for one’s own spouse. Sidonius loved Latin culture exclusively.[17] His refusal to celebrate exclusive love with Burgundians in his house poignantly questions Christian universalism.

Is cultural exile less painful for a Christian than for a Jew? Amid the collapsing Roman Empire, Sidonius Apollinaris hosting Burgundians in his house considered that question. His poem refusing to celebrate marriage is dangerously close to satire on dominant pieties.[18]

Jews by a river in Babylon

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Sidonius regarded contubernia with disdain. Writing to Bishop Ambrosius, Sidonius disparaged the contubernium that “our dearly beloved man {dilectissimus noster}” had entered with a “slave-woman {ancilla},” “to whom his way of life has totally surrendered itself by obscene habit {se totum consuetudine obscena victus addixerat}.” As Sidonius approvingly explained, this young man, apparently a priest, had broken off his contubernium and married a young woman of lofty character and birth. Sidonius Apollinaris, Letter {Epistola} 9.6, “Sidonius to the Lord Bishop Ambrosius, Greetings {Sidonius Domino Papae Ambrosio salutem},” Latin text from Anderson (1965), my English translation, benefiting from that of id.

[2] Sidonius Apollinaris, Song {Carmen} 12, “Epigram to the Most Notable Man Catullinus, that because of the hostility of barbarians he is unable to write a wedding song {Epigramma ad u.c. Catullinum quod propter hostilitatem barbarorum epithalamium scribere non ualeret},” vv. 1-19 (of 22), Latin text from Anderson (1936), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. The poem’s title is from Kelly (2021), with my English translation. Here’s a version of Sidonius’s poems with metrical scansion. Sidonius’s works survive in substantial form in seventy-seven manuscripts. On the manuscript record for Sidonius, Dolveck (2020).

The title “Most Notable Man {vir clarissimus / u.c.} is a senatorial title ranking below “Illustrious Man {vir illustris}” and “Admirable Man {vir spectabilis}, respectively.

Sidonius literally refers to songs of “Fescennine celebration {Fescenninicola}.” Those are playfully crude songs associated with wedding celebrations. He also literally refers to Dione, another name for the classical love goddess Venus.

Sidonius apparently composed this poem in the early 460s. That dating is based on its reference to satire in its last verse. Sidonius was accused of writing satire in a public dispute in 461. See Sidonius, Letter {Epistola} 1.11, “Sidonius to his friend Montius, Greetings {Sidonius Montio suo Salutem}.” For the connection to Carmen 12, Stevens (1933) p. 66. The leading current analysis of dating Sidonius’s compositions states that Carmen 12 “probably” dates to 461 “or soon after.” Kelly (2020) p. 171.

Burgundians are well attested in Lyon in 457. In that year the western Roman Emperor Majorian expelled them from that city. Wood (2021) p. 119. The Visigoth military leader Ricimer arranged to have Majorian killed in 461. By 463, the Burgundian leader Gundioc was serving Rome as “Master of Soldiers {Magister Militum}” in Gaul. Id. p. 120. That suggests a return of Burgundian presence in Lyon sometime between 461 and 463. Wood described Sidonius as “carefully obscuring the extent to which he and his family worked with the Burgundian magistri militum.” Id. p. 136.

[3] Disparaging Seronatus, Sidonius declares:

He has judged it particularly beautiful to make the condemned ugly before punishing them: he makes men grow their hair long and cuts short women’s hair.

{ praecipue pulchrum arbitratus ante turpare quam punire damnandos; crinem viris nutrit, mulieribus incidit }

Sidonius, Epistola 5.13, “Sidonius to his friend Pannychius, Greetings {Sidonius Pannychio suo salutem},” Latin text and English translation (modified) from Anderson (1965).

[4] Sidonius wrote two wedding songs {epithalamia}, Carmina 11 and 15, both in hexameters. The muse Thalia, whose name means literally “flourishing,” is associated with hendecasyllable poetry of comedy and idyll. Sidonius wrote Carmen 12 in hendecasyllables.

[5] Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks {Historia Francorum} 2.22, Latin text from Krusch (1884), my English translation, benefiting from that of Thorpe (1974).

Sidonius’s wife Papianilla probably overshadowed him in family wealth and political power. They married about 452. She was a member of an aristocratic land-owning family based in Clermont. Her father was Eparchius Avitus, who ruled as the Western Roman Emperor from 455 to 456. Sidonius himself was born in Lyons to an aristocratic Roman family, but after his marriage to Papianilla he made Clermont his home. His wife’s family seems to have been more important to him than his natal family. Harries (1994) p. 174. Sidonius as a young man, about age 25, delivered to the Senate in Rome a panegyric to his father-in-law, Emperor Avitus. Papianilla and Sidonius’s marriage furthered their social and political goals. No surviving evidence indicates that they had an intimate emotional relationship. Mascoli (2016).

[6] On Alcinous, the Argonauts, and the Colchians, Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 4.990–1225 and Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.9.25–26.

The reference to ten breakfasts suggests that Sidonius was hosting a contubernium (“tentful”) of Burgundian soldiers. The contubernium was a Roman, not Burgundian, military unit. The allusion to a contubernium is best understood to invoke an alternate meaning of contubernium: a marriage between a free Roman citizen and a slave.

Mratschek associated the reference to Alcinous’s kitchen to Alcinous hosting Odysseus. Mratschek (2020) pp. 23-4. But a central tension in that episode is Odysseus declining to marry the young, lovely Nausicaa. The hasty marriage of Medea and Jason after the armed, barbarian Colchians arrived Alcinous’s court seems to me a more telling allusion.

[7] Sidonius, Epistola 5.5, “Sidonius to his friend Syagrius, greetings {Sidonius Syagrio suo salutem},” Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Anderson (1965). For an alternate English translation, Dalton (1915). The subsequent two quotes above are similarly sourced from Epistola 5.5.

[8] Epitaph of Sidonius, Latin text from Montzamir (2017) Figure 4, English translation (modified slightly) from Wood (2021) p. 124, n. 125. On the new manuscript evidence concerning Sidonius’s epitaph, Furbetta (2015). On Sidonius giving law to the Burgundians, Wood (2021) pp. 123-5, Wood (2017) pp. 13-5.

[9] Waddell (1948) p. 21, reprinted in Waddell & Corrigan (1976) p. 87. Waddell presented this poem in the context of the sack of Troy:

Apollinaris Sidonius, Roman patrician and Bishop in Auvergne, was head and front of the Résistance when the Burgundians came, was captured by them, held a year in prison, released, and adored by them to the day of his death. But in the interval, a friend writes asking him to compose an Epithalamium for a marriage feast. Here is his reply. … It is a cartoon, in little, of the power in barbarian Europe of a conquered Rome.

Waddell (1948) pp. 20-1. Nebuchadnezzar’s sack of Jerusalem and the Jews’ Babylonian captivity fits well into Waddell’s context, but she didn’t mention it.

Few have been as effective as Helen Waddell in making medieval Latin poetry attractive to modern readers. While her English version of Sidonius’s song isn’t a faithful translation, it’s an interesting and insightful translation.

[10] The full text of Psalm 137 in the King James Version is readily available online. In the ninth century, the Germanic poet Gottschalk of Orbais more directly referred to Psalm 137 in his poem that begins:

How are you commanding me, little boy,
for what are you telling me, little son,
to sing a sweet song,
while I am far away in exile,
within this sea?
O why are you commanding me to sing?

{ Ut quid iubes, pusiole,
quare mandas, filiole,
carmen dulce me cantare,
cum sim longe exul valde
intra mare?
o cur iubes canere? }

Latin text from The Gottschalk Homepage, my English translation, benefiting from that of Godman (1985), p. 229. Perhaps Sidonius’s Carmen 12 partly inspired Gottschalk’s “Ut quid iubes, pusiole.” Sidonius’s works were known in early medieval France, but seemed to have “left little imprint on literature.” Hernández Lobato (2020) p. 666.

[11] Harries (2018).

[12] Sidonius’s “Thanksgiving {Eucharisticon}” / Carmen 16 (title from Kelly (2021) apparently was published as part of a book of minor poems in the mid-460s. Kelly (2020) p. 194. The dating of “Eucharisticon” could be from the mid-450s to the mid-460s. Kelly lists “early 460s?” Id. pp. 172, 174. Following older scholarship, Daly dates it “c. 465.” Daly (2000) p. 21.

Sidonius’s “Eucharisticon” is well-understood as a chapter added to Mamertus Claudianus’s About the Nature of the Soul {De statu animae}. Daly (2000) p. 23. Mamertus Claudianus, who was Sidonius’s contemporary, was a highly regarded Christian thinker in Gaul. See Sidonius, Epistola 4.11, analyzed in John (2022). Sidonius apparently had advanced to a similarly high level of Christian thought:

Internal evidence strongly suggests that his {Sidonius’s} sixteenth poem was an impressively original expansion of and commentary on insights that, in simpler, unrelated form, the friendly converse and the catechetical instruction of another close friend, Faustus of Riez, had originally shared with him. If so it must have assured Faustus that the baptism that he had adjudged Sidonius ready to receive was, by his mid-thirties, broadening and deepening its force in his life as he grew in his understanding of the Christian religion and moved toward becoming a conversus and a bishop.

Daly (2000) p. 71.

Sidonius’s grandfather Apollinaris, who served as Praetorian Praefect of Gaul under Roman Emperor Constantine III in 408, was the first in Sidonius’s male lineage to convert to Christianity. In his epitaph for Apollinaris, Sidonius called his illustrious grandfather’s conversion to Christianity his grandfather’s “greatest honor {maxima dignitas}.” Sidonius, Epistola 3.12, “Sidonius to his dear Secundus, Greetings {Sidonius secundo suo salutem}.” Sidonius’s grandfather was buried in Lyon in the Basilica of Saint-Just that Bishop Patiens of Lyon had constructed. On that major church, Epistola 2.10.

Sidonius’s Christian commitment has been devalued in the modern period. Stevens claimed that Sidonius lacked theological knowledge. Stevens (1933) pp. 132, 136. Modern historians have tended to view Sidonius as a “predominately secular figure.” Daly (2000) p. 20. “Studies of Sidonius and religion, however, have been rather lacking, especially more recently.” Mathisen (2018), which doesn’t cite Daly (2000) and omits piety-oriented verses of Sidonius’s epitaph. In modern narrative fiction drawing upon Sidonius’s life, “almost invariably, very little space is devoted in these novels to Sidonius’ role as a committed Christian, a bishop, clergyman, and future saint.” Giannotti (2020), p. 729.

[13] Sidonius, Epistola 1.9, “Sidonius to his friend Heronius, greetings {Sidonius Heronio suo salutem},” Latin text and English translation (modified) from Anderson (1936).

[14] Epitaph of Sidonius, Latin text from Montzamir (2017) Figure 4, English translation (modified slightly) from Wood (2021) p. 124, n. 125.

[15] Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks {Historia Francorum} 2.22, Latin text from Krusch (1884). For an English translation of Historia Francorum, Thorpe (1974). Sidonius’s feast day in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar is August 21.

[16] Mratschek (2020) p. 21 (“xenophobic portrait of the Burgundians”). Cf. Galations 3:25-29. Sidonius had a particularly Roman sense of universality. He described Rome as “the one political entity in the whole world where only barbarians and slaves are foreigners {unica totius orbis civitate soli barbari et servi peregrinantur}.” Epistola 1.6, “Sidonius to his friend Eutropius, greetings {Sidonius Eutropio suo salutem},” Latin text from Anderson (1936), my English translation.

Sidonius explicitly referred to satire. His recusatio from composing an epithalamium for Catallinus ends:

But already my Muse is silent and pulls on reins
after only a few jesting hendecasyllables,
lest anyone should call even these lines satire.

{ Sed iam Musa tacet tenetque habenas
paucis hendecasyllabis iocata,
ne quisquam satiram vel hos vocaret. }

Sidonius, Carmen 12, vv. 20-2, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Anderson (1936). Composing personally offensive satire was illicit. Before Emperor Majorian in Arles in 461, Paeonius falsely accused Sidonius of writing such satire. See Sidonius, Epistola 1.11, “Sidonius to his friend Montius, greetings {Sidonius Montio suo Salutem}.”

Mratschek interpreted Sidonius’s recusatio as alluding to “Ovid’s aphasia in exile in barbarous Tomis.” Mratschek (2020) p. 20. But Sidonius’s poem as a whole has little substantial contact with Ovid’s elegy. Mratschek perceived contemporary relevance of this recusatio in targeting Gundioc, the king of the Burgundians:

On the metapoetic level, what Catullinus received from Sidonius was not an innocuous wedding poem but a politically incorrect satire targeting Gundioc, king of Burgundy, who had reoccupied Lyon after the fall of Majorian and had been appointed to replace Aegidius as magister militum Galliarum. Gundioc, married to a sister of Ricimer, made Lyon his new capital and seized the provinces of Gallia Lugdunensis I, now Burgundy, and, in 463, Gallia Viennensis, the Rhône corridor. Sidonius’s twist in the last line is covertly a subversive criticism of the regime, its focus the final extinction of the genre under Majorian’s barbarian successors.

Id. p. 25 (footnotes omitted). Sidonius apparently had good relations with Gundioc and other Burgundian leaders. Wood (2021) pp. 122-6. Sidonius’s concern about writing satire seems to me better situated in relation to his allusion to Psalm 137.

[17] Early in the fifth century, the Gaul Rutilius Namatianus regarded Rome as a mother to Romans. Sidonius similarly seems to have regarded Rome as his mother. Harries argued:

A champion of Latin letters and Roman aristocratic values, Sidonius was also for most of his career an advocate of co-operation with the Goths of Aquitaine. Both a career politician and an ardent Christian, Sidonius in his writings reveals the confusion of loyalties afflicting an aristocracy under threat and the compromises necessary for survival. … For Sidonius, the conflict was not between Christianity and pagan classicism but between Roman culture, which he identified with the classical tradition, and barbarism.

Harries (1994), from book blurb and p. 3. Mratschek concluded:

On closer examination Sidonius’ references to the past are in no way as transparent as they seem to be: ‘they project everything to do with Sidonius himself and his personal experiences in a way that suggests they are viewed behind a mask or in a mirror’.

Mratschek (2013) p. 268, quoting Küppers (2005), p. 260. Sidonius was like a Jew, but one whose holy city was Rome and whose holy land included Roman Gaul. The central conflict in Carmen 12 seems to me to be between Sidonius’s exclusive love for Roman culture and his Christian faith.

Schlapbach highlighted that Sidonius is “decidedly self-conscious in more than one way.” She perceived formal tension in Sidonius’s recusatio from the Fescennine verses of epithalamium: “this poem claims to be neither a conventional wedding song nor a satire, but in some oblique way it is both.” Schlapbach (2020) pp. 45, 57. The poem is a wedding song in the sense that it depicts an unpleasant and undesired marriage between Sidonius and the Burgundians. The poem’s satire reflects upon Sidonius’s developing Christianity.

[18] van Waarden observed:

Elements of satire and invective as well as a broad array of all kinds of humour play an important role in Sidonius’ work. … Often, a critical (political) message seems to lurk below the innocent surface

van Waarden (2022) p. 1022. The political matter of fifth-century Roman imperial collapse was also a Christian matter.

[images] (1) Sidonius Apollinaris writing. Illumination at the beginning of a twelfth-century manuscript of Sidonius’s works. From folio 1r of Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS. Plutei 45.26. (2) Jews in captivity in Babylon. Illumination for Psalm 137 on folio 78v of the mid-ninth-century Chludov Psalter. Preserved as Moscow, Hist. Mus. MS. D.129. Via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Jewish family in Babylonian exile. Painting on a dome in the library of the Palais-Bourbon in Paris. Painted by Eugène Delacroix between about 1837 to 1848. Via Wikimedia Commons. (4) Jews in exile by a river in Babylon. Painted by Gebhard Fugel c. 1920. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Anderson, W.B, ed. and trans. 1936 / 1965. Sidonius. Poems and Letters. With an English translation, introduction, and notes. 2 vols. Loeb Classical Library 296 and 420. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Vol. 1, Vol. 2.

Dalton, O.M. 1915. The Letters of Sidonius. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Vol. 1, Vol. 2. Both volumes in web-native form.

Daly, William M. 2000. “An Adverse Consensus Questioned: Does Sidonius’s Euchariston (Carmen XVI) Show That He Was Scripturally Naïve?” Traditio. 55: 19–71.

Dolveck, Franz. 2020. “The Manuscript Tradition of Sidonius.” Chapter 16 (pp. 479-507) in Kelly & van Waarden (2020). Addendum.

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John, Alison. 2022. “(Mis)Identifying Teachers in Late Antique Gaul: Sidonius’ Ep. 4.11, Mamertus Claudianus and Classical vs. Christian Education.” Mnemosyne. 75: 996-1020.

Kelly, Gavin. 2020. “Dating the Works of Sidonius.” Chapter 3 (pp. 166-194) in Kelly & van Waarden (2020).

Kelly, Gavin. 2021. “An Edition of the Paratexts of Sidonius’ Poems.” Posted online March 27, 2021 at

Kelly, Gavin, and Joop van Waarden. 2020. The Edinburgh Companion to Sidonius Apollinaris. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Reviews by Tabea L. Meurer and by Lena Walhgren-Smith.

Krusch, Bruno, ed. 1884. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingiciarum 1.1, Gregorii Episcopi Turonensis Historiarum Libri X. Hannover: Hahn.

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Mratschek, Sigrid. 2020. “The Silence of the Muses in Sidonius Apollinaris (Carm. 12–13, Ep. 8.11): Aphasia and the Timelessness of Poetic Inspiration.” Journal of Late Antiquity. 13 (1):10–43.

Schlapbach, Karin. 2020. “Veriora Nomina Camenarum: Erudition Uncertainty and Cognitive Displacement As Poetic Strategies in Sidonius Apollinaris.” Journal of Late Antiquity. 13 (1): 44–61.

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van Waarden, Joop. 2022. “Leafing through Pliny with Sidonius: Sidon. Ep. 1.1, Plin. Ep. 1.1, 1.2, and 1.5, and Satire.” Mnemosyne. 75: 1021-1043.

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Wood, Ian. 2021. ‘The Making of “the Burgundian kingdom.”Reti Medievali Rivista. 22 (2): 111-140.

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