Sidonius shows elite men’s gender-disdain for men in 5th-century Gaul

Elite men, big men — men who have prevailed in grappling for status in gynocentric society — serve their personal interests in promoting sexism against men. Men as a gender are almost all non-elite men. Big men typically work to belittle lower-status men and to present themselves as not like those other men. Writings of the eminent fifth-century Gaulish poet and Roman official Sidonius Apollinaris, like those of the eminent twentieth-century French historian Georges Duby, illustrate that elite men’s discourse embraces disdain for men as a gender. Elite men strategically fashion themselves as not like men in the gender of men.

Three days after the widely admired woman Philomathia died, Sidonius wrote to his friend Desideratus. Philomathia died in her early thirties. She left behind a husband and five children, as well as a father, for whom she was the only child. Sidonius, who wrote the epitaph for Philomathia, sought Disideratus’s literary evaluation of that epitaph and urged Desideratus to come to console the grieving families. Sidonius declared to Desideratus:

If the little children had kept their mother and lost their father, who has long been disabled, they would be regarded less as being like orphans.

{ qui parvuli si matre sospite perdidissent iam diu debilem patrem, minus pupilli existimarentur. }[1]

Sidonius said nothing specific about the disability of Philomathia’s husband. Many disabilities don’t imply disability as a parent, particularly in the presence of supportive relatives and friends. Moreover, Philomathia’s mother had died many years earlier. As a single parent, Philomathia’s father apparently raised her to be an admired woman. The claim that fathers matter less to children than mothers endures to this day most egregiously in anti-men sexism in child custody decisions. Fatherhood is a generic aspect of men’s gender. Like Sidonius, elite men are biased toward declaring men disabled as fathers.

Sidonius aggrandized the wife of Chilperic, king of the Germanic Burgundians. Writing to a bishop, Sidonius depicted the king’s wife as being more culturally sophisticated than the king:

It is well-known that the king unceasingly praises your meals, and the queen, your fasts.

{ constet indesinenter regem praesentem prandia tua, reginam laudare ieiunia }[2]

Sidonius feared the talk of evil men surrounding King Chilperic and explained, “these are men whom even those fear who are themselves feared {hi sunt, quos timent etiam qui timentur}.” According to Sidonius, the key person in this dangerous situation is Chilperic’s wife:

Certainly what principally heals us in our afflictions is that his Tanaquil moderates our Lucumo. With the advantage of witty conversation, she clears away the poisonous filth that whisperers have put in her husband’s ears. You should know that so far by her effort the venom of the new Cibyrates around the mind of our mutual patron has not at all injured the tranquility of our mutual brothers. With God favoring, it will not in any way be injuring, if only as long as the current power governs Lyonese Germany, and the current Agrippina moderates our and her Germanicus. Farewell.

{ sane, quod principaliter medetur afflictis, temperat Lucumonem nostrum Tanaquil sua et aures mariti virosa susurronum faece completas opportunitate salsi sermonis eruderat. cuius studio scire vos par est nihil interim quieti fratrum communium apud animum communis patroni iuniorum Cibyratarum venena nocuisse neque quicquam deo propitiante nocitura, si modo, quamdiu praesens potestas Lugdunensem Germaniam regit, nostrum suumque Germanicum praesens Agrippina moderetur. vale. }[3]

King Chilperic is figured as Lucumo, meaning Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth king of Rome. His wife Tanaquil steered him onto the throne. She did the same for Servius Tullius, whom she raised as her own son. Tanaquil was a strong woman and a revered Roman historical figure. The Cibyrates, in contrast, were two men who betrayed Sicily and helped it to be plundered. The current power governing “Lyonese Germany” and “her Germanicus” are again the Germanic king Chilperic. The one who restrains him from excess is his wife, figured alternately as the revered Roman women Agrippina the Elder. She was the wife of preeminent Roman general Germanicus Julius Caesar. In short, Sidonius was invoking, in a learned and tangential way, the perennial claim that all of a husband’s success he owes to his wife.

Elite men demean other men by devaluing their intrinsic virtue. For example, Sidonius in a letter to a bishop friend recounted some life history of his letter-carrier Amantius. According to Sidonius, that life history is “a tale equal to those of Miletus or Athens {fabula Miletiae vel Atticae par}.” He meant it was a bawdy tale of outrageous deception. Amantius’s story actually was rather different:

By chance it occurred that next to the lodging that Amantius rented lived a certain woman no less attractive in substantial income than in character. She had a daughter who had already passed through her infancy but had not yet approached marriageable age. He, fawning on her (since she was the age of a dear little girl, such was still proper), now gives her certain trinkets, now a girl’s game or discarded junk. For these insufficient reasons, the little girl’s heart was strongly bound to this grown-up. Years passed making her suitable for marriage. Why delay further? The young man was alone, barely solvent, a wanderer, and a minor in his family. He left the land of his father, with his father not merely unwilling but also ignorant of his departure. He then sought, procured, and married a young woman not his inferior in birth and his superior in material means.

{ forte accidit, ut deversorio, cui ipse successerat, quaedam femina non minus censu quam moribus idonea vicinaretur, cuius filia infantiae iam temporibus emensis necdum tamen nubilibus annis appropinquabat, huic hic blandus (siquidem ea aetas infantulae, ut adhuc decenter) nunc quaedam frivola, nunc ludo apta virgineo scruta donabat; quibus isti parum grandibus causis plurimum virgunculae animus copulabatur. anni obiter thalamo pares: quid morer multis? adulescens, solus tenuis peregrinus, filius familias et e patria patre non solum non volente verum et ignorante discedens, puellam non inferiorem natalibus, facultatibus superiorem … uxorem petit, empetrat, ducit. }[4]

That marriage endured and produced numerous children. Amantius thus realized his seminal blessing as a man and made his marriage ultimately satisfactory to his mother-in-law. Amantius’s name literally means “lover.” His name is humorous and his story sensational only for elite men looking down upon the activities of ambitious, low-status men.

Sidonius gratuitously demeaned Amantius and other men like him. Sidonius ironically observed of Amantius:

In the eyes of others he pursued chastity and sobriety, which is so laudable in young men as it is rare.

{ pudicitiam prae ceteris sobrietatemque sectari, quod tam laudandum in iuventute quam rarum }

The young man Amantius spent years in serious, self-disciplined behavior that put him in position to marry a young woman from a wealthy family. Nothing in Sidonius’s story indicates that Amantius had sex with any woman other than his wife. In the eyes of Sidonius, Amantius only appeared to be chaste and sober, but wasn’t, because he successfully worked to marry a young woman from a wealthy family. To improve men’s welfare, men should be encouraged to marry wealthy, young, attractive, warmly receptive women. Low-status men should not be disdained for so marrying.

Amantius reportedly exaggerated his wealth in order to allow him to marry the widow’s young daughter. Sidonius hyperbolically declared:

The mother-in-law didn’t investigate his means, nor did his bride look down on his person. … The marriage agreements were written. Every estate that exists here in the neighborhood of our tiny town was inserted in the matrimonial documents and read aloud with farcical generosity. When this legal deceit and solemn fraud had been completed, the beloved pauper carried off his wealthy wife.

{ socru non inspiciente substantiam, sponsa non despiciente personam … conscribuntur tabulae nuptiales; et si qua est istic municipioli nostri suburbanitas, matrimonialibus illic inserta documentis mimica largitate recitatur. peracta circumscriptione legitima et fraude sollemni levat divitem coniugem pauper adamatus }

Sidonius and Amantius lived in Clermont-Ferrand, one of the oldest cities in present-day France. Not a “tiny town {municipiolum},” Clermont-Ferrand was also one of the largest cities in Roman Gaul. Amantius surely couldn’t have gotten away with claiming to own every estate in and around Clermont-Ferrand. He probably exaggerated his wealth to the extent necessary to marry his beloved, just as many today exaggerate their qualifications to get desired jobs. Elite men too often deceptively depict low-status men as deceivers.[5]

woman prostitute soliciting an ugly, fat man

Anticipating an elite trend of recent decades, Sidonius even gratuitously depicted a low-status man as a rapist. Around 470 GC, Sidonius complained to a neighboring landowner named Pudens:

The son of your nursing woman has abducted / raped the daughter of mine.

{ Nutricis meae filiam filius tuae rapuit }[6]

Latin language and Roman law didn’t clearly distinguished between a woman and man consensually eloping, a man forcibly abducting a woman, and a man raping a woman. Such conceptual confusion has endured in laws such as the U.S. Mann Act and the criminalization of men seducing women. In this case, the man was a servant effectively bound to the land, and the woman was a free woman. They apparently eloped consensually and established a socially recognized domestic partnership. Pudens asked that this man’s offense be forgiven. Sidonius responded:

I consent under this condition: that you release the rapist from his hereditary status of bound landless laborer and become his patron instead of his lord.

{ sub condicione concedo: si stupratorem pro domino iam patronus originali solvas inquilinatu }

Sidonius was offended that a free woman of his household effectively married a lower-status man. That’s no reason, however, to call that man a rapist.[7] Sidonius apparently internalized social contempt for men’s sexuality:

The woman moreover — she is already free. She then will be seen as not handed over for wantonness, but received as a wife, only if our guilty one, on whose behalf you plead, should immediately be made your client instead of a taxpayer and so begin to have the standing of a plebeian rather than that of a tenant farmer.

{ mulier autem illa iam libera est; quae tum demum videbitur non ludibrio addicta sed assumpta coniugio, si reus noster, pro quo precaris, mox cliens factus e tributario plebeiam potius incipiat habere personam quam colonariam. }

The matter to Sidonius was all about personal status. He assumed low-status men in unauthorized relationships with women to be sexually blameworthy irrespective of the actual characteristics of their intimate relationship. That’s everyday sexism against men.

What would be vigorously condemned as misogyny passes with little comment when the subject is a man. In a letter to his son, Sidonius hatefully depicted another man named Gnatho:

His body is fouler and more misshapen than a cadaver on a funeral pile after torches have been applied and it’s half-burned with sitting on the heap of firebrands and has rolled down the pyre, so that now it is nauseating the undertaker’s assistant such that he dreads to replace it.

{ illa sordidior est atque deformior cadavere rogali quod facibus admotis semicombustum moxque sidente strue torrium devolutum reddere pyrae iam fastidiosus pollinctor exhorret. }[8]

That’s an imagined mini-narrative used as a disparaging personal description. As is common, invective against a man explicitly attacks his genitals:

I say nothing about the fetidly goatish, souring caves of his armpits that imprison his sides with their ramparts and with which he sends to their grave the noses of those around him by spreading plague like a double Ampsanctus. I say nothing about his defeated breasts that hang down by their weight of fat, that fall like maternal teats — even for men’s breasts to protrude at all would be disgusting enough. I say nothing of his belly curving in pendulous folds, with its ugly wrinkles offering an uglier cover for his genitals, which by their disability are doubly shameful.

{ taceo quod alarum specubus hircosis atque acescentibus latera captiva vallatus nares circumsedentum ventilata duplicis Ampsancti peste funestat. taceo fractas pondere arvinae iacere mammas quasque foedum esset in pectore virili vel prominere, has ut ubera materna cecidisse, taceo ventris inflexi pendulos casses parti genitalium, quia debili, bis pudendae turpibus rugis turpius praebere velamen. }[9]

Sidonius framed this outrageous letter to his son with praise for his son’s judgment in personal associations:

I feel the utmost satisfaction, joy, and admiration that your fondness for chastity causes you to flee from tenting with lewd men, especially those who have no thought and no reverence as they pursue foul deeds and chatter about them, those who pollute the modest ears of the public with immodest words, and who loftily see themselves as very witty. … Therefore you will fulfill my prayer if you don’t associate with such companions even by infrequent companionship. Most of all, have nothing to do with those for whom shame sends forth no restraint on theatrical, prostituted talk. The tongue of braggarts, since they are apart from the luster of honor, is being defiled by the scum of unbridled, talkative wantonness, like their most foul conscience. After all, one could more easily find a person who talks earnestly and lives obscenely, than to exhibit a person who is at the same time wicked in speaking and upright in manner of living. Farewell.

{ Unice probo gaudeo admiror, quod castitatis adfectu contubernia fugis impudicorum, praesertim quibus nihil pensi, nihil sancti est in appetendis garriendisque turpitudinibus quique, quod verbis inverecundis aurium publicarum reverentiam incestant, granditer sibi videntur facetiari. … igitur ex voto meo feceris si talium sodalitati ne congressu quidem primore sociere, maxume illorum quorum sermonibus prostitutis ac theatralibus nullas habenas, nulla praemittit repagula pudor, nam quibus citra honestatis nitorem iactitabundis loquacis faece petulantiae lingua polluitur infrenis, his conscientia quoque sordidatissima est. denique facilius obtingit ut quispiam seria loquens vivat obscene, quam valeat ostendi qui pariter exsistat improbus dictis et probus moribus, vale. }

By his numerous, viciously unbridled words about Gnatho, Sidonius surely didn’t mean to encourage his son not to associate with his father. Hatefully foul words about men seem not to be in the same category as other hatefully foul words. While that social fact is obvious to perceptive adults today, Sidonius apparently sought to teach it to his son in fifth-century Gaul.

Despite its significance, Sidonius’s invective against Gnatho has received little critical analysis. Sidonius offered close to a “uniformly positive” portrayal of women. In his poems and letters, women are “the idealized, traditional Roman wife.”[10] Gnatho, who is totally unlike an idealized Roman man, has been characterized as a “fictitious stock character.”[11] Gnatho’s name probably comes from a classical Latin comedy. Yet Sidonius is an allusive writer, and the literary name Gnatho doesn’t necessarily imply a fictitious character:

The literary providence of this name and the unlikelihood of any individual exhibiting all of the negative features Sidonius lists has inhibited reading Gnatho as anything other than a fictional construct, but Sidonius could well have substituted in Gnatho for the original name in the letter, or relied on his son Apollinaris, and readers, to know who Gnatho really was.[12]

The repulsive man Gnatho apparently became a stock figure through the influence of Sidonius’s letter. In surviving classical literature, no such lengthy abuse of a man or woman exists. Sidonius’s abuse of Gnatho is far more extensive and vicious than Horace’s generally condemned disparagement of an old widow in Epode 8. Gnatho himself wasn’t even suffering natural indignities of old age. The influence of Gnatho can be seen in Geta in Vitalis of Blois’s Amphitrion, Spurius in William of Blois’s Alda, Davus and Beroe in Matthew of Vendôme’s The Art of Verse-Making {Ars Versificatoria}, and perhaps also Moriuht in Warner’s Moriuht.[13] Sidonius authorized elite men to disseminate openly and at length viciously disparaging portraits of lower-status men.

Status competition among elite men fundamentally concerns winning women’s acclaim. The persons that appear in Sidonius’s letters and poems are overwhelmingly Roman Christians of the Nicene creed, socially privileged, and natives of Gaul. Such written associations help to maintain Sidonius’s elite status. In addition, 87% of persons in Sidonius’s letters and poems are male. A pioneering prosopographic analysis of Sidonius’s written works observed:

The disparity between named and unnamed is particularly egregious with respect to gender. … Whereas 292 of the 386 men (76% of the individual men and 66% of all individuals) are named, only a pathetic 16 of the 59 women (27% of the individual women, 5.5% of the named men, and 3.6% of all individuals) are given names. Sidonius inhabited a homosocial world where women were rarely mentioned, and even more rarely named. At least insofar as his poetry and letters went, women were barely on Sidonius’ radar.[14]

Men don’t need to name women to promote their own elite status. Men don’t need to name women while demeaning lower-status men. As narratives of epic violence against men make clear, honor and shame among men are very much in the eyes of women.

woman stitching standard for men

Elite men gender-disparaging men has effects. Men have long endured brutalization of their sexuality and use of their bodies as disposable instruments in fighting wars. Despite the development of low-cost DNA paternity testing, men today continue to lack parental certainty about biological children — parental certainty that women naturally have. Men have no reproductive rights whatsoever, while reproductive rights for women are a matter of intense public concern. Elite men not only ignore gender injustices against men, they attack any men who would dare mention those injustices. Elite men socially position themselves as good men. Elite men garner acclaim as champions for women and slayers of other, generically “bad” men.

The writings of Sidonius Apollinaris in fifth-century Gaul provides a poignant case study in the behavior of an elite man toward men as a gender. His pattern of behavior remains readily apparent today.

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[1] Sidonius Apollinaris, Letter {Epistola} 2.8, “Sidonius to his friend Desideratus, greetings {Sidonius Desiderato suo salutem},” from section 1, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Anderson (1965). All subsequent quotes from Sidonius’s Epistolae are similarly sourced from Anderson (1936 / 1965). Scion of an illustrious family, son-in-law of a Roman Emperor, and himself a Praefect of Rome, Sidonius lived among the elite of fifth-century Gaul.

Sidonius composed his epitaph for Philomathia and his letter to Desideratus only a few days apart. The most thorough review of the dating of Sidonius’s works dates the two as “later 460s, maybe 469 (after Carm. 32).” Kelly (2020) p. 178, Table 3.3.

The gravity and temporal extent of the disability that Philomathia’s husband suffered isn’t clear. Her husband was Eriphius. Sidonius wrote to him to tell him the circumstances in which he composed an epigram on a face-towel for Philomathia’s father, Philomathius. Sidonius noted with respect to Eriphius, “an infirmity being an impediment to you, at that time you weren’t present {tibi infirmitas impedimento, ne tunc adesses}.” But Sidonius also began his letter with words characterizing Eriphius’s abilities:

My dear Eriphius, you are the same as ever, and never does hunting, civic life, or your land so distract you that you don’t occasionally embrace the pleasure of literature.

{ Es, Eriphi meus, ipse qui semper numquamque te tantum venatio civitas ager avocat, ut non obiter litterarum voluptate teneare }

Sidonius, Epistola 5.17, “Sidonius to his friend Eriphius, greetings {Sidonius Eriphio suo salutem},” from section 1. The previous short quote is from Epistola 5.17.4. Given these abilities, Eriphius actually may not have been significantly disabled as a father. At the time of Epistola 5.17, Philomathia’s father was young enough to participate in a physically vigorous sport, although he tired earlier than other participants. Epistola 5.17.6-7.

The date of Epistola 5.17 relative to Epistola 2.8 isn’t convincingly known. The most thorough review dates the epigram on Philomathius’s face-towel as “460s, maybe 469.” Kelly (2020) p. 178, Table 3.3. Sidonius wrote that epigram after celebrating the holy day of Saint Justus at the church of Saint Justus in Lyon. Saint Justus became Bishop of Lyon about 350 GC and died about 390 GC. A large church in Lyon was named to honor him early in the fifth century. Sidonius described participants in the liturgy as afterwards going “to the tomb of Syagrius {ad conditorium Syagrii}.” Epistola 5.17.4. Syagrius has been identified as Flavius Afranius Syagrius. He died some time after 382 GC. Mathisen (2020) p. 122. However, Book 5 of Sidonius’s Epistolae is thought to have been published about 477. Kelly (2020) pp. 185-6, 193-4. Kelly dated Epistola 5.17 to before Epistola 2.8. Id. p. 175, n. 50.

Sidonius effusively praised Philomathia. In her epitaph he declared her to be:

Pride of your family, glory of your husband,
prudent, chaste, worthy, serious, and sweet,
an example even to your seniors.
What persons are accustomed to regard as opposites,
you have united with the advantage of your character.
Thus they have been companions of your good life:
grave light-heartedness and witty propriety.

{ o splendor generis, decus mariti,
prudens casta decens severa dulcis
atque ipsis senioribus sequenda,
discordantia quae solent putari
morum commoditate copulasti:
nam vitae comites bonae fuerunt
libertas gravis et pudor facetus. }

Epistola 2.8.3 (Carmen 26), excerpt.

[2] Sidonius, Epistola 6.12, “Sidonius to the Lord Bishop Patiens, greetings {Sidonius Domino Papae Patienti salutem},” from section 3. Patiens was bishop of Lyons from 449 to 490.

[3] Sidonius, Epistola 5.7, “Sidonius to his friend Thaumastus, greetings {Sidonius Thaumasto suo salutem},” from section 7. Thaumastus, the brother of Simplicius and Apollinaris of Vaison, was Sidonius’s cousin and was closely associated with him. Mathisen (2020) p. 123.

Wives can and sometimes do dominate their husbands. Writing about 495 GC to his friend Volusianus, Bishop of Tours, Ruricius of Limoges referred to a threatening foreign enemy, perhaps Franks, and to Volusianus’s abusive wife:

If I had not taken heed of my personal status and office, I would have sent your letter-carrier back to you as my men were treated not by what would be called your wife, but by an excessively insolent and unbridled lady-lord. Even if you tolerate her manners for so long, either voluntarily or by necessity, to the diminution of your reputation, you should know that others neither wish nor are content to endure them. Since you write that you are stupefied with fear of the enemy, I write that you who are accustomed to sustaining a domestic enemy should not fear a foreign one.

{ nisi existimationem personae meae aut officii cogitassem, portitorem litterarum tuarum talem ad te remiseram, quales homines meos non matrona vestra, sed domina procax nimium et effrenata perduxit, cuius mores, si tu tanto tempore cum famae tuae diminutione aut voluntarie aut necessitate supportas, alios noveris nec velle ferre nec esse contentos. nam quod scribis te metu hostium hebetem factum, timere hostem non debet extraneum, qui consuevit sustinere domesticum. }

Ruricius of Limoges, Epistola 3.27, “Bishop Ruricis to his brother bishop Volusianius {Ruricius episcopus fratri Volusiano episcopo},” Latin text from Mathisen (2003) vol. 2, pp. 120-1, English translation (modified) from id. vol. 1, p. 103. For an edition and English translation of all of Ruricius’s letter collection, Mathisen (1999).

[4] Sidonius, Epistola 7.2, “Sidonius to the Lord Bishop Graecus {Sidonius Domino Papae Graeco salutem},” from section 6-7. Graecus was Bishop of Marseille in the 470s. The previous short quote above, “a tale equal to those of Miletus or Athens,” is from section 9. The subsequent two quotes above are from sections 5 (In the eyes of others…) and 7-8 (The mother-in-law didn’t investigate…). My translation of these quotes from Epistola 7.2 benefited from the commentary of van Waarden (2009). While Epistola 7.2 is the main source on Amantius, he is also mentioned in Epistolae 6.8, 7.7, 7.10, and 9.4.

[5] Mathisen observed of Amantius:

Sidonius treated him indulgently, making him a lector, called him a callidus viator (‘cunning traveller’) and a praestigiator (‘con artist’), and nicknamed him ‘Hippolytus.’

Mathisen (2020) p. 79. Sidonius treated Amantius kindly in deeds but not in words.

In figuring Amantius as Hippolytus, “our Hippolytus {noster Hippolytus},” Sidonius probably was claiming ironically that Amantius by having children with his wife “seduced” his mother-in-law. An alternate interpretation:

Amantius is loosely associated with Hippolytus as a paragon of youthful, injured innocence, again with an unmistakable undertone of irony on the part of Sidonius.

van Waarden (2009) p. 156. That interpretation seems to me less contextually justified and less meaningful.

Mathisen didn’t accurately translate Amantius’s alleged deception. The passage:

conscribuntur tabulae nuptiales; et si qua est istic municipioli nostri suburbanitas, matrimonialibus illic inserta documentis mimica largitate recitatur

Mathisen translated as:

The marriage contract was executed, and some little suburban plot or other at Clermont was put into settlement and read out with much theatrical parade.

Mathisen (2003) vol. 1, p. 51, with foonote 32 at “Clermont”:

This presumable was property that Amantius did not yet own.

Id. Cf van Waarden (2009) p. 150-1. Anderson’s earlier translation is more accurate:

The marriage settlements are written out, and any and every estate in the vicinity of our little town here was entered in the matrimonial documents and read out with theatrical grandeur.

Anderson (1965) p. 299. Id., Mathisen (2003), van Waarden (2009), and Mathisen (2020) didn’t recognize Sidonius’s exaggerations in his story of Amantius in Epistola 7.2.

[6] Sidonius, Epistola 5.19, “Sidonius to his friend Pudens, greetings {Sidonius Pudenti suo salutem},” from section 1. The subsequent two quotes above are similarly from Epistola 5.19.1-2.

[7] On the relevant Roman law, Grey (2008) pp. 288-9, MacDonald (2000) pp. 97-8, and note [2] in my post on the capture of the Sabine women in Rome’s founding. While the term raptus encompasses a wide range of circumstances, Sidonius’s language emphasizes the violence and harm of rape. What’s now commonly called the “rape of the Sabine women” involved the Sabine women becoming gender-privileged wives of Roman men.

[8] Sidonius, Epistola 3.13, “Sidonius to his son Apollinaris, greetings {Sidonius Apollinari suo salutem},” from section 5. The subsequent two quotes above are from sections 8 (I say nothing about the fetidly goatish…) and 1 & 11 (I feel the utmost satisfaction…).

While Gnatho had lower status than Sidonius, Gnatho wasn’t a low-status man. Mathisen ranked Gnatho as a “most notable man {vir clarissimus},” a senatorial title of the third rank. Mathisen (2020) p. 99.

Michael Gilleland, who frankly characterizes himself as a curmudgeon and an antediluvian, quoted some of Sidonius’s harsh disparagement of Gnatho and declared, “The entire letter is amusing.”

[9] Ampsanctus is a lake close to the Via Appia in southern Italy. It was associated with a temple of Mephitis, a goddess of foul-smelling gases, and the gateway to Hell. Virgil, Aeneid 7.563-70.

[10] MacDonald (2000) pp. 102, 107. Cf. Epistola 9.6, where Sidonius disparages a “shameless slave-woman {ancilla propudiosissima}.” MacDonald concluded her gynocentric analysis tendentiously:

Overall, the role of women in the writing of Sidonius is rhetorical rather than descriptive. Women do not have a large role in the published letters and poems. Sidonius does not include letters to women in his published works, except one letter to his wife. Women in his own family are absent from Sidonius’ letters and poems although he does glorify the family connections of his wife. Sidonius’ practice confirms the belief that women belonged in the private, not the public, sphere of Gallo-Roman aristocratic life.

Id. p. 102. Academics today tend to define the “public sphere” in a way that excludes women, e.g. the “public sphere” means the sphere of persons mentioned in Sidonius’s letters. Women are key players in constructing and judging men’s social status. Men’s social status is a central concern in Sidonius’s letters.

[11] Mathisen (2020) p. 99. The name Gnatho probably comes from the dinner-seeking sycophant Gnatho in Terence’s The Eunuch {Eunuchus}. Terence’s Eunuchus was first performed in Rome in 161 BC.

[12] Hanaghan (2019) p. 92. Hanaghan notes the tonal similarity of Sidonius’s invective against Gnatho to his invective against Seronatus in Epistola 2.1. Seronatus was an actual Gallo-Roman official who allegedly betrayed provinces to the Visigoths.

[13] Chronopoulos (2020) p. 645, Ziolkowski (1984) p. 2. Sidonius’s portrait of Theodoric II, King of the Visigoths, was influential as a description of a beautiful man. While Sidonius explicitly disparaged Gnatho’s genitals, he more obliquely praised Theodoric’s virility:

Strength reigns in his well-girt loins. His thigh is hard like a horn.

{ in succinctis regnat vigor ilibus. corneum femur }

Epistola 1.2, “Sidonius to his dear friend Agricola, greetings {Sidonius Agricolae suo salutem}.” Sidonius’s portraits of Gnatho and Theodoric “were ceaselessly imitated in both Latin and vernacular medieval literatures.” Hernández Lobato (2020) p. 669.

[14] Mathisen (2020) pp. 44-5. The previous statistics on prosopography for Sidonius are from id. p. 40.

[images] (1) Woman prostitute soliciting a fat, ugly man. Excerpt from drawing with wash by Francisco de Goya in 1796-97. Preserved as item 1995.15 in the Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, US). Credit: John L. Severance Fund. (2) Woman stitching a standard for men. Painted by Edmund Leighton in 1911. 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.

Chronopoulos, Tina. 2020. “Glossing Sidonius in the Middle Ages.” Chapter 21 (pp. 643-664) in Kelly & van Waarden (2020).

Grey, Cam. 2008. “Two Young Lovers: An Abduction Marriage and Its Consequences in Fifth-Century Gaul.” The Classical Quarterly. 58 (1): 286–302.

Hanaghan, Michael P. 2019. Reading Sidonius’ Epistles. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Review by Joop van Waarden.

Hernández Lobato, Jesús. 2020. “Sidonius in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.” Chapter 22 (pp. 665-685) in Kelly & van Waarden (2020).

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

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.

MacDonald, Eve. 2000. Representations of Women in Sidonius Apollinaris and Gregory of Tours: Coniuges et Reginae. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Ottawa. Deposited at National Library of Canada / Bibliothèque nationale du Canada.

Mathisen, Ralph W, ed. and trans. 1999. Ruricius of Limoges and Friends: A Collection of Letters from Visigothic Gaul . Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press.

Mathisen, Ralph W. 2003. People, Personal Expression, and Social Relations in Late Antiquity. 2 volumes. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Volume 1. Reviews by M.A. Claussen and by Guy Halsall.

Mathisen, Ralph. 2020. “Sidonius’ People.” Chapter 2 (pp. 29-165) in Kelly & van Waarden (2020). Alternate source.

Van Waarden, Joop. 2009. Writing to survive: A commentary on Sidonius Apollinaris, Letters Book 7, Volume 1: The episcopal letters 1-11. Ph.D. Thesis, Amsterdam Institute for Humanities Research, Universiteit van Amsterdam. Review by Robin Whelan. Corrections and continuation.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 1984. “Avatars of Ugliness in Medieval Literature.” The Modern Language Review. 79 (1): 1-20.

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