C. So'llius Apollina'ris Sido'nius or Sidonius Apollinaris
to whom some authorities give the additional appellation of Modestus,
was born, in all probability, at Lyons, about the year A. D. 431. His father and grandfather both bore the name Apollinaris,
and both filled the office of praetorian prefect in the Gaulish provinces. Gifted by nature with great quickness, Sidonius devoted himself with ardour to literary pursuits, and by assiduous application rapidly acquired such high fame, that while still very young he was ranked among the most learned and eloquent of his contemporaries.
At an early age he married Papianilla, the child of Flavius Avitus, and upon the elevation of his father-in-law to the imperial dignity (A. D. 456), accompanied him to Rome, and celebrated his consulship in a poetical effusion still extant.
The grateful prince raised the husband of his daughter to the rank of a senator, nominated him prefect of the city, and caused his statue to be placed among the effigies which graced the library of Trajan.
The downfal of Avitus threw a cloud over the fortunes of the courtly bard, who having been shut up in Lyons, and having endured the hardships and perils of the siege, resolved, after the capture of the city by Egidius, to purchase pardon for the past and security for the future by a complimentary address to the victorious Majorian, whose exploits and virtues were extolled in strains still more hyperbolical than those inscribed to his predecessor.
The propitiatory offering was graciously accepted ; the author was not only forgiven, but was rewarded with a laurelled bust, and with the title of count.
After having passed some years in retirement during the reign of Severus, Sidonius was despatched to Rome (A. D. 467) in the character of ambassador from the Arverni to Anthemius, and on this occasion delivered a third panegyric in honour of a third prince, which proved not less successful than his former efforts, for he was now raised to the rank of a patrician, again appointed prefect of the city, and once more honoured with a statue.
But a still more remarkable tribute was soon afterwards rendered to his talents; for although in no way connected with the clerical profession, the vacant see of Clermont in Auvergne was forced upon his reluctant acceptance (A. D. 472) at the death of the bishop Eparchius.
The task at first undertaken unwillingly, was faithfully performed. During the remainder of his life he devoted himself conscientiously to the duties of his sacred office, and especially resisted with energy the progress of Arianism, which was rapidly extending its influence. Although generally respected and beloved, his career was by no means tranquil ; for when the Goths became masters of his diocese, he was compelled to withdraw for a season, and at a subsequent period, after his restoration, in consequence of the calumnious representations of two factious priests, he was for a time suspended from the exercise of his episcopal functions.
The malice of his enemies, however, having been speedily exposed, he was triumphantly reinstated, and died not long afterwards on the 21st of August, A. D. 482, or, according to others, A. D. 484.
The works of Sidonius transmitted to modern. times consist of Poems and Letters.
Twenty-four pieces, composed in various measures upon various subjects. Of these the most important are :--
Panegyricus Avilo Augusto socero dictus
, extending to 602 hexameters with a prologue (praefatio
) in eighteen and an epilogue (editio
) in eight elegiac couplets. Delivered A. D. 456.
Panegyricus Julio Valerio Maioriano Augusto dictus,
extending to 603 hexameters, with a prologue in nine elegiac couplets. Delivered A. D). 453.
Panegyricus dictus Authentico Augusto bis consuli,
extending to 548 hexameters, with a prologue in fifteen and an epilogue in five elegiac couplets. Delivered A. D. 468.
Assessment of the Panegyrics
The plan in each of these complimentary harangues is precisely the same. Each contains an account of the ancestors of the personage whom it celebrates, of his education and early career, of the feats which he had performed, and of the honours which he had won.
Besides the above, we have two Epithalamia ;
a description in 235 hexameters of the town of Burgus
(Bourg sur mer), situated on the Dronne, near its confluence with the Garonne; 512 hendecasyllabics in praise of Narbo
(Narbonne) ; Excusatorium ad V. C. Felicem
in 350 hendecasyllabics ; Eucharisticum ad Faustum Reiensem episcopumn
in 128 hexameters; Propempticon ad Libellum
in 101 hendecasyllabics, and several short epigrams.
Epistolarum Libri IX.
, containing 147 letters, many of them interspersed with pieces of poetry. They are addressed to a wide circle of relatives and friends upon topics connected with politics, literature, and domestic occurrences, but seldom touch upon ecclesiastical matters.
The writings of Sidonius are characterised by great subtlety of thought, expressed in phraseology abounding with harsh and violent metaphors. Hence he is generally obscure, and not unfrequently unintelligible; but his works throughout bear the impress of an acute, vigorous, and highly cultivated intellect.
In poetry Claudian appears to have been the object of his imitation, but he is immeasurably inferior to his model, while in his epistles he avowedly strove to tread in the footsteps of the younger Pliny and Symmachus.
In so far as Latinity is concerned, his verse, although deformed by numerous metrical solecisms, is far superior to his prose, which probably approached much more nearly to the language of ordinary life, and abounds in barbarisms. On the other hand, his frigid poems are totally destitute of interest, except in so far as the panegyrics afford some data for the historical events of an epoch regarding which trustworthy sources of information are singularly deficient, while his letters are frequently very amusing and instructive from the glimpses which they afford of domestic usages and social habits in the fifth century among persons in the upper ranks of life.
The editio Princeps of Sidonius was published at Milan fol. 1498, with notes by Joannes Baptista Pius
; the best edition is that of Sirmond, 4to. Paris, 1652
See also the collected works of Sirmond, vol. i. p. 464, ed. Venet.
; the Bibliotheca Patrum Max. Lugdun. fol. 1677, vol. vi. p. 1075
, and the Bibliotheca Patrum of Galland, fol. Venet. 1788, tom x. p. 463.
The materials for the life of Sidonius are derived chiefly from his own writings.
In consequence of the ambiguous nature of the expressions employed, some of the minor details are doubtful. See Gregor. Turonensis, Histor. Franc.
2.21; Gennad. de Viris Illustr.
c. 92; Trithem. de Script. Eccles.
100.179; Alex. Germain, Essai littéraire et historique sur Apollinairc Sidoine,
8vo. Montpell. 1840.