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For the Franco-Irish saint, see Sidonius of Saint-Saëns.
Saint Sidonius Apollinaris
Born c. 430, Lugdunum, Gaul
Died c. 489
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Feast August 21

Gaius Sollius (Modestus) Apollinaris Sidonius or Saint Sidonius Apollinaris (November 5[1] of an unknown year, perhaps 430 – August, 489), a poet, diplomat, and bishop. Sidonius was "the single most important surviving author from fifth-century Gaul" according to Eric Goldberg.[2] He was one of four fifth- to sixth-century Gallo-Roman aristocrats whose letters survive in quantity; the others are Ruricius bishop of Limoges (died 507), Alcimus Ecdicius Avitus, bishop of Vienne (died 518) and Magnus Felix Ennodius of Arles, bishop of Ticinum (died 534). All of them were linked in the tightly-bound aristocratic Gallo-Roman network that provided the bishops of Catholic Gaul.[3] His Feast Day is August 21.



Sidonius was born in Lugdunum (Lyon). His father Apollinaris (born circa 405) was the Prefect of Gaul under Valentinian III between 425 and 455 and the son of another Apollinaris, who was Praetorian Prefect of Gaul before 409 and a friend of his successor Decimus Rusticus. He seems to be a descendant of another Apollinaris, Prefect of Gaul under Constantine II between 337 and 340.

Sidonius married Papianilla in about 452. She was the daughter of Emperor Avitus.[4] His life and friendships put him in the center of 5th century Roman affairs.

In 457 Majorianus deprived Avitus of the empire and seized the city of Lyons; Sidonius fell into his hands. However, the reputation of the aristocrat's learning led Majorianus to treat him with the greatest respect. In return Sidonius composed a panegyric in his honour (as he had previously done for Avitus), which won for him a statue at Rome and the title of count. In 467 or 468 the emperor Anthemius rewarded him for the panegyric which he had written in honour of him by raising him to the post of Urban Prefect of Rome until 470, and afterwards to the dignity of Patrician and Senator. In 470 or 472, more for his political than for his theological abilities, he was chosen to succeed Eparchius in the bishopric of Auvergne (Clermont, now Clermont-Ferrand) until 480. Most of the previous holders of the benefice have been made saints in the Roman Catholic Church, including his recent predecessor, Saint Namatius (bishop 446-62), who laid the foundations of a proper cathedral. Sidonius Apollinaris was not a religious man; his election was probably due more to his influential contacts, and his tireless efforts on preserving his corner of Gaul for the Roman Empire.

On the capture of that city by the Goths in 474 he was imprisoned, as he had taken an active part in its defence; but he was afterwards restored by Euric, king of the Goths, and continued to govern his bishopric as before until his death.

Sidonius' relations have been traced over several generations as a narrative of a family's fortunes, from the prominence of his paternal grandfather's time into subsequent decline in the 6th century under the Franks. Sidonius' son, also named Apollinaris, was a correspondent of Ruricius of Limoges, commanded a unit raised in Auvergne on the losing side of the decisive Battle of Vouille, and also served as bishop of Clermont for 4 months until his death.[5] Sidonius' grandson Arcadius, on hearing a rumor that the Frankish king Theuderic I had died, betrayed Clermont to Childebert I, only to abandon his wife and mother when Theuderic appeared; his other appearance in the history of Gregory of Tours is as a servant of king Childebert.[6]


His extant works are his Panegyrics on different emperors (in which he draws largely upon Statius, Ausonius and Claudian), which document several important political events. Carmen 7 is a panegyric to his father-in-law Avitus on his inauguration as emperor. Carmen 5 is a panegyric to Majorian, which offers evidence that Sidonius was able to overcome the natural suspicion and hostility towards the man who was responsible for the death of his father-in-law. Carmen 2 is a panegyric to the emperor Anthemius, part of Sidonius' efforts to be appointed Urban Prefect of Rome; several samples of occasional verse; and nine books of Letters, about which W.B. Anderson notes, "Whatever one may think about their style and diction, the letters of Sidonius are an invaluable source of information on many aspects of the life of his time."[7] While very stilted in diction, these Letters reveal Apollinaris as a man of genial temper, fond of good living and of pleasure. A letter of Sidonius's addressed to Riothamus, "King of the Brittones" (c. 460) is of particular interest, since it provides evidence that a king or military leader with ties to Britain lived around the time frame of King Arthur. The best edition is that in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Berlin, 1887), which gives a survey of the manuscripts. An English translation of his poetry and letters by W.B. Anderson, with accompanying Latin text, have been published by the Loeb Classical Library (volume 1, containing his poems and books 1-3 of his letters, 1939; remainder of letters, 1965).

Gregory of Tours speaks of Sidonius as a man who could recite the mass from memory and give unprepared speeches without any hesitation.[8]


  1. ^ Apollinaris alludes to the date of his birthday in a short poem addressed to his brother-in-law Ecdicius, Carmen 20.
  2. ^ The Fall of the Roman Empire Revisited: Sidonius Apollinaris and His Crisis of Identity
  3. ^ Ralph W. Mathisen, "Epistolography, Literary Circles and Family Ties in Late Roman Gaul" Transactions of the American Philological Association 111 (1981), pp. 95-109.
  4. ^ Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, 2.21. This is confirmed by the otherwise oblique allusion in Sidonius' own Epistuale 2.2.3.
  5. ^ Gregory of Tours, 2.37, 3.2
  6. ^ Gregory of Tours, 3.9, 11
  7. ^ In his introduction to Sidonius: Poems and Letters (Cambridge: Loeb, 1939), vol. 1, p. lxiv.
  8. ^ Gregory of Tours, 2.22

Sources and further reading

  • A. Molinier, Sources de l'histoire de France, no. 136 (vol. i.).
  • Thomas Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders (second edition, 1892), contain interesting sections on Apollinaris.
  • Samuel Dill, Roman Society in the Fifth Century, second edition. London, 1899.
  • C.E. Stevens, Sidonius Apollinaris and his Age. Oxford: University Press, 1933.
  • K.F. Strohecker. Der senatorische Adel im spätantiken Gallien. Tübingen, 1948.
  • Nora Chadwick, Poetry and Letters in Early Christian Gaul London: Bowes and Bowes, 1955.
  • Christian Settipani, Les Ancêtres de Charlemagne Paris: Éditions Christian, 1989.
  • Christian Settipani, Continuite Gentilice et Continuite Familiale Dans Les Familles Senatoriales Romaines A L'epoque Imperiale, Mythe et Realite, Addenda I - III (juillet 2000- octobre 2002) (n.p.: Prosopographica et Genealogica, 2002).

External links

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

St. Gaius Sollius (Modestus) Apollinaris Sidonius, Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand (c. 430489) was a Gallo-Roman poet and letter-writer, who organised the last defence of Roman Auvergne against the invading Visigoths.



The English translations used here come from W. B. Anderson's edition of the Poems and Letters (London: Heinemann, 1936-65), to which the page-references also refer.


  • Nam qui maxume doctus sibi videtur, dictionem sanam et insanam ferme appetitu pari revolvit, non amplius concupiscens erecta quae laudet quam despecta quae rideat. atque in hunc modum scientia pompa proprietas linguae Latinae iudiciis otiosorum maximo spretui est, quorum scurrilitati neglegentia comes hoc volens tantum legere, quod carpat, sic non utitur litteris, quod abutitur.
    • For the man who considers himself the best critic generally studies sound and unsound composition with equal interest, being no more greedy for lofty utterances to praise than for contemptible ones to ridicule. In this way technique, grandeur, and propriety in the use of the Latin language are particularly underrated by the armchair critics, who, with an insensibility which goes hand in hand with scurrility, and wishing to read only what they may criticize, cannot, by their very abuse of literature, be making a proper use of it.
    • Lib. 3, Ep. 14, sect. 2; vol. 2, p. 59.
  • Hi sunt, quos timent etiam qui timentur.
    • These are the men whom even they fear who are themselves feared.
    • Lib. 5, Ep. 7, sect. 1; vol. 2, p. 187.
  • O neccessitas abiecta nascendi, vivendi misera dura moriendi.
    • How dismal the necessity of birth! how miserable the necessity of living! how hard the necessity of death!
    • Lib. 8, Ep. 11, sect. 4; vol. 2, p. 463.


  • Mors obruit illos,
    non timor; invicti perstant animoque supersunt
    jam prope post animam.
    • Death may overwhelm them, but not fear; unconquerable they stand their ground, and their courage well-nigh outlives their lives.
    • Carmen 5, line 251; vol. 1 p. 83.
  • 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?
    • Why – even supposing I had the skill – do you bid me compose a song dedicated to Venus the lover of Fescennine mirth, placed as I am among long-haired hordes, having to endure German speech, praising oft with wry face the song of the gluttonous Burgundian who spreads rancid butter on his hair?
    • Carmen 12, line 1; vol. 1, p. 213.
  • Ex hoc barbaricis abacta plectris
    spernit senipedem stilum Thalia,
    ex quo septipedes videt patronos.
    • Driven away by barbarian thrumming the Muse has spurned the six-footed exercise ever since she beheld these patrons seven feet high.
    • Carmen 12, line 9; vol. 1, p. 213.

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