Project Logo Faces of JanusOU logo Classical Receptions in Drama and Poetry in English
from c.1970 to the Present
 


Homepage
Contacts

The Project
About the project

Project Publications
(including Archived Conference papers)

Specialist Bibliography
Masks Workshop Video

Critical Essays
Essays

EJournals
New Voices
Practitioners' Voices

2010 Conference

A Democratic Turn


ESeminar

2009 Democratic Turn Eseminar

1998-2008 Archived topics


Drama Database
Search the DB

Poetry Database

(pilot v. 1)
An Introduction

Case Study 1:
Michael Longley

Case Study 2:
Eavan Boland and
Olga Broumas

Database Pilot Sample:
Eavan Boland
Olga Broumas
Ted Hughes
Michael Longley

Classical historiography, ideas and material culture
Exhibiting Democracy

Classical Reception Studies Network
 CRSN

Links

© Copyright Notice

January Conference 1996

THE RECEPTION OF CLASSICAL TEXTS AND IMAGES

Hallowed Words or Melting Pot?
Sidonius Apollinaris' Use of the Poetic Tradition

Lynette Watson, Royal Holloway, University of London

Contents      Abstract

To those who consider that the Roman empire ended in AD476, Sidonius Apollinaris occupies the position of last of the 'classical' poets. There is little doubt that he knew his world was changing - born a Roman citizen, he ended his life under the sovereignty of a Visigothic ruler. What can be doubted is that he saw himself as coming at the end of a literary tradition. A staunch defender of latinitas, he was nevertheless innovative in the use he made of traditional material and, even if these innovations are not to the taste of modern critics, he is still an important link in a transitional period of literary history.

Although 'Claudian's monotonously servile ape'[1] has been one of the unkinder remarks directed at Sidonius, critics have on the whole been harsh on him, and even his translators, Anderson into English and Loyen into French, seem to agree with their conclusions.[2] A large part of the problem has been his status as a 'priceless historical source';[3] as such he is a frustrating author to historians who are poorly served for this period and who complain that he does not write history. Condemned as a plagiarist of Claudian, he is not often read by literary critics. However, an increasing interest in the literature of the late antique period and greater recognition of its merits mean that the more positive judgements of contemporary and medieval writers are being given some heed.[4]

The bulk of Sidonius' poetry is in the form of imperial panegyric which is truly occasional literature, always addressed to a particular individual at a given point in time. It is a political discourse in the context of actual political events and is, therefore, shaped by the requirements of a unique and momentary situation. By the late antique period the emperor has become an isolated and enigmatic figure and court ceremonial has been formalised to a high degree: MacCormack notes a significant change in panegyric from a quasi-philosophical treatment of character to an emphasis on visual spectacle, and likens panegyric not to propaganda but to stage drama.[5] This is certainly an appropriate analogy for Sidonius' poetry, in which we see a succession of dramatic characters, both historical and mythological, deliver carefully crafted speeches against a backdrop that is often minimalist in setting; the analogy also serves to remind us that panegyric abstracted from the visual and atmospheric aspect of its ceremonial, theatrical setting has lost a large part of its dynamics.[6] The panegyrist, whose material plays an active role in the proceedings rather than making a passive comment after the event, makes a speech in a dramatised ritual (or a ritualised drama); his script must reflect and add to the brilliance of the occasion. This script is not, however, simply a laudation of the recipient and an endorsement of his power: it also serves as an opportunity to make clear to him the audience's expectations. The poet is thus part of a complex chain of transmission and reception, all the links of which have a part to play in the creation of his verse. He receives his material as part of his cultural inheritance, but he will manipulate this material to suit the needs of the moment, which are tightly defined. For not only is the structure to a large extent laid down by convention,[7] but the work must succeed on a personal as well as a ceremonial level; successful panegyrists received public recognition in the form of statues in their honour[8] and other rewards, ostensibly for their skill. Hawthorn[9] has complained with relation to modern reception theory: 'My disquiet about reception theory is that too often it concentrates upon how literature is received by society while ignoring how society is received by literature - and the connotations of "reception" are perhaps too much of passivity and a one-way process'. Although it is perhaps inadvisable to apply too vigorously to ancient societies theories about which they had little or no conception, Hawthorn could have few complaints about the system within which Sidonius operated as a poet on this occasion when he had a double audience to satisfy: he manipulated the material which was part of his cultural heritage to produce a work which would present the new emperor of the West, a man in the novel position of being an easterner appointed by the eastern emperor, in a positive light to an influential part of society, while also presenting to the emperor the expectations of that part of society. On his success in responding to the expectations of both parties depended his personal status as a poet and, in the case of Carmen2, the success of Sidonius' own political mission. Much rested on his interpretation of the requirements of the situation and the audience's response to this. It is perhaps not going too far to describe the process in this situation as 'active' reception. This chain of reception and transmission could be summarised thus:

It can be seen from this that only Virgil and other poets of the canon are 'passive' transmitters inasmuch as they have no control over how their material is used, and only we are 'passive' receivers as we have no opportunity to influence the material at the actual stage of creation, which was very much a two-way process between author and audience.

Within the field of literary criticism there has been much discussion of the need for, or even the existence of, a 'canon' of literature[10]: for classicists this is not an area so widely open for discussion as it is for those engaged in the study of more recent texts. Russell has remarked: 'One of the inescapable features of Latin literature is that almost every author, in almost everything he writes, acknowledges his antecedents, his predecessors - in a word, the tradition in which he was bred';[11] we have to accept the presence of a canon built into the educational system. The poets of late antiquity so evidently derived their inspiration from classical authors, and poetic composition was so often based on imitatio, that this has led to unfavourable comparisons; traditional studies of classical allusion were long limited to retrieval and cataloguing and it is only relatively recently that scholars have begun to set context against context. However, late antique education was such a uniform and rhetorical practice, with a common core of texts, that what Charlet[12] has called a 'poetic koine' developed, which enabled the poet to engage in a cultural dialogue not only with his model but with his audience. The very existence of this canon created a tension between the writer's need and desire to acknowledge his predecessors, and his desire to display his own skill in re-presenting the material in a way that could be acknowledged by his audience as different. The classical canon was not drawn up in tablets of stone but was something which provided a source of material, the common property of both writer and audience, which the poet could rework in the mould of the aesthetics of his time. Roberts[13] has noted that it is the poets of the first-century A.D., especially Ovid, Lucan and Statius, who are the greatest influence on late antique style, and it is to these, in particular Statius' Silvae, that Sidonius looks for inspiration. That is not to say that he abandoned earlier traditions, but that he built on the rhetorical devices which marked first century verse as different from its preceding tradition. Jauss' three main determinants of the reader's 'horizon of expectations', by means of which a writer can anticipate a reader's response, are particularly applicable in this context:

first, by the familiar standards or the inherent poetry of the genre;

second, by the implicit relationships to familiar works of the literary-

historical context; and third, by the contrast between fiction and

reality . . . The third factor includes the possibility that the reader

of a new work has to perceive it not only within the narrow horizon

of his literary expectations but also within the wider horizon of his

experience of life.[14]

Sidonius was able to work with all three of these determinants to confirm or defeat the expectations of an audience who would recognise his skill in doing both.

Charlet has identified two distinct strands in late antique literature, 'neo-classicism' and 'neo-Alexandrianism',[15] and notes that Claudian is classical in ideology as well as rhetoric; perhaps this is why he has greater appeal to modern classical scholars than Sidonius, to whom Loyen ascribed a degenerate form of Alexandrianism.[16] One critic's 'degeneracy' is another critic's 'development', so perhaps 'neo-Alexandrianism' is a less prescriptive term; any labels will necessarily involve value judgements but at least such labels can be contested.[17] Neo-Alexandrianism makes itself evident in a tendency towards the blending of genres which Sidonius exploits in C.2 with the introduction of a mythological tableau outside the formal parameter of panegyric, and in C.15 with an epic opening to an epithalamion. Neo-Alexandrianism's passion for miniaturisation and pictorial realism (enargeia) is evident throughout Sidonius' poetry. While Zanker warns that 'realism may only pretend to present what is real',[18] it is difficult to dissociate these trends from the more general aesthetic cultural principles of late antiquity. These are removed from Virgil's world by a distance of five hundred years, and are reflected in a taste for colour, formalisation and geometrically circumscribed space.[19] Even the toga is transformed beyond classical recognition: no longer generally worn but associated with magistrates holding office, its most magnificent representation is the toga picta of the consul; in late antiquity this was decorated with geometrically shaped, embroidered or inwoven segmenta to produce a garb of dazzling detail.[20] In literature we find a similar breaking down of narrative into episodic fragments which present small independent pictures; these scenes are broken up into constituent parts which can then be enumerated in elaborate detail. This technique of detailed description (defined by Roberts as leptologia[21]) is characteristic of the ecphrasis, so prevalent in Sidonius' verse, and in late antique literature developed an autonomy beyond the extent of descriptio in the strictest sense. Galand notes that a technique codified by rhetoric has undergone a profound change and amplificatio has been increased both by digression in each part of the compositio and by lexical extension in which a theme of detail is expanded by lexical variatio.[22] This enabled poets like Ausonius and Sidonius, both men in love with words, to indulge in dazzling displays of word play, often developed to the point where meaning is endangered; insignificance of content was no obstacle to their talent, rather it meant that their talent could gleam brighter.[23] Sidonius himself summarised his technique and concluded:

moris est eloquentibus viris ingeniorum facultatem negotiorum

probare difficultatibus et illic stilum peritum quasi quendam

fecundi pectoris vomerem figere, ubi materiae sterilis argumentum

velut arida caespitis macri glaeba ieiunat.

'For eloquent men are accustomed to test the efficiency of their talent

by difficult tasks: using their clever pen as the ploughshare of their fertile

mind, they bring it to bear where a subject consisting of sterile material

grows starved on parched lean soil.' (Ep.8.10.2, trans. Anderson)

All these developments must be borne in mind when approaching Sidonius' poetry, and some passages will now be examined in the light of what has been said so far. These passages are taken from C.2, the panegyric addressed to Anthemius; a conventional template had been drawn up for this type of poetry, and the rhetorical handbooks such as that by Menander Rhetor set out the standard encomiastic topics and their arrangement.[24] However, after giving the first half of the panegyric a conventional structure, Sidonius chooses to move outside these prescribed areas and develop his theme on a mythological level; although the gods and personifications have roles in some of Claudian's panegyrics, he does not create a parallel celestial world in the way that Sidonius does. This development should clearly not be seen as an expression of divine approval of Anthemius' selection, rather the imagery provides a traditional framework for the ratification of events which have no traditional precedent: in C.2 Sidonius is helping to endorse the selection of Anthemius, the first western emperor who was an easterner appointed by the eastern emperor. Stepping outside the boundaries of conventional panegyric also provided opportunities for a lighter touch than would be appropriate in the body of material addressed directly to the emperor; panegyric is epideictic material and as such should entertain an audience. Sidonius' approach to some of his mythological characters should not be viewed as flippancy, but he clearly does not feel that the importance of his underlying themes is undermined by some variatio of tone; his panegyrics are constructed in a series of tableaux, sometimes historical, sometimes mythological, but always on an ideal level, and these idealisations are designed to justify the power which they celebrate.

The mythological tableaux are the passages in which Sidonius' relationship with the traditional canon is most readily illustrated: as Sidonius has been accused of plagiarising Claudian, some passages have been selected which enable a direct comparison to be made between their techniques in order to demonstrate that, although the material might be the same, the approach can be seen to differ.

Passages in which Sidonius is considered to have followed Claudian closely are the descriptions of the personified Tiber and Roma (Tiber: Claud.1. 209-25; Sid.C.2.332-41; Roma: Claud.1.83-99; Sid. C.2.391-404). A personification of the river Tiber appears in Claudian's panegyric celebrating the consulship of Probinus and Olybrius. In colouring and accoutrements his Tiber is reminiscent of Virgil's:

huic deus ipse loci fluvio Tiberinus amoeno

populeas inter senior se attollere frondes

visus (eum tenuis glauco velabat amictu

carbasus, et crinis umbrosa tegebat harundo)

'And there appeared to him the God of the place, old Tiber himself, who arose

from his pleasant stream amid his poplar-leaves. A fine linen clothed him in

grey raiment, and shady reeds covered his hair.'

(Aen.8.31-34: trans. W.F.Jackson Knight)

Claudian's description, however, is much expanded: horns and an urn, the standard equipment of a river-god, are added;[25] and Tiber also wears a cloak woven beneath the water by his wife Ilia. Cameron[26] comments that not much has been left out and finds the notion of an underwater loom 'scarcely poetical but very characteristic', but the poet himself clearly felt that it was not inappropriate to include it, and the domestic efforts of Tiber's wife serve to add the only humanising detail to an image whose overall impression is one of power. He operates alone, on his own initiative, and is clearly a figure of some authority.

Sidonius' Tiber is part of a hierarchical chain of communication that reflects the formalised court procedure of his terrestrial world: Oenotria (Italy) has come to ask him to act as an intermediary with Roma. Sidonius specifically states that she is unarmed (line 321), and she is represented as having the slowness of old age (line 327). She enters the cave and finds the river-god fully identified with his river: 'currebat fluvius residens' (333); but in spite of her pacific approach he is terrified. Although described in terms similar to those used by Claudian, there are significant differences in the presentation of Sidonius' image: no mention of horns is made at this stage, and his urn and oar are only noted as he loses his grip on them through fear. He is far from having the grandeur of Claudian's Tiber and is clearly unhappy in the presence of divinity which he judges senior to himself; his role is that of non-speaking go-between. Before he can utter a word, Oenotria delivers a speech of forty-five lines outlining the parlous state of Italy, and telling him to urge Roma to travel to Aurora and ask for a suitable leader from the east. When he arrives in the presence of Roma his gauche behaviour is further emphasised and the expectation of the audience doubly rewarded:

continuo videt ipse deam, summissus adorat,

pectus et exertam tetigerunt cornua mammam;

'Straightway with his own eyes he beheld the goddess, and bowed in humble

adoration, so that his horns touched her breast and uncovered bosom.'

(C.2.388-89: trans. W.B.Anderson);

Tiber does, after all, have the horns of a river-god, and in making his obeisance to the goddess Roma he manages to poke her identifying feature, one bare breast, with his own identifying feature. Sidonius has introduced an element of humour and light relief at a point in the panegyric where it will not undermine the dignity of either the imperial recipient or the divinities who will serve to endorse his terrestrial authority.

In C.2 the goddess Roma plays an important role in presenting unpalatable reality in a manner acceptable to both the Roman audience and the new emperor: she is not initiating any action herself but acts in the role of mediator. She has been asked by Oenotria (Italy) to set aside her own feelings and seek a leader for the West from Aurora (341-44). She must somehow retain her traditional characteristics while fulfilling an untraditional duty.

Roma personified appears in the visual arts from the early Augustan period onwards. She is featured as bellatrix on the Gemma Augustea[27] and on coinage: although she is not bare-breasted in earlier representations, she appears thus on the consular diptych, dated by Delbrueck to 469,[28] depicting personifications of Roma and Constantinople which closely resemble the goddesses of C.2. Claudian also has a description of Roma bellatrix in the panegyric to Probinus and Olybrius, 1.83-99; like his Tiber, she is a figure of considerable dignity and is accompanied by Impetus and Metus although she is on a peaceful mission to ask Theodosius to make Probinus and Olybrius consuls. Christiansen notes how the choice of vocabulary serves to combine womanly virtues with the power of a belligerent goddess.[29]

Sidonius' Roma (391-404) shares many features with the Roma of his earlier panegyric addressed to the emperor Majorian (C.5.13-32), but she, like Claudian's Roma, is depicted already garbed for her mission: the Roma of the panegyric to Anthemius (C.2) performs her toilette before she starts. Although she is making a journey to the east to seek a leader to aid her in her difficulties, she is victrix (line 395) - she will not be represented to a Roman audience as approaching Aurora in a subordinate role, whatever the realities of the terrestrial situation. As is not surprising, her accoutrements include a shield, and the very mention of a shield in such a situation raises the expectations of an audience that an ecphrasis will follow. Sidonius declines to use this opportunity - he is capable of restraint, although few of his critics would concede this. At this point he prefers to use enumeration and saves the ecphrasis (within an ecphrasis) for lower down where he can put it to even better use. Enumeration or congeries was a favoured technique of other poets, both secular and Christian, in late antiquity and continued to have appeal for the medieval period but it was one rarely employed by Claudian and this fact lends support to Charlet's assertion that he was 'neo-classical' (see note 15). At this point Sidonius may not have wished to linger over too Virgilian an image: the themes of Mars, Romulus and Remus, and the wolf, with which both Claudian and Sidonius decorate their respective shields, are also found on the shield of Aeneas (Verg. Aen.8.630-34, 700-01); however, that shield celebrates a war with, and victory over, the east which it would have been inappropriate to recall in the circumstances in which this panegyric was delivered.

Roma's undertaking is heavy in every sense - at C.5.32: 'Bellona tropaeum / extruit et quercum captivo pondere curvat': 'Bellona was building up a trophy and making an oak tree bend with the weight of captured spoils' (Anderson, I, p. 63), but here she has to carry the oak tree herself, still curva trophaeis and, divine though she is, fatigat. Physical frailty is not regularly associated with goddesses and is doubly unexpected when Roma is presented in her aspect of bellatrix, but she must take her tropaeum with her. The gods all take their identifiers to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis (Sid.C.10, the preface to his epithalamion for Euricius and Hiberia); there these identifiers serve the dual purpose of allowing the gods both to show off and to add dignity to the occasion by arriving equipped in the manner which gave a divinity his or her aspect of divine 'presence'. Roma must be correctly attired with her insignia of authority for her formal, diplomatic mission to the east, but clearly Bellona would be an inappropriate companion and so she must take charge of her trophaeum herself. Roma is described from head downwards - a logical progression and one recommended by the handbooks[30] and apart from light touches (Sidonius must surely have been alive to the incongruity of putting a helmet on over a towered crown) all is as might be expected until the end of the description. He then takes five lines of the overall fifteen-line passage to depict her shoes. This excursus on divine footwear, which critics have tended to view as a prime example of Sidonius' preciosity, reveals his ability to link his innovations with the traditions of the past: the divinity of Virgil's goddesses is established by the way they walk: Aen.1.405 (Venus): et vera incessu patuit dea; 5.647-49 (Iris): divini signa decoris / ardentisque notate oculos; qui spiritus illi, / qui vultus, vocisque sonus, vel gressus eunti) and the extension from gait to apparel is minor; at the same time the treatment illustrates well his declaration of literary intent: as shoes go, it would seem to be fairly unpromising material, but it provides a virtuoso demonstration of Sidonius' skill,[31] and the highlighting of the unexpected and apparently insignificant marks out the tendency to neo-Alexandrianism, as does also the passion for detail. The everyday item is presented in terms which make it hard to recognise: fomes (402) is an unusual word to use for the thick part of the big toe; elsewhere (Sid.Ep.2.2.15) it clearly means the trunk of a tree. Commentators regularly suggest comparison with Ep.8.11.3,vv.7-17, where Sidonius urges a friend to put on shoes of a very similar nature. Anderson (p.42, n.1) objects to the use of cothurnus (C.2.401); he points out that this type of shoe is contrasted with crepida in the letter but in the panegyric appears to be synonymous. However, there are cothurni and cothurni: in the poem of Ep.8.11 Sidonius makes it very clear that his friend is to leave aside the high-soled loose-fitting boot associated with tragedy, but the footwear of Roma is that which is also adopted by a Virgilian goddess on a mission: they are part of Venus' disguise when she appears to Aeneas to direct him to Dido's palace (Aen.1.337: purpureosque alte suras vincire cothurno). In such close focus on particular detail Sidonius' style is far removed from Claudian's. Claudian enjoys using detail but employs a more 'blanket' technique - he only pauses for items of significance; Sidonius enjoys playing with detail - and these playful interludes can provide a variety of changes in tone. Just as he caused surprise by lack of ecphrasis for a key element such as Roma's shield, so he surprises again by the unexpected emphasis on the unusual or unimportant. This close focus on an unexpected piece of Roma's equipment has also diverted attention from Roma's aspect of bellatrix; Sidonius must present an image which is recognisable and acceptable to both his Roman audience and the Eastern Roman emperor but, for all the similarity of war-like equipment, his emphasis presents an image of Roma which is far removed from the 'womanly virtues and the power of a belligerent goddess' of Claudian's epic personification and one much more suited to the task she must now perform.

Sidonius applies this technique of close detailing of selected visual aspects of a subject to the real world as well as to the mythological tableaux. At C.2.243 -69, in the section of the panegyric on Anthemius' exploits in war, he describes the Huns, a band of whom Anthemius defeated when they had attacked Serdica. No other writer gives details of what Sidonius calls, possibly with a little poetic licence, belli . . . acta (236). After the death of Attila in 453 and the dispersal of his followers the Huns were not the danger which they had been under his leadership, but it was still only sixteen years since the invasion of Italy, well within the memory of many of Sidonius' audience. Sidonius himself had been a young man when Attila had invaded Gaul and was almost successful in capturing Orléans, 200 miles NW of Lyons. The Huns had previously been described by Ammianus Marcellinus (31.2.1-11) and by Claudian (3.323); Geisler cites the latter passage as a locus similis for Sidonius, and both Anderson (p.29, n.3) and Loyen (p.173, n.38) assert that he is here imitating Claudian. Ammianus' lengthy description is comprehensive: he discusses the Huns' place of origin, their physical appearance in general terms (§1: prodigiose deformes; ut bipedes existimes bestias), their habits (including the eating of raw meat), their clothing and their skill as horsemen. He also has something to say about their system of government and their techniques of fighting (including the fact that they use lassoos to entrap their enemy in hand to hand combat). He concludes that they are untrustworthy in maintaining truces and treaties, amoral, greedy and quarrelsome.

Claudian (3.323 - 31) also gives the Huns' place of origin; remarks about their physical appearance are as general (and as uncomplimentary) as Ammianus' - they have turpes habitus and obscaenaque visu / corpora (325-6), and the ritual scarification which Ammianus describes (§2: ab ipsis nascendi primitiis infantum ferro sulcantur altius genae) is mentioned more as a masochistic trait than a cultural practice. He notes their eating habits by means of a phrase which is inherently critical (327: vitanda Ceres), as the production and consumption of bread is the mark of a civilised people. His failure to qualify occisos . . . parentes (328) leads to an assumption which places the Huns outside the pale - parents should be able to rely on their children for care and protection in old age and any action contrary to this suggests the breakdown of society (cf.Cat.64.400). He describes their horsemanship but even in this he is not complimentary - they are likened to the Centaurs, one of the least civilised forms of mythological life, in allusive and poetic terms which are reminiscent of Ovid and Statius (329: nubigenas . . . biformes; cf. Met.12.211; Theb.5.263). The only remarks that could be construed as positive are that they do not easily give up an endeavour once it is undertaken (326) and that their forces are very mobile and will make an unexpected return to battle.

In describing the same tribe it should not be surprising if some lexical similarity were to be found between Sidonius (2.243-69) and his predecessors, but there is less than might be expected, and the greater part of the repetitions and synonyms occurs in the lines dealing with the Huns' place of origin (where the same geographical descriptors can be fairly expected) and even here Sidonius recalls Virgil rather than Claudian in his use of place-names (cf. 243-44; Virg.G.4.517-18). When it comes to a more detailed description of the Huns, rather than make use of the rhetorical opportunities offered by their eating habits or clothes (Ammianus, §5, claims that they dress in the skins of field-mice sewn together), Sidonius chooses to focus on the visual impact of their physical appearance. Here he does not follow Ammianus or Claudian: he devotes almost half the passage to a description of their heads, and selects details which are most at variance with Roman ideals of physical beauty. His prose panegyric on Theodoric (Ep.1.2.) gives an indication of physical attributes which are considered pleasing: Theodoric's head is round at the top (ibid.2: capitis apex rotundus); his eyes, which are not selected for specific description (suggesting that they are not considered abnormal), are only distinguished by shaggy eyebrows (ibid.); his nose is venustissime incurvus. Sidonius is the only one of the three writers to distinguish the small deep-set eyes of the Huns or to mention the shape of their noses.[32] He is also the only one of the three authors to admit positive physical attributes: the Huns have fine, strong bodies and their affinity with their horses is described in more specific terms than Claudian' s comparison with Centaurs, which paves the way for a witticism (265-66: cornipedum tergo gens altera fertur, / haec habitat). The joke operates on two levels, the literal - 'any other folk is carried on horseback, this folk lives there' (Anderson's translation) - and the literary. Sidonius has not referred to the Huns in terms which specifically recall the Centaurs, but by first using a phrase which is not only a clear reminiscence of Claudian's comparison (263-4: cognata . . . ./ membra; cf. Claud.3.329-30: nec plus nubigenas duplex natura biformes / cognatis aptavit equis) but also of his own earlier reference to Chiron (in the praefatio to this panegyric, C.1.17-18), and then associating this with the word cornipes (265) which is used by Claudian to refer to Chiron (Claud.4.180), he is creating a mythological sub-text for a tribe which has such a close affinity with horses (cf. Amm.Marc.31.2.6). The imitatio at this point is an underlying demonstration of Sidonius' own erudition, and a test of that of his audience: on the surface the Huns are depicted here not as inhuman demons who are fitting allies for Rufinus' demonic plans (cf. Claudian), but as a dangerous yet worthy human enemy. They are not Anthemius' potential enemy, so there is no need to include more than general remarks about their fighting capability: the important fact is that this enemy is presented in terms which, although poetic, are not vague generalisations or mythological terrors, but which stress physical aspects recognisable to his audience. Once a real danger to Rome, they have been defeated by Anthemius, thus strengthening the claim that he is capable of conquering the current enemy, the Vandal Geiseric who now threatens Rome.

Sidonius' technique is not always sucessful: like all those who are prepared to experiment he sometimes pushes his innovations too far. His style is not superficial: although he does not construct Virgilian layers of meaning, he does construct layers of technique. He was a highly skilled craftsman with a strong sense of the importance and value of the traditions of the culture in which he was born and he used those traditions like modelling clay to produce new forms which reflected better the aesthetics of his own time.


[return to contents]


Notes

[1] Alan Cameron Claudian: Poetry and Propaganda at the Court of Honorius, Oxford 1970 p.288.[return to text]

[2] W. B. Anderson ed, Sidonius, Loeb Vol 1, Cambridge Mass. 1936, p.liii (referring to the verse panegyrics): 'Sidonius observes all the pitiable conventions of the genre, and succeeds in writing three "poems" which for prolonged insipidity, absurdity, and futility would be hard to beat.'

A. Loyen ed, Sidoine Apollinaire, Paris 1960, Vol. 1, p.xlvii: '. . . la préciosité de Sidoine, dont les exagérations confinent trop souvent au ridicule.' Cf. also Loyen Sidoine Apollinaire et

l' ésprit précieux en Gaule aux derniers jours de l'empire, Paris 1943, where this opinion is expanded throughout. [return to text]

[3] The Cambridge History of Classical Literature, Vol. 2, Pt. 5, ed E.J.Kenney, Cambridge 1982, p.39. [return to text]

[4] Claudianus Mamertus, De statu animae, ed A.Engelbrecht, CSEL 11 1885, praefatio: eruditissime virorum; veteris reparator eloquentiae.

Alain de Lille, Anticlaudianus 3.240-42: Illic Sidonii trabeatus sermo refulgens / sidere multiplici splendet gemmisque colorum / lucet et in dictis depictus pavo resultat (quoted in M. Roberts The Jeweled Style: Poetry and Poetics in Late Antiquity, Ithaca NY 1989, p.155). [return to text]

[5] S. G. MacCormack Art and Ceremony in Late Antiquity, Berkley, California, 1981, p.6ff. [return to text]

[6] Cf. C. Martindale Redeeming the Text: Latin Poetry and the Hermeneutics of Reception, Cambridge 1983. It is not easy to reconcile panegyric with his claim, p.16: 'texts have a capacity for reintegrating themselves within new contexts and thus remaining readable.' It is panegyric's difficulty in reintegrating itself outside its original context that has caused it to be deemed unreadable. [return to text]

[7] These conventions are set out in the handbooks: Menander Rhetor, edd D.A.Russell and N.G.Wilson, Oxford 1981. Aphthonius: Rhetores Graeci, Vol. 2, ed L.Spengl. Leipzig 1856 (reprinted 1966). [return to text]

[8] Anderson, p.xxxvii, on the statue decreed to Sidonius for C.7; Cameron, p.1, for the statue erected in Claudian's honour. [return to text]

[9] Hawthorn, J. Unlocking the Text, London 1987, p.121. [return to text]

[10] Usefully summarised by Martindale, pp.23-29. [return to text]

[11] D. A. Russell De Imitatione in Creative Imitation and Latin Literature, edd D.West and T.Woodman, Cambridge 1979, p.1. [return to text]

[12] J.-P. Charlet 'Aesthetic Trends in Late Latin Poetry (325-410) Philologus 132 (1988), pp.74-85. [return to text]

[13] The Jeweled Style, p.61. [return to text]

[14] Quoted by Hawthorn, p.119. Hawthorn's objection to reception theory, reference at n.9, illustrates the fact that our 'horizon of expectation' is somewhat removed from that of Sidonius' audience. [return to text]

[15] Charlet, p.81. [return to text]

[16] Loyen, l'ésprit précieux, p.33. 'décadence' is a word much used by Loyen; this is a value judgement which creates an antipathy towards Sidonius and hinders constructive criticism. [return to text]

[17] Martindale, p.32, makes the point: 'radical indeterminacy . . . would collapse into total non-communication.' [return to text]

[18] G. Zanker Realism in Alexandrian Poetry: A Literature and its Audience, London 1987, p.50. [return to text]

[19] H. P. L'Orange The Roman Empire: Art Forms and Civic Life, Princeton 1965, p.143ff. [return to text]

[20] Roberts, The Jeweled Style, pp.111-16. [return to text]

[21] The Jeweled Style, p.41. [return to text]

[22] P. Galand 'Les "fleurs" de l'Ecphrasis' Latomus 46 (1987), pp.87-122, p.90. [return to text]

[23] For an excellent discussion on Ausonius' technique, see S. G. Nugent 'Ausonius "Late-Antique" Poetics' in The Imperial Muse: Flavian Epicist to Claudian ed A.J.Boyle, Victoria 1990, pp.236-260. [return to text]

[24] Menander Rhetor, II.368-77. [return to text]

[25] The personified Tiber bears a strong resemblance to the river Eridanus (Claud.27.159-68). [return to text]

[26] Cameron, p.269. [return to text]

[27] N. H. Ramage and A. Ramage The Cambridge Illustrated History of Roman Art, Cambridge 1991, p.106. [return to text]

[28] R. Delbrueck Die Consulardiptychen, Berlin 1929, Vol. 1 pp.161-65. Roma is also bare-breasted at Claud.1.87 and Sid.C.5.39; this representation seems only to be associated with Roma bellatrix. [return to text]

[29] P. G. Christiansen The Use of Images by Claudius Claudianus, The Hague 1969, p.50. [return to text]

[30]Aphthonius, §12. [return to text]

[31] The scope and length of this paper do not allow closer analysis of this passage, which is a fine example of Sidonius' technique of weaving metrical and lexical material within the imagery to produce layers of tension beneath the narrative. [return to text]

[32] O. J. Maenchen-Helfen, The World of the Huns, California 1973, p.360ff. notes that cranial deformation seems to have been practised by Hunnic tribes from the 1st century BC onwards. J. D. Randers-Pearson, Barbarians and Romans, Oklahoma 1983, pp.42-43, points out that the disfigurement of infantile crania has aided in plotting Hunnic tribal movements. Sidonius' description may be couched in highly literary language but there is archaeological evidence that it reflects reality. [return to text]